Lewis Hamilton could seal the F1 world title at the US Grand Prix. James Gray assesses what, if anything, could get in the Brit's way.
"Hamilton’s remarkable domination in a country which he holds so dear does look set to continue."
Lewis Hamilton is a hard man to bet against when victory is within touching distance - as it will be when he sets off in Austin on Sunday.
The 33-year-old is on a four-race winning streak across a multitude of different tracks with victories at high-speed Monza, the street circuit of Singapore, Valtteri Bottas' specialist track Sochi and of course the unique Suzuka. It is starting to look like Hamilton has no weaknesses.
If Vettel, now trailing by 67 points with four races to go and an outrageous 50/1 to win the title, is hoping that Austin might be the venue for him to begin the most gargantuan of comebacks, he will be disappointed to know that history is not on his side. If he wins the race Hamilton would only be denied a Drivers' Championship if Vettel finishes second.
Since F1 in the US returned to the calendar in 2012, Hamilton has dominated the race by winning all but one of the events at the Circuit of the Americas. Only Vettel himself has disrupted that run with a Red Bull victory that came long after he had sealed the title back in 2013. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Fernando Alonso won two races that season.
Home from home for Hamilton
The Brit can of course count on the support of 8/1 chance Valtteri Bottas, who pulled aside in Russia to allow him through for the victory and has proved a loyal lieutenant since it became clear he would not be able to challenge Hamilton for the title. Vettel will have Kimi Raikkonen doing the same but Mercedes' apparent speed advantage, two-on-two will be much like one-on-one.
Ferrari hoping to rectify rain woes
Mercedes appeared to be marginally behind Ferrari in terms of overall pace in the middle part of the season - but the upgrades that have arrived from Brackley have proved decisive and there is little the Prancing Horse can do about it in the race or even in qualifying.
But in fact, Ferrari were let down by their strategy in Japan where being on the wrong tyres at the wrong time saw them start fourth and ninth while the two Mercedes took a one-two in the rain.
The forecast for Austin on Saturday is once again a wet one and while Mercedes are not likely to make similar mistakes, it puts the cat among the pigeons in terms of results. A Vettel pole at 9/4 looks good value as long as the weather produces the unpredictability which it currently threatens and upsets qualifying favourite Hamilton at 1/2.
Force India remain in the pink
At one point, it looked like Force India might not even exist by the time the US Grand Prix came around, but the investment of Lawrence Stroll saved them from a doomsday scenario.
They did have to give up all their previous points but have shown excellent pace since, securing double points finishes in all but one of the last five races.
There is no shortage of motivation to keep the run going either. Since starting from zero, they have picked up 43 points and need another 15 to overtake McLaren or 41 to catch Haas.
The long straights of the Circuit of the Americas should suit the pink Force India and either man could grab a top-six finish and displace one of the "big three" drivers. Sergio Perez has just been given the drive for next year with Lance Stroll expect to replace Ocon - expect the Frenchman to prove a point at 7/4 to finish inside the first six places.