Lewis Hamilton ended a five-race winless run in Austin, yet the presence of Mercedes teammate and Drivers’ Championship rival Nico Rosberg four-and-a-half seconds behind him in second made it the least useful victory possible.
Despite that success, the title holder is 26 points behind his colleague with just 75 left to burn rubber for. To put that into context, even if he won this weekend in Mexico and the German retired on the first lap, he would still be a point behind.
Likewise, if he finishes first in the next three races with Rosberg in second, it wouldn’t be enough to overtake, and that’s the problem: he not only needs to be perfect, but hope for a total collapse from a driver who has triumphed in four of the last six races and been on the podium whenever he hasn’t.
That’s why it is an 11/4 prospect, but the final sequence has done strange things to multi-time champions in the past, so can certainly derail someone desperately chasing their maiden title. To prove it isn’t over yet, here are three examples from this century of autumn upheavals:
Michael Schumacher on Mika Hakkinen (2000)
Hakkinen’s pursuit for a third straight title got off to a terrible start, failing to finish the first two races as Schumacher won both, but a summer stretch of three victories in four earned him a six-point lead with four weekends left. He mastered the closing months in 1998 and 1999, so seemed a sound bet, yet his German foe prevailed in Italy, USA, Japan and Malaysia to surge clear, with the Finn’s retirement at Indianapolis a turning point.
Kimi Raikkonen on Lewis Hamilton (2007)
Finland’s loss in 2000 was avenged seven years later when Raikkonen recovered a 17-point deficit – back in the days of ten points for a win rather than 25 – with two races remaining to spring from third to first, capitalising on the fact that warring McLaren teammates Hamilton and Fernando Alonso practically forgot his existence. Two wins on the final two weekends changed that, with a retirement in China and seventh place in Brazil when fifth would have sufficed providing a nightmare end to the Brit’s previously dreamy debut Formula One season.
Sebastian Vettel on Fernando Alonso (2010)
Those who discredit Vettel’s four successive titles to start the decade forget how hard he had to fight for the first. In one of the most competitive campaigns in F1 history, four drivers entered the finale with a shot at the silverware, including two former champions, but it was 23-year-old Vettel who prospered despite being fourth and 25 points behind – yes, just one point less than the gap confronting Hamilton now – with a mere two races left. Having never before won twice in a row in his three-and-a-bit years on the grid, he did the business in Brazil and Abu Dhabi to pass everyone.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.