Lewis Hamilton said Juan Manuel Fangio is the Formula One Godfather as he stands on the brink of history by matching the Argentine’s championship haul.
Hamilton needs to outscore Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by only eight points here in Austin, Texas to clinch his fifth world title with three rounds to spare.
The 33-year-old British driver has been in America since last weekend, and after several media appearances in New York, touched down at an unseasonably chilly Circuit of the Americas on Thursday.
Hamilton arrived for his potential championship coronation wrapped in a Mercedes winter coat and bandana well aware that a fifth victory in as many years in America, and failure by Vettel to finish second, will be enough to sew up the title.
Fangio, a leading figure in the sport’s formative seasons, won his five championships between 1951 and 1957 for four different constructors; Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Ferrari and Maserati.
“Fangio is the Godfather of the sport and for us drivers,” Hamilton said. “He is one of the greats from the beginning, so he will always be admired.
“It is crazy to think that I am embarking on a similar number of championships that he had.”
Hamilton, who remains the only black driver to have competed in F1, added: “I don’t know if the 50s were particularly a good time, and it wasn’t a great time for black people either because we probably wouldn’t have been racing, but I am grateful to be in this era.”
Hamilton’s seemingly inevitable fourth championship in five years will take him to within two of Michael Schumacher’s record.
The Englishman also has more pole positions than any driver in history, and is only 20 wins short of Schumacher’s all-time total, too.
Fernando Alonso, who raced with a rookie Hamilton at McLaren in 2007 – a fractious combination which contributed to the double world champion quitting the British team after just one year – believes his former rival must be considered among the sport’s elite.
“Michael, Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Lewis would be my top five,” he said.
“Lewis definitely showed the talent from day one by fighting for the championship in his rookie year and then winning it in his second.
“I am happy for him because he was able to win races when the car was there to win it, but also when the car wasn’t up to it, as in 2009. That is difficult in this era.
“Now, Lewis winning five titles and matching Fangio is a great achievement, and if one driver had to do that from our generation then I am happy it is Lewis because he has shown the talent and the commitment.”
Hamilton’s impressive run of six wins in seven races to establish a 67-point lead over Vettel has also coincided with an implosion by the German and his Ferrari team.
Vettel has attracted criticism following a series of mistakes – he clumsily collided with Max Verstappen at the last race in Japan – leading Hamilton to claim that his rival warranted more respect in a post on Instagram.
“As drivers we need to stick together,” he added on Thursday. “The respect that we have for one another is the greatest it has been during my time in Formula One.
“There have been several times that I have been in the firing range, and Sebastian has been respectful and supported me, so I thought it was only just to do the same.”