If you’re a Formula 1 fan in the United States, get excited: you might see a World Driver’s Champion crowned on American soil this weekend.
For those of you who aren’t F1 history buffs, know that it won’t be the first time: the United States Grand Prix used to be F1’s season finale during most of its tenure at Watkins Glen International, most recently in 1980, and many champions were crowned in upstate New York during that time. But considering that the series’ visit to Circuit of the Americas in Austin is followed by three more events in Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi, it’s an unlikely prospect to have a champion crowned this early.
But not every driver-team pairing on the Formula 1 grid is as potent as the combination of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. Hamilton enters the event having won six of the last seven races, including four in a row coming to Texas, and nine of the 17 run so far in 2018. That’s given him a 67-point advantage over longtime championship rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, the only remaining driver who can mathematically take the title from the Brit.
Vettel, for his part, has suffered a remarkable run of bad luck as of late. Since losing the points lead at his home race in Germany, Vettel has only beaten Hamilton once, in Belgium. He missed the podium entirely in Ferrari’s home event in Italy, and placed a disappointing sixth in Japan, to continue sliding back, while Hamilton collected maximum points in every other event.
That means that the championship is firmly in Hamilton’s control coming into this race, and he can seal the deal this weekend. Hamilton needs only to extend his points lead by eight to lock it up—so if he wins and Vettel doesn’t finish second, that’s that. He already owns the tiebreaker; if Vettel wins the remaining four races and the duo tie at 364 points, Hamilton already has more second-place finishes.
In other words, Vettel will probably need at least one retirement this fall for Hamilton, who has only failed to finish four races since 2015 and was only nine laps in Austria short of zero DNFs this season. (Good luck with that, especially here: Vettel won at COTA in 2013, but Hamilton won all five other races here.)
Beyond Hamilton’s likely World Championship, there are some intriguing battles further down the grid. Beyond the Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull powerhouses, three different drivers (Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen, and Nico Hulkenberg) are tied for seventh in points, with the soon-to-depart Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon only three and four points behind them, respectively. In fact, unlike last season, all 20 drivers have managed to score championship points. The American-led Haas F1 Team, meanwhile, has a legitimate shot at fourth in this year’s World Constructor’s Championship, as it sits only eight points behind Renault for the spot thanks to Force India’s reorganization and forfeiture of all of its points from before Belgium.
And if all that isn’t enough to convince you to pay attention: for those who want to see Alonso run one last Formula 1 race in Texas before he departs the series with McLaren, now’s the time. You can always gamble that he’ll be with Andretti Autosport in IndyCar next season as that series makes its COTA debut in the spring, but considering just how legendary his career in the sport has been, take the sure bet.