I will be a worthy F1 champion, insists Lewis Hamilton

Smoke pours from the back of Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes during practice for the US Grand Prix in Austin. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Smoke pours from the back of Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes during practice for the US Grand Prix in Austin. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Title favourite Lewis Hamilton has insisted he will be a worthy champion despite Sebastian Vettel’s recent troubles clearing the road to glory.

Hamilton, 32, stands on the verge of becoming one of only five drivers to own more than three world championships after establishing a 59-point lead over Vettel with just 100 to play for.

The Englishman will be given his first shot at glory in Austin at the United States Grand Prix tomorrow as he prepares to join Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Vettel in the pantheon of the sport’s all-time greats. Schumacher won seven titles, Fangio five and Prost and 
Vettel each has four.

Hamilton will seal his fourth crown if he outscores Vettel by 16 points at the Circuit of the Americas. The equation is simple: a victory will be enough for Hamilton if the Ferrari man fails to finish in the top five.

The championship race looked set to go down to the wire, but Vettel’s failure to finish two of the three grands prix staged in the Far East has left Hamilton with one hand on the title.

The Stevenage-born racer however, did not take kindly to the suggestion that a fourth championship – which would move him ahead of Sir Jackie Stewart as Britain’s most successful grand prix driver – had been handed to him on a plate.

“If I was to win this championship, I think I would say that I’ve earned it,” Hamilton, who has won four of the five grands prix staged in Austin, said. “He [Vettel] has been a strong fighter all year and just because he has obviously had a few technical issues, their car is as good as it has always been. They’ve definitely had a couple of hiccups but I anticipate they’ll be very strong this weekend and for the last four races – so that’s why nothing changes for me.”

Hamilton, who finished top of the order in opening practice yesterday, added: “Winning the world championship is obviously the goal and of course I think about it every day.

“I think my drive is to win that world championship so every bit of my energy goes towards that mission.

“But, honestly, I don’t mind if it happens in Mexico. I don’t mind if it happens here. I don’t mind if it happens at the last race in Abu Dhabi, as long as it happens.”

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen has signed a new contract with Red Bull which keeps him with the team until 2020.

The 20-year-old has impressed since moving into Formula One for the 2016 season and became the youngest grand prix winner with his victory in Spain last year.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “We had a phenomenal start together in Spain last year and Max has only pushed on from there.

“It was a great moment for the whole team to see him put the frustrations of this season behind him in taking that fantastic victory in Malaysia last month.”