The Briton, whose team, Mercedes AMG Petronas won the constructors’ championship at the recently concluded Russian Grand Prix, has said he looks forward to racing the 4-time World Champion in the coming years.
The German driver, who signed with Ferrari at the beginning of the 2015 season, is now Hamilton’s closest competitor in the drivers’ standings, taking that spot from the Briton’s teammate Nico Rosberg, who was forced to retire from the Russian Grand Prix after a sticky throttle made it impossible for the driver to safely maneuver his vehicle down the track.
"If I hung up my gloves and was just a fan I would want to see the two of us up against each other," Hamilton told reporters following last weekend’s Grand Prix, saying he was “super excited” at the prospect of going head-to-head with Vettel.
Both drivers this year broke Ayrton Senna’s record of 41 Grands Prix won – although it will be a long time before either comes close to breaking the all-time record, which belongs to Michael Schumacher with 91 wins. Vettel broke that record at the Singapore Grand Prix, where Hamilton retired with engine trouble, with Hamilton equalising it a race later with a win at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit.
Rosberg has had podium finishes at 11 of the 15 races contested so far; however, he has had one non-finish (although he was still classified) at the Italian Grand Prix, and retired in Russia. As a result, Vettel is now the closest competitor to Hamilton, who has a 66-point lead over the German with 4 races to go.
Team Mercedes have already clinched the constructors’ championship in Russia, however. At the race, which saw Vettel finish in 2nd behind Hamilton, teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished in 5th, which still gave Ferrari a mathematical chance at the championship trophy. Raikkonen, however, was involved in a shunt with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas at the end of the race, which race stewards determined had been caused by the Ferrari driver. This caused him to be handed a 30-second penalty - demoting him post-race to 8th, and handing Mercedes the championship.
Drivers head to the United States of America next for the US Grand Prix, held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The race will now enter its 4th year, with Hamilton taking victory in 3 of the past 4 races at the track; the only other win, in 2013, was by Sebastian Vettel, who was then with Red Bull and would win that year’s championship.
Mercedes had already won the championship by this time last year as well, with Hamilton and Rosberg then the only two drivers theoretically in contention for the championship title. Hamilton, in a rich vein of form this year and driving the strongest car on the grid, is expected to take the win at the US GP next weekend, thereby taking his third World Championship – only one title away from equalising Vettel.
"Sebastian is an original - what you see is what you get," Hamilton said. "He is a great driver, and a good personality. He is a fun lad and I am looking forward to racing him for many more years."
There has been a warm camaraderie between the pair this year, with both drivers constantly seen joking around on the podium. It appears the friendship between the two has warmed, and portends a strong rivalry in the future, bolstered by the fact that Ferrari have said they intend to have a far stronger car in 2016 - an all-important fact, especially considering Mercedes' domination in the past two years can be significantly attributed to their cars, which have been far superior to all their competitors’ for the second year running.
Hamilton also described the pair as the new Prost vs. Senna, saying the competition between the two reminded him of the legendary rivlary of two of F1's greatest drivers of all time – Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, who were renowned for their flat-out racing against each other.