Singapore: All 1,600 spotlights will be trained on Lewis Hamilton this weekend, as the reigning world champion heads into Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix as the favourite to snatch a dominant win and emulate boyhood idol Ayrton Senna.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (centre) poses for a selfie with fans ahead of yesterday's practice in Singapore. Pic/AFP
Hamilton has won seven of the 12 races so far this year including the last two races in Belgium and Italy. Victory on Sunday will see him score a hat-trick of wins and draw level with Senna's tally of 41 Grand Prix victories.
The Briton, who grew up idolising the late great Brazilian, said matching his hero's achievement would be emotional. But his focus remained on winning the race and the championship. "I'm not approaching this weekend at all thinking, if I win this race, I'm going to be with Ayrton," Hamilton told reporters at the Marina Bay circuit on Thursday.
"It doesn't matter if it's this weekend or the next weekend or the weekend after, I will have eventually the same amount of wins as Ayrton.
"And what happens beyond there — I feel like Ayrton would have, if he was fortunate enough to have been able to continue, he would have won many more races and world championships. So I think I'm going to be carrying the baton for both of us, striving to win more for the both of us."
Hamilton already has a commanding lead in the championship standings and heads teammate and title-rival Nico Rosberg by 53 points.
As things stand Hamilton's margin over Rosberg is such that he will continue to head the standings even if he fails to finish two races with the German winning.
Further highlighting his dominance, with seven races to go this season and seven points the difference between a first and second-place finish, Hamilton can seal the title without actually winning another race.
Rosberg, who has won three races so far, has generally been outperformed by Hamilton this year. The 30-year-old had managed to stay within striking distance of his former childhood friend, however, until the last race in Italy, where he retired from third place with just two laps to go, his Mercedes engine belching flames and plumes of smoke.
But, while his title prospects may appear as hazy as the smog that has blanketed Singapore in the build up to Sunday's race, he has refused to throw in the towel. "There's still seven races to go, lots of points, so keep pushing," Rosberg said. "With the car that we have it's possible to win every race weekend if I do a good job, which is a great feeling.
"I've chosen to keep believing because it's going to help for the next couple of races and historically also you know in sport anything can happen."
A street track that winds its way through the heart of Singapore's business district, the Marina Bay circuit is an unforgiving venue. The slightest lapse in concentration can send a driver into the barriers and out of the race. It is also the longest race on the calendar, often running for the full two-hour time limit, and the heat and humidity offer a stern test of both man and machine.
The tight, twisty nature of the track and the potential for attrition could give teams lower down the grid the chance to shine.
Red Bull and McLaren Honda in particular are hoping the layout of the circuit, featuring pre-dominantly tight, slow corners, masks their horsepower deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari.
Judging by the form they showed in Friday practice, both certainly seemed more competitive than usual.
Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat ended the day fastest with teammate Daniel Ricciardo third. Fernando Alonso was eighth. Rosberg had topped Friday evening's opening 90-minute session ahead of Hamilton, but neither Mercedes driver was among the top three at night.