Lewis Hamilton’s countdown to the US Grand Prix took an unexpected twist when he got locked in his private Mercedes room as his official press conference time ticked by. He called for help and finally emerged having been freed from paddock captivity, passed the photographers lined up to capture his latest outlandish outfit and sat down next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
‘Sorry, I am late,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t get out of the room – no joke.’ A faulty lock was blamed. The seven-time world champion was speaking in Austin, Texas, a few hours after Formula One unveiled the results of what they claimed was the biggest sporting survey ever undertaken. Feedback gathered from 167,000 fans from 187 countries placed Hamilton as only the third-most-popular driver, behind Dutchman Max Verstappen and Brit Lando Norris.
But the average age of those consulted was just 32 and Hamilton was the best-supported participant among the over 45s, as well as the most liked driver among British fans. ‘His appeal, and that of fellow multiple world champion Fernando Alonso, appears more polarised than most,’ said the Nielsen survey. Well, knock me down with a feather!
Anyway, here at the Circuit of Americas Hamilton remains the local favourite. His record in America – six wins, one at Indianapolis and five of them at this track – is second to none and that has added lustre to his status. ‘I have already had a warm welcome,’ said Hamilton. ‘It is a place of great, great memories – a beautiful city with an amazing crowd and great races. I am excited to see the fans return.’
So busy is the city that every hotel downtown is sold out. Room rates are eye-wateringly expensive. The atmosphere promises to be electric come Sunday’s race. At the centre of the excitement is, of course, the rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen, with the Dutchman leading the championship standings by six points with six races remaining. How are the pair getting on under the pressure of the situation?
‘We have limited communication between us,’ Hamilton said. ‘Some of the drivers spend more time with each other. I wouldn’t say I hang closely particularly with anyone here. Last year we would see each other at the track and say “Hi” and we would do the same thing this year, so there is no difference for me personally ‘It is important to win every race somehow and to maximise our points over the next six races.
‘It is going to be incredibly difficult and there will be moments where we can edge them out. Mexico (the race that follows the US) is not going to be good for us. Red Bull are strong there.’ The survey revealed that McLaren are the most supported team, followed by Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. It is the first time the Scuderia have not come out on top going back to the first study in 2006. The top-rated races were Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone and Monaco.