AUSTIN, Texas -- Lewis Hamilton may be on the brink of beating Sebastian Vettel to this year's Formula One title, but insists he is still expecting a Ferrari fightback in the remaining four races.
Just seven races ago, Hamilton was eight points adrift of Vettel in the standings and Mercedes was struggling to match Ferrari for pace, but he now holds a commanding 67-point lead with four races to go. Back-to-back Mercedes one-two victories at the last two races appear to have put the title beyond Vettel's grasp and Hamilton will secure the title at this weekend's U.S. Grand Prix if he outscores the Ferrari driver by eight points.
Yet Hamilton says he is not focusing on title celebrations just yet and is instead expecting Vettel to come out fighting at the Circuit of Americas in Austin.
"As a team, none of us are saying 'how cool would it be if it happened this weekend', we are not focusing on ifs," he said. "We are focusing on making sure we deliver. There are still 100 points available so we can just never be complacent in a championship as intense as this.
"We expect Ferrari to punch back hard here this weekend, so we can't be relaxed in any way, shape or form. We have got to make sure we come here and raise the bar again. I'm definitely not thinking how I will feel here if I do the job, because I have got to do the job and that just adds more pressure and you don't need more pressure.
"So I am just focusing on driving the best that I've driven all year long and that we get the car where we need to get it. It's going to be wet tomorrow I think and potentially on Saturday, so it's going to be a tricky weekend and nothing is given."
Following the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton posted on Instagram to defend Vettel, claiming he had been the subject of unfair criticism after a series of mistakes in recent races. Speaking in Austin on Thursday, he said the post was borne out of the mutual respect between the two drivers.
"I think if I was in the same position they would probably do the same thing so it's more as drivers we are all members of the GPDA and I think we all just need to stick together and I think the respect that we have for one another I think is probably the greatest that it's been for many years.
"At least in the years that I've been in Formula One. I think ultimately as a four-time World Champion, it is the most intense year that we've had. So every hiccup is magnified, naturally, as it is perhaps in any sport at the top.
"But there have been many - or several - times that I've been in the firing range and Seb's always been really respectful and supported me, so I thought it was only just to do the same."