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Hamilton in US spotlight as title chase enters home straight

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain looks on after talking to the media during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 6, 2016 © AFP/File / Behrouz Mehri

AUSTIN, United States, Oct 20Lewis Hamilton’s behaviour on and off the circuit will go under a sharp media microscope as he bids to keep his title challenge alive at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

Back at the scene of his crushing title-winning triumph in 2015, when he scored a belligerent victory to end Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s challenge, the 31-year-old Briton this time faces a very different scenario.

It will begin on Thursday when, two weeks after his controversial Snapchat antics in Japan, he returns to appear before the international media at a mandatory pre-event news conference.

At Suzuka, he played on his camera and complained that the media session was “killing me” and the furore that followed resulted in him walking out of a team news briefing two days later.

That led to more media uproar that many believed undermined his concentration and led to his poor race start that saw him fall from second on the grid to eighth.

He can ill afford any similar slip this time as he goes into the first of the final four races of a roller-coaster season with a 33-point deficit behind Rosberg.

The defending three-time world champion may be seeking his 50th career win at one of his favourite circuits, but he knows that Rosberg wants revenge after being forced off track last year.

Rosberg, also 31, has the luxury, however, of knowing that he does not have to win again this season to clinch his first world title. Four second-place finishes behind Hamilton will be enough.

As to his media commitments, Hamilton has been confirmed, by his Mercedes bosses, as a participant in each and every one at the Circuit of the Americas despite suggesting, in Japan, that he might not answer any more questions from reporters.

All this -– and the news this week that he is to be a character in the next edition of the video game ‘Call of Duty’ -– suggests that Hamilton is relishing his back-to-the-wall last-ditch bid for glory in a land where he feels at home and is widely popular.

‘Extension of life’

As usual, it has been impossible for the Englishman to escape being the main story ahead of this race while Rosberg, winner of four of the last five races in which Hamilton has struggled, has been subdued.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s German driver Nico Rosberg (L) celebrates his victory on the podium next to his teammate and third-placed Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s British driver Lewis Hamilton after the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix © AFP/File / Yuya Shino

“Every now and then I’ve seen people have an opinion about how emotional I get,” said Hamilton, who has three wins in four appearances in Austin.

“It’s like I should be more happy — even when I’ve lost.

“But I think people forget how heavily invested I am in this sport. It’s the same for anyone whatever they are doing, it’s about how much investment they have put in and my heart has been invested in this for 23 years.

“This has been part of my life since I was eight; it is an extension of my life and my body.”

As to the championship, Hamilton added: “We’ve got four races left to make the most of it and that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

Rosberg knows what he has to do in the title run-in and will be looking for something better than last year’s disappointment.

“Last year this race obviously didn’t work out so great for me, so I’m looking forward to getting back and doing my best to get it right this time,” he said.

Both men, however, will be mindful of the challenge from a much-improved Red Bull outfit and possibly Ferrari.

A nervy and tense weekend is in prospect.