Lewis Hamilton will not give up his world crown lightly, but the seven-time Formula One champion says the thrilling title duel with Max Verstappen could swing further away from him in the next two races.
Hamilton trails the effervescent Dutch driver by 12 points after finishing second to Verstappen in the United States Grand Prix on Sunday.
Ordinarily, it is a small gap to overhaul with five races to come, but Hamilton fears that could become a more daunting lead with the Mexico (November 7) and Brazil (November 14) GPs on the horizon.
“The next two tracks for sure are very strong for Red Bull, so it is going to be tough,” said Hamilton, who is chasing a record eighth world title.
“I am not thinking about it at the moment – be happy with the job I did today and live in the moment.
“We were not quick enough today but I will look forward and take it one race at a time.
“There are two circuits that are strong for Red Bull, so we will just try and minimise how strong they can be compared to us and see if we can do a better job,” added the 36-year-old Briton.
Verstappen is not taking what would be a ninth victory this term – Hamilton has five – for granted in Mexico.
Given that Sunday’s win was his first at the Circuit of the Americas, the 24-year-old’s caution is perhaps warranted.
“A win for me doesn’t give me more confidence,” said Verstappen.
“We are all confident in the team that we can do a good job, but we need to nail the details and start over again in Mexico to try and get the best of our whole package.”
‘Mania and depression’
Hamilton’s greater experience may count for something too with Verstappen never having been in the position of front-runner for a world title, so how he handles the pressure could come into play.
The manner in which he held off a fast-charging Hamilton, though, suggests he may be able to cope with it as the title race reaches its climax.
“This year has been so tight between the two teams and there’s no reason to think it won’t be tight at the next couple of races,” said Verstappen’s Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Mercedes still lead Red Bull in the constructors’ championship (by 23 points) and Hamilton’s team chief Toto Wolff is far from despondent about his star’s chances in retaining the title.
Nor is he one for the horses for courses mantra.
“I don’t believe there is a pattern of who suits which tracks,” he said.
“We need to be careful we are not swinging too much between mania and depression but eke forward with our understanding of the car.
“There was a never a point [this season] when I thought: ‘We are not going to make this [championship].’
“The general feedback [before this race] was: ‘You guys are dominating now and what is Red Bull going to do?’
“Fast-forward 24 hours and it goes the opposite way.”
The Austrian says ultimately it will come down to which team delivers their car in the best way possible at the five races.
“It’s about exploiting the product,” he said.
“I call the car the product. How do we deliver the performance?
“And that is what’s going to make the difference between losing and winning.”