This weekend, for the second year in a row, Lewis Hamilton is in the cat-bird seat headed into Formula 1's final race of the season at Brazil.
Last year, mechanical problems bit Hamilton early in the race, dooming him to a seventh place finish and handing the championship to race winner and title long-shot Kimi Raikkonen. This year, things will be different, and Hamilton will hoist the championship trophy at the end of the day.
There are several key differences between this year's title race and last year's. This year, there is only one man with a shot at Hamilton. At last year's Brazilian GP, Hamilton had to outpace both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. He wasn't able to beat either of them, finishing a lap down in seventh, while Raikkonen and Alonso took home, podium finishes.
This time around, the third place driver, Robert Kubica, mathematically has no chance to improve his championship position. Not only does this take the significant burden of beating two drivers off of Hamilton, but it will probably also lead Kubica to run a fairly conservative race to avoid dropping off the championship podium.
Additionally, Hamilton is still riding the momentum from his win two weeks ago. Last year's Chinese Grand Prix saw Hamilton literally slide out of Shanghai with a shrinking points lead over his two surging competitors, Raikkonen and Alonso, who finished 1-2.
Unlike last year, Hamilton is riding high coming into Interlagos. He won the Chinese GP from the pole position, dominating the race, and leaving Massa fighting his hardest but still coming up short. He increased his points lead over Massa, and exorcised his personal demons from his bonehead DNF one season ago.
The final reason Hamilton will lock up the championship this weekend at Brazil is his teammate. What, you thought it would be a Formula 1 article without mention of team orders?
Hamilton's McLaren stablemate last year was Fernando Alonso. In addition to being a championship contender himself, Alonso didn't like Hamilton very much, and Hamilton shared similar feelings about Alonso. Even if Ron Dennis had suggested that one make a move that might help the other win the championship, those orders would have been summarily ignored, both drivers knowing that Alonso would be leaving the team after the race.
This year, Hamilton has Heikki Kovalainen as a teammate. Kovalainen can easily serve as a rolling roadblock should Massa try to overtake, and will undoubtedly yield a position should Hamilton need it to stay ahead of Massa in the points. Ain't team orders grand?
There you have it. Three reasons we will see Hamilton hoist the big cup on Sunday. Congrats, Lewis.
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