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Within touching distance

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“Today was a surprise, we’ve really struggled here for quite some time and we came into this weekend expecting it to be very difficult”

The question of whether Lewis Hamilton is the best driver of his generation seems long answered and any debate about his ability centres around his position among the all-time greats.

Another superb performance on Sunday brought an unexpected victory in the Mexican Grand Prix to leave him all but assured of a sixth Formula One world title. He needs only four points from the three remaining races and can secure the championship with eighth at the US Grand Prix next weekend.

“Today was a surprise, we’ve really struggled here for quite some time and we came into this weekend expecting it to be very difficult,” Hamilton admitted.

Out-paced in qualifying, Hamilton’s race did not start smoothly from third on the grid as he was shunted by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and left fifth after a collision with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull forced him off the track.

His Mercedes garage rolled the dice a little with an early pit for a one-stop strategy which required the Briton to nurse his tyres for a mammoth 48-lap stint on the normally high-degradation Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit.

“We knew that we had to take some risks in order to win – so that’s what we did it and it worked out,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“Lewis did an incredible job out there today, especially with tyre management.

“It’s about finding the right balance between the aggressiveness you need to have, particularly on the outlap in order to undercut, but then equally you need to be able to switch off and manage the tyres to the end.”

Some fans may object to tyre management being such a key metric for modern drivers – but it is, and there is little doubt Hamilton is exceptional at it.

Hamilton’s victory was his 83rd overall to edge him closer to Michael Schumacher’s record of 91. The next world title will also bring him to within one of the German’s best of seven.

And having won five times at the US Grand Prix held there since 2012, finishing inside the top eight in Texas would seem a formality unless he suffers a technical problem.

“The track is fantastic and it’s been a good hunting ground for me so very excited to go there and who knows whether we can get the job done, who knows? We’ll hopefully have a good race there,” he said.

But while Hamilton was magnificent once more, he was aided by Verstappen throwing away pole position by ignoring yellow flags in his final qualifying lap.

The Dutchman then had a petulant race, bumping Hamilton and suffering a puncture passing the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in a space which was not quite there.

dpa