SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton can expect the passionate Interlagos crowd to be on his side when the Formula One championship leader seeks his sixth win in a row, and 11th of the season, in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
That has not always been the case at the Sao Paulo circuit, where the local drivers can count on strong support, but this year the title battle comes down to a straight duel between Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton, a huge boyhood fan of the late triple world champion Ayrton Senna who died in 1994, is now finding a lot of Brazilians are rooting for him -- including some of Senna’s own family.
The Briton has already been presented with a large mock-up of a Brazilian passport -- complete with his details -- and a national soccer shirt courtesy of television comedy show ‘Panico’.
“Tudo Bem (how are you)?,” were Hamilton’s opening words as he faced reporters at Interlagos on Thursday. “I’ve got a Brazilian passport now. I need to learn Brazilian.”
The good humor was a far cry from 2008, when Hamilton ultimately prevailed over Brazilian race winner Felipe Massa by a single point to take his first title with a last corner overtake.
Six years ago, when Hamilton was at McLaren, the same comedians had tried to present him with a shirt of the Vasco da Gama club -- famed for finishing second in the championship.
They also threw an unlucky black cat toy towards him at a sponsor event, urging him to pick it up.
“Anything other than 2008 is a good feeling because back then I felt it was sunny everywhere but I had this black cloud over me and it was raining,” Hamilton recalled on Thursday.
”And no matter which way I moved this cloud was still raining on me.
”It was obviously a really intense weekend because everyone was supporting him. I really feel over the years I’ve seen a lot of growth in my support here in Brazil, and of course it helps I‘m not going up against a Brazilian in the championship.
“I generally feel I will have a great support this weekend, and we will generally as a team,” said Hamilton.
The Briton, who leads Rosberg by 24 points with 75 still to be won from Brazil and the finale in Abu Dhabi, spoke also of his admiration for Senna and what it meant to be racing in his home town.
As a boy, he said, he would go home after a kart race and watch over and again a video tape about Senna called “Racing is in my blood”.
“He really inspired me as a kid and he still does today. I’ve always said I’d love to emulate him as a driver,” added the 29-year-old, who has a similar yellow helmet to the Brazilian.
”The fact that every now and then someone may mention my name in the same sentence as his, I feel really proud and honored by that.
“I come here and I still feel his presence. It’s amazing that he still lives on through all these fans and the country. It’s one of the most special things I’ve ever seen anywhere.”
Hamilton has never won in Brazil, whereas Senna won his home race in 1991 and 1993, and he said he would do all he could on Sunday even if he need only finish second in the last two rounds to be sure of the title.
”I approach this race the same as I have approached the whole season really, I want to win,“ he said. ”I’ve never been one to want to win the championship by not winning.
“I want to win (the race) when I win the world championship rather than finish fifth or wherever it may be,” added the Briton, who finished fifth in that 2008 race that Massa won.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis