MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, a man with a strong interest in the title race staying open as long as possible, had feared Lewis Hamilton would have his third world title wrapped up by Monza.
If the sport’s 84-year-old commercial supremo had only added the words ‘all but’ when he made the prediction before the season started, he would not have been far wrong on Sunday’s evidence.
Hamilton departed the Italian Grand Prix circuit, performing a tyre burnout for the fans on his motorcycle as he left, with a 53 point lead over Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg in the championship and seven races remaining.
In simple maths, that means the Briton does not have to win again this season to join Jackie Stewart as Britain’s only triple champions.
With 25 points for a win and 18 for a second place, Rosberg has to hope that Hamilton suffers some of the bad luck the German endured at Monza when his engine blew while in third place with two laps to go.
Even that might not be enough.
Looking at past performances, it appears to be all over bar the shouting -- of which there is sure to be plenty sooner rather than later.
The big question now is where will Hamilton clinch the championship, with the United States (round 16 of 19) or Mexico looking possible on current form as the chances of Abu Dhabi hosting another decider recede into the distance as fast as Rosberg’s hopes.
Hamilton won five of the six races after Monza last year -- Mexico not being on the calendar then -- while Rosberg beat him only in Brazil, and even there the Briton finished second.
Rosberg has never yet won three races in a row, and only once in his career has he won a race in the second half of the season, and this season he has been battered like never before by his team mate.
Hamilton, by contrast, has finished first or second in all but two races this season and it has now been more than a year since he last suffered a retirement.
From Monza last year to this, he has won 13 times in 19 starts and his career success ratio currently works out at one win in every four races.
All the signs point to him only growing in confidence, and even more determined to win.
The sole wrong move he made all weekend was to fail to remove his headwear, covering his newly dyed blond locks, during a minute’s silence to the late British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson.
As he explained later, he had intended no disrespect, he simply had not realized it was happening.
“I feel seriously strong now, with the way I‘m driving,” he said after his victory was confirmed following a stewards enquiry into low tyre pressures that could have taken away the 25 points.
“This weekend is the best I’ve driven. I‘m really, really happy with how I‘m driving.”
Hamilton was dominant at Monza -- fastest in every practice session, on pole position for the 11th time in 12 races and setting the fastest lap on a ‘perfect weekend’.
The next race is Singapore, where last year Hamilton started on pole, set the fastest lap and won.
The Briton has every incentive to do that again -- another win would take his career tally to 41 from 161 races, exactly the same number as his boyhood hero and late triple champion Ayrton Senna.
(This story corrects two wins in a row to three in paragraph 10)
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly