Hamilton starting to believe


Formula One: Lewis Hamilton has edged closer to becoming the first Formula One rookie champion, sparking his own memories of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna on the way to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway.

The 22-year-old Briton will also be the youngest champion if he wins again in Shanghai next weekend.

The McLaren driver will start that penultimate race of the season with a 12-point lead over Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso and 17 clear of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who was third today, behind Renault's Heikki Kovalainen

Alonso, the double world champion and Hamilton's bitter rival, saw his dream of a third title in a row take a huge hit when he crashed out of the rain-swept race at the revamped Fuji circuit.

"It definitely is (a great moment)," Hamilton told a post-race news conference, revealing that he had thought of the former champions as he headed through the spray towards the chequered flag.

"Driving in the wet, leading and doing a last lap thinking of some of the races that Senna was in and Prost - it sort of made me feel that I'm on my way to achieving something similar to them."

Prost and Senna were both world champions with McLaren, with the late Brazilian - so outstanding in the wet at Donington Park in 1993 - also twice winning the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka for the team.

Hamilton, in only his 15th grand prix, simply shone in the treacherous conditions to celebrate his fourth win of an astounding season.

Only one other driver, Canada's 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in 1996, has won that many races in a debut season and Hamilton may not have finished yet.

"Obviously it's a big boost in terms of confidence in my drive to be world champion," said Hamilton. "But we still have two races left, and anything can happen. The key is just to try to keep it on the track."

The title was nearer, he acknowledged, but he would not allow himself to be distracted.

"At the back of your mind, in the subconscious, you do think about it a little bit but I think the key for me is just focus on the next race and just make sure my preparations are right and take it as it comes," he said. "I hope we have the pace to again have the opportunity to win. We'll see after the next race.

"I couldn't imagine having four wins in my first year. After the first pole and after the first win I was like; 'Come on, get out of here', but now it's just way, way beyond anything I imagined."

Hamilton recognised that he had been lucky, with Poland's Robert Kubica hitting the rear of his car and sending him spinning off, fortunately without any serious damage.

"It was just so tricky. I couldn't see in my mirrors, my visor was all fogged up," said the Briton. "It was the longest race probably of my life. It just seemed to go on and on," he added.

"In the last few laps the team were telling me to slow down, that I was still a second faster than everyone and I said "well, I'm going as slow really as I feel comfortable doing.'"