Lewis Hamilton revealed he has surprised himself by the run of “dream” drives which leave him standing on the brink of another Formula One world title.
While it is too early for Hamilton’s seemingly inevitable championship coronation to take place in Japan on Sunday evening, only a meltdown by team or driver stand in the way of glory this season.
Hamilton, who was comfortably fastest in both practice sessions at Suzuka on Friday, has recorded five victories from his last six outings to establish a dominant 50-point lead over Sebastian Vettel.
And with a maximum of only 125 championship points on the table, it is surely a case of when, rather than if, he will engrave his name alongside Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the owner of five world crowns.
Although Hamilton had Mercedes to thank for his 70th career win in Russia last Sunday – after they controversially used team orders to usher aside Valtteri Bottas – he has been in electric form following the summer break.
Hamilton, with inferior machinery, destroyed both Ferrari cars on their home patch in Monza last month to take a fine win, before he delivered one of the qualifying laps of his career at the next round in Singapore to pave the way for another victory. He was lightning fast on Friday, too.
As the season reaches its climax, the Briton can now afford to score four third-place finishes and one second at the final five grands prix to secure the championship spoils.
“When I look back at those recent races, I couldn’t have hoped for better performances,” Hamilton, 33, said. “There have been some dream experiences for me, performing at that level. It is what I live for.
“As the season progresses you hope that you can improve, and usually you do get better, but I didn’t know I was going to improve in the way that I have.”
If, as expected, Hamilton takes the chequered flag here on Sunday – a race that he has won in three of the past four years – then there is a small chance that he could secure the championship in America in a fortnight. The probability, however, is that he may have to wait until Mexico a week later.
“The earlier you can win the title, the better because there is less stress for the team,” he added. “You gain back some years of your life the quicker you get it done, too.”
Hamilton finished the best part of half-a-second faster than anybody else in practice on Friday. Bottas was second, while Vettel ended the day an uncomfortable 0.883 seconds down on his rival.
“This track is awesome,” a giddy Hamilton said over the radio. “I am having the best day.”
Out of the car, he added: “I’m loving driving more than ever. It’s just the best. I won’t be driving forever so you have to cherish these moments.”
Hamilton headed for Japan following a tennis date with his father, Anthony, the man who simultaneously worked multiple jobs to fund his son’s formative career, but is now somewhat on the periphery.
“We didn’t really reminisce about the past,” Hamilton said. “My dad’s having tennis lessons so I said to him we should have a game.
Anthony Hamilton, left, is rarely seen in the paddock with son Lewis these days (PA)
“I don’t play tennis, we are both terrible at it, and it was not very good to watch, but I beat him.
“I’ll always remember when I was about six, and we would go to Blockbusters in Stevenage. Afterwards he would say ‘let’s race to the car’. My little legs couldn’t carry me fast enough, and he would never let me win.
“So, the same competition happens today, and I never let him win if I can help it.” For Vettel, it is a feeling he knows all too well.