NZ motorsport ace Brendon Hartley will make his F1 debut at the US Grand Prix


New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley can expect a fast-paced Formula One debut this weekend as he lines up in a race with the year's championship title at stake.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton could be crowned Britain's first four-times F1 world champ this weekend at the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. His team, Mercedes, is also on the brink of a fourth consecutive constructor's title.

The chances of Mercedes, 145 points clear of Ferrari with four races remaining, wrapping things up in Austin in the constructor's championship appear to be overwhelming.

Everything is also stacking up for Hamilton to become only the fifth driver to win more than three championships since the first in 1950, with British bookmakers offering odds of 1:50 on him taking the title. That compares to 14:1 for Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton's closest rival, and 300:1 on Mercedes' other driver, Valtteri Bottas.

While Mercedes may be celebrating after the race, Hamilton may find he has to wait and try again at the Mexican Grand Prix the following weekend. To do it in Austin, the Briton must finish in the top two and then see where Vettel ends up.

Hamilton currently enjoys a hefty 59-point advantage, with 100 points still to be won. He must score 16 more than his German rival this weekend to prevent the title battle continuing to Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Third place is worth 15 points and will not be enough for Hamilton. Even if the Briton wins in Austin, he will be champion only if Vettel finishes no higher than sixth. If the Briton comes second, then Vettel has to finish eighth or higher to stay in the game.

Hartley is making his F1 debut at the US Grand Prix in a drive for Toro Rosso, who are placed sixth in the constructors' championship. The team has endured several driver changes this year with their best result coming in Singapore, a fourth place with Carlos Sainz Jr at the wheel.

Reliability, or lack of it, will be a key concern for both Mercedes and Ferrari. Vettel has failed to finish two of the last three races in Asia, one due to a first lap collision and the other a spark plug problem, and cannot afford any further unreliability on Ferrari's part.

However, before his nightmare run the German had not finished lower than seventh since Malaysia in October 2016, when he retired with damaged suspension after a collision. He was fourth in Austin last year, when Mercedes had a one-two finish.

This year Vettel has finished all but six races on the podium and three of those outside the top three were fourth places.

Hamilton has won eight times and finished second three times in 16 races. Austin has also been particularly good to him with four wins in five years including the last three. Vettel won with Red Bull in 2013.

Even if Mercedes dominate one-two, and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen prove to be the closest rivals, the chances are that Vettel will still finish in the top five in a race without incident.

In the constructors' championship, Ferrari need to outscore Mercedes by 17 points to prevent them retaining the title in Austin.

The only occasion Ferrari have done that this season was in Monaco in May when Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished one-two while Hamilton was seventh and team mate Valtteri Bottas ended up fourth.

Lap distance: 5.513km. Total distance: 308.405km (56 laps)
2016 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes, one minute 34.999 seconds
2016 winner: Lewis Hamilton
Race lap record: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull, 2013. 1:39.347
Start time: Sunday 1900 GMT (Monday 0800 NZT)

Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton has 61 career victories from 204 races and is second in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91). Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel has 46.
Champions Mercedes have won 10 of 16 races this season.
Ferrari have won 228 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 74 and Red Bull 54. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
There have been five different winners this season so far -- Hamilton (eight), Vettel (four), Valtteri Bottas (two), Daniel Ricciardo (one), Max Verstappen (one). That is the most in a season since 2013.

Hamilton has an all-time record 71 career poles and, after Suzuka, has started on pole at every circuit on the calendar.
Mercedes have been on pole in 68 of the last 74 races.
Four drivers have started on pole this season -- Hamilton (10 times), Vettel (three times), Bottas (twice) and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel can take the 50th pole of his career. Only three drivers have achieved that so far.

Hamilton has 115 podiums to date and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 96, Raikkonen 88.
Hamilton has 11 podiums this season, Vettel and Bottas both have 10. Ricciardo has had nine, the most he has ever scored in a single campaign.

Hamilton is 59 points clear of Vettel.
Sauber's Marcus Ericsson is the only driver yet to score this season.
Hamilton has 21 scoring finishes in a row, the longest such run of his career. Raikkonen holds the record of 27. Hamilton and Force India's Esteban Ocon are the only drivers to have finished every race so far.

Austin is hosting a race for the sixth time and is the only US round on the calendar.
There are no American drivers in F1. Haas is the only US-owned team.
Hamilton and Vettel are the only current drivers to have won previously in the United States.
Hamilton has won four of the five races in Austin, while starting only once on pole there, and five of the last six in the United States. Vettel won in Austin in 2013 with Red Bull.
Hamilton clinched his third title at the track in 2015.

New Zealand's Brendon Hartley will be making his Formula One debut at Toro Rosso. He will be his country's first F1 driver in 33 years, the last being Mike Thackwell in 1984.
The last New Zealander to score a point in Formula One was Chris Amon at the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix.
Sunday will also be the 50th anniversary of New Zealander Denny Hulme winning the world championship at the 1967 Mexican Grand Prix.
With Jolyon Palmer departed, Hamilton will be Britain's only driver in the race. The last time the country was reduced to just one representative was the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix.