LONDON (REUTERS) - One retirement could change everything but the statistics are stacking up for Red Bull's Max Verstappen as he seeks to deny Lewis Hamilton a record eighth Formula One championship this season.
Sunday's (Oct 24) US Grand Prix victory at Austin's Circuit of the Americas was the 24-year-old Dutch driver's eighth in 17 races, compared to five for Mercedes' seven-time world champion.
Seasons have more races now but only once in the 70-year history of the championship has anyone won eight times and not ended up as champion.
That exception was Hamilton, who won 10 times in 2016 but lost to German teammate Nico Rosberg after a down-to-the-wire battle.
Austin also saw Verstappen extend a record that may not be his for long.
No other driver has ever had so many career wins without winning a title, Verstappen's 18 well ahead of late British great Stirling Moss' 16.
With five races remaining, Hamilton cannot match his 2020, 2019 and 2018 tallies of 11 wins and the Briton will struggle to match even his worst of the Mercedes-dominated V6 turbo hybrid era - nine in 2017.
Verstappen can still equal the record held jointly by Michael Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013) of 13 wins in a season.
The Red Bull ace is ahead of Hamilton 9-3 on pole positions and 13-12 on podium finishes, with the Briton ahead 5-4 on fastest laps.
"Although Lewis has the experience of already winning world titles, I don't really see that as an advantage now," Australian Daniel Ricciardo said in talking about former teammate Verstappen's maturity.
"I do think Max is capable of it, he's got a pretty stable head on his shoulders now and he's proven that with some of the drives he's done this year."
If more omens are required, Hamilton has never won the title when not leading the championship going into Austin, a circuit where he had won five times in eight years and clinched two crowns.
This year, he was six points behind Verstappen, a gap now extended to 12.
"I would never declare this a foregone conclusion at this stage of the season," 1996 champion Damon Hill told Sky Sports television on Monday.
"There are so many mishaps that happen in our sport and 25 points on the table for a victory but nothing if you don't finish, and that can obviously happen.
"He (Hamilton) really has to start winning again. It's eight versus five in victories to Max, so it is looking like it's Max's title at the moment."
The next two races are in Mexico and Brazil, both seen as favouring Red Bull, before a Middle East triple in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are floodlit night races new to the calendar.