ALL SMILES IN BRAZIL: Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton arrives at the Interlago track in Sao Paulo ahead of the 2014 Brazilian GP on November 9. Image: AP/ Andre Penner
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Lewis Hamilton can expect the passionate Interlagos crowd to be on his side when the Formula 1 championship leader seeks his sixth win in a row and 11th of the season in Sunday's (Nov 9) 2014 Brazilian GP.
That has not always been the case at the Sao Paulo circuit, where local drivers can count on strong support, but this year the title battle comes down to a straight duel between Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton, a huge boyhood fan of the late triple F1 champion Ayrton Senna who died in 1994, is now finding a lot of Brazilians are rooting for him - including some of Senna'sf amily.
'I NEED TO LEARN BRAZILIAN'
He has already been presented with a large mock-up of a Brazilian passport - complete with his details - and a national soccer shirt courtesy of TV comedy show 'Panico'.
"Tudo Bem (how are you)?," were Hamilton's opening words as he faced reporters at Interlagos on Thursday (Nov 6). "I've got a Brazilian passport now. I need to learn Brazilian."
The good humour was a far cry from 2008 when Hamilton ultimately prevailed over Brazilian race winner Felipe Massa by one point to take his first title with a last-corner overtake.
Six years ago, when Hamilton was with McLaren, the same comedians tried to present him with a shirt of the Vasco da Gama club - famed for finishing second in the championship. They also threw an unlucky toy black cat towards him at a sponsor's event, urging him to pick it up.
Hamilton recalled: "Anything other than 2008 is a good feeling because back then I felt it was sunny everywhere but I had this black cloud over me and it was raining and no matter which way I moved this cloud was still raining on me.
"It was obviously a really intense weekend because everybody was supporting him. I really feel over the years I've seen a lot of growth in my support here in Brazil, and of course it helps I'm not going up against a Brazilian in the championship.
"I generally feel I will have a great support this weekend, and we will generally as a team."
Hamilton, ahead of Rosberg by 24 points with 75 still to be won from Brazil and the finale in Abu Dhabi, spoke also of his admiration for Senna and what it meant to be racing in his home town. As a boy, he said, he would go home after a kart race and watch over and again a video tape about Senna called "Racing is in My Blood".
Hamilton, who has a yellow helmet similar to that of Senna, said: "He really inspired me as a kid and he still does today. I've always said I'd love to emulate him as a driver. The fact that every now and then someone may mention my name in the same sentence as his, I feel really proud and honoured by that.
"I come here and I still feel his presence. It's amazing that he still lives on through all these fans and the country. It's one of the most special things I've ever seen."
Hamilton has never won in Brazil, Senna won his home race in 1991 and 1993, and he said he would do all he could on Sunday (Nov 9) even if he need only finish second in the last two rounds to be sure of the title.
Hamilton said: "I approach this race the same as I have approached the whole season really, I want to win. I've never been one to want to win the championship by not winning."I want to win (the race) when I win the championship rather than finish fifth or wherever."
He was fifth in that 2008 race that Massa won.