SAO PAULO (AP) Lewis Hamilton will get some extra help from the Brazilian crowd in his fight with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for the Formula One title.
The fanatic Brazilian fans at Interlagos have already shown their preference for the British driver, and many will support him this weekend at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
A local TV show even gave Hamilton a mock Brazilian passport and a Brazil football jersey with his picture on it, saying they wanted him to represent Brazil this weekend.
Hamilton has won the local fans' thanks mostly because of his longtime adoration for local hero Ayrton Senna. He has talked about his admiration for the late three-time world champion since the first time he arrived to race in Brazil many years ago.
''I really feel over the years I've seen a lot of growth in my support here in Brazil,'' Hamilton said. ''I definitely feel I'll have great support here this weekend.''
There were many banners supporting local favorite Felipe Massa in the stands at Interlagos on Friday, but also some backing Hamilton in his championship fight against Rosberg.
''Of course, if helps that I'm not racing in the championship against a Brazilian,'' Hamilton said.
That was the case in 2008, when he fought for the title against Massa and nearly everyone in the stands were backing the Brazilian. Hamilton disappointed the local fans by winning the championship by a single point with a last-turn pass for fifth place over Timo Glock.
The crowd was loudly celebrating as Massa crossed the finish line in first place and appeared to have the title in his hands, only to be frustrated a few seconds later when Hamilton arrived.
''In 2008, I felt like it was sunny everywhere and I had this black cloud over me,'' Hamilton said. ''It was a real intense weekend because everyone obviously was supporting (Massa).''
The 29-year-old Hamilton has always said that his childhood racing idol was Senna, who won the F1 title in 1998, 1990 and 1991. Hamilton said he used to read everything about the Brazilian and repeatedly watched a video about Senna's life and career.
''He really inspired me as a kid and still does today,'' Hamilton said. ''I've always (wanted) to emulate him as a driver. The fact that every now and then someone may put my name in the same sentence as his, I feel really proud about that. I come here and I still feel his presence. It's amazing that he still lives on through all these fans and through the country. That's some of the most special things that I've seen anywhere.''
Brazilians definitely appear to recognize Hamilton's sincere appreciation for Senna, who remains one of the country's most idolized sporting figures.
''Hamilton drives with heart, just like Senna used to drive,'' said Brazilian fan Alain Rossi. ''His driving style is much more exciting than Nico's. And knowing that he loved Senna just as much as we did, there is no way not to hope that he comes out on top in the title race this year.''
Hamilton has never won in Brazil, but if he finishes atop the podium this weekend the victory may be credited to the Brazilians.
''I have the passport now,'' he joked.
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