September 17, 2015

SINGAPORE (AP) Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton is poised to match the total number of race wins held by his childhood idol Ayrton Senna, and says notching a 41st victory in Singapore this weekend would be an emotional moment.

Hamilton has a big lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the standings after winning the past two races and took this grand prix last year, so he will be hard to beat at the Marina Bay street circuit.

It would be fitting if he equaled Senna's record in precisely the same number of races the Brazilian drove - 161.

''I always wanted to emulate Ayrton Senna and I am very close to the races he did, just one race away, and one from the races he won,'' Hamilton said Thursday. ''I would imagine if I was to achieve the same amount at some stage, even this weekend, it would be very emotional.''

It was also equal rival Sebastian Vettel's number of wins and put him tied for third on the all-time list. Michael Schumacher holds the record with 91, with Alain Prost second on 51.

Hamilton had made it his career goal to equal Senna's three world championships, and only a late-season collapse will prevent him doing so this year. However, he had not kept track of how close he was to the Brazilian's tally of race wins. Senna's career was cut short by his fatal accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

''After the last race I was only notified how many races I had done, and to see that almost correlate with the career that Ayrton did, I couldn't believe it,'' he explained. ''Now I am set on that goal, and very close. It may or may not happen this weekend, I still have a serious challenge ahead of me, but it feels great to be up there.''

The Briton's major threats this weekend come from Rosberg and Ferrari's Vettel, whose grand prix wins in Malaysia and Hungary this year were the only interruptions to Mercedes' dominance.

Both those victories came in hot conditions, which will again feature in tropical Singapore - raising the prospect of Ferrari again being able to preserve tires better than Mercedes. However, Vettel wasn't counting on it.

''It's a very difficult comparison, Malaysia and here,'' Vettel said. ''The sun goes down, we race at night, which makes a big difference. The track's completely different, we use different (tire) compounds.

''Looking at this year so far, when it's hotter, maybe we were a bit more competitive, and that's a good thing, but this circuit is unique in many ways.''

There will be a new face in the racing lineup this weekend, with American driver Alexander Rossi to make his debut with the Manor team. Rossi, who has previously driven in practice sessions for Manor and the former Caterham team, will replace Roberto Merhi for five of the remaining seven races this season.

''I've been close quite a few times, and it's very surreal now that it's about to happen,'' Rossi said. ''This is a major step in really firmly putting myself on the Formula One map.''

Rossi has held talks about the prospect of a race drive with the Haas team when it enters F1 in 2016, but despite the natural fit of an American driver with an American team, the signals are that those seats have already been assigned.

Current Lotus driver Romain Grosjean has been linked with a move to Haas next season, and hinted at that on Thursday without confirming the move.

''I've made my decision, everything is clear in my head,'' Grosjean said. ''I know what's going to happen with me in the future, but if you don't mind, I won't tell you any more.''

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