Lewis Hamilton has hailed Rory McIlroy as “phenomenal” ahead of their Sunday night showdown for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
McIlroy has long been a clear favourite for the honour given his wins this year in The Open and USPGA, as well as helping Europe to victory in the Ryder Cup.
But after claiming his second Formula One world title a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi, so Hamilton’s odds have shortened considerably and he is pushing McIlroy to the wire.
“I’m excited to be going,” said Hamilton, ahead of flying into London from Los Angeles where he has held a number of business meetings over recent days.
“I went in 2007 and 2008 and I’m certain that back then I didn’t even have one hundredth of the support I have right now.
“That support has really grown over the years. The fans have just been amazing, incredible.
“A lot of Brits have come up to me and told me how proud they are, that they are huge fans.”
Hamilton recognises what McIlroy has achieved this year, and ahead of the SPOTY event at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow showed true sportsmanship to tell him as much this past week.
“I messaged Rory, wishing him all the best for it and told him I’ll see him this Sunday,” added Hamilton.
“I also congratulated him on an incredible year because he has been phenomenal, and at his age too.”
After finishing runner-up in his F1 debut year of 2007 to Joe Calzaghe and again in his first title-winning season of 2008 to Sir Chris Hoy, Hamilton is expecting to finish second for a third time, not that that concerns him.
“I remember ‘08 and losing to a Sir, so I didn’t mind that,” said a joking Hamilton.
“But I don’t think I have to win anything more than I have, or to show what I’ve achieved, or to prove how much support I have.
“I know I’m aware of the support I have. I never thought I’d have people tuning in to their TVs or turning up at races to support me.
“And this isn’t like I’m going for the world championship and I’m dying to win it with everything in my power.
“Instead this is one of those events where you feel quite privileged to be amongst all the great stars also there.
“I know it’s going to be a good experience being there - although I do anticipate me being runner-up again!”
After what has been a whirlwind past two weeks for Hamilton following his championship triumph, SPOTY represents the last awards event prior to him finally taking a break.
“The last couple of weeks have been pretty intense, pretty crazy with interviews, doing stuff for Mercedes, various other awards shows.
“I’ve not really had any time for myself, but I’m still on a high, and the reception and response has been amazing.
“But after these awards I’m gone. Every year you have to be very selfish with your time. I believe you have to be because it is such a long year.
“You have to get away as soon as possible, have a couple of weeks’ break and then start training again just before Christmas for the next season. That’s what I like to do.
“This year the BBC Sports Personality has shifted everything later, so my break starts a lot later than usual, and now I can’t wait.”
There is a 10-strong shortlist with McIlroy tipped to win the public vote and become the first golfer to win the award since Nick Faldo in 1989.
Jo Pavey, whose 10,000m gold medal in Zurich made her the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 games, is one of four female contenders and has described her inclusion as “beyond my wildest dreams”.
Olympic skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold did her own chances no harm by claiming victory in the opening World Cup race of the new season in Lake Placid on Friday night.
Skier Kelly Gallagher, who with her guide Charlotte Evans was crowned Great Britain’s first Winter Paralympic champion, and all-conquering dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin are also included on the list.
Gareth Bale is the only footballer to make the cut after an impressive first season with Real Madrid, while boxer Carl Froch also earns a place after his conclusive Wembley rematch win over George Groves.
The list is completed by gymnast Max Whitlock, who won world, European and Commonwealth medals in 2014, and swimmer Adam Peaty, who won four European titles and two Commonwealth Games golds.