Lewis Hamilton crowned world champion for a fourth time

Mercedes driver recovers from first lap collision as Max Verstappen wins in Mexico

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his fourth world championship after his ninth place finish in Mexico. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his fourth world championship after his ninth place finish in Mexico. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty

 

There may have been no win in Mexico for Lewis Hamilton but after a nail-biting finale the British driver ensured he earned the glory by securing his fourth Formula One world championship. He finished in ninth after a dramatic start involving a clash with his championship rival Sebastian Vettel that put the British driver into last place. The race was won by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull but Vettel’s recovery from 19th to fourth was insufficient to continue his challenge.

Vettel’s fightback was determined but Hamilton held a 66-point advantage going into the race and it ultimately proved enough to take his place in the history books as Britain’s most successful racing driver. After a season that has pushed the 32-year-old to perform at his very best, the end was nerve- racking but the championship deserved.

Hamilton had wanted to seal this title in style with a win at the Mexican Grand Prix but it was almost out of his hands at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez after he and Vettel touched on the opening lap, inflicting a puncture and the subsequent pit stop which put him a full minute off the lead.

“Did he hit me deliberately?” Hamilton asked, but the stewards took no further action on what did appear to be a racing incident, and although both he and Vettel fought back through the grid, the German had too much to do.

This fourth title, after winning for McLaren in 2008 and twice for Mercedes in 2014 and 2015, is one more than Sir Jackie Stewart achieved when he claimed his third in 1973. It is one more than Hamilton’s hero Ayrton Senna scored and puts him level with Alain Prost and Vettel. Only two drivers have more – Juan Manuel Fangio on five and Michael Schumacher with seven.

It is a remarkable achievement given how hard he has been pushed by Vettel. The German knew his only chance of staying in the fight here was to win or finish second because the championship had already swung decisively in Hamilton’s favour over the course of three races in the second half of the season.

Ferrari had opened the season strongly in testing and proved from the off to have an extremely competitive car – arguably better than the Mercedes which, while quick has struggled for setup and balance at certain circuits. It made the fight between the pair very tight, as punch and counter-punch across meetings left little to choose between them. Vettel had led since the opening round, with Hamilton only once sharing the top spot with him at the second round in China.

Lewis Hamilton has been crowned Formula One world champion for a fourth time. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters
Lewis Hamilton has been crowned Formula One world champion for a fourth time. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Getting to the point of winning the title had been far from plain sailing. He had difficulty with the car, described by the team executive director, Toto Wolff, as a “diva”, at Russia, Monaco and Hungary and took a grid penalty in Austria. Vettel’s barge on him in Baku was a flashpoint but it was a loose headrest that ultimately cost him the win in Azerbaijan. Crucially, however, he made the most of these difficult weekends to stay in touch with the German.

When he had the pace he exploited it, with three wins in China, Spain and Canada and an absolutely dominant display for the home fans at Silverstone. But by the summer break after Hungary he was still 14 points behind Vettel. What followed was a virtuoso performance that was finished off in Mexico. A flawless run at Spa, where he was hounded to the line by Vettel, was followed by another dominant meeting in Monza where he finally took the lead.

The fight looked to be going to the wire but Vettel’s hopes disappeared over the following three meetings. At Singapore he went out in a first corner crash; in Malaysia an engine penalty meant fourth was the best he could manage and in Japan a spark plug failure forced his retirement on lap four. After Suzuka Hamilton had a 59-point lead, which was 66 after his win at the US GP – an advantage that proved vital in Mexico.

It was not straightforward, though. The Mercedes diva was once more proving demanding, struggling with the high downforce requirements of the circuit in the thin air of the altitude of Mexico City. Hamilton could qualify only in third, which Wolff believed was the best they could have expected.

But that proved to be the least of their problems when the race began. After a strong start, with the frontrunners Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen heading into turn one together, Vettel and Verstappen touched through two with the Dutch driver taking the lead and Hamilton had to go round the outside of them both into turn three. He had passed Vettel in doing so but the pair just clipped one another. Hamilton took a puncture to his right rear and Vettel damage to the front wing. Both had to pit at the end of the lap and Hamilton emerged in last place, behind Vettel in 19th.

Vettel moved up to eighth by lap 32 with some skilful, controlled but aggressive driving. Hamilton had found things more difficult and the team opted to pit him under the virtual safety car on lap 32 with Vettel following a lap later. They emerged in 16th and seventh respectively but Vettel’s gap to Valtteri Bottas in second was still a minute. His charge continued and he had reached sixth by lap 51 but ran out of time to make it further than fourth.

Hamilton’s determination to ensure he did all he could was clear, however. He, too, then came through the field until he and Fernando Alonso went wheel-to-wheel on lap 69. After some absolutely superb racing between turns one and five where Hamilton finally made it stick, he took ninth place – enough to ensure the title even if Vettel had claimed second.

In the end Hamilton’s points advantage had been enough. He already had the numbers that made the difference, including 12 podiums, 11 poles, seven fastest laps and nine wins this season to Vettel’s four. It was not how he would have wanted to seal the title, but it will in no way diminish the pleasure he takes from what has been the most demanding championship of his career.

(Guardian service)

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