Lewis Hamilton became the most successful British F1 driver on Sunday as he won the Formula One World Championship at the Mexican Grand Prix.
After starting third and colliding with Vettel on the first lap, he climbed back up the field to cross the line in 9th place, which was enough to secure his fourth world title.
It had been a tense race which had drawn an end to rival Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of a fifth world title, as he was unable to bridge what was a sixty-six point gap between himself and Hamilton going into the race.
Having started in pole position, Vettel was immediately overtaken by Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in turn 1.
As the two drivers fought up ahead, Hamilton, who had started in third place, swooped around the outside of Vettel through turns 2 and 3.
It was on the exit of turn 2 where Vettel made contact with Verstappen and lost part of his front wing.
As Verstappen closed the door and as Hamilton swooped around the outside, Vettel further damaged his front wing as he struggled to counter the oversteer on his Ferrari and made contact with Hamilton’s right-rear tyre.
It was enough to give Hamilton a puncture, and the British driver quickly fell down the order.
He limped back to the pit lane for an emergency pit stop, followed closely by the FIA Medical Car which was returning to the pits after the race start.
Hamilton returned to the track with a huge gap between himself and Vettel, who at the time was in 19th position, and with the threat of being lapped by Verstappen who was just starting his second lap in first place.
It was then a matter of climbing back up through the field, which was a harder task for Hamilton than for Vettel.
Hamilton remained in last place behind the Renault of Carlos Sainz for some time, only moving back up the order as drivers made pit stops.
Mercedes W08 Woes
At the start of the season, it had become clear that the Mercedes W08 F1 car was unable to follow competitors as easily as the Ferrari’s while in traffic.
This meant that during the Mexican Grand Prix, while Vettel was able to claw his way up from 19th to 4th by the end of the race, Hamilton spent much of the race at the back of the pack unable to overtake the cars in front.
When he finally caught up to the Renault RS17 of Carlos Sainz Jr, Hamilton’s race engineer told him to drop back, as the engine was overheating due to a lack of colder air cooling the Mercedes-Benz power unit while closely following Sainz.
Keeping the dream alive
Coming to the race, Hamilton needed only a fifth place finish to secure the title regardless of Vettel’s finishing position, having led the championship by a whopping 66 points.
In order to keep his title hopes alive, Vettel needed two 1st place finishes and one 2nd place finish.
Each Grand Prix win is worth 25 points, with a 2nd place worth 18 points, and 15 points for 3rd.
Two 1st places and one 2nd place finish would’ve given Vettel 68 points, winning the world title by 2 points.
However, this was resting solely on title rival Hamilton scoring no points at all in the last three races – an almost impossible situation.
As it happened, Vettel’s fourth place finish wasn’t enough, even with the promise of two possible wins in the upcoming Grands Prix in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
The gap stood at 56 points after the race, with Vettel scoring 12 points and Hamilton scoring 2 points.
Hamilton: Britain’s best F1 driver?
Hamilton is now the most successful British F1 driver in Formula One history, overtaking the previous record of 3 titles he’d shared with Sir Jackie Stewart.
After a great start to his career in his rookie season with McLaren, many experts believed he could win the title in his debut 2007 season.
After a thrilling season partnered with Fernando Alonso, a season where the two came to blows at multiple times, a retirement in the Chinese Grand Prix and a troubled finale in Brazil meant the title went to Ferrari newbie Kimi Räikkönen, previously a McLaren driver himself.
Hamilton’s first championship title came the following year in only his second full-time F1 season.
Entering the final race in Brazil, Hamilton needed only a 5th place finish to snatch the title from closest rival Felipe Massa, then a Ferrari driver, by one point.
After a tough start to the race, Hamilton climbed his way back up the field into the top ten.
Rainfall forced a lot of the drivers to pit and change to wet tyres, and Hamilton too, as he had been overtaken by then-Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Vettel.
Coming back out onto the track, Hamilton’s title hopes seemed to be slipping away, but up ahead in fifth place, Timo Glock, who hadn’t pitted for tyres and who had remained out on the Bridgestone slick compound tyres, was struggling for grip on an ever wetter Sao Paolo race track.
As Felipe Massa crossed the line in 1st to take what he thought was the title win as well, his family on jubilation, a dramatic overtake by Hamilton on Timo Glock on the last corner of the last lap secured him the title.
It wouldn’t be until 2014, the first year of the new V6 turbo-hybrid era of Formula One, that Hamilton would claim his second world title in Abu Dhabi, securing the title with a haul of 50 points in what was a controversial move by the FIA to award double points to the winner of the final Grand Prix of the year.
His closest rival, Mercedes GP teammate Nico Rosberg, retired from the 2014 finale with a mechanical fault.
Hamilton’s third title followed the year after at the US Grand Prix, as Rosberg slipped up in the long right-hander at the end of the lap, gifting Hamilton the race win and also enough points to seal the title win.
It was in the post-race, pre-podium cooldown room where the now infamous ‘hatgate’ incident occurred.
After a jubilant Hamilton passed a podium finishers’ hat to his teammate, Rosberg chucked the hat back at his teammate in disgust at his own driving.
However, the German made a strong comeback, taking three wins in the final three Grands Prix to end the 2015 season on a high.
A strong 2016 campaign for Rosberg, coupled with constant mechanical problems for Hamilton, put the Brit’s hopes of three consecutive championship titles in doubt, and Rosberg took the F1 World Championship win at Abu Dhabi in 2016.
As Rosberg retired from the sport shortly after winning the title, the ball was back in Hamilton’s court, only challenged by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel throughout 2017.