By Neil Leverett
- Lewis Hamilton secures fourth World Drivers’ Championship in Mexico
- Briton wins title after Sebastian Vettel fails to finish in top two, despite Hamilton finishing in ninth
- 32-year-old become first British driver to win crown on four occasions
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – After Lewis Hamilton wins his fourth World Championship in central America, what were the key moments in this season’s Formula season that led the Briton to glory and now history?
Briton penalised in Sakhir
Back in April during just the third Grand Prix of the season, Lewis Hamilton was hit by a penalty in Bahrain that was a valuable lesson for the Briton which few could argue was a moment that a formerly rather uncaring and arrogant individual – as he has been perceived in the media – was forced to move on from and better not only himself, but his driving persona.
Having been adjudged to have deliberately held off Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on pit-entry in Sakhir, Hamilton was given a five-second stop-go penalty which he served on his final stop in the Middle East and rejoined the race in third.
Despite failing to overhaul Sebastian Vettel for the win, team-mate Valtteri Bottas was instructed to let the 32-year-old pass to take second spot and what might have been viewed as a defeat, can perhaps in hindsight be seen as a major learning curve for the Brit.
Brilliance in Barcelona
The Spanish GP saw a masterclass in strategic awareness that secured full points at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
After Hamilton secured pole position on the Saturday, Vettel then passed him as the lights went green. But following a stratagem of the highest order by the Mercedes team, the Briton then saw positions reversed.
After Ferrari had gained the initiative by beating their opponents to the punch to pit first, rivals Mercedes then elected to switch to a slower medium tyre over the softer option, with the idea Hamilton would attack Vettel in the closing stages of the race.
Together with team-mate Bottas holding up the German to take vital seconds off his existing lead, Hamilton then hunted his foe for seven gripping laps before a masterful overtake on a circuit notoriously difficult to do so.
The Brit held on from lap 44 to record his 55th F1 win, and arguably one of his finest.
High noon in Azerbaijan
In what may have been the biggest moment in the calendar, the stakes were ramped up in Baku as Hamilton and Vettel – literally – came to mechanical blows on the Caspian Sea.
In a race that saw multiple crashes and three safety cars, Vettel was given a ten-second penalty for swerving into his British rival on restart from the safety car formation lap.
Despite being penalised, the German extended his championship lead as Hamilton sustained damage to the interior of his car and was forced to pit for safety reasons due to a faulty head restraint.
Hamilton rejoined the race behind Vettel and battled to pull level with the German but did not have the pace to do so, finishing fifth as Vettel opened up a 14-point advantage.
The racing incident irrevocably raised the motoring stakes and whilst respect remained for one another’s glittering career to date, personally, lines had been crossed which made for a spicy remainder of the season to come on the track.
Hamilton wins psychological battle in Spa
With Hamilton still seething from events in Azerbaijan, Vettel and Hamilton went toe-to-toe and exchanged with wins at Silverstone and the Hungaroring in the following weeks before the mid-season break.
In Hungary, Hamilton showed his team ethics – perhaps learnt during the course of the season – as the Briton gave up third place to Bottas, as the Finn’s faster car took the final spot on the podium.
On resumption, the win at Spa-Francorchamps then was a massive mental battle won in Belgium, that boosted the Brit’s chances of another world title.
In another closely-fought duel on the Belgian tarmac, Hamilton came out on top against his bloody-minded opponent after fending off an attack from Vettel off another safety car restart, which saw the Mercedes driver take control to the chequered flag.
With another win – more dominant in nature – at Monza in Italy, Hamilton took the lead in the standings for the first time in the campaign, despite a trio of races in Asia to come that could be decisive for Ferrari.
Vettel and Ferrari’s Asian nightmare
It was indeed the case, but to the detriment instead of the Italian Red. If Baku was a psychological tremor overcame by Hamilton, events at the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore were seismic ones.
With Asian three races in the Lion City, Sepang and Suzuku to come, the faster and more reliable Ferrari was meant to not only see Vettel overtake his foe once more, but establish a healthy lead as the drivers arrived in Austin for the US GP. The path of racing however, swung quite the opposite way.
Having taken pole, Vettel approached Turn One from the home straight, but collided with his number two Kimi Raikkonen and the increasingly unfortunate Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.
The latter two drivers were forced to retire, whilst Vettel despite attempting to continue was forced out of the race and boxed his car on the opening lap.
Hamilton meanwhile after qualifying in fifth, swooped past the commotion and into the lead by the fourth corner. He went on to win at a canter, but would have been saying a quiet thank you to the sporting gods of Singapore.
Malaysia was equally as destructive for Vettel’s hopes after suffering engine problems in Q1, that saw the German forced to start from the back of the grid.
What followed was nothing short of heroism to finish in fourth, but with Hamilton taking second behind Verstappen, followed by another win in Japan, Vettel’s hopes of a fifth world title were in ruins.
Hamilton now becomes the first British driver to win the world title for the fourth time and sits level with Vettel and Alain Prost, behind only Juan Manuel Fangio with five wins to his name and Michael Schumacher on seven.
A feat many have now suggested, could be targeted by Hamilton.
The Brazilian Grand Prix takes at Interlagos between the 10-12 November
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