Lewis Hamilton wins F1 world title after dramatic start to Mexican GP

• Hamilton and title rival Sebastian Vettel collide on first lap
• Briton becomes fifth driver in history to win four titles

High drama, incident, excitement and a nail-biting finale – it is unlikely Lewis Hamilton would have imagined that securing his fourth Formula One championship would prove such an extraordinary business. But at the end of it all, with a ninth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix, he did indeed emerge as champion.

There was understandable joy and elation from the 32-year-old at his remarkable achievement in becoming Britain’s most successful racing driver and not a little relief after a race that had the driver, his team and fans on the edge of their seats.

World titles

7 Michael Schumacher (Germany)

5 Juan Manuel Fangio (Argentina)

4 Lewis Hamilton (GB)

4 Alain Prost (France)

4 Sebastian Vettel (Germany)

3 Jack Brabham (Australia)

3 Jackie Stewart (GB)

3 Niki Lauda (Austria)

3 Nelson Piquet (Brazil)

3 Ayrton Senna (Brazil)

Pole positions

1st Lewis Hamilton 72 (2nd Schumacher 68)

Race wins

1st Michael Schumacher 91 (2nd Hamilton 62)

Percentage wins

1st Juan Manuel Fangio 46.15% (6th Hamilton 30.24%)

Podium finishes

1st Michael Schumacher 155 (2nd Hamilton 116)

Fastest laps

1st Michael Schumacher 77 (4th Hamilton 38)

Consecutive starts

1st Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg 206

“It was a horrible way to do it, to be honest,” he said after a run of five wins from the last six races meant he clinched the title with his lowest finish of the season. He ended down the field after a clash with his championship rival, Sebastian Vettel, at the start put the British driver into last place. The race was won by Max Verstappen, his second victory of the season 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 had a 66-point advantage going into the race and it proved enough for him to take his place in the history books. After a season that has pushed him to perform at his very best, the end was nerve-racking but the championship deserved.

Hamilton had wanted to seal it with a win in style at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez but that was almost out of his hands after the opening-lap incident. Hamilton took a puncture and the subsequent pit stop put him a full minute off the lead; damage to the diffuser meant he had lost performance, making any fightback even harder, while Vettel was also forced to visit the pits for a new nose.

“Did he hit me deliberately?” asked Hamilton, but the stewards took no further action after what did appear to be a racing incident. Although both drivers came back through the pack, 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 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 proved to have an extremely competitive car this season – it was arguably better than the Mercedes which has struggled for set-up 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.

Reaching the point of being able to take the title in Mexico had been far from plain sailing. Hamilton had difficulty with the car in 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 a dominant display at Silverstone. But by the summer break after Hungary he was still 14 points behind Vettel. What followed was a virtuoso performance that was concluded in Mexico.

Wins at Spa and Monza were sealed and the fight looked to be going to the wire, but Vettel’s hopes disappeared with two DNFs at Singapore and Japan and only fourth in Malaysia. After his win at last week’s US GP Hamilton was 66 points ahead – an advantage that proved vital in Mexico.

This race seemed almost certain to be host to the denouement of the season but was not expected to be quite as dramatic as it proved. After a strong start, with the front runners Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen heading into turn one together, Vettel and Verstappen touched through turn two with the Dutch driver taking the lead and Hamilton having 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 was blameless but took a puncture to his right rear and Vettel damage to the front wing. Both had to come into the pits 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 skilful, controlled but aggressive driving. Hamilton, with damage, had found things more difficult and the team opted to pit him under the VSC 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 full minute. His charge continued and he had reached sixth by lap 51 but ran out of time to make it further than fourth.

Hamilton had been told by the team that Vettel would be unable to reach the second place he needed but the British driver’s determination to ensure he did all he could was clear. He came through the field until going wheel to wheel with Fernando Alonso on lap 69 – two from the end. After some 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.

The title was the objective and, while Hamilton may not like to look back on how it was closed out, it will in no way diminish the pleasure he takes from winning one of the most demanding championships of his career.


Giles Richards at Mexico City

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