He may not have won the race, but Lewis Hamilton did enough to win his fourth Formula 1 championship at the Mexican Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen comfortably claimed victory finishing almost 20 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took third place on the podium.
But inevitably all eyes were on Vettel starting on pole and title hopeful Hamilton who began third on the grid. An early scuffle over the opening corners quickly extinguished Vettel’s slim chances of staying alive in the title race and an eventual ninth place from Hamilton was enough to mathematically end any chance of Vettel beating him to the 2017 title.
Chaotic Start Shapes Title Outcome
It was a chaotic start at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and one that ultimately determined the outcome of the race and the title.
Verstappen made a fast getaway and drew alongside polesitter Vettel on the outside of the Turn 1 right-hander and claimed the lead into the left at Turn 2. In the process, he clipped Vettel’s front wing with carbon fibre flying off. Meanwhile, Hamilton got a clean run and when a gap opened on the outside into Turn 3 he snatched second but his right rear tyre was hit and punctured as they exited the corner.
Hamilton asked on his team radio: “Do you think he hit me deliberately?”. His team did not reply, although that seems unlikely as Vettel had far more to lose in the title contest by purposely damaging his car.
Either way, both pitted for repairs and fresh soft-compound tyres and on returning to the track Vettel began making good progress while Hamilton was stuck behind Renault’s Carlos Sainz for almost 30 laps with poor downforce due to a damaged diffuser.
Hamilton Fights Back
Hamilton’s race took a change in fortune when he pitted for super-soft tyres under the virtual safety car, brought out when Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso started billowing white smoke on lap 31.
The new tyres gave the Englishman better grip and he start to move through the field getting into ninth place after a mouth-watering dual with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso that saw both drivers side-by-side from Turn 1 to Turn 6 with just laps remaining.
Meanwhile, Vettel needed to get into second place – with Hamilton in ninth – to extend the title contest to Brazil but the challenge was too much. Not even a team orchestrated change with Raikkonen would have been enough and the German ended 50 seconds off second.
Hamilton Now an F1 Legend
Hamilton has polarized spectators over the years but like him or not, the mercurial talent now moves alongside Vettel and Alain Prost on four world championships. It makes him the most successful British formula 1 driver of all time and he took a moment to let it all sink in as he crossed the line, putting his helmet in his hands and slowing to an almost crawl.
Vettel pulled alongside him and applauded as the raging crowd rose to their feet in recognition of Hamilton’s achievement.
“Lewis has done a superb job all year and deserves to win the title,” said Vettel. “Congratulations to him. It is his day.”
Even after the race Hamilton was struggling to soak in his championship.
“Honestly it doesn’t feel real,” said Hamilton. “It was a horrible way to [win the title] to be honest, but what could I do?”
“I wasn’t going to go easy at Turn 1 and I don’t think I was too aggressive or anything – I placed my car in the perfect position. I’m looking forward to seeing the replay because I left a lot of space for the car behind. But I kept going, kept coming back.”
“A big thank you to my family and my team. Mercedes have been incredible over the last five years and I am so proud to be a part of it.”