Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton joined the elite ranks of double world champions on Sunday after a nerve-racking drive to victory in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In a floodlit race overshadowed by the ever-present spectre of mechanical failure after the Briton’s Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg suffered a loss of power early on, Hamilton raced to his 11th win in 19 races.
The 29-year-old, who took his first title with McLaren in 2008, became Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971 and only the country’s fourth.
“Lewis, thank you very much for not letting the British public down,” Britain’s Prince Harry told him over the radio from the pit wall as the chequered flag came down. “You are an absolute legend.”
Hamilton, tearing up on the podium as the anthem sounded and his voice cracking in later interviews, performed a slowing down lap with the British flag fluttering from the cockpit.
“World champion. Oh my God, I can’t believe it, thanks everyone,” he had shouted over the radio before parking up and embracing his father, pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and family.
The victory was a record 16th of the season for Mercedes.
Rosberg finished 14th after starting on pole position, the much-vaunted “duel in the desert” becoming a nightmare after dark for the German son of 1982 champion Keke.
He had suffered a loss of power from the 25th of 55 laps, then complained about losing brakes as he fell down the order.
When the team asked him to pit and retire, Rosberg asked to stay out so he could at least end the season on track and he crossed the line 14th.
“Sorry it didn’t work out but you drove like a champion,” said Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe. “We come back next year to have another go.”
Rosberg needed to win with Hamilton finishing third or lower, or finish in the top five with Hamilton not finishing in the points in order to take the championship. The rivalry, which left the rest of the teams behind fighting for third place, was the highlight of the year.
Mercedes was unbeatable, with the constructors’ championship being tied up long before the end of the season.
However, the season was far from boring. The rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg sometimes got nasty, with tensions flaring throughout. Rosberg accepted defeat gracefully, though, congratulating his teammate before Hamilton stepped out onto the podium.
As predicted by some, it all came down to reliability.
Brazilian Felipe Massa finished second for Williams in the race, with Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas third.
‘The greatest day of my life’
Hamilton declared Sunday the greatest day of his life.
“The feeling I have now is way, way past that and above and beyond,” the Mercedes driver told reporters with tears in his eyes.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever. I’m grateful to God, I’m grateful for my car finishing and really, to everyone, thank you so much,” added the Briton.
The Briton had made several errors in qualifying, enough to prompt the team’s non-executive chairperson Niki Lauda to suggest Hamilton might not be sleeping too soundly on Saturday night.
Hamilton had insisted he would sleep like a baby but the reality was very different. He was nervous, tense at what the day might hold.
“Niki was right, I didn’t sleep last night. I went to bed at about 1am and woke up at like 5am,” he admitted.
“I thought for sure I’m going to be tired when it gets to the race but somehow I felt composed.”
Hamilton made the start of his life, rocketing off the line and away before Rosberg could react.
“This has been an incredible year. I just cannot believe how amazing this has all been,” he said.
“This is the greatest moment in my life … It feels very surreal. It feels like an out-of-body experience. I feel like I’m back here watching this going on, it’s not really happening.”
‘King of Formula 1’
The front pages of British newspapers were splashed with photos of a champagne-soaked Hamilton dubbed the king of Formula 1 on Monday.
“Tearful Hamilton is crowned king of F1” announced the Daily Mirror, while the Daily Express chose the back page headline “on top of the world”.
With the caption “Sparkling moment for Hamilton as he clinches F1 title”, The Daily Telegraph showed a photo of the champion being sprayed with champagne as he held the cup.
With a vivid photo of the driver raising his fist in victory in front of a Union flag, The Daily Telegraph‘s sports section announced “Hamilton joins the sporting greats by winning his second world title”.
The Daily Mail punned with the back page headline “The Wheel Deal”, while the Daily Star chose “Lew beaut!” with a photo of the champion triumphantly carrying the British flag.
The newspaper noted Hamilton’s triumph in his season-long battle with Rosberg, saying “Hamilton leaves Nico in his wake”.
The Guardian also picked a pun to illustrate a photo of Hamilton as he was lifted up by his team, with the subtitle “Lapping it up: Hamilton’s second F1 world title.”
The Sun highlighted Hamilton’s switch to new team Mercedes after quitting McLaren, reporting that he would “cash in” by opening talks for a £100-million deal.
Scherzinger also drew headlines, with the Daily Mail running a front-page photo of the singer with her hands to her mouth in the tense moments before his victory.
Daily paper the Metro showed a picture of the performer, who rose to fame as a member of The Pussycat Dolls, kissing the driver’s helmet with the caption “Hamilton’s F1 title sealed with Nic’s kiss”. – Reuters, AFP, Staff reporter