Lewis Hamilton has been crowned Formula One drivers’ champion for the fourth time following a dramatic Mexico Grand Prix in which he sustained a puncture on the opening lap.
The Mercedes man was involved in a coming together with title rival Sebastian Vettel during a frantic start that also saw the German make contact with eventual race-winner Max Verstappen.
Hamilton and Vettel had to pit following the incident, pushing them to the back of the field as a blame game ensued over team radio.
Stewards deemed there to be no need for an investigation and Vettel – needing at least a second-place finish to have a chance of keeping the title race alive – set about picking off the drivers who lay between him and where he needed to be.
The moment when HAM & VET on Lap 1 #MexicoGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/3WIQtaeYfS
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 29, 2017
Hamilton had come into the race knowing a top-five finish would be enough to win the title but, even though his own race appeared ruined by the early setback, the impact of the collision on Vettel played hugely into the Briton’s favor.
Vettel eventually worked his way to a fourth-place finish but would have needed victory as Hamilton finished ninth to take an unassailable 56-point lead in the championship with two races remaining.
The race was won by Red Bull’s Verstappen, who emerged unscathed from the first-lap jostling to finish ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton’s fourth title triumph makes him the most successful British driver of all time, moving clear of Jackie Stewart, as well as the likes of Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet, who all won three.
Only Michael Schumacher (7) and Juan Manuel Fangio (5) have claimed more drivers’ crowns than Hamilton, who is now level with Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost.
FIRST-LAP CHAOS COSTS VETTEL
The last time Vettel and Verstappen lined up alongside each other on the front row of the grid was in Singapore earlier this season.
On that occasion, Verstappen found himself as the meat in a Ferrari sandwich between Vettel and Raikkonen into turn one, leading to a collision that forced the retirement of all three drivers.
And the same front-row combination delivered on drama again on Sunday, Verstappen producing some typically bold driving to push Vettel for the lead.
A touch between the two damaged the front wing of the German, the jagged edge of which then caught the right rear tyre of Hamilton into Turn 2 in an incident that would define the race.
Vettel’s progress through the field was quicker than Hamilton’s but he ultimately fell well short of the win he would have needed to keep the title race alive.
BEST OF BRITISH
Great Britain has produced more F1 champions than any other country, with 10 drivers winning a total of 17 titles.
But among names like Stewart, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell, Hamilton can now claim to be the most successful British driver of all time.
The former McLaren man claimed his first title in 2008, having finished as runner-up to Raikkonen in his debut season a year earlier.
Hamilton had to wait until 2014 for his second victory, following a period of dominance for Red Bull and Vettel, but made it back-to-back titles in 2015.
Team-mate Nico Rosberg got the better of Hamilton last time around before retiring as world champion, yet the latter returned to the top of the sport on Sunday after Vettel’s title challenge faded in the second half of the season.
HAM: “Mercedes have been incredible for the past five years” #MexicoGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/2snSWkXvKq
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 29, 2017
THE VERSTAPPEN-KVYAT CURIOSITY
All three of Verstappen’s race wins in F1 have come immediately after Daniil Kvyat has been dropped.
The Dutchman won his first race in Spain last year after being moved to Red Bull at the expense of the Russian, who was demoted to Toro Rosso.
Kvyat was then replaced by Pierre Gasly for this season’s Malaysian Grand Prix, which was won by Verstappen, before returning to drive in the United States last time out.
True to form, with Kvyat again without a seat, Verstappen climbed back to the top step of the podium in Mexico.
IN THE POINTS
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +19.678s
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +54.007s
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +70.078s
5. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1 lap
6. Lance Stroll (Williams) +1 lap
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 lap
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1 lap
9. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +1 lap – Champion
10. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +1 lap
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 333
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 277 (-56)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 262 (-71)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 192 (-141)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 178 (-155)
1. Mercedes 595 – Champions
2. Ferrari 455 (-140)
3. Red Bull 340 (-255)
4. Force India 175 (-420)
5. Williams 76 (-519)
F1 heads to Brazil in a fortnight. Having missed out on the championship, Vettel’s focus will now be on clinging to second place with Bottas closing in.