AUSTIN (Texas): Valtteri Bottas won the battle but Lewis Hamilton won the war, securing his sixth Formula One world championship on Sunday, despite finishing second to his Mercedes team-mate at the US Grand Prix.
Bottas, the last man with a chance of denying Hamilton another title, needed nothing less a victory at the Circuit of the Americas and did his part collecting his seventh career win and fourth of the season.
But it was not enough to keep the Briton from becoming only the second driver after retired Ferrari great and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher to win six titles.
The math was as simple as it was daunting for Bottas, Hamilton would secure the title by finishing eighth or better but would not need any points to retain the championship if the Finn did not win.
Hamilton already has plenty of records, including 87 pole positions and his 83 wins put him on course to surpass Schumacher’s record tally of 91 next year and a chance to join the German great at the top of Formula One’s list of drivers’ champions.
“I’m working on a masterpiece and I haven’t quite finished it yet,” said Hamilton, who could join Schumacher next season with a seventh title. “I think it takes a long time to master a craft and I feel like I am mastering it but there is still more to master, to add to it.”
A sellout crowd, that included both of Hamilton’s parents, arrived early at a sun-kissed circuit outside Austin expecting to see a coronation and were not disappointed as the Briton battled Bottas to the death.
Much of the drama had been removed from the championship chase but Hamilton had the crowd on the edge of their seats showing why he is recognised as one of most competitive racers of all-time as he tried to crown his championship with a seventh US Grand Prix victory.
He fell just short of crossing the finishing line first but nothing could stop him from sealing another driver’s title.
“I did my part which feels good but Lewis was still strong this weekend as he always is so he got some points and got the championship,” said Bottas. “Lewis I am sure really wanted to win the title while winning the race I got stop that so that feels good.”
Once he parked, Hamilton stood on his car and grabbed his head in both hands, then draped himself in a Union Jack flag. Minutes later, rival Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, whose run of four straight titles was ended by Hamilton in 2014, embraced him with a handshake and a hug.
The sixth championship moves Hamilton past Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio, the “Godfather” of F1 drivers who won five titles in the 1950s.
“It’s an honour to be up here with these [past] greats,” Hamilton said.
Any thoughts that Hamilton might approach the race with some caution were quickly removed as he went on the attack right from the start, shooting from fifth to third before the first lap was completed.
That made the championship all but inevitable, as a finish as low as eighth would clinch it.
Hamilton wasn’t going to settle for that.
He secured the 2015 title on the same track when he fought off Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the final laps to get the victory. He was somewhat disappointed in in 2017 and 2018 when he clinched those titles in Mexico City without reaching the podium either time.
That made a podium Sunday a must.
“My dad taught me when I was like 6 or 7 years old to never give up. That’s our family motto,” Hamilton said. “That’s all was thinking all day, ‘How could I win this race?’”
With Hamilton on a one-stop strategy and Bottas and Verstappen on two, the Briton took over the lead after his two challengers made their second pit-stops.
Victory now depended on whichever driver could make their tyres last.
With four laps to go Bottas swept past Hamilton who then focused on fighting off a late challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen finished third ahead of Charles Leclerc of Ferrari — some compensation to team boss Mattia Binotto on his 50th birthday following the early retirement, with broken suspension, of Vettel — with Alex Albon fifth in the second Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth for Renault ahead of the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, Nico Hulkenberg in the second Renault and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2019