How Lewis Hamilton became Britain's most successful Formula 1 driver ever

Flash and splash: Lewis Hamilton soaks photographers as he celebrates winning the 2017 Drivers’ Championship at the Mexican Grand Prix
Flash and splash: Lewis Hamilton soaks photographers as he celebrates winning the 2017 Drivers’ Championship at the Mexican Grand Prix

It wasn’t the end we’d have scripted for the 2017 title race but it wasn’t exactly lacking in drama.

Predictable first-corner crunches, lots of engines expiring in Mexico City’s thin air and, inevitably, Lewis Hamilton taking his fourth championship.

But that’s selling the 2017 Mexican Grand Prix short – there were some cracking driving displays at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, and a tiny bit of naughty sauce from Max Verstappen. He’d earned it…

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Dear F1, Ham your man, for the fourth time

Mum’s the word: Lewis Hamilton laughing with his mother, Carmen Larbalestier, after the Mexican Grand Prix
Mum’s the word: Lewis Hamilton laughing with his mother, Carmen Larbalestier, after the Mexican Grand Prix

Securing his fourth World Championship, with a few races to spare, means Hamilton now leaves Sir Jackie Stewart behind to become Britain’s most successful F1 driver.

But it wasn’t the way he’d have chosen to take the 2017 title – in fact, he said it was a ‘horrible’ way to clinch the championship, although he was smiling when he said it.

That first-lap fankle when Vettel ran out of space and, just perhaps, talent, left Hamilton limping to the pits with a rear puncture and part of his diffuser missing, relegating him to the back of the pack, with a badly handicapped Mercedes.

He dragged his Silver Arrow back up to ninth, but it wasn’t the most convincing charge through the field; it wasn’t even a charge.

Hamilton found himself being lapped. It’s hard to recall the last time Hamilton was lapped – it happened at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, a time so distant that Fernando Alonso is recorded as a winner rather than a whiner.

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Instead of leading from the front or fighting with a Ferrari, Hamilton was struggling with Saubers and mixing it with McLarens (more of which later).

Of course, he did enough – he’d done enough in the last few races – and, as he crossed the finish line, Hamilton raised his hands to his visor, as if he was shedding a tear or two in victory.

But tears were there none. There was a slightly creepy congratulatory radio message from that footy fellow Neymar, who of late has been a bit of a Hansel to Hamilton’s Zoolander.

And there was a particularly awks interview on the track with David Coulthard – it wasn’t really an interview, more a series of increasingly desperate pleas from DC for Hamilton to say something, anything, then Hamilton praising Mexico’s F1 fans as the best in the world.

Which must have been galling for those fans in all the other countries where Hamilton has heaped identical praise this season. Ah well, it’s nice to be nice.

The whole thing felt weirdly anti-climactic – even Hamilton’s celebration doughnuts were a bit lacklustre, kind of like Krispy Kremes without icing.

In fact, the biggest ‘Oooh’ moment came when the entire podium rotated to reveal superstar DJ Hardwell.

Hardwell was the idea of F1 super-sponsor Heineken (don’t drink when you’re on the decks, dudes) and his appearance was worthwhile if only to glory in the expressions on the faces of second and third-place finishers Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen. The Finnish pair bore the pained look of parents who have stumbled into their kids’ party by mistake and would rather be somewhere, anywhere else, listening to something a little less jumpy.

Heh-heh. Kimi shrugged and took a huge swig of champagne, and the circus became a little more bearable for him.

Anyway, huge congratulations to Hamilton who, hopefully, can now enjoy racing as hard as he wants (and helping Bottas secure second place in the championship) for the last couple of races this season.

Vettel calls the pot black, has yet another bumpy encounter

Don’t you dare defend: Sebastian Vettel goes wheel-to-wheel with Felipe Massa – just before complaining Massa was too pushy with him
Don’t you dare defend: Sebastian Vettel goes wheel-to-wheel with Felipe Massa – just before complaining Massa was too pushy with him

Vettel has played a blinder on plenty of weekends this year but it’s those moments of madness or whatever that linger in the memory, the Baku bangs and the Singapore shunts.

And, now, the Mexico mayhem, when Vettel managed to clip the rears of both Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s cars in the opening corners, wrecking his own front wing and slim championship hopes in the process.

At best, it was clumsy – yes, Vettel knew he had to finish in the top two to keep his championship hopes alive and so a battle was always likely at the notorious Mexican first corner.

At worst… well, look at the onboard footage from Vettel’s Ferrari as he hits Hamilton. I’m not saying it was deliberate, just that if he hadn’t steered hard left when he did, neither he nor Hamilton would have been forced to pit.

Hamilton did radio his pit to ask if they thought Vettel had hit him deliberately. His engineer diplomatically opted not to take sides.

Look, Vettel was going up against Verstappen and Hamilton, three abreast into the opening corners; it was never going to end well.

Verstappen is the closest thing F1 has to a cage fighter, and Hamilton could theoretically have chosen to crash out with Vettel, sealing his championship victory in the dust of a collision – it has happened before in F1.

That start was a crying shame on two counts. Vettel’s recovery to fourth position earned him the Driver of the Day title, and it would have been better to see him put that talent to use right at the front of the field.

And, of course, it denied F1 fans a championship-deciding clash of the titans, at the business end of a season which had, at one point, promised a neck-and-neck battle right down to the wire.

Then there was that moment when Vettel came up against a punchy Felipe Massa in a battle for 15th position. Vettel moaned: ‘Seriously, is it fun to push the other guy off the track? I had my nose in front.’ Herr Pot, Herr Kettle-Vettel, you know the routine.

But, Vettel and Hamilton aside, there were some other titans on display.

Simply, simply lovely – Max has plenty in the tank

Easy day at the office: Max Verstappen said his victory in Mexico was one of the easiest drives of his life
Easy day at the office: Max Verstappen said his victory in Mexico was one of the easiest drives of his life

There were two other stand-out talents on display in Mexico City.

Race winner Verstappen, taking his third podium in four races and his third win, described the race as one of the easiest of his career.

Cocky, that one.

To be fair, once he’d negotiated those tricky opening corners and Vettel’s wham-bam clumsiness, Verstappen was able to relax at the front, safe in the knowledge that his rivals had all been neutered – Hamilton and Vettel in that collision, and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo through an engine penalty that dropped him to 16th on the grid, before he retired on lap six with an MGUH problem.

Bottas and Raikkonen simply didn’t have the pace to mount a challenge.

Verstappen was quickly on the radio to his team, saying: ‘Simply, simply lovely…’.

Either Max has developed a lyrical slant to his broadcasts, or he was name-checking some naughty online videos – if you don’t know what he was (probably) referring to, probably best keep it that way.

The guy’s just turned 20, so he’s a 200mph hormone. Let him get those saucy references out of his system before he starts racking up his own championships.

The other titan we caught a glimpse of was ye olde Fernando Alonso. Around lap 68 (a little more than his age), he went head-to-head with Hamilton, the two champions in an unlikely scrap for ninth position.

Alonso defended, defended, defended, until Hamilton eventually got close enough to muscle his way alongside.

But it took three captivating corners of wheel-to-wheel combat before Hamilton asserted his advantage and, even then, Alonso refused to concede easily.

Those few seconds of proper racing were a reminder of what F1 so often lacks – and what a talent it has lost while Alonso has been dragging his career from one dead-end to another.

Anything else to note? Yes, of the six Renault-powered cars that started in Mexico, four blew up – one Red Bull, a Toro Rosso and both the team Renault entries. Thankfully for the French outfit, Verstappen was Renault-powered, so it wasn’t a complete pile of Les Miserables.

And one other thing: the curse of Kvyat came to pass yet again.

The curse of Kvyat? Yes, whenever Daniel Kvyat gets demoted in F1, no one can win unless they are called Verstappen.

In May 2016, Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull to junior team Toro Rosso, and replaced at the Spanish Grand Prix by Verstappen – who grabbed the opportunity to become F1’s youngest ever race winner that very weekend. Strike one for the curse.

Last month, Kvyat was dropped by Toro Rosso at the Malaysian Grand Prix – where Verstappen recorded his second win in the sport. Strike two.

Kvyat returned to Toro Rosso for the US Grand Prix but was then booted from the team before this weekend’s meet in Mexico – where Verstappen recorded his third F1 win. Strike three and out.

It remains to be seen whether the Red Bull family will now hire-and-fire Kvyat on a monthly basis to guarantee a few more victories for Verstappen. It would seem to be Kvyat’s only chance of ever planting his bum in an F1 car again.

I guess we’ll find out at the next race – Brazil, in a couple of weeks, where the atmosphere should be electric, even if the championship is already over.

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