Ninth place in Mexico underwhelming way to seal fourth title, and Briton will look to make amends in remaining races given nature of competition expected next year
Champion Lewis Hamilton will look to end season on high to set tone for 2018
Given the lengths went to at the 2016 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a vain attempt to win the world championship from Nico Rosberg, it was surprising to hear Lewis Hamilton be picky about how he clinched his fourth world title on Sunday.
Last November, Hamilton drove one of the most remarkable wins of his Formula One career at Yas Marina Circuit. Driving as slow as he possibly could and ignoring team orders in the process, Hamilton tried to back up Rosberg to allow the two cars behind to overtake his Mercedes-GP teammate and give him the result he needed to be champion.
The effort showed not only Hamilton’s skill, but his hunger to be world champion.
It was not to be in 2016 as Rosberg got the second place he needed, but 11 months later Hamilton finally became a four-time world champion, only the fifth driver to achieve the feat, when he finished ninth in Mexico.
“It was a horrible way to do it, to be honest,” Hamilton said after the race.
Considering he won his first world title in 2008 in thrilling fashion with an overtaking move on the final lap in Brazil, and then his 2014 and 2015 championships with race wins, it is understandable why the Briton feels a ninth-place finish was a little underwhelming.
But in many ways it highlights how far Hamilton has come as a race driver and the consistent level at which he is performing. Ninth proved enough after Vettel finished fourth when the Ferrari driver needed to win the race to keep the title fight alive.
For the past three years Mercedes have dominated F1, and they have won 11 of the 18 races this season, with Hamilton taking the chequered flag nine times and Valtteri Bottas twice.
But that does not tell the whole story. For much of the year, Vettel and Ferrari have been the more consistent package, at least in race trim.
After six races in May, Vettel had a lead of 25 points, and at the summer break in July his advantage was 14 points.
There have been days when the Mercedes have been mighty. Canada, Britain, Italy and the United States were all occasions when Hamilton and the German marque were unstoppable.
But the team have struggled on low-speed tracks such as Monaco, Hungary and Singapore, and there have been days when they have been behind Red Bull Racing as well as Ferrari on raw pace.
Yet Hamilton has not panicked. On those days he has done the best he can and scored points.
Fourth in Russia, Austria and Hungary and seventh in Monaco do not sound that great, but those 42 points scored in those four races proved just as important as the wins.
Often the key to a championship is the points you score on off days. Hamilton has had a lot of on days in 2017, but he has backed those up with points on the days when Ferrari and Red Bull were better.
Even on Sunday, he kept calm after the setback of the puncture and drove well to finish ninth and keep his record of scoring points in every race of 2017.
Hamilton was circumspect on his ambitions for further titles, taking a season-by-season approach, rather than making bold statements about trying to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven championships.
Hamilton will be aware that while over the season is a worthy champion, it was only Ferrari and Vettel’s recent mistakes and unreliability that have meant he has wrapped things up so early.
Additionally, Red Bull, particularly through Max Verstappen, are looking very strong, and the Dutchman’s win in Mexico was on merit. He will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018 if the Austrian team can give him a competitive package from the start of the year.
Hamilton will know that if this season was hard, going for title No 5 next year has the potential to be even harder.
There are still two races of the season left in Brazil on November 12 and then Abu Dhabi on November 26.
The fact Hamilton was tussling with Verstappen and Vettel at the start, a risky move that led to the puncture, highlights he will not be in cruise control in the remaining events.
Momentum going into 2018 will be important, and Hamilton will not want to give any of his rivals cause for optimism going into the winter break.
Hamilton will be going as hard as ever to ensure he ends a year, in which he has become Britain’s most successful F1 driver, on a high and not with more ninth places.
Races that helped Hamilton win 2017 title:
Spain Ferrari and Vettel began the season strongly, finishing in front of Hamilton in three of the first four races. But Hamilton stopped the rot in Barcelona, overtaking Vettel around the outside at Turn 1 after chasing the German for most of the race.
Britain Hamilton came to his home race trailing Vettel by 20 points but he dominated at Silverstone. He took pole by 0.5 seconds and controlled the race in emphatic fashion, with an added bonus coming in the final laps as a puncture dropped Vettel to seventh.
Belgium Vettel was arguably quicker in race conditions then Hamilton, but the Briton drove a perfect race as he did not put a wheel wrong and staved off his rival’s passing attempts when they came. Track position was crucial at Spa-Francorchamps and Hamilton refused to give it up.
Singapore Hamilton did not have much luck in 2016 when he lost the title to Rosberg, but fortune favoured him here. Vettel started on pole, but crashed out at the start in a collision with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton had struggled on pace but with all his rivals out cantered to an unexpected win.