Triumph and tragedy: Lewis Hamilton says 2019 his 'best season' but one scarred by deaths of Niki Lauda and Anthoine Hubert
Mercedes driver clinches sixth Formula One title with second-place finish at the US Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton said 2019 has been his "best season" in Formula One after clinching a sixth world drivers' title, but reflected on a year marked by tragedy too.
Hamilton secured his fifth title in six seasons at Mercedes with a second-place finish behind teammate Valtteri Bottas at the United States Grand Prix to move ahead of the great Juan Manuel Fangio as statistically the second greatest F1 driver of all time.
Only Michael Schumacher has won more drivers' championships than the Briton, who has one-year remaining on his £40 million-a-year (Dh190m) Mercedes deal.
"I definitely feel like this has been my best season," said Hamilton. "But it takes a long time to master a craft and while I feel like I am mastering it, there is still more to master, there is more to add and more pieces of the puzzle to complete.
"There are going to be ups and downs along the way but I feel like I have the best tools to deal with those. I am working on a masterpiece and I haven't quite finished it yet."
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With the constructors' championship in the bag for Mercedes and Hamilton sealing the drivers' title with two races remaining - in Brazil next week and the season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 1 - Hamilton could be forgiven for being in celebratory mood.
But the 34-year-old reflected on a difficult year in which he suffered personal loss off the track following the death of close friend Niki Lauda, as well as the dangers of motorsport hitting home after French driver Anthoine Hubert was tragically killed during an F2 race in August.
Hamilton said it had been a real struggle to come to terms with the death of Lauda, the three-time former F1 champion and team's non-executive chairman who had been instrumental in persuading him to join Mercedes following the Austrian's passing in April age 70.
"I would say this year that losing Niki, I didn’t think that was going to hit me as hard as it did," said Hamilton. "It really was upsetting and I miss him dearly today and I didn’t realise how much I loved the guy."
Hubert, 22, succumbed to injuries following a high-speed crash during a Formula Two race at the Belgian Grand Prix, with Hamilton admitting he is still haunted by the images and even left him questioning his own future.
He said: "We lost a young kid in Spa. Again, I saw it on the TV, I saw it happen.
"When something like that happens it can put lots of doubts in your mind and thinking, 'OK, jeez, is it time to stop or shall I keep going?' Because there’s lots of life afterwards.
"I still want to spend time with my family, I still want to have a family one day, all these different things.
"But I love doing what I do so much that I don’t think there’s a lot that can particularly stop me in that sense."
Hamilton started from fifth on the grid in Austin, but, following the combination of a fine start and a one-stop strategy, came within just four laps of securing the championship in style by winning his 11th race of the year.
Valtteri Bottas fought his way past Hamilton on the 52nd lap for victory before the British driver managed to hold off Red Bull's Max Verstappen to take the chequered flag as runner-up.
After removing his helmet and balaclava, Hamilton, 34, took a moment to compose himself before standing on top of his Silver Arrows and lapping up the adulation of the Austin crowd. He ran over to his Mercedes mechanics and collected a British flag.
Hamilton's father Anthony, step-mother Linda and mother Carmen were underneath the podium as their son celebrated another world crown, with Schumacher's record - one that many believed would go untouched - now firmly in reach.
"I definitely thought that getting anywhere near Michael was so far-fetched," said Hamilton. "But it is so far away that I still cannot really comprehend it.
"I don't want to build the idea of getting to seven titles because I want to enjoy this right now. Tomorrow is not a given. We should all enjoy each day because one day you are here and one day you are not.
"I believe I have the ability to continue to grow and do more with this team and within Formula One so [Schumacher's record] would be the target.
"But time will tell. I am focused on being as fit and healthy as I can be and try to enjoy this beautiful journey that we call life."
Updated: November 4, 2019 11:17 AM