Mexico City, where the air is thin and the altitude high, and where one man, once again, stood on top of the world. For the second year running Lewis Hamilton clinched the title with one of his less memorable performances of the season and in doing so took his place in an exclusive club of 5 time champions.
You could see the pressure of that title fight and relief that he’d come out on top, disappear instantly as ran to his team and hugged as many as he could whilst 135,000 fans – the second biggest attendance of the season after Silverstone – joined in his celebrations.
Or was it Max-ico City? Let’s hear it for the race winner as for the second year running Max Verstappen made the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez his own too. Fastest on Friday, fastest on Saturday morning, fastest in the race, only when the final run in qualifying came did we see him beaten and then by his team mate by only two one hundredths of a second.
Daniel Ricciardo said his qualifying lap came from out of the blue, Max’s language was equally as blue as the record for youngest pole sitter ever was snatched from his grasp. But it showed that you should never write off the Australian, despite a current run of form which threatens to achieve the previously thought impossible, to wipe the smile off his face permanently! That form returned in the race when a solid second place was taken away from him by a faulty clutch. He’s had 8 DNF’s this season, more than any other driver, 11 in the last 23 races, no wonder he thinks his car is cursed and he’s talking about giving it to Pierre Gasly two races early.
That could have been Ricciardo’s last chance to win a race for some time – all due respect to Renault it’s going to take a mighty leap for them to go from their ‘Best of the rest’ position to winning races next season, such is the gulf in performance between the Top 3 and the midfield. To see his chances of victory disappearing almost from the off as he was overtaken by Verstappen and Hamilton off the line, and then fail to even finish the race, especially coming off the back of his DNF in Austin, must be pretty impossible to take. It’ll be a massive shame if his talents aren’t being displayed at the sharp end in the future.
Verstappen meanwhile has admitted that he was overdriving earlier in the season, making errors by trying too hard. Taking advice from his father, as he has done throughout his career, Verstappen has tried a different approach and we’re now seeing a more measured, calm Max behind the wheels, but still losing none of the attacking flair that we’ve come to know and love. If Red Bull deliver him a winning machine next year, you can bet that he’ll be in the title hunt.
As I’m sure Sebastian Vettel will be too. He admitted that it was at Singapore, where Ferrari were expected to dominate but where Lewis put in one of his greatest pole laps ever and went on to take the victory, that the title slipped away. There were mistakes too, both from driver and team, that punctuated the second half of the campaign, but he said that he was beaten by the better driver and his warm embrace with Lewis and then his appearance in the Mercedes garage a few moments later, to say well done, showed great maturity and sportsmanship after an intense fight.
And so then, Lewis Hamilton, 10 years after winning his first world championship, now has five to his name. The man from Stevenage who spends more time globe trotting then resting at home these days is rightly being heralded as one of the greats of British sport, not just of Formula 1.
To be as dominant as he is, four titles in five years and yes, I know he’s been in the best car, but you’ve still got to deliver when you’re given the goods, takes an exceptional talent. To produce those qualifying laps that defy belief when the pressure is on, those commanding race wins or afternoons where you rescue victory from the jaws of defeat, year after year, necessitates a mindset that elevates him above his peers.
Much is made of Hamilton’s life outside of F1, but to argue against the way he runs his world is pure folly given the evidence of success it proves. His extra curricular activities serve only to help him free his mind of the stresses of the day job, in order to arrive at the racetrack pumped and ready to go. Mercedes realised this a while ago, Hamilton has more than repaid their faith that he can combine all his interests and still be number 1.
Where did he think was the turning point this season? Silverstone and his comeback drive after clashing with Kimi at the 3rd corner. Lewis commentated on the support he received at his home race and what a difference it makes to him to see the British fans rising to salute him every time he races past.
From last to 2nd. A confidence boost that at the very next race reared it’s head as he started 14th and finished 1st. From then on, safe in the knowledge that he had the backing of the fans to help him along, Lewis went from strength to strength. Never off the podium, ironically until this weekend, making up for any performance disadvantage Mercedes had on a particular weekend with an unrivalled talent, consistency and sheer determination. That’s why he’s paid the top bucks and that’s why he’s worth it.
How apt though that it was all about Max and Lewis this weekend. The Champion and surely one day, his main challenger. I sincerely hope that we are all treated to a few years of great rivalry between them, the two most exciting racers on the grid. Lewis has talked of the records he wants to break, Max is young enough to chip in with a few of his own one day. Let battle commence on that one, I can’t wait.
For now though 5 wins now in Formula 1 for Max Verstappen. 5 times the lead in the drivers title changed hands this season. 5 times now, the drivers championship has been sealed in Mexico City and 5 World Titles for Lewis Hamilton. High fives all round wouldn’t you say?