AUSTIN: Lewis Hamilton joined the elite group of triple Formula One world champions on Sunday after winning a thrilling U.S. Grand Prix that kept the crowd on tenterhooks right to the very end.
“That’s the greatest moment of my life,” he gasped over the team radio, choking back the tears, after crossing the line 2.8 seconds ahead of German team mate Nico Rosberg who had led before a late mistake.
The first British driver to win back-to-back titles, Hamilton realised a lifelong ambition to equal the tally of his boyhood idol Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian triple champion who died in 1994.
Ferrari’s four-times champion Sebastian Vettel finished third, after starting 13th and fighting back to chase Rosberg nose-to-tail over the final lap with the crowd on the edge of their seats on a cold and blustery afternoon after morning rain.
Had Vettel passed Rosberg, the celebrations for the ‘double double’ with Mercedes retaining their constructors’ title two weeks ago in Russia would have remained on hold.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Hamilton, who had needed to beat Vettel by nine points and Rosberg by two to take the crown with three races to spare.
“There were so many times when I thought I had lost the race.”
Interviewed on the podium by pop’s very own ‘rocket man’, British pop singer Elton John, Hamilton sprayed the champagne with abandon while Rosberg looked shellshocked and barely reacted.
Before the podium ceremony, Hamilton tossed his team mate a cap to wear. The German threw it back in disgust. No words were necessary.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said later when asked about his slip. “It was my race to win, but with some strange mistake that has never happened to me that was really disappointing.
“It’s unbelievable. That was really, really tough at the time, to lose the win.”
The victory, on a rollercoaster afternoon of enthralling racing, was Hamilton’s third in four grands prix held in Austin and made the 30-year-old the first driver to win 10 or more races in successive seasons.
He was also only the second Briton since Jackie Stewart in 1973 to win three titles.