LEWIS Hamilton has been crowned Formula 1 world champion after winning the United States Grand Prix in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Nico Rosberg appeared on course to postpone his team-mate’s title celebrations for one more race, but the German made an unforced error with just seven laps remaining to allow Hamilton to take the lead.
Sebastian Vettel fought his way back from 13th to finish third in one of the best races in recent memory but it was not enough to prevent Hamilton from amounting an unassailable lead in the championship with three races to spare.
Hamilton now joins his idol Ayrton Senna and Sir Jackie Stewart with three titles to his name.
He also becomes the first British driver to successfully defend his Formula 1 crown.
An emotional Hamilton struggled for words helmet after he was informed he had seen off Vettel and Rosberg to win this year’s crown.
“This is the greatest moment of my life,” he eventually said over the team radio. “To my family, I love you all.”
On his return to the pits, Hamilton leapt out of his Mercedes before running to his team. He then made his way up to the green room – the area before the podium celebrations – where the emotion of his incredible achievement reduced him to tears, while a dejected Rosberg sat slumped in a chair in the corner of the room.
Hamilton then threw a sponsors’ cap for the podium in the direction of Rosberg, who responded by launching it straight back at his rival without so much as a hint of a smile.
The torrential rain which had plagued the weekend’s action finally stopped in the hours leading up to the race.
Hamilton needed to outscore Vettel and Rosberg by nine and two points respectively to win the title in Austin – but the Briton appeared to have his work cut out after Rosberg secured pole in yesterday morning’s rearranged qualifying session.
Hamilton started alongside his team-mate but after a blistering start in the damp conditions, he muscled his way past the German on the long uphill run to turn one. Rosberg was left trailing on the run-off area and both Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo as well as the Force India of Sergio Perez went by.
At first glance it appeared a fair move by Hamilton on his Mercedes team-mate but on further inspection the pair appeared to bang wheels with the Briton leaving Rosberg little room for manoeuvre. Rosberg, no doubt fuming at his team-mate’s actions, fought his way back past Perez on the opening lap but he was still only fourth. Back up front Hamilton led but he was failing to shake of Kvyat and Ricciardo who appeared to be revelling in the wet conditions. Rosberg was joining in the party, too and it was not long before the German and his Red Bull rivals were trading positions. Hamilton then struggled as the track began to dry out and on lap 15, Ricciardo, now in second, made his move. Within two laps, the Australian had pulled out a four-second lead over Hamilton, and on lap 18, it was Rosberg’s turn to make his way past the Briton.
Hamilton dived into the pit-lane and was the first of the leaders to take on the dry tyre. He was now only fourth and on lap 22 Rosberg sailed past Ricciardo for the lead. Moments later Hamilton eased his way around Kvyat to move up to third. Vettel, who had started in 13th after a 10-place grid penalty, was up to fourth after passing Kvyat.
On lap 26, Hamilton muscled his way past Ricciardo to move up to second but was now 10 seconds behind Rosberg. A safety car deployed after Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stopped on track wiped out Rosberg’s lead. Rosberg retained his nerve at the restart to stay ahead of Hamilton – but moments later Nico Hulkenberg and Ricciardo collided and the safety car was deployed. Rosberg dived in for a new set of tyres but Hamilton did not which meant the Briton now led this topsy-turvy race.
The safety car was out once more on lap 43 after Kvyat crashed into the pit wall. Hamilton pitted and Rosberg retook the lead. The German looked set to win, but he locked up his rear tyres, ran off the track, and Hamilton sailed by with just seven laps to go on his way to victory.