LEWIS Hamilton soaked up the feeling of becoming a two-time Formula One world champion and declared it to be “the greatest day of my life”.
It was some remark given Hamilton’s 2008 triumph was the culmination of everything he had worked for since the day when he was ten and told former McLaren team principal Ron Dennis he would one day drive for his team.
But after taking the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, his 11th victory of a phenomenal second season with Mercedes, all the emotion of a tough title fight with team-mate Nico Rosberg came flooding to the surface.
Standing on the podium, with the national anthem as a backdrop and his family below following a surprise 11th-hour visit, tears welled in Hamilton’s eyes.
Six years ago in Brazil, Hamilton won his maiden crown by the skin of his teeth, claiming the fifth position he needed with a move at the final corner on the last lap of the season-ending grand prix.
On this occasion the 29-year-old achieved the feat in the right way, with the victory and with thousands of Britons in the grandstand opposite the podium waving Union Jacks and chanting his name.
It was the kind of acclaim Hamilton missed out on in Brazil, especially as virtually everyone at Interlagos that day was rooting for Felipe Massa, the home hero who won the race but was ultimately beaten in the championship.
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Six years on, and in trying to express his feelings, Hamilton said: “I can’t really explain how much this means. It means even more than the first one. It feels like it’s the first time. This is the greatest day of my life, the greatest moment of my life.
“It feels very surreal, like an out-of-body experience, like I’m back here [indicating behind him] watching this going on, that it’s not really happening.”
Asked to explain his thoughts behind his sentiments, Hamilton added: “Well, 2007 was a very bad experience.
“Obviously losing the championship [on the last day] I fell to a low I couldn’t control.
“In 2008 Felipe won the race and won the championship for a second, but then at the last corner I got it back. For me I lost it, won it, lost it, won it again, and whilst it was a great experience, my emotions were shot.
“That year I was just immature. I didn’t have the knowledge I have now and I didn’t approach the race the same as I did today.
“Normally you get butterflies in the stomach, feel a bit nervous, but today I went into the race thinking ‘I feel extremely calm’, which was really weird. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
“Last night I was thinking ‘Jeez, tomorrow is the day. We could go into the race and something could happen to the car and that would be the championship done’.
“Naturally you just think of all the negative things possible and I worked really hard to bring the positives into it.
“That knowledge and experience got me through the race.”
Hamilton now joins a highly exclusive club as he is just the 16th driver in the 65-season history of F1 to have won at least two titles. He also becomes only the fourth Briton to achieve the feat, joining the greats in Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Sir Jackie Stewart.
Without doubt, Hamilton’s place in the history of F1 is secure and, as he only turns 30 in January, there is still plenty of time for him yet to join Stewart in winning a third championship.
Mercifully, the controversial spectre of double points that had hung over this race like a bad smell did not come into play. From second on the grid, Hamilton bolted off the line “like a rocket” as he later remarked, flashing past pole-sitter Rosberg.
Hamilton was untroubled for the opening 22 laps as he kept Rosberg at arm’s length.
Then on lap 23 Rosberg’s own hopes of the title rapidly unravelled due to an ERS (energy recovery store) failure that led to him going backwards.
Come the flag the 29-year-old German limped across the line in 14th place, and worse still, having been lapped by Hamilton a couple of laps from the finish.
Crossing the line, the first to congratulate Hamilton over the in-car radio was Prince Harry, who said: “Lewis, thank you very much for not making the British public sweat! You are a legend!”
After parking his car Hamilton was then mobbed by his family, popstar girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and all his mechanics.
Graciously, Rosberg made his way to the green room, where the top three cool down before taking to the podium, to also offer his best to an old friend who, for the most part this year, has also been a bitter enemy at times.
Hamilton added: “He was very, very professional.
“He said ‘you drove really well’. I said the same to him.
“All year long he has driven incredibly well, especially in qualifying. Hats off to him.”
Hamilton is already a 4/5 favourite to claim back-to-back titles in 2015 and 11/4 for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award behind red-hot favourite Rory McIlroy.
You can even get odds of 10/1 on Hamilton, who has already received an MBE, being knighted by the Queen at some point in the future.
With reference to that, asked as to his chances of winning SPOTY, a beaming Hamilton replied: “I’m more hoping I get to go and see the Queen again!”
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