The drought is over for Lewis Hamilton, the Lewis Hamilton of the Mercedes Formula One team.
Fernando Alonso’s late run at a title and Kimi Raikkonen’s elation at Ferrari’s lead down the stretch were lost in the nether regions of Formula One’s frustrating season, but Sunday’s world championship finale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix gave Hamilton no second chances to celebrate.
He won his seventh title with a textbook drive — or rather, two brilliant drives — with his Mercedes team, earning his first title without any help from McLaren’s racing misery and an 11th title by his side.
That takes him one step closer to matching Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles for a single team and getting within one title of two more from Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest living driver.
If it seemed like only yesterday the last of a long series of races ended with Hamilton’s late championship in Brazil, it was. As is the case in so many road races, a safety car restart against the safety of the race was the deciding factor. That provided Hamilton, nursing a tangle with Fernando Alonso, with his No. 19 car another golden opportunity. He passed Alonso for the win but briefly careened into the barrier while veering away from Raikkonen’s lead.
It was not without risk and issue. After rising off the tarmac to get out of the way, Hamilton needed medical attention for some burns to his left ear. He rode a cart back to the paddock, returned to the pits and then finished the race behind Raikkonen and Alonso.
But it would not be over there.
Hamilton, led for over 60 laps, had rejoined the field alongside Raikkonen, whose Ferrari had built a lengthy lead over Alonso’s McLaren for a championship-finishing role in the final practice session of the year in qualifying. But Ferrari regrouped and Alonso found himself mired in a rear-guard action with Raikkonen.
Alonso was peeling back and moving through his limits, making small gains and inch-by-inch changes. But his car was not fast enough to finish the job. On lap 99, Alonso was all the way up into third place and his race was over. As Raikkonen cleared the leader, he elected to pass him and Hamilton gave Alonso a wide berth. Thereafter, Hamilton kept the F1 fans riveted until he reached second place on lap 112 to reduce Alonso’s lead to one point.
In the radio message following the win, Hamilton called it “a good night from me, my team, my family, just a very special moment.”
His eyes welled up when he told fans and reporters he was “still in shock” at his success. “It took seven years to get this one.”
After the championship victory, Hamilton was almost overwhelmed. “It is incredible,” he said. “And I’m just so grateful to Mercedes for putting me on a level where I could actually compete against the best drivers in the world. My team, thank you so much.”
Hamilton, already the champion of three other circuits, probably should be a senior citizen in F1. But, as usual, he is only accelerating into his prime. And whenever that is, it will be interesting to see what he achieves.