Back in 1991, six-year-old Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, may well have watched Ayrton Senna secure his third Formula 1 World Championship title for McLaren, but he can’t have imagined at that stage – even in his wildest dreams – that he’d one day surpass the Brazilian superstar’s Grand Prix wins tally and match his three drivers’ world titles.
Yesterday, almost a quarter of century on and after one of the most memorable Grand Prix weekends for many a year, the 30-year-old upped his strike rate to 43 victories – only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) have more – and joined the pantheon of triple title winners made up of F1 gods Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Senna.
The fourth visit by F1 to the Circuit of The Americas produced an utter belter, thanks to wet-dry track conditions. And it’s exactly what the crowd and the organising team in Austin deserved after biblical rain played havoc with practice and qualifying during Friday and Saturday.
After losing out to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the shortened race-day-morning scrap for grid places, Hamilton jumped the German at the start and, almost literally, hung him out to dry at the uphill Turn 1. It was robust, sure, but all the great champions run it right out to the edge in their quest for domination. One or two American onlookers, who clearly follow NASCAR, will doubtless have exclaimed: ‘Rubbin’ is racin’’.
The tactical gamesmanship, pitstop timing, numerous safety-car interventions and the endless points permutations, thanks to the ever-changing positions of the two drivers capable of delaying a Hamilton title celebration, meant we were treated to a classic. And, yes, I’ve lost count of the number of cries on social media for the introduction of sprinklers at GPs whenever this meteorological game-changer interferes with the status quo.
The final few laps as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel closed to within a few tenths of Rosberg in his bid to relieve him of second – and thus postpone a Hamilton championship salute – were super-tense. Vettel came agonisingly close, but he retains a four-point advantage in his scrap with Rosberg for second in the points, with three races remaining.
Talking of tense, the cap-tossing by the Mercedes drivers in the podium ante-room offered a fantastic insight into the psychological, pressure-cooker-release, mind-game scenario that plays out between rivals when one is triumphant, the other defeated. It was pretty harmless stuff, until they got out onto the podium and Rosberg publicly took no part in the celebrations. He’d probably imagined that awkward scenario where he had to go onto the podium on the day his nemesis won the title.
With three races left, now’s the time for Rosberg to knuckle down and recapture second in the title race. The ignominy of not finishing at least second when you’re armed with one of the two fastest cars can’t be lost on Nico. Problem is, Hamilton’s going to be in a pressure-free place, looking to take season victory number 11, 12 and 13 in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi – which would give him a share of Schumacher’s most-wins-in-a-season record, set in 2004.
And, finally, to really fuel the fire: if Hamilton is as ruthless as some think, why would he want to help Rosberg vanquish Vettel, especially as Mercedes has already nailed the constructors’ title? You look better if you win and your team-mate’s only third, surely?
Photography courtesy of Daimler AG and Ferrari