Lewis Hamilton believes he can now leave McLaren after 'ultimate high' of US Grand Prix victory

Hamilton is joining Mercedes on a £45million, three-year contract

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton believes he can now leave McLaren after achieving his “ultimate high” regardless of what unfolds in Brazil on Sunday.

The victory Hamilton has craved since announcing his departure at the end of September on a £45million, three-year contract with Mercedes finally, and deservedly, came his way in the United States yesterday.

Niggly issues in Japan and Korea undermined his performance in both races, and although producing a strong drive in India for fourth, he suffered heartbreak in Abu Dhabi when retiring whilst leading.

That was the second time this season that had happened for Hamilton, with the previous instance in Singapore a few days before he stunned Formula One by deciding to join a team with one win in three years.

After what unfolded at the Yas Marina circuit, it appeared as if the 27-year-old would not be granted his one last wish, not in light of Sebastian Vettel's resurgence.

But far from flying off into the distance at the Circuit of The Americas after dominating every practice session and topping the times in every qualifying period, Vettel found himself hounded by Hamilton.

On lap 42 Hamilton conjured the move he had been striving for over the previous few laps, coming within inches of a collision, but making his manoeuvre stick before sealing his 21st career victory, all of which have been with McLaren.

It allowed the team to don the now famous rocket-red tops that make an appearance when one of their drivers takes the chequered flag - and that is good enough for Hamilton to sign off with.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Hamilton said: "It's what I've been working for, and we would have had a lot more if we hadn't have had some of the problems we have had.

"But this win makes all those disappear. It allows us to move forward and smile, enjoy and appreciate how hard everyone has worked.

"It would be nice to be battling for the championship, but that's not the way it is, so I just have to be grateful for where I am and what we have achieved here.

"I believe I stamped my mark and showed I have the status and drive the others do, even though I'm not competing for the championship.

"I've been driving my best all year, and I've been getting stronger and stronger throughout, and for me this is my strongest race of the year.

"I loved it, to be able to push that much and not make mistakes, and to hunt him (Vettel) down and see him mistakes whilst applying the pressure was a great feeling."

As far as Hamilton is concerned, he can say his farewells with his head up, adding: "This is the ultimate high.

"I'm not going into the last race saying we can get higher than this because this is what I've been talking about, getting that last win.

"Naturally, I hope we can compete and we've a chance of winning in Brazil, but in Austin the right circumstances and the right things happened at the right times to enable me to do that.

"Regardless of what happens I'm ending on a high because I won this race and the guys were able to wear their rocket red shirts."

For boss Martin Whitmarsh, along with a smile there was relief etched all over his face that his team had delivered for Hamilton after so much recent pain.

Pit-stop blunders, other errors and rare unreliability of late have ensured McLaren will end the year trophyless for a fourth consecutive season since he took charge, so Hamilton's win was most welcome.

"We have underperformed for the last three or four races, and at a race team like this you start to worry about those things a little, but Lewis did a fantastic job," said Whitmarsh.

"With one race to go it makes you think we can go there and win that as well, which would be compensation for some of the disappointments we have had this year.

"For now this win is emotional, although we're trying not to be.

"I told Lewis weeks ago we would have the emotion after Brazil, and we would focus on doing the best job we can.

"He should have won two weeks ago, and in Singapore as well, and I felt sorry for him and for the team.

"But we've had some amazing highs together, and I don't want to make it easy for him to leave this team."