Lewis Hamilton wins the F1 Drivers' Championship comment: When the lights went out, he was in a world of his own

The PM and Prince Harry are a little late to the Hamilton party

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The Independent Online

In the end even his greatest rival had to doff his cap, Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg paying Lewis Hamilton the ultimate compliment of deference.

Rosberg said his winter would be spent searching ever harder to identify that otherworldly quality that separates the great from the bloody good, the X-factor which took Hamilton out of reach and to a second world championship.

Good luck with that, Nico. There is no human telemetry to decode the primal upshifts that make the Hamiltons of this world that bit faster in a racing car.

You might think that, being the son of a Formula One world champion, Rosberg would have the genetic edge. To a degree he has. Send him out against the clock in a one-lap shootout and he has no problem moving the needle, as he showed for the 11th time this season in claiming pole position in Abu Dhabi.

 

But when the lights go out, you are taking on another man’s soul and in this domain Hamilton knows instinctively which buttons to press. It is pointless asking him, or any other sporting genius, how he does what he does. Until science allows us to peer inside the cranium and decipher the traffic pulsing along the synapses, we are doomed to speculate.

When pressed, Hamilton defers to God, believing he is blessed with a divine gift. His father, Anthony, is ever more astonished at his son’s accomplishments, having happened across his instinct for driving quickly quite by accident when seeking something to engage a hyperactive child while on holiday.   

“Lewis surprises me [how he overcomes] the barriers we set ourselves as human beings. He is the same eight-year-old kid from Stevenage in a rusty old kart. We had no money and we went racing. We are the same people from the same neighbourhood with just a few more quid in our pockets,” said dad.

Well, not quite. These days Hamilton has the patronage of the royal family, with Prince Harry effusing sweet nothings down the radio from the pit wall as Hamilton took the chequered flag for the 11th time this season. There were also prime ministerial plaudits from David Cameron, hitching a ride on the Hamilton bandwagon by hailing it a great day for British motor sport.

Where, you might ask, was Dave when Silverstone was crying out for subsidy to keep the British Grand Prix alive? The third in line to the throne is a little late to the Hamilton party, too. There was no royal seal on the second-hand rust bucket Anthony cobbled together in the back garden for his son to race at nearby Rye House.

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Hamilton commiserating with runner-up Nico Rosberg

There was no sense either that the road from Stevenage to Hoddesdon would lead to a Formula One world title, let alone two. Somewhere in the Hamilton gene pool young Lewis tapped into the appropriate neuron wall.

He said that this victory, which seats him at history’s table alongside Jim Clark and Graham Hill as a double world champion, meant more than his first in 2008. Back then he was the thrusting tyro driving on his wits without context to balance excitement. Here the triumph was set against subsequent years of frustration and failure at McLaren that ultimately led him through the doors of Mercedes.

It was a huge risk and looked anything but promising during a first year when he was no closer to a second crown than he was at McLaren. It took a radical engine change to clear the ground and the sharp thinking of the now departed Ross Brawn to sacrifice the 2013 season and organise instead around the new regulations. The reward was the best car on the grid in 2014.

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Lewis Hamilton in action at the Yas Marina circuit

Though the spectacle suffered, with the field denied a shot at glory – a state of affairs that is unlikely to change soon – the season was rescued by the intra-Mercedes battle, which promised yet more drama yesterday. Until the lights went out.

If you are going to make a statement, make it a big one. Hamilton rammed syllable by syllable the speculative pre-race pap about the pressure getting to him down the exhaust pipes of Rosberg. Pressure would play a part, Rosberg was right about that. He simply identified the wrong victim.

Hamilton handed down a textbook lesson in how to cope when the heat turns molten, delivering what he described as the best start of his career precisely at the point he needed it most, blazing off the grid “like a rocket” to beat Rosberg into the first corner. 

There followed a demonstration of all that is good about Hamilton and desperate about the state of Formula One. The best driver in the world strangled the life out of the show in the season’s quickest car, lapping metronomically until his first pit stop, which of course unfolded without incident.

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Hamilton embraces girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger

It was a procession long before Rosberg lost his energy-recovery system. Only the late threat from Felipe Massa, rolling the dice in search of a first Williams victory of 2014 at the season finale, vaguely discomfited Hamilton.

Mindful of the technical gremlin that struck down Rosberg, a recurring theme at Mercedes starting with the DNF inflicted upon Hamilton at the season’s first race in Australia, the engineers turned down the wick on his car. Massa was taking chunks out of Hamilton’s advantage over the closing laps but by then the champion would have brought a shopping trolley home, so commanding had he been all race.

The celebrations should not pass without a word in recognition of the sportsmanship displayed by Rosberg. He has had his moments this season, particularly at Spa, where he ran Hamilton off the road in a crass error of judgement, but yesterday he recovered any lingering PR deficit.

His insistence on finishing the race, against the wishes of a Mercedes team that wanted to retire him, and the genuine felicitations offered to Hamilton, first over the radio and then in person, were the hallmarks of a class act.

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