Hamilton surpasses Fangio after sealing sixth world championship crown in Texas

Lewis Hamilton surpassed the great Juan Manuel Fangio as a six-time Formula One world champion after finishing second behind teammate Valtteri Bottas at the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Although Hamilton couldn’t seal the deal in the manner he would have wanted by winning the race, second was more than enough to win the ultimate prize, with the Englishman only needing four points regardless of where Bottas finished.

But it was the Finn who emerged the deserved victor for a gripping fourth victory of the season after passing Hamilton five laps from the finish on fresher tyres.

“Still we rise, guys, still we rise. What an incredible weekend, thank you so much guys. I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe it. Thank you so much,” said Hamilton over the radio after taking the chequered flag.

The win also meant that Mercedes secured an incredible sixth successive constructor and driver double in a dominant Hybrid Engine era for the dominant team in F1.

“It’s just overwhelming, if I’m really honest,” continued Hamilton in his post-race interview with former driver Martin Brundle. “It was such a tough race today. Yesterday was really a difficult day for us. Valtteri did a fantastic job so huge congratulations to him and today I really wanted to recover and deliver the 1-2 for the team and I didn’t think the one stop was going to be possible but I worked as hard as I could.

“I’m just filled with so much emotion but I have my whole team here, everyone back at the factory, my mum and my dad, my step-mum and my step-day here, my uncle George and aunt from Trinidad and all the family back home obviously, so it’s an honour to be up here with those greats. My dad told me when I was six or seven years old never to give up and that’s kind of the family motto, so I was pushing as hard as I could and I was hopeful I might be able to win today but it didn’t happen in the tyres unfortunately.”

It pretty much fell into Hamilton’s hands from the outset, the Englishman passing old sparring partner Sebastian Vettel for fourth after a great move into the Esses and Charles Leclerc also sweeping past his teammate. Lando Norris was also a fast starter, the McLaren driver taking the German for fifth, the Ferrari medium tyres clearly not up to optimum temperature at the start.

Then it was Daniel Ricciardo’s turn, the Australian shooting past Vettel and the German reporting damage to his car, as Hamilton moved into the podium position, he almost certainly would have wanted for the purposes of celebrating his title in a manner befitting of a champion.

It soon went from bad to worse for Vettel, a hard impact over the kerbs into Turn 9 shattering his Ferrari’s rear suspension on lap 8 and bringing about a yellow flag. Although not an obvious threat to Hamilton at the time, it made the Mercedes driver’s task that little bit easier with another of the ‘big three’ team drivers out of the race.

Red Bull was first to roll the dice, pitting Verstappen on lap 14 for the hard compound tyre, possibly gambling on the early one-stopper that paid off for Hamilton in Mexico, Bottas following suit a lap later in an attempt to keep pace with the Red Bull.

A slow left rear tyre change for Leclerc then gave Hamilton a further fillip and, despite Bottas sailing past him on lap 24, it left the champion in waiting in the lead of the race. And with Pete Bonnington, AKA ‘Bono’, back on race duties with Hamilton after having to sit out Mexico due to a personal medical procedure.

Hamilton was called in for his first and only stop on lap 25 to swap his medium compound Pirelli rubber for the soft compound to take him to the end of the race. And with Verstappen making his final stop on lap 35 with his hard compound tyre degrading badly and Bottas pitting a lap later, it would be a straight race to the chequered flag.

It made for a gripping finish, Bottas hunting down and passing Hamilton with five laps remaining with the newly crowned champion keeping Verstappen at bay to hold onto second place.

“It’s a nice win. Feels good,” said Bottas after stepping from his car. “It felt very good since yesterday in the car and we had strong pace so very, very happy about the win and it’s the only thing I could really focus on and do in terms of the championship but obviously it was not enough and Lewis got the title. Big congrats to him. I personally failed on my target this year, but there is always next year. He deserved it, he had a strong season.”

Of course, the groundwork to Hamilton’s sixth title was done long before Texas, Hamilton winning ten races in a dominant season that saw off a strong mid-season challenge from Leclerc and rejuvenated teammate Bottas, who was the only driver that could have denied him after Mexico.

With only two races remaining, the F1 circus rolls on to Brazil and Abu Dhabi for what will be a deserved victory parade for the brilliant Hamilton. And with the pressure now off, who would bet against him rounding off the season with a further couple of victories that would put him only six wins shy of the great Michael Schumacher.

A further title in 2020 would put Hamilton level with the German, and with new regulations set to revolutionise the sport and make for even closer racing, the goal now is surely to become the most successful F1 driver of all time.

When asked about the possibility of overtaking Schumacher and adding further titles to his belt, Hamilton sent out a rather ominous warning to his rivals that he’s far from finished yet.

“As an athlete I feel as fresh as fresh can be right now. I’m ready for the next race. These next races we won’t let up. We’ll keep pushing.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.