Lewis Hamilton has won his sixth world championship by finishing second to teammate and vanquished title contender Valtteri Bottas with a gutsy performance at the United States Grand Prix.
Bottas was able to control the race from pole with a faster two-stop strategy, but Hamilton’s strong rebound from a lacklustre fifth on the grid, culminating in a last-lap stand on dilapidated tyres to hold Max Verstappen at bay and retain second place, was no less impressive given his slower one-stop race.
It was a worthy drive with which the Briton claimed a sixth world title, moving one clear of Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio and just one shy of Michael Schumacher’s record seven crowns.
“It’s an honour to be up here with those greats,” Hamilton said. “It’s overwhelming if I’m really honest.
“My dad told me when I was six of seven years old never to give up, and that’s kind of the family moto.
“I was hopeful I might be able to win today, but I didn’t have it in the tyres unfortunately.”
Tyre strategy was decisive in the final order at the chequered flag, and Bottas was best placed to maximise tactics by getting away cleanly from pole, but chaos unfolded behind the Finn at lights-out.
Sebastian Vettel’s getaway from second was tardy, allowing Max Verstappen to sweep around his outside at the first turn. Charles Leclerc also got off the line slowly, allowing Hamilton past into fourth.
The Monegasque then came under fire from Alex Albon and the fast-starting Carlos Sainz, sending all three side by side into the hairpin. Albon was the meat in the sandwich, making contact with both and picking up damage. He tumbled down the order and returned to the pits at the end of the first lap.
Further ahead Vettel was struggling inside his Ferrari. The German radioed his team that he had “understeer like crazy” despite no obvious damage, and he was picked off by Hamilton, teammate Leclerc and even McLaren’s Lando Norris and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo before consolidating seventh place. But the German’s day came to a swift end on lap nine when he suffered a spectacular rear-right suspension failure while running over the kerbs at turn nine.
Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton at the front held a steady pace as they gauged tyre life in the warm Texan sun, but it gradually became clear the Dutchman, sandwiched between the two Mercedes drivers, was in the slower car.
Red Bull Racing seized the initiative and pitted Verstappen on lap 13, switching him to the hard-compound tyre. It forced Bottas to do likewise on the following lap to cover the undercut, committing both to a two-stop strategy.
Hamilton, however, stayed out with his inherited lead and persisted with the pre-race plan to get to the end on a single stop, which he made on lap 24 just as Bottas caught him with his fresh rubber. He came flying out of the pits with dramatic pace, but he was warned by his pit wall to restrain himself to extend the life of the tyre to the ambitious 32-lap target.
Bottas had Verstappen under control for the second stint until the pair stopped on laps 35 and 34, rejoining the track 10 and 15 seconds respectively behind Hamilton with 20 laps to close the gap.
In five laps Bottas had slashed the deficit to less than five seconds and Hamilton was beginning to doubt the viability of his strategy, but lapped traffic worked to slow the Finn’s progress, giving the Briton hope. The laps counted down and still Hamilton held a handy advantage, but with 10 laps to go and the slower traffic dispatched, Valtteri began slashing the time to his teammate until on lap 50 just a second split the silver cars.
On lap 51 Bottas had his first attempt at retaking the lead with a swoop around the outside of turn 12 at the end of the back straight, but Hamilton was steadfast in defence, taking a wide line and forcing his teammate off the track.
But the Finn wouldn’t be deterred, and with Hamilton’s tyres now showing substantial signs of degradation, Bottas was able to cut easily down the Briton’s inside at the same turn on the next lap and seize the lead and reclaim victory.
“It’s a nice win, it feels good,” Bottas said. “It just felt very good since yesterday in the car.
“We had strong pace, so I’m very, very happy to be able to win. That’s the only thing I could really focus on and do this weekend in terms of the championship, but obviously it wasn’t enough and Lewis go the title.
“Obviously big congrats to him. I personally failed on my target this year, but there’s always next year. But he deserves it, he had a strong season.”
But while Bottas could cruise to the flag, Hamilton couldn’t yet rest. Verstappen had been making steady progress as the Mercedes drivers battled and was sizing up the Briton for second place.
With two laps remaining the gap stood a just a second, but a brake failure on Kevin Magnussen’s Haas at turn 12, the circuit’s best overtaking opportunity, triggered yellow flags at the end of the straight, robbing Verstappen of his best chance to pass for the rest of the race.
It was enough for Hamilton to hold onto second place, taking the chequered flag with an advantage of just 0.8 seconds.
“I didn’t think a one-stop would be possible, but I worked as hard as I could,” Hamilton said, but Verstappen lamented that the Mercedes car was the quicker on the day.
“I think we did the best we could,” the Dutchman said. “They were just a little bit faster today.
“He’s just doing phenomenally. He has a great team behind him and I hope we can take the fight to them next year.”
Leclerc finished fourth for Ferrari, taking the flag 47 seconds off the lead, while Albon recovered from first-lap damage to cross the line fifth.
Daniel Ricciardo delivered Renault a strong sixth-place finish, passing Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in the first stint and holding position ahead of both to the end. His Renault teammate, Nico Hulkenberg ended the day ninth.
Daniil Kvyat crossed the line tenth, but the Toro Rosso driver was penalised five seconds for a last-lap crash with Sergio Perez, promoting the Mexican back into the final points-paying place.