Lewis Hamilton has been crowned 2015 world champion after a chaotic mixed weather race that culminated in a late-race pass on teammate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton seized the lead from Rosberg at the first corner after questionably running his teammate out of road, but the race, started in damp conditions necessitating intermediate tyres, was turned on its head when Red Bull Racing lit up the timing screens.
From the second row of the grid Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo hustled their way past the Mercedes drivers.
Both snuck past Rosberg, but Ricciardo went on the challenge Hamilton for the lead, cruising past the eventual champion on lap 16 and immediately built up a buffer to the rest of the field.
The top four circulated like this while it waited for the first driver to blink and switch to slick tyres. Jenson Button was amongst the first, unsurprisingly, to pull the trigger and switch to the soft tyre, and by lap 18 the pit lane was alive with activity.
Hamilton and Vettel, the latter up to sixth after a lightning opening stint from P16 on the grid after copping an engine-change penalty, were first in, before Rosberg and Red Bull’s Ricciardo and Kvyat followed suit on lap 19.
Ricciardo held his lead, but Rosberg came out close behind him, while Kvyat held Hamilton at bay in P4.
With slick tyres and on a track that was now largely dry, Mercedes found itself in its element and able to fully utilise its engine power, making easy meat out of the Red Bull Racing duo.
Just as the race seemed to be lulling back into a standard grand prix, Vettel lit up the timing screens in his Ferrari, passing Max Verstappen for fifth and Kvyat for fourth — but before a new rhythm could establish itself, Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stopped on track and prompted a safety car.
Ferrari threw caution to the wind and pitted Vettel again, this time for the medium compound on lap 22.
The move proved inspired. Vettel was able to almost immediately switch on the medium tyres to make short work of Ricciardo in third. The lead of the race seemed a mere formality for the Ferrari.
Nico Hülkenberg came to the rescue of the ailing Mercedes drivers, however, when a botched overtaking attempt on Daniel Ricciardo put him out of the race and caused enough damage to the Australian’s car to put it out of contention.
Under the ensuing virtual safety car, deployed with 17 laps remaining, Mercedes pitted Rosberg to guard against Vettel’s march towards the front of the field — but curiously opted against stopping Hamilton.
The tyre change dropped Rosberg to fourth, but when the virtual safety car was switched off on lap 40, it took him just two laps to pass Verstappen and Vettel in third and second to find himself behind Hamilton’s Mercedes, struggling with its used tyres.
Not for the first time of the race, the winner seemed decided, and Rosberg needed only to take back the lead.
But the impact of Mercedes’ strategic error was lessened by Daniil Kvyat running wide at the exit of the penultimate corner, which sent his RB11 spearing across the track and into the barriers and deploying the safety car.
Hamilton immediately switched to a new set of soft tyres, but lost the lead to Rosberg in the process.
Had the race finished with Rosberg in the lead, the title chase would have gone at least one more round — but Hamilton had 10 laps once the safety car returned to the pits to reclaim the lead and win his third title.
He didn’t need them, however — on lap 50, after just three laps of keeping Hamilton in his mirrors, Rosberg lost control of his car on the kerbs, running wide and letting his teammate pass with ease.
Rosberg was able to rejoin the track in second, but with just six laps remaining the lead was lost.
Only the question of Hamilton’s third title remained, and with Vettel bearing down on Hamilton with a fresher set of tyres, having pitted for new softs alongside Hamilton, the result remained unclear.
Vettel could keep himself in contention by finishing second, but Rosberg would not be pushed into making a second mistake under pressure, faithfully claiming second place for Mercedes and guaranteeing his teammate his third world championship.
“I’m just overwhelmed at the moment,” said Hamilton after the race. “I’m struggling to find the words.
“I’m sitting here just thinking about my first British championship — my dad and I drove home singing ‘We are the Champions’, at the time ‘of Great Britain’.
“It’s crazy to think I’m now a three times Formula One world champion. I owe it all to my dad and family who sacrificed so much to get me here.”
Rosberg, sitting to Hamilton’s left as he has done for so many races this season, was disconsolate.
His thoughts still obviously uncollected after having his title hopes extinguished by his teammate for the second season in succession, he struggled to explain how he opened the door to the lead in the final stint of the race.
“I just got wheel spin,” he said, dumbfounded. “It’s never happened to me before, not in testing or in racing, so I don’t know how to explain it.
“It’s unbelievable. Obviously that was really tough to lose the lead like that and to lose the win, because I was feeling really good at that point.”
Clearly on Rosberg’s mind, however, was Hamilton’s move on the pole-sitter at turn one.
Hamilton took the inside line and hit the brakes late, but appeared not to turn into the corner until he knew Rosberg would be run off the road.
“Turn one was for sure very aggressive,” said Rosberg, “But I haven’t seen it.
“For sure it was extremely aggressive. We hit each other — I would say Lewis came into me, so obviously that’s not good — but I can’t say more than that.
“I can’t comment yet, I need to see it.”
Max Verstappen finished a superb but distant fourth behind the third-placed Sebastian Vettel, followed closely over the line by Force India’s Sergio Perez and the second Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.
Jenson Button finished seventh to take home an invaluable six points for McLaren.
The McLarens ran as high as fifth and sixth during the race, but Button required a second tyre stop to make it to the end of the race and lost places in the process, while Fernando Alonso’s car developed an engine problem in the dying moments of the race, dropping him out of the points.
Pastor Maldonado finished a tidy eighth for Lotus after teammate Romain Grosjean was eliminated in a tangle with Bottas on the first lap, and he finished ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
Daniel Ricciardo finished a besieged tenth after being hit by Hülkenberg early and Sainz late, but a late pit stop for new tyres enable him to claw himself into the final points-paying place.
Alonso finished a disappointing eleventh, ahead of the sole-finishing Manor piloted by home crowd favourite Alexander Rossi.