At the end of an extraordinary race of changing fortunes, Lewis Hamilton emerged the winner of both the US Grand Prix and the 2015 F1 World Championship.
Several times during this 56-lap thriller, it looked like Hamilton would have to wait until the final three races before clinching his third title. With 10 laps to go, Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, appeared to be doing all he could to hold on to his slim chance of the championship by heading towards a much-needed victory. But then a rare mistake by Rosberg allowed Hamilton through to his 10th win of the season.
That error – plus losing out yet again to Hamilton in the title race – clearly frustrated Rosberg as he watched Hamilton celebrate. It came at the end of a race in which there had been controversy right from the start as Hamilton eased Rosberg off the road, the two cars touching going through the first corner.
“For sure, that was very aggressive,” said Rosberg. “We hit each other – or, I should say, Lewis came into me. That’s not on.”
Rosberg was particularly annoyed because the move took away the advantage gained from having won pole that morning after qualifying had been disrupted the previous day because of heavy rain. The atrocious weather meant none of the 20 drivers when into this race knowing anything about how the dry weather tyres would perform. Indeed, the track remained damp for the first quarter of the Grand Prix, the advantage continuously swinging from one driver to another with the added complication of two safety car periods and two further interruptions by the virtual safety car as drivers succumbed to the slippery conditions.
When the race appeared to be finally settling down with 15 laps to go, it seemed Hamilton had got it wrong as Rosberg closed in thanks to having stopped for fresh tyres while Hamilton had stayed out during one of the safety car periods.
But when Daniil Kvyat crashed his Red Bull with just over ten laps to go, the resulting safety car gave Hamilton the lifeline he needed as he stopped for tyres and rejoined in second place, right behind Rosberg.
Even though Hamilton had fresher tyres, Rosberg appeared to have the race under control. Then, coming out of Turn 12 on lap 48, Rosberg ran wide – and Hamilton was back in front for the third time.
“I just don’t know what happened,” said a bitterly disappointed Rosberg. “I had wheel spin like I’ve never had before; not in a race, not in testing; never, never, never. I just can’t explain it.”
Rosberg chased after Hamilton but, in the end, the German had to fend off a late attack by Sebastian Vettel. Had the Ferrari driver managed to take second place, Vettel’s chance of the title would have remained open. It was not until the leaders crossed the line, with Rosberg half a second ahead of Vettel, that Hamilton knew he had become the first British driver to win back-to-back championships.
Having played cool all weekend, saying he was not thinking about the championship, Hamilton was overcome by emotion on his slowing down lap, the Englishman fighting back the tears as he thanked his team.
There may have been an element of good fortune in the outcome but Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, summed up Hamilton’s tenacious and skilful drive in such tricky conditions: “The one who drives like this, and the way Lewis has all season, deserves the luck as well.”