United States GP: Lewis Hamilton clinches 2015 world title
Hamilton becomes three-time champion in Austin after late Rosberg error hands him win; Vettel's third place not enough to take title fight on to Mexico; Verstappen fourth in race of non-stop incident
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 02/11/15 11:19am
Lewis Hamilton has joined the pantheon of three-time F1 world champions, equalling the all-time British record, after winning a thrilling, topsy-turvy United States GP.
In a race that served up more drama than many this season put together, Nico Rosberg looked set to make Hamilton wait until at least next week's Mexican GP to close out the 2015 title as he led his Mercedes team-mate heading into the final 10 laps.
However, as he attempted to re-establish his lead after a late Safety Car amid growing pressure from his team-mate, Rosberg made an unforced error and ran off the track - with the mistake allowing Hamilton through to the lead and a championship-winning position.
And with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel only finishing third, Hamilton's 10th win of the season was enough to clinch the crown with three races to spare.
"It's the greatest feeling of my life," declared a clearly emotional Hamilton over the radio on the slowing down lap as the enormity of his achievement began in sink in. He then broke down in tears in the podium holding room.
Not only has the 30-year-old tied Sir Jackie Stewart's British record for world championships, Hamilton has also realised the dream he has held since childhood of emulating his hero Ayrton Senna as a three-time champion. He is also the first British world champion to win back-to-back titles.
Although Hamilton had stressed throughout the build-up to the weekend in Austin that the chance to seal his place in history wasn't playing on his mind, the nature of his victory - and the gripping race in general - will no doubt make the achievement all the sweeter.
"It's overwhelming at the moment, difficult to find the words," Hamilton, draped in the Union Jack flag, said in the post-race press conference. "I remember my first British championship when my dad and I drove home singing 'We Are The Champions'. It's hard to believe I'm sat here as a three-time champion."
While Hamilton's dominant campaign means it had become a question of when, and not if, he would clinch this year's Drivers' Championship, Rosberg nonetheless cut a frustrated figure in the aftermath of the race both in the podium holding room and then on the rostrum itself.
"I had wheelspin and it's never happened - in testing or anything - we'll have look into it," Rosberg said when quizzed about his costly error at Turn 16.
Having beaten to Hamilton to pole for the third successive race in the rescheduled qualifying session earlier in the day, Rosberg lost out at the start again as his team-mate got the better launch off the line.
On a wet, but drying, track the two Mercedes' made small contact in the Turn One braking zone - with Rosberg forced wide and down to fifth place behind the Red Bulls and, briefly, Force India's Sergio Perez.
Red Bull pair Danil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo appeared more comfortable in the slippery conditions on intermediate tyres in the opening stages, with the Russian even briefly sailing past Hamilton down the main straight for the lead, and then running wide, seconds before a Virtual Safety Car was called for debris on the track.
Whether with the intention to help his team-mate or not, Hamilton lapped slower during the VSC laps than required, which caught the Red Bulls out as Rosberg nipped past Ricciardo when racing resumed.
However, with all drivers beginning to struggle on the inters as the track moved ever close to being ready for slick tyres, Hamilton was unable to race away and came under attack from Ricciardo, who had moved back ahead of team-mate Kvyat and Rosberg.
Losing the lead to the Australian, Hamilton was then overtaken by Rosberg for third just before finally pitting for slick tyres.
Once on dry rubber, the Red Bull threat started to quickly recede, as Mercedes quickly resumed their one-two running order from the grid, but Hamilton was unable to stay with Rosberg who opened up a seemingly impregnable 10-second lead.
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And while the first of two late Safety Cars wiped that out, Hamilton found himself on the back foot again when a subsequent second VSC saw Rosberg pulled into the pits for a second time, and the Briton stay out.
However, the astonishing race had one more twist yet. With yet another Safety Car - called this time for a big crash for Kvyat, whose once promising race had becoming increasingly wayward - allowing Hamilton to pit without losing track position, he was able to attack Rosberg for the final laps and profit when his team-mate ran off the road.
Vettel attempted to further Rosberg's pain in the closing laps - and take the title fight on to Mexico - by demoting his countryman another place, but the Ferrari had to settle for third.
The battle for the remaining podium positions proved equally as thrilling - and unpredictable.
Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen surged to fourth place, with Sergio Perez fifth for Force India and Carlos Sainz sixth, the Spaniard racing strongly from last place after crashing earlier in qualifying.
Jenson Button enjoyed a strong afternoon and finished a season-best seventh for McLaren. Pastor Maldonado, Felipe Nar and Daniel Ricciardo - the one-time race leader - rounded out the points positions. Ricciardo suffered damage to his Red Bull after a collision with Nico Hulkenberg, who retired.
US GP result:
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:50.52.7
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +2.8
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +3.3
4. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, +22.3
5. Sergio Perez, Force India, +24.4
6. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, +30.6
7. Jenson Button, McLaren, +28.0
8. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, +32.2
9. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, +40.2
10. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +53.3
11. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +54.8
12. Alexander Rossi, Manor, +75.2
DNF Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull
DNF Nico Hulkenberg, Force India
DNF Marcus Ericsson, Sauber
DNF Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
DNF Felipe Massa, Williams
DNF Romain Grosjean, Lotus
DNF Valtteri Bottas, Williams
DNF Will Stevens, Manor