Lewis Hamilton is world champion: Six reasons behind his 2015 title win
The Mercedes driver's third title may not have been accompanied by the final-race drama of the first two, but there were still plenty of key moments - and reasons - behind his successful title defence
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 23/12/15 2:17pm
The peerless Mercedes W06
Hamilton's back-to-back crowns couldn't have been achieved without the equipment to back up his talent. And for the second successive year, Mercedes delivered in abundance.
Few, if any, were expecting anything less after the Brackley team swept all before then in the first year of these current engine regulations and it was plainly obvious that the W06 stood out from very early on in pre-season testing.
The world champions may not have actually topped a timesheet until the third test at Barcelona, but they were fooling nobody. You could almost hear jaws dropping in the Jerez pitlane when Mercedes unwrapped the new car from the box and immediately put 157 laps on the board without any technical hiccups. Any doubts about Mercedes' superiority were then definitely quelled in qualifying for the season-opening Australian GP when pole-sitter Hamilton was 1.391 seconds quicker than the fastest non-Mercedes car.
Lewis: The greatest feeling
Lewis Hamilton describes third F1 title as "the greatest moment in my life"
Barring a few interruptions to their dominance once the racing season got underway, neither Mercedes nor Hamilton in particular looked back up to his title coronation in Austin in October.
Ferrari, or any other rival, will have to go some to stop the same thing happening again in 2016.
Restoring his qualifying reputation
Despite ultimately winning his titanic 2014 duel with Nico Rosberg with room to spare, Hamilton wasn't completely satisfied with his all-round performance last year. "We're going to work so hard to make sure we come back even stronger in 2015," he told Sky Sports within hours of clinching the title in Abu Dhabi. "I'm going to make some improvements. I'm going to make sure my qualifying is better next year and keep that race pace."
The Briton has certainly been as good as his word. Outqualified over the season by Rosberg in 2014, Hamilton rarely started behind when the title was still up for grabs this. At one stage, the world champion held a 12-1 lead over his team-mate on Saturdays, and although Rosberg's end-of-season run of six straight poles brought more respectability to the final scoreline, Hamilton had claimed all 11 of his poles when it really mattered.
Indeed, that haul was four more than he has ever achieved in a single season before and his rise to third place in the all-time F1 list for pole positions means his status as the grid's outright fastest driver has been well and truly restored.
Retaining his Sunday edge
As Rosberg found with his 11 poles last year, starting at the front provides no guarantee of a race-winning Sunday. However, Hamilton's Sunday strike-rate has been one of the central reasons why he ran away with his third championship.
There were plenty of days when Hamilton has eased away at the front and controlled his pace to the flag in textbook examples of modern-day F1 front-running - Australia, Canada and Russia to name just three - but there were also races when he had to keep his racing and strategic wits about him too - think of the Chinese GP in April when Rosberg and Vettel stalked Hamilton throughout the race or the British GP, when Williams swamped the Mercedes W06s at the start. And then, ultimately, there was Austin when it was Rosberg who again fell short.
It may have looked straightforward some, probably most, of the time, but that was only because the often-unbeatable combination of Hamilton and the W06 made it look so easy so often.
Taking Monaco on the chin
For some unexplained reason, Hamilton's career at the Monaco GP has routinely been dogged by controversy and incident, and this year that trend continued courtesy of Mercedes' strategy meltdown which lost the Briton a race he had well won. As it has turned out, it was the world champion's only significant setback of the whole season.
In the past Hamilton had reacted to misfortune around the streets of the principality with some infamous outbursts - think his Ali G 'joke' in 2011 or "we're not friends" remark in 2014 - but this time the situation was noticeably different. Whether nor not you believe Hamilton played his part in sowing some of the confusion which led to the pitstop that should never have been, it would have been easy in the immediate aftermath of the race for him to pin all the blame on the team.
Instead, Hamilton, who turned 30 in January, was a model of maturity describing it as a "collective decision between us all", despite Mercedes themselves absolving their driver of blame. This wouldn't have just been 'another win' for Hamilton either. He'd gone seven years without triumphing at F1's blue-riband event, had broken his Monte Carlo pole position duck on the Saturday, and was on course to beat Rosberg by a full 20 seconds which would have been the biggest winning margin there this century. In championship terms, a prospective 27-point title lead had suddenly become a scant 10 too.
Speaking two months later at Silverstone about the disappointment, Hamilton said: "It was hard beyond belief. It was definitely the hardest moment for me that I can recall." That he not only kept his calm in the immediate aftermath - even stopping at Portier to collect his thoughts before the podium - but dominated the next weekend in Canada, spoke volumes.
Limiting the damage in Budapest
If there was a moment when the championship battle could have turned to a significant effect it was midway through the Hungarian GP just before the summer break. Hamilton has never officially been headed at the top of the championship this year, but what's likely to be completely forgotten in future when people look back at his 2015 - and perhaps already has by most - is that for a few laps midway through the map-cap Budapest race Rosberg was on course to move to the summit of the standings.
Even champions are allowed off days and Hungary was certainly Hamilton's for 2015 - one newspaper declared that he 'raced around the Hungaroring like a man driving back from the Dog and Duck after eight pints'.
Everything that could go wrong did: Hamilton botched the start from pole, ran off the road later round that first lap, and then later on picked up a drive-through penalty for colliding with Daniel Ricciardo.
It should have been a turning point for Rosberg's season and the title battle - yet, remarkably, it wasn't. Battling for a second-place finish, the German then had his own tangle with Ricciardo, which prompted an unscheduled pitstop and an eighth-place finish, two spots behind an out-of-sorts team-mate. An open goal had been squandered.
Ending the debate in Japan
Just once on race day has Hamilton's W06 failed him this year - during September's Singapore GP, when a third or fourth place at best was lost on a weekend when Mercedes' pace evaporated in what's likely to remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of F1. The flip side of that was that Rosberg's fourth-place finish hardly dented the Briton's lead, although both the German and race winner Vettel moved back within 50 points of the championship summit.
As a result, there were plenty of what-ifs doing the rounds in the build-up to the following week's race in Japan, with the prospect of a late-season challenge to Hamilton heightened when Rosberg qualified on pole for just the second time all season.
However, it took about 10 seconds of the lights going out in the Suzuka race for Hamilton to dispel such chatter as he took no prisoners in his firm, but fair, overtake of his team-mate at the second corner. A race-winning margin of 19 seconds all-but confirmed he wasn't going to be caught in the title race either.
Two races later and the world championship - the symbolic third of his F1 career - was his again.