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F1: Lewis Hamilton wins third title at action-packed US Grand Prix
Briton takes championship in down-to-the-wire Austin race
Lewis Hamilton secured his third world championship in the most dramatic fashion at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, overtaking teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg with just a handful of laps remaining of a hectic, rain-affected race.
Hamilton’s victory gives him an unassailable 76-point lead over Sebastien Vettel in the driver championship, with just 75 points remaining in the final three races.
The 30-year-old becomes only the tenth driver in F1 history to secure three titles, joining his idol Ayrton Senna and Britain’s only other triple champion, Jackie Stewart. Hamilton is the first Briton ever to successful defend an F1 drivers crown.
After a rain-disrupted qualifying session, Hamilton started second on the grid behind Rosberg, but took the lead on the first lap in wet conditions. But a series of safety cars, and a drying track, saw Lewis drop down the field as Rosberg forged a lead.
Needing to finish ahead of Rosberg and closest rival Vettel to secure the title in Austin, it looked as if Hamilton would have to wait at least another week for his third title. But following what would prove to be the last safety-car stint - after Daniel Kvyat slapped his Red Bull into the barrier - Hamilton snuck into the lead as an unforced Rosberg error saw the German run wide with just seven laps to go.
The Brit held his nerve to steer his Mercedes home in first, but ironically required Rosberg to stay ahead of Vettel to secure the championship. Nico obliged, holding off the Ferrari driver to take second and deliver Hamilton his second consecutive title.
“I can’t find the words to explain how this feels,” said a beaming Hamilton after the race. “I couldn’t have done it without this team. I love you guys and everything you do for me. For all my family, I love you all.”
Hamilton has lead the championship standings all season, following first place at the opening race in Australia with no fewer than nine victories since. Rosberg and Vettel have each recorded just three wins.
Torrential weather decimated the build-up to the race in Austin, with Saturday’s qualifying cancelled, then curtailed on Sunday. But the rain relented just in time for the start of the race proper, with all cars starting on intermediate rubber. Following a fast start, Hamilton muscled out Rosberg into the first corner, but failed to build his usual lead, the Mercedes apparently struggling with its tyres. After being passed by Ricciardo and Rosberg, Hamilton switched to slick tyres, and benefitted from a succession of safety cars bunching the pack together.
As the track dried out and positions at the front shifted, it looked unlikely Lewis could sneak ahead of Rosberg to secure the championship, but the German’s late error handed Hamilton the title.
“This is a dream come true,” said Hamilton in the post-race press conference. “It is a platform for me to inspire young people. Never give up on your dreams and desires. Just keep working on it…”