Hamilton joins the greats by claiming third World crown
Gasping for air, sobbing in his helmet, Lewis Hamilton was a three-time world champion after a race worthy of the occasion.
The result of a dizzying United States Grand Prix read Hamilton, from Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, but what a day of ups and downs we had to get there. He never has liked to make it easy. And what a way to enter the record books, winning a race full of unrelenting drama and incident.
Hamilton joins Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna, his childhood hero, in the pantheon of Formula One's best, after a drive which will live long in the memory. How he kept his cool as chaos ensued, the result uncertain until the last moment. The result confirmed in the dying seconds, with Vettel chasing Rosberg hard, finally given a moment to catch his breath, the tears flowed for Hamilton.
"This is the greatest moment of my life," he said over the radio. "Thank you so much for everything you guys do. I'm just so grateful. To my family, I love you all."
Rosberg looked decidedly miffed on the podium after throwing this one away seven laps from the end, but it did nothing to dampen Hamilton's mood, as he toasted the realisation of his childhood dream, almost dropping the trophy.
"I can't really find the right words to tell you how amazing this feels," he said. "I couldn't have done it without this team. They have nurtured me. My family who are watching, I love you."
The worst of Hurricane Patricia had passed but this race was a whirlwind in itself. The day began as Saturday ended: wet. Morning qualifying had to be aborted after the second segment, with Rosberg taking pole from Hamilton.
Hamilton, 30, said immediately after it was not "do or die", but you would not have guessed it from the opening salvo. The Briton had the better getaway, easing his team-mate off the track at turn one. They kissed wheels but the move was fair. It encapsulated the pecking order of the season. It set the tone for a truly bonkers afternoon. The two Mercedes and two Red Bulls chopped and changed positions in the opening third of the race.
On lap 15, the charging Daniel Ricciardo swept by Hamilton for the lead on the long right-hander at turns 17 and 18, a brave and decisive move. Hamilton was struggling. For the first time in the last two years, Rosberg attempted an overtake on his team-mate and actually pulled it off. They went wheel to wheel for a few corners but emerged unscathed - and with Rosberg ahead.
At this stage, it was anyone's guess as to whether Hamilton could seal a third title, with Vettel up to sixth having started way down in 13th. Hamilton took second from Ricciardo, but Rosberg was 10 seconds clear in front.
Then another twist. Marcus Ericsson stopped on the track, bringing out the safety car on lap 27. All this before the race had even reached half-distance.
Rosberg aced the restart, pulling clear of Hamilton. Kvyat blundered again, allowing Vettel through, before the German soon took the other Red Bull, astonishingly up to third. At this stage he seemed in good shape to win. With 15 laps to go, Hamilton was on old tyres, with Vettel five seconds behind, and Rosberg a few further back. Within a matter of laps, Rosberg scythed past his compatriot. And then another safety car. At the penultimate corner, Kvyat put his Red Bull on the grass, lost control and ploughed into the wall. Hamilton pitted, as did Vettel.
The pendulum swung again back in Hamilton's favour - he was on fresher tyres than his team-mate. With 10 laps remaining, the safety car pulled in for the final dash to the finish.
Yet more drama. After a brilliant afternoon, on lap 49 Rosberg made a big mistake, gifting Hamilton the lead. It was now his to lose.
Hamilton did his bit and must have been praying that Rosberg could hold on to second. He did it, just. Formula One's longest and most dramatic day ended with Hamilton at his heroic best.