Thursday 12 December 2019

Hamilton conquers nerves and rivals to join the greats

Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Switzerland's Roger Federer (2ndR) celebrates as he stands between Stanislas Wawrinka (C) and Davis Cup tennis team captain Severin Luthi (R) as they pose with teammates after winning the Davis Cup tennis tournament final match against France at the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve d'Ascq, near Lille. Roger Federer beat Richard Gasquet on Sunday to give Switzerland their first Davis Cup title with a 3-1 victory over hosts France in the final. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

David Tremayne

Lewis Hamilton loves Maya Angelou's famous poem 'Still I Rise', and perhaps its lines that best summarised his ascent to a second world drivers' championship in the twilight of Abu Dhabi and Mercedes' first since the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio back in 1955, were these:

"Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, still I'll rise.''

He had been thrashed by title rival, Nico Rosberg, in qualifying and admitted that he had a sleepless night.

But when the chips were down, he was dominating his rival yesterday, even before Rosberg slid helplessly from his mirrors with technical troubles and then fended off a mighty challenge from Felipe Massa, whom he had beaten for his first championship crown in 2008.

Never was a start more keenly anticipated. Rosberg had to win to stand a chance of the title, with Hamilton no better than third.

With Valtteri Bottas in his Williams third on the grid and, like Rosberg, starting on the cleaner side, there were threats all around the Englishman.

That was until the lights actually went out and he took off like a rocket into a lead he only surrendered during tyre stops.


Hamilton's 11th win of the season made him only the fourth multiple British world champion, after greats Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, and prompted rival, Fernando Alonso, to remark: "The best man won.''

The sentiment was widely echoed, but not with more meaning than from Hamilton's old boss, Ron Dennis, who had nurtured his career.

The best man did indeed win. Rosberg has been the faster qualifier this year, but Hamilton had won 10 races to Rosberg's five as their cars lined up on the grid and had so often had to recover after misfortune.

But Rosberg proved a worthy challenger and when things began to go wrong, he called upon a champion's spirit and refused to go down without a fight. There was grace there as well as resolve, as he was one of the first to congratulate a man who more than once has proved his nemesis since they first began racing one another back in 1997.

Even had Rosberg's car not lost its energy recovery system, Hamilton was in control yesterday.

As the German's car slipped from second place, then down through each of the (double) points scoring positions until it was a lapped 14th, Rosberg many times asked his crew whether he might still be in contention should Hamilton's car run into trouble, but the news for him only got worse.

Yet when Mercedes eventually advised him to bring his car into the pits with two laps to go, he was resolute. "I'd like to go to the end,'' he said.

Even after Rosberg's demise, this was no easy run for Hamilton, as Felipe Massa was hungry for Williams' first success since Barcelona 2012. On a set of Pirelli's super soft compound tyres, he began to slash the gap with 12 laps left, but as his tyres began to lose their vital grip, he did not quite have enough.

Making it an excellent day for Williams and Mercedes, Bottas recovered to an excellent third place. Hamilton always said that this title would be sweeter than the first. "In 2007, it was a very bad experience losing the world championship in the last race,'' he admitted.

"I fell to a low over which I had no control. In 2008, I came back and won the championship. While that was great, my emotions were shot. I wasn't so mature.

"Normally, before a race, you have butterflies in your stomach and are nervous, but today I felt extremely calm. Last night, I kept thinking that tomorrow is the big day, something could happen to the car and that would be the championship done.

"This is the great day of my life: 2008 was a special time, but the feeling I have now is way, way past that, above and beyond. It's the greatest feeling I've ever had. This is like an outside-the-body experience.''

Defeat brought out the real Rosberg, for there was no sign here of the sometimes condescending character. "He deserved to win today and he deserved to win the championship," he said.

Besides winning the drivers and constructors' championships, 16 of the 19 races and setting a new record for one-two finishes, Mercedes' greatest racing season also set a new high for sportsmanship and perhaps that was the greatest of all their achievements. (© Independent News Service)

Federer completes set in historic Swiss success

Side came before self for Roger Federer in Lille yesterday, even though Switzerland's maiden Davis Cup success completed his own personal set.

With 17 Grand Slams, the 33-year-old had won every significant prize in the game - all that has been missing was been a Davis Cup title.

His straight-sets victory over Richard Gasquet secured a 3-1 triumph over France, but for Federer, the success was not for him but his team-mates.

Long-time friend Stan Wawrinka shared in the glory, putting talk of a rift between the two to bed.

"We fought hard for it - I'm really happy for all the guys in the team," Federer said.

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