Lewis Hamilton is riding on cloud nine after being crowned Formula One world champion for a fourth time following a dramatic Mexican Grand Prix in which he collided with rival Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap.
Hamilton finished only ninth - the lowest position of his championship-winning season - following an explosive turn-three incident, after which the British driver asked if Vettel had deliberately crashed into him.
The title protagonists both sustained damage in the collision as Hamilton limped back to the pit lane with a right-rear puncture while Vettel stopped for repairs to his Ferrari's broken front wing.
And although a determined Vettel fought back through the field to cross the line in fourth, he fell well short of the victory required to stop Hamilton from driving his way into history with two races to spare.
Hamilton, 32, has now surpassed Sir Jackie Stewart by becoming the first British driver to win more than three Formula One championships, and joined Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Vettel as just the fifth to have won four or more.
Hamilton took the chequered flag with his head in his hands before holding a Union Jack aloft as he celebrated his remarkable achievement. Later, he arrived to address the media with a glass of champagne. He had one sip of bubbly before proclaiming it as disgusting and reverting to an energy drink.
"It feels like I am in space," Hamilton said as he reflected on the enormity of his success. "It is not registering at the moment and that often happens when you win a world championship. You are riding on cloud nine, but it takes a while for it to truly sink in."
Hamilton had vowed to seal his fourth championship in style. After qualifying only third, he knew the 800-metre charge to the first corner - the longest of the year - represented his best chance of victory.
Pole-sitter Vettel, Max Verstappen, the race's eventual winner, and Hamilton charged three abreast at 220mph into the left-handed opening turn.
Hamilton roared around the outside of Vettel at the right-handed third corner, only for the Ferrari driver - now down to third - to make contact with Hamilton's tyre.
The German, whose hero Michael Schumacher famously took Jacques Villeneuve out of the concluding race in Jerez 20 years ago in a do-or-die attempt to win the championship, appeared at fault. Hamilton led the inquisition as he asked on the radio whether it was indeed an act of desperation from his rival.
''Did he hit me deliberately?'' Hamilton asked. ''Not sure, Lewis,'' came the reply from his race engineer Pete Bonnington.
The stewards noted the dramatic incident but took just seven minutes to make up their mind by pursuing no further action.
''It was a bizarre accident,'' Hamilton's Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. ''It wasn't looked at by the stewards which is even more bizarre.''
Hamilton added: "I was surprised to be hit from behind. I left a lot of room, so I wondered why the dude that I was fighting touched me.
"We are great drivers. He is a four-time world champion and it is quite easy not to hit each other, but in the midst of battle it can also be easy to make contact."
Vettel emerged from the pits 35 seconds adrift of leader Verstappen, with Hamilton one minute behind the Red Bull man.
Despite Vettel's charge through the field and reducing the points deficit to 56, Hamilton heads to Brazil for the penultimate grand prix with an unassailable lead.
"It is not about today and the race," said Vettel when asked if he had crashed into Hamilton on purpose. "Lewis won the world championship. That is the most important thing.
"What Lewis has done shines brighter from my point of view than anything else. He has had a very strong year, and has been a very strong man."
21 January 2019
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