Lewis Hamilton secures his place among racing greats

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    An ecstatic Lewis Hamilton has become Britain’s first four-times Formula One world champion after he fought back from last place following an opening-lap collision with Sebastian Vettel at the Mexican Grand Prix.

    In a race won by 20-year-old Dutch prodigy Max Verstappen, in a Red Bull, 32-year-old Mercedes driver Hamilton finished ninth.

    Vettel, the only man who could have delayed the seemingly inevitable, finished fourth after he started on pole position and then dropped to 19th after a pitstop to replace a broken front wing.

    Hamilton has an unassailable lead of 56 points with two races, worth a total of 50, remaining in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

    “It doesn’t feel real,” Hamilton said.

    “That’s not the kind of race that you want but I never gave up. I kept going right to the end.”

    He had raised both hands to his helmet as he took the chequered flag, with the crowd rising to applaud.

    “Lewis has done a superb job all year and deserves to win the title,” Vettel said.

    “Congratulations to him. It is his day.”

    Verstappen was joined on the podium by Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and third-placed Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.

    Australian Daniel Ricciardo had a day to forget after being forced out of the race on lap six with his Red Bull experiencing turbo trouble.

    A winner nine times this season, including five of the six before Mexico, ninth was Hamilton’s lowest placing of the campaign and he did it despite having a badly damaged car.

    Verstappen seized the lead with an aggressive move through the opening corners and the Red Bull bumped wheels with Vettel as he went through.

    Hamilton, who started third, tried to follow Verstappen but the Ferrari’s front wing sliced Hamilton’s rear right tyre as they made contact at turn three.

    “Did he hit me deliberately?” Hamilton over the radio, as he limped back to the pits.

    “Not sure, Lewis,” his race engineer Peter Bonnington replied.

    It looked far from deliberate and stewards swiftly decided that no further investigation of the incident was necessary.

    Vettel was also forced to pit while Hamilton had a longer stop as mechanics inspected his car for further damage.

    While not the perfect race, Hamilton’s delight was unrestrained as he joined Germany’s Michael Schumacher (seven titles), Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio (five), France’s Alain Prost and Vettel to be just the fifth man to have won at least four world titles.

    “An unusual way to be world champion but you are world champion very simple,” Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, himself a triple champion, said.

    “Nobody cares how you do it.”

    © Reuters 2017