US Grand Prix –

A Champion Night

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Neither Rosberg nor a whole lot of rain could spoil what turned out to be a special day & night for Lewis Hamilton. Jennie Gow reports from the Circuit of the Americas at Austin, Texas.

Formula One is broken, they say. Some even suggest we should rip up the rule book and start again.

Well, if the race in Austin is anything to go by, there is nothing wrong with Formula One right now. Nothing that a little rain can’t fix, anyway. OK, make that a lot of rain – three whole days of constant, bone-chilling, mud-caking, all-encompassing, miserable, grey-sky rain.

Nevertheless, the race in the States was one of the best I have ever seen. It was thrilling, intense, full of drama and controversy and –  almost as if to reward the thousands of fans who had stuck it out through the wind and rain, the thunder and the lightening – a spectacle that will make the 2015 US Grand Prix unforgettable.

The whole paddock loves coming to Austin. The local slogan here – daubed across T-shirts and tacky postcards in dollar shops – is ‘Keep Austin Weird’. It’s a unique place that feels a little like Glastonbury festival, only with better food and shorter queues for the toilets. Live music plays from every bar and restaurant; their doors and windows flung open, allowing the smell of freshly-cooked barbeque meat mingle with the eclectic sound of blues, hard-rock and cheesy pop.

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Indeed, it is the perfect place for Lewis Hamilton to have won his third world title. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny he has dominated the whole of the season. Some races he has strolled to victory, others have been more of a battle. But on October 25th 2015, Lewis etched his name firmly into the record books, becoming one of only six men to ever win three world titles.

As many people know by now, his boyhood hero was Ayrton Senna. And as Hamilton’s father drove him around the UK in their old van, eating noodle soup as a young Lewis cut his teeth competing in Go-Kart championships, Lewis dreamt of achieving what his idol had done: to win the F1 crown three times. Many drivers believe that three titles is a real mark of a racer. Lauda did it, Jack Brabham too, Nelson Piquet and, of course, Sir Jackie Stewart, too. It’s fair to say Lewis is in very good company.

As he crossed the finish line in Austin, you could feel his emotion. It was tangible. This was no close-run thing. This was no 2008, when he dashed the dreams of a million Brazilians by snatching the title away from Felipe Massa. This was no 2014, where he and Nico Rosberg went into the last day of the season duking it out for the spoils. This was race number 16 of 19, and with three races to go, he was head and shoulders on top of the world.

Hamilton’s 2015 season has been almost perfect. 10 race wins, 11 pole positions, just one retirement (from the Singapore Grand Prix) and a worst result of 6th (in Hungary). Not bad for a boy from Stevenage.

As he came out to meet the media, a beaming Hamilton draped the Union Flag over his shoulders. No-one was going to rain on Lewis Hamilton’s parade. He came to where I was stood – that trademark grin spread across his face – and gave me a massive hug. It was not a very Lewis thing to do, believe me. Almost speechless, he tried to find the words to describe his emotions.

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“I just feel incredibly grateful right now. I’m extremely humbled and excited.” It was clear the magnitude of what he had (and has) achieved had really sunk in yet. But he wanted to share the moment with me, and with all the listeners in the UK. He knows he isn’t universally liked but, speaking to me, I could tell he wanted the people back home to feel inspired.

At the other side of the press hall, Nico Rosberg’s shoulders were slumped. His face downtrodden and his eyes questioning, ‘What had happened out there?’ He seemed almost shell-shocked. Somehow, he had let an unassailable lead in the race disappear. He couldn’t understand why he had lost control of the car and run wide. “It’s never happened to me before”, he told me after the race.

It was clear to see the guy was totally gutted. He has still never passed Lewis Hamilton on an F1 track and gone on to win a race.

That’s the highs and lows of racing: While someone is celebrating and on cloud nine, the loser is stunned and searching for answers.

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After the race, after the many rounds of media interviews and team debriefs, a spot of dinner and maybe a phone call home, Lewis and Nico joined their Mercedes team at ‘Pete’s Piano Bar’ in Austin. You would think that Nico would have been sitting in a fancy hotel room somewhere, brooding on what could have been. But no. He was out there, celebrating with the rest of the team, looking relaxed and enjoying the night. Who knows? Maybe he was drinking to forget? But it was great that he was able to shrug off the events of the day and have some fun.

Lewis turned up too, dressed in a red leather jacket and matching baseball hat. The crowd went crazy, shouting ‘Lewis, Lewis, Lewis’ as he came to the edge of the balcony and held up a beer to the room. In return, the pianos on stage banged out ‘We Are The Champions’, and everyone in the room jumped up and down, pinching themselves that they were in the right place at the right time to celebrate a season well done with a couple of Champion F1 drivers.

Before the end of the night – and with a great amount of persuasion from one of my journalist colleagues – Nico came down from the reserved Mercedes section and was press-ganged into singing a rendition of Jon Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’. While some were suggesting he might have been more well-suited singing Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’, I think it showed that – cap throwing incidents aside – Nico Rosberg is fundamentally a good guy. The questions is: Do good guys win world titles?

As for what happens next? Well, for Rosberg, he will be asking questions about what happened on track at Turn 1 when Hamilton flexed his muscles to get past his team mate, and trying to work out what he can do next season to bring the fight to his teammate.

And for the newly crowned World Champion? He picks up the baton from where Senna sadly left it, and will, in his words, “carry on racing for both of them”. Will he win more world titles? Of course he will. But then, didn’t people say the same about Fernando Alonso after his back-to-back wins in 2005/06? You just never know what’s around the corner in Formula One, and that’s why we love it.