Lewis Hamilton was in a reflective mood following his Formula 1 championship defeat in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, but his disappointment was impossible to hide on the podium.
Having entered the race weekend trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 12 points in the drivers’ championship, Hamilton knew that victory may not be enough to capture a fourth crown.
In fact, he knew that mid-October when there were four races to go, such was Rosberg’s lead. Despite taking pole and victory in all four, he wouldn’t be world champion. Rosberg carried himself over the line with four straight second-place finishes.
Hamilton did all he could in the finale to shake Rosberg up, going against team orders by slowing the pack down, pushing his teammate into the clutches of the pack chasing behind. Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen threatened to pass, yet neither could make it through.
In the cool-down room after the race, the disappointment was written all over Hamilton’s face. Even on the podium, he struggled to celebrate with the same enthusiasm as he would a normal race victory. 10 wins, 12 poles – and no world title to show for it.
“Honestly I feel great,” Hamilton said on the podium, curling his lips into a smile that failed to hide his pain.
“There are so many British flags out there this weekend. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came out to support us.
“Got to say thanks to my family for all their support and especially to the team for doing such a great job. It’s been a real privilege being part of this team. I never would have thought when I joined this team that I’d have this many wins.
“I think that’s 32 wins with this team, so a big thank you to everyone here and back at the factory.”
And just as podium interviewer David Coulthard began to turn away, Hamilton added: “And a big congratulations to Nico of course, his first world championship. Good job mate.”
The two shook hands and embraced, defusing the tension that had bubbled between them throughout the race – and indeed their three years together as teammates.
But Hamilton knew that had it not been for the series of engine failures he’s suffered this year, the world title could so easily have been his. He was left facing impossible odds with four races remaining, and did everything in his power to turn things around, only to fall just five points short.
“I did everything I could these last four races. That’s all I could really ask for,” Hamilton said.
“I’m gonna have a lot of fun tonight celebrating with the team and everyone. You can’t win them all.
“We had a lot of problems this year, that’s why I’m in this position.
“But I’m still grateful for all the success and ups and downs we’ve had as a team.”
And what of his antics with Rosberg in the final stint? Hamilton hid nothing when he talked to NBCSN after the race, saying he was doing all he could to help himself.
“Generally in the last stint, I tried to help myself. I wasn’t getting any help anywhere else,” Hamilton said.
“I didn’t put Nico or anyone else in harm’s way, I didn’t cause the team damage or anything like that. We still got a one-two.
“I think I did everything I could within fair reason.”
Two big debates will rage on following today’s championship finale.
Firstly, was Lewis Hamilton a more deserving champion than Rosberg?
And secondly, did Hamilton overstep the mark with his late-race pace?
The upshot of both is that, regardless, Hamilton’s reign as F1 world champion is over. He will head into 2017 as the underdog, having suffered just the second intra-team defeat of his F1 career (the other coming at the hands of Jenson Button in 2011).
Quite how Hamilton fights back next year may mark the beginning of a new chapter in his F1 career.