PARIS (AP) Lewis Hamilton credits improved reliability from Mercedes and a better relationship with his teammate as key factors behind his fourth Formula One championship.
He scored points in every F1 race this year, a first for him. He won nine, and broke Michael Schumacher’s record for pole positions. He has 72 to go with his 62 race wins, second only to Schumacher’s 91.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the team, we’ve had the best reliability,” Hamilton said on Friday. “I don’t remember another team having this reliability.”
Hamilton finished 46 points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who won five races but capitulated in the second half of the season.
Hamilton has won the F1 title in three of the past four seasons with Mercedes, losing out to former teammate Nico Rosberg last year.
The two were teenage friends from their karting years, but the relationship turned increasingly sour from 2014-16. Rosberg was twice runner-up. Then, the German driver clinched his only F1 title in the final race of 2016.
Hamilton’s bitterness toward Rosberg seemingly lingers. He described him in minimal terms on Friday as “a member of the team last year.”
Hamilton much prefers fighting Vettel than Rosberg, who has retired.
“This year is the best year. I knew I would be fighting against Ferrari,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to bring a positive, rebuilt (and) re-structured me into the team.”
Rosberg stunned F1 by retiring days after securing his 2016 title, leaving Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff to scramble for a new driver. He hired Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas from Williams.
“For me it was a lucky moment,” Bottas said on Friday at an event hosted by FIA. “I called Toto. I just wanted to make sure they knew I wanted to be in this team.”
Hamilton claims to enjoy “perfect harmony” with Bottas. When asked to compare him with Rosberg, Hamilton was curt.
“I wouldn’t compare them, I have no plans to,” Hamilton said.
On Bottas, he added, “There’s an incredible amount of respect between us. Ultimately we want to win the right way by being the fastest on the track. There’s nothing happening in the background, he’s not trying to do it any other way.”
Bottas won three races and finished 58 points behind Hamilton in third place.
“He’s very strong in his mind,” Hamilton said. “I’m anticipating he’s going to be even stronger next year, so I had better stay on my toes.”
Although Hamilton’s winning margin over Vettel was comfortable, the contest was tense until Vettel’s unexpected dip.
Hamilton trailed Vettel at the summer break and, after moving narrowly ahead, looked set to fall behind again in September at the Singapore Grand Prix. Vettel was starting from pole alongside teammate Kimi Raikkonen on a sinewy street circuit more suited to Ferrari. Furthermore, Hamilton was starting fifth.
It was the perfect scenario for Vettel to regain the championship lead.
But Vettel crashed trying to cut off Max Verstappen, causing a four-car collision that took them both out along with Raikkonen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
It was the soccer equivalent of Vettel, a four-time F1 champion, scoring an own goal.
Hamilton won to move 28 points ahead overall. Vettel was then hampered by reliability woes, finishing fourth in Malaysia and failing to score in Japan.
“I don’t know whether or not if we would have won the championship (otherwise),” Hamilton said. “They lost a ton of points in those races, and at the race in Baku (Azerbaijan) where (Vettel) lost a potential win.”
Although Vettel finished fourth in Baku in late June and Hamilton was fifth, he wasted valuable points after being hit with a time penalty. Irritated by what he perceived to be Hamilton’s deliberately slow driving behind a safety car – known in F1 as brake-testing – Vettel accelerated and swerved into the left side of his Mercedes.
“I’m sure he’s learned a lot,” Hamilton said of Vettel. “I can’t expect him to make the same mistakes next year.”
Vettel said on Friday his Baku rashness left him feeling worse than his Singapore slump.