Lewis Hamilton claimed his second drivers’ World Championship with victory at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Six years after his maiden title, Hamilton clinched his second, becoming only the fourth Briton to win two world titles and Britain’s first multiple world champion in 43 years.
Hamilton, starting second on the grid, took the lead at the start and controlled the race, as Mercedes team-mate and championship challenger Nico Rosberg suffered with car issues and finished 14th.
“This is the greatest day of my life. 2008 was a great year in my life. The feeling I have now is way, way past that. The greatest feeling ever,” Hamilton said.
The 29-year-old moves level with Britons Jim Clark and Graham Hill with two titles and is just behind Jackie Stewart, whilst joining a number of other drivers including the likes of Fernando Alonso, all-time record holder Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel on achieving at least two championships.
Hamilton made the perfect start to launch himself into an instant lead with the sun beginning to set on the Yas Marina Circuit, as Rosberg bogged down and had to settle with second place into Turn 1.
Already 1.2 seconds clear by the end of the first lap, Hamilton continued to inch clear to extend the gap to 2.7 seconds by the time he made his first pit stop on lap 10.
The Briton controlled the pace of the race up to around half distance, when Rosberg suffered from a sudden failure of the energy recovery system on his Silver Arrow.
Desperate to remain in championship contention, Rosberg asked his team what he needed to do in order to finish inside the top five – the position which would hand him the title should Hamilton retire.
In reply Rosberg was told to “just drive flat out”, but lacking 160bhp and battling problems with his breaks, the German was helpless to defend his position as he slipped down the order – all but ending his hopes of winning a first world championship.
Despite knowing that his dreams of a title victory were effectively over, Rosberg was determined to go out with his head held high. With two laps to go, when he was told by his engineers to retire the car, he responded defiantly: “I would like to go to the end.”
With Rosberg in trouble, Mercedes opted to put Hamilton’s car in conservative settings to avoid any chances of the same situation occurring in his W05 hybrid, as the tension mounted.
As Hamilton neared his goal he pleaded with his team: “Please don’t turn the car up – I am comfortable. I can go faster if I need to.”
He proved this, setting a fastest lap of the race in the latter stages to keep the Williams of Felipe Massa at a safe distance behind.
Williams had kept within striking distance of Mercedes throughout the majority of the day-night race and hoped to take their first win of the season by beating Hamilton when second-placed Massa stopped for a short 12 lap final stint on the super-soft tyre.
Massa closed the gap down to nine seconds with eight laps to go and continued to reduce the gap at a significant rate but Hamilton controlled his pace to maintain a margin and contain the threat from behind.
Hamilton eventually took the chequered flag just 2.5 seconds ahead and was greeted by congratulations from Prince Harry, before he whooped in delight: “World champion, oh my god. I can’t believe it.”
The Englishman’s win was his 11th of the season, compared to Rosberg’s five, which meant that he finished 67 points clear at the top of the title standings, becoming Mercedes’ first champion since Juan Manuel Fangio’s back-to-back titles for the manufacturer in 1954 and 1955.
The result also gave Mercedes their 16th victory of the year, breaking another record in what has been a dominant and successful season.
It was the 33rd win of Hamilton’s career, moving him clear of his great rival Fernando Alonso into fifth in the all-time list.
Hamilton celebrated by completing a series of doughnuts in front of the crowd and collected a union flag on his way back to the pits; he then stood on his car waving it proudly before proceeding to embrace girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and his family, who had flown in for the race day to support him.
Williams took a double podium thanks to Valtteri Bottas’ third place, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who drove expertly to take fourth after starting from the pit lane due to both Red Bulls being found to be illegal after qualifying.
Jenson Button finished fifth for McLaren in what could be the final race of a distinguished career, spanning 15 years. The team have yet to decide whether Button or team-mate Kevin Magnussen will partner Alonso, who looks destined for a McLaren seat in 2015.
Force India used an alternative tyre strategy to take sixth and seventh with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez rounding off a solid season, whilst outgoing champion Vettel, who started from the pit lane alongside Ricciardo, was eighth.
Ferrari completed the top 10, with Alonso, in his last race for the Scuderia recording a ninth place finish, ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Magnussen who missed out on points.
Rosberg was gracious in defeat, admitting that Hamilton “deserved to win” as he vowed to come back stronger in 2015. With attention focussed on the newly crowned champion, a thrilling season and exhilarating title battle drew to a close.