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Lewis the great

Hamilton joins exclusive club of F1 world champions, and he's hungry for more

Lewis Hamilton's fourth Formula One title lifts the Briton to another level, a great who now ranks as the most successful driver from a country that has provided more champions than any other.

Hamilton clinched his fourth title in Mexico with two races to spare yesterday morning (Singapore time), with his ninth-placed finish enough to give him an unassailable lead over nearest rival, Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.

And the Mercedes driver almost certainly has plenty more in the tank.

Hamilton is now one of just five men to have won at least four championships, and the sole Briton in the elite group.

He has a record 72 poles and 117 front-row starts and, with 62 wins, the 32-year-old has a chance of catching seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher's 91, a milestone once seen as lasting for the ages.

"Lewis is one of the greats of the sport," says former Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe, now at Williams.

"And his career is not done yet. He will emerge as one of the very greatest drivers of all time."

The sport's brightest and most marketable star, taking Grand Prix racing to new audiences and with millions of followers on social media, Hamilton has won twice as many races as his closest compatriot, the 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell.

Jackie Stewart, for four decades Britain's only triple champion until Hamilton matched him in 2015, is now only Scotland's most successful.

Overall, he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that. Sebastian Vettel

The late Brazilian Ayrton Senna, considered by many to be the greatest driver of all time, and Hamilton's boyhood idol and point of reference, also has three, although his tragic accident in 1994 surely stopped him from winning more championships.

The tattoos and love of bling may not be everyone's cup of tea but Hamilton has substance as well as style.

"He's already one of the all-time great drivers," compatriot and 1996 champion Damon Hill said.

"There's no question about that. His talent is spellbinding sometimes.

"I haven't seen such control, such style and such confidence and I think that he is brimming with it right now.

"When he's on form, he's just invincible."

He secured his first title with McLaren by a single point after a nail-biting finish in Brazil in 2008, but he also missed out by a single point in his debut 2007 season.

There have been times when he struggled to get the "balance of life" exactly how he wanted it, with some wondering whether his jet-set lifestyle was taking a toll.

This year was different, a fact that has much to do with teammate Nico Rosberg's retirement immediately after winning the 2016 title in a tense battle.

The atmosphere at Mercedes has changed since Valtteri Bottas arrived, the Finn praised by Hamilton for bringing "a new positive energy" into the team.

Another key was a clearing-of-the-air with team principal Toto Wolff last December after Rosberg's departure stunned Mercedes.

"We... had a long evening in my kitchen and put it all out, naming all the frustrations and the questions that have grown over the years, they were all dismantled," said Wolff.

"We went off and he came back with a great mindset and he has grown stronger through the year."

The man who grew up in social housing, the grandson of immigrants from the Caribbean, now has plenty of cash to splash, hanging out with celebrities and travelling by private jet wherever the whim takes him.

He lives in Monaco, has a home in Colorado and spends much of his time in America where he is regularly photographed with models and musicians.

But he also has a clear idea of who he is, something that was not always the case, and his outside interests in music, film and fashion provide a counterpoint to the racing that helps reduce stress.

There are those who suspect he could pack it all in at any moment but he dismissed that after the race on Sunday.

"Four is a great number. But I want number five now," declared Hamilton.

"I want to go out at the top ... I could do the easy thing, like obviously Nico did, which is just stop and retreat with these four titles. But I think there's more in me."

When he joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, some warned he was making a huge mistake.

With the wins and titles mounting up, and McLaren winless since 2012, the doubts are long gone. - REUTERS

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