MEXICO CITY • Lewis Hamilton feared that he was going to crash out of the Mexican Grand Prix on the first corner as he suffered brake problems on Sunday. The Mercedes driver knew he was in trouble as he sat on his pole position at the start of the Formula One race.
His left front brake was fine, up to its working temperature of 500 deg C; the other, though, was cold and was going to be worse than useless as he braked from more than 255kmh.
He conquered the start procedure, which has so often this season been his weakness, and escaped the onrushing Nico Rosberg and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
But when Hamilton hit the brakes into the first right-hand corner, the front right brake locked and he careered across the grass.
It was a heart-in-mouth moment for a man who knew there was no other option but victory.
• Nico Rosberg will claim the world title if he wins the Nov 13 Brazilian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton is on 330 points, 19 behind him. With 25 points for finishing first and 18 for second, he will have at least an unassailable 26-point lead.
• If Hamilton finishes first in the two races and Rosberg finishes second, the German will win the title by five points. He can even afford to finish third in one of them.
• If Hamilton wins in Brazil and the final race in Abu Dhabi on Nov 27 and Rosberg fails to finish either.
• If Rosberg fails to finish both races, Hamilton need only finish fifth in the final two races.
• If Rosberg picks up a point in each of the final two races, Hamilton must finish at least fourth and fifth - or pick up 22 points.
THE TIMES, LONDON
"I was carrying such speed, I was lucky I didn't go into the wall," he said later. "But, I had such a vibration that I thought I was going to have to stop. It was so bad, I could hardly see. I was so thankful when the pit stop came."
Mercedes faced a dilemma about whether to bring the Briton into the pits when he damaged his tyres at the start. The "flat-spotted" tyre, with a badly worn patch, caused vibrations so severe the team feared the suspension could shatter.
"We had quite a conversation on the radio about whether we should pit him for safety reasons," said team boss Toto Wolff .
"In any other race, we would have pitted him and lost the race.
"We kept him out there in order to not throw away the championship for him."
But Hamilton won the race and Rosberg finished second. If Hamilton had failed to figure in the top nine, Rosberg would have been champion had he finished first.
It was the only narrow squeak in a race that went according to plan yet again. Said Wolff: "All the bad luck Lewis had through the season, he got some of that (good luck) back today."
But Hamilton's Red Bull rivals left Mexico City fuming that he was not penalised for going off the track.
"Lewis gained a massive advantage and Nico went off and gained an advantage," said Max Verstappen, who finished fourth. "I didn't gain an advantage. When I came back on track, I was the same length in front, so it's ridiculous."
But Rosberg said his team-mate had done nothing wrong: "Lewis did a better job (than me). At the first corner, he went in first and came out first and that is okay."
With two races left, Hamilton's fate is still not in his own hands as he trails Rosberg (349 points) by 19 in the championship.
Rosberg can wrap up the title at the next race in Brazil, a track on which Hamilton has yet to win - if he wins or has a second or third place against wins for the British driver there and at the final meeting in Abu Dhabi on Nov 27.
Hamilton said: "I am just going to push all the way to the end. One way, it could be painful and one way, it could be a great thing."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN