This has been easily the most dominant of his three championship-winning years yet, at the end, it must have felt as if a cloud rather than a curtain had come down at the end of the show.
He has won 10 races and taken 11 pole positions on his way to sealing the championship by the swaggering margin of 59 points, yet his podium smiles at the end of this race did not disguise the fact that he was pervaded by a strange sense of anticlimax.
Nico Rosberg’s third straight win, to go with his six successive poles, may not mean a whole lot in the context of what will transpire next year but it has removed a layer of gloss from Hamilton’s grin. Here, Hamilton was second best to his Mercedes team-mate and arch rival – his only serious rival – just as he has been since securing his third title in Texas a month ago.
It is Rosberg’s misfortune that his excellent recent surge will be tainted by the suspicion that the champion, however subconsciously, has lost some intensity, though it hardly showed when he was involved in another strategy-questioning conversation with his team in the latter stages of this 55-lap race.
After coming in for a late second change of tyres he emerged 13 seconds behind with 14 laps remaining and immediately began to cut large of chunks of time out of the German’s lead. But then his lap gains began to decrease and Rosberg knew he had the race won, his sixth victory of the season. The margin was an emphatic 8.2 seconds.
The only surprise was that Hamilton’s second change was for soft tyres, and not the faster super-soft tyres Mercedes appeared concerned would grain, but Sebastian Vettel managed to put in a longer stint on precisely the same rubber.
Before Hamilton came in, on the 41st lap, 10 laps later than Rosberg, he told his team that he wanted to stay out on his by now rather venerable rubber. By then the German was cutting swathes into his lead.
He said afterwards: “I’m not sure if I could have taken my tyres to the end – some part of me wishes I had just given it a go. But it was down to the team which tyre we went to for the final stint.”
He added, rather wistfully: “In hindsight, once Nico pitted I probably should have backed off a little bit, and I’d have made those tyres go a lot longer. The tyres were fine, so I honestly felt I could have taken them to the end, but that didn’t work.
“Going too long [before the final stop] was probably the wrong thing to do but we gave it a try and I did the best job I could with it.”
Rosberg got off to a flyer from pole and the slower Hamilton was immediately under threat from Kimi Raikkonen. When Rosberg stopped early for new tyres, on lap 11, he was soon followed in by Hamilton. Rosberg did not stop again until lap 31 but this time Hamilton lengthened his stint.
Rosberg said afterwards: “Austin [the US GP] was the low point of the season. It was a tough weekend and since then I’ve come back a lot stronger and I’m very happy about that.
“Next year could start tomorrow if it were me, no problems. I don’t need any holidays. It’s always tough to race Lewis. He’s doing an awesome job and he’s one of the best out there. It’s a great battle, internally, all the time. That’s what I race for, such battles, and I look forward to more next year.”
This was Rosberg’s 14th career victory and Mercedes’ 12th one-two of the season, a Formula One record. There should be more domination from them next season, though Ferrari might have an argument about that.
Jenson Button was 12th, five places ahead of his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, who took Pastor Maldonado out at the start and wanted to retire his car at the halfway stage.
Ferrari’s Raikkonen finished on the podium for only the third time this year. His team-mate Vettel, who started 15th because his team had made a basic mistake in qualifying the day before, worked his way up to fourth.
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