MEXICO CITY — Lewis Hamilton keeps climbing his way up the list of Formula One’s greatest drivers.
The top now looks very much in sight.
The British driver won his fifth career F1 championship with a fourth-place finish Sunday at the Mexican Grand Prix. It was a race dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but one that will be remembered for Hamilton tying the late Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina for the second-most championships in F1 history.
At age 33, he can now make a run at something once previously unthinkable: The seven titles won by Germany’s Michael Schumacher.
"Michael’s still the (greatest)," Hamilton said. "Fangio is the godfather and always will be. I feel honoured to have my name alongside his. If I stop today, I’ll always have my name up there."
He’s not stopping. Hamilton has won four of his five titles with Mercedes and this year extended his contract through 2020. His 2008 championship was with McLaren.
"I feel like I still drive with that fire that I had when I was 8-years-old," Hamilton said. "I’m here for a few more years, so hopefully I’ll get close. I’ll always be a fan of (Schumacher)."
Hamilton’s fifth championship arguably ranks among his best. He had to fight off a strong challenge from Ferrari, which even Hamilton admitted often had the stronger car. Ferrari beat him Sunday with title rival Sebastian Vettel taking second and Kimi Raikkonen third.
"I always believed we could win this championship, but it was one of the toughest," Hamilton said.
Montreal’s Lance Stroll was 12th.
Ferrrari also won the previous week at the U.S. Grand Prix. But it was a run of wins over the second half of the season that sent Hamilton to Mexico City all but assured of the championship. All he had to do was finish no lower than seventh, and even that would have required a Vettel win.
Yet he didn’t get the leisurely Sunday drive he would have liked over the 71 laps in the high altitude at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
After a brief bid for the lead Sunday, Hamilton had a scary run off the track late. In between, he complained of car and tire problems, and had to fight to hold on for one of his worst finishes of the season.
"It was a horrible race," Hamilton said. "I was just trying to bring the car home."
It was a near perfect day for Verstappen, who earned his fifth career victory and defended his 2017 race win.
Red Bull had dominated qualifying to earn its first 1-2 start of the hybrid engine era. But pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo was beaten off the line by Verstappen and Hamilton. Ricciardo’s race ended with late engine failure, the eighth time this season his car didn’t make it to the finish.
Hamilton could have let the Red Bulls ride off from the start, but he took a shot at the lead when by slipping into a gap between them. The straight line power of his Mercedes nosed his car in front until Verstappen cut under him at the first corner.
Verstappen wasn’t giving any ground. He was angry Saturday when he was denied the chance to be the youngest pole winner in F1 history
"The start was the key," Verstappen said. "I was determined to win today."
Hamilton could afford to back off and his primary goal was to avoid trouble. Last year, a bump from Vettel at the first turn punctured a tire which relegated him to ninth.
A four-time champion himself, Vettel opened the season with a strong charge of two straight victories only to see Mercedes snatch wins while their own car faded for a long stretch. Hamilton wrapped up the season with two races left.
Vettel will have the small consolation of beating Hamilton in the title-clinching race, passing him about midway through on a run down the long straight in a test of power between F1’s top two teams.
The team constructor’s championship is still up for grabs between Mercedes and Ferrari.
"He drove superb all year. He was the better one of us two," Vettel said. "Five (championships) is something incredible. I asked him to keep pushing for next year to be at his best, to fight him again."
Ferrari hasn’t won the driver’s championship since 2007 and Hamilton gave a nod of respect to the season title fight with Vettel.
"He fought so hard this year," Hamilton said. "The pressure that he would be under … that’s a lot to ride on one’s shoulders."