Lewis Hamilton said he was “flying super-high” after winning his sixth drivers’ title and was struggling to come to terms with his achievement.
The British Mercedes driver clinched the championship with second place at the United States Grand Prix behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas on Sunday.
“It’s beyond surreal that my life journey has brought me to this point in winning the sixth title,” he said.
“I don’t know how I am supposed to feel right now.”
Hamilton said he was not able to comprehend the scale of his achievement, which moves him to within reach of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven World Championships, further confirms his position as one of the greatest in Formula 1 history, and places him as one of the greatest British athletes.
The 34-year-old said: “How am I supposed to feel? I remember watching this sport when I was younger. It’s odd to watch it and see someone in the TV set and now to be the person in the TV set and to be doing something like the great that I saw in Ayrton [Senna] and the great I saw in Michael.
“I don’t believe in the whole cloud nine thing. I am flying super-high right now. I have my family with me. I don’t remember the last time my mum and dad and step mum and step dad were at a grand prix, and I don’t think I’ve had them at World Championship grand prix before.
“I am really happy to share that with them – the people who have been at the core of who I am and sacrificed everything they have for me to have the life I have to do and have this opportunity.”
Rivals pay tribute to achievement
Hamilton’s achievement was saluted by his main rivals, the Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Bottas.
Leclerc, 22, said: “Only one title is already a huge achievement. To win six is just incredible. He deserves it. He has done an incredible season. I grew up watching him on the TV and just huge congratulations to him.”
Four-time world champion Vettel added: “Now is the time to write as many good things as you can. If someone wins the title six times, then he deserves all of it. That’s what I told him as well.
“I am happy for him. I am not happy we were not in contention, but you need to respect what he achieved the last years and this year together with his team, how strong they’ve been.”
Bottas, whose last slim hopes of beating Hamilton this season were extinguished in Austin despite his race victory, said: “Obviously big congrats to him. I personally failed with my target this year, but he deserved it this year. He had some season.”
Verstappen described Hamilton’s achievement as “phenomenal”.
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Schumacher’s record ‘very difficult’
Hamilton’s Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff added: “It’s where talent meets big push for self-improvement all the time – and that combination makes him stand out in his generation.
“He will always say there is room for improvement and this is the mentality you need to have. He is for me on an extremely high level but you never want to give yourself or anybody 10/10 because you might be a nine and you want to have the room for being 10 in the future.”
Wolff said he believed there was every chance Hamilton could at least match the record of German former driver Schumacher, who won seven world titles with Benetton and Ferrari between 1994 and 2004.
“There is a reason why the Schumacher record stands because it is just very difficult,” he said.
“If we are able to provide the drivers with a good car and we continue to work on the gaps we still have and try to minimise the mistakes – and he has a good season – there is no reason why he couldn’t go for a seventh title.”
Hamilton said: “I have always said reaching Michael’s was never a target for me. I am not really one to think of records and those kinds of things. I definitely thought getting anywhere near Michael was so far fetched. It was so far away and now it seems so close – and yet it is so far away I still can’t comprehend it.
“I believe I have the ability to continue to grow and to do more with this team and within F1. That would be the target but time will tell. Right now, I am just focused on trying to be as fit and healthy as I can be, smile as much as I can and enjoy this beautiful journey they call life.”
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‘Emotional rollercoaster’ of a season
Hamilton has dominated the season, winning 10 of 19 races so far, but he said it had been “the hardest year for us as a team”, largely because of the death of their non-executive chairman and three-time world champion Niki Lauda in May.
And he said he had to have a talk to himself on Sunday morning to motivate himself for the race after a disappointing qualifying session left him fifth on the grid.
He also referenced the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in a crash at the Belgian Grand Prix.
“We lost Niki this year, a crucial and pivotal member of the team and the emotional rollercoaster we’ve been on with losing him,” he said.
“Outside the car, just trying to remain focused, that is the toughest. It is only other athletes at the top of their game who can relate to it probably.
“This car has not been easy. We started the season thinking we were going to be behind. Mid-point of the season we were behind. And it has been a real challenge.
“It has been the toughest second half to the season we have had, fighting against Red Bull and Ferrari, which is great. We welcome that. Every journey is different, every year you go through a different rollercoaster of emotions.
“Each and every single one of us is struggling with something in life, small or big. I have tried to show people that from the outside things always look great, but it’s not always the case.
“I am also struggling with lots of different things and battling with some demons. And trying to make sure I am constantly growing as a person.
“When I wake up, I look in the mirror and I am trying to lift myself up and say: ‘Yes you can do it, you can win this race if you do the right steps.’
“Losing Niki, I didn’t think that would hit me as hard as it did. That was really upsetting. That was a tough, pivotal point.
“Lost a young kid in Spa, I saw it happen on the TV. When something happens like that it can put lots of doubts in your mind and battling that off and thinking: ‘Is it time to stop or should I keep going?’ Because there is lots of life afterwards.
“I still want to spend time with my family and have a family one day. But I am so charged, and I love doing what I do so much there is not a lot that can stop me.”