Lewis Hamilton’s level of celebrity has done wonders for Formula 1, helping bring the sport to plenty of new audiences by giving it prime billing in gossip columns and red-top magazines all over the world.

And on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the latest surreal chapter in this bonkers 2018 arrived when world-famous actor Will Smith rocked up with Hamilton, taking part in the drivers’ parade before getting up to plenty of shenanigans throughout the race.

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At times, the amount of airtime Smith was getting on the F1 world feed felt like overkill, yet it once again proved that Hamilton is unique in terms of his celebrity status. The F1 paddock is a much more vibrant place thanks to him.

It was an apt way for Hamilton to finish his year, spending much of the pre-race countdown having fun and enjoying himself – even taking part in an Instagram skit where Smith held him hostage, saying he’d replace him in the race - before delivering another on-track beatdown to his rivals.

“We had an unconventional weekend as yesterday morning we were filming something and then this morning we did various stuff with Will,” Hamilton said after the race.

“We were doing some filming and stuff like 10 minutes before I got in the car which I never do as that is usually the period of time I get ready so I was going into the race having completely changed my pattern.”

You couldn’t tell as much in the race, though. Hamilton was in control throughout, making a superb start to retain his advantage from pole before nailing the restart after the Safety Car so Nico Hulkenberg’s car could be recovered.

With a three-second buffer opened up over Valtteri Bottas in P2, Mercedes opted to make use of the Virtual Safety Car called on Lap 7 and bring Hamilton in early, fitting him with Supersoft tyres.

“We knew that the Supersoft could go to the end,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff explained. “It could actually cover a whole race distance, so we wanted to cover against an undercut or no VSC or Safety Car in the race later on, we would have lost a position.

“Knowing the tyre can go to the end with a little bit of management, it was the safer strategy.

“Lewis had the pace. You could see that at the end when he saw [Sebastian] Vettel coming closer, he was able to increase the pace just in the way that was necessary.”

Hamilton emerged from the pits side-by-side with Max Verstappen, and spent a couple of laps trying to pass the Red Bull driver before backing off to save his tyres and keep race leader Bottas within his Safety Car window, ensuring that if it were deployed and the Finn pitted, he would still cycle back into the lead.

Once Verstappen pitted at the end of Lap 15, Hamilton was able to get the hammer down and cut the gap to the drivers at the front, picking up places from Bottas and Sebastian Vettel when they came in. He then whittled away the gap to Daniel Ricciardo, who was going long on the Ultrasofts, ensuring the Red Bull driver was out of range for a late charge.

Even with Vettel reducing the difference in the closing stages to less than three seconds, Hamilton never really seemed under pressure in Abu Dhabi. As he’s done for much of the season, he was clinical out front, staying in complete control.

Success in Abu Dhabi on Sunday meant Hamilton won the title by a margin of 80 points in the final standings, marking his largest championship victory yet in F1 – against his fiercest opposition.

What caused the points margin to swell was Hamilton’s post-coronation form. Much as I wrote on Saturday after qualifying, Hamilton had bucked the trend from previous years when he appeared to go off the boil once the championship was wrapped up.

After clinching the title in Mexico, Hamilton signed off from 2018 with two poles and two wins, meaning that between his DNF in Austria and the end of the season, he dropped a total of just 37 points. A remarkable charge to the title.

Wolff spoke of Hamilton’s post-coronation form after the race in Abu Dhabi, even going as far as saying the Briton had in fact been even better after clinching his fifth title.

“He’s actually driven stronger after winning the drivers’ title,” Wolff said. “I feel he’s just so embedded in the team and integrated that the drivers’ title felt incomplete, which for a driver is really strange because they are calibrated on the drivers’ title.

“But he said it felt incomplete and that we needed to seal the teams’ title. When you look at his face, there was almost more relief and happiness about sealing the constructors’ title than the first one.

“That’s why he just didn’t take his foot off the throttle until the very end. That is somehow a new Lewis also.”

Hamilton will most likely spend Sunday night hanging out with Will Smith, toasting a season he has given everything to. His off-track activities this year have been notable, but again, it has only empowered him.

Reflecting on his highlights of the year, Wolff picked out Hamilton’s pole lap in Singapore as one, largely for the way in which it silenced his critics.

“He was travelling the world to various fashion shows, launching his collection, and many people were saying on Thursday ‘how can you allow him to be in New York and in Shanghai for 10 days and then come to the race?’” Wolff remembered.

“And then he just killed everybody on the track on Saturday.”

The idea of a ‘new Lewis’ should put fear into anyone hoping to stop him from taking a sixth title in 2019. Nico Rosberg proved at the end of 2015 just how crucial a strong end to the year can be in terms of building momentum. It’d take a brave man to bet against Hamilton using this success as a springboard for the new year.

 

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