Lewis Hamilton negotiates a kerb during the Mexico Grand Prix on Sunday. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Mexico City – Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth drivers’ world championship in unexpected but dramatic fashion on Sunday when, after a first-lap collision with title rival Sebastian Vettel, he finished ninth in the Mexican Grand Prix.

The 32-year-old Briton, who needed to finish in the top five to be sure of the title, battled from last position in his Mercedes after suffering a puncture that needed an opening lap pit-stop as Dutchman Max Verstappen won the race for Red Bull.

Vettel, already a four-times champion, came home fourth for Ferrari after driving through the field from 19th following his part in the early crash with Hamilton. He also pitted for a new front wing. 

Hamilton’s title triumph made him the first British four-times champion, elevating him clear of Jackie Stewart, and alongside Vettel and Frenchman Alain Prost. Only German Michael Schumacher with seven titles and Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio on five have claimed more championships.

“I don’t know what happened at Turn 3, I gave him plenty of room,” said Hamilton. “It doesn’t feel real man. It’s not the race you want when you’re 40 seconds down, but I never gave up.”

After five wins in the previous six races, it was a disappointing way for Hamilton - who said he wanted to win the title in style - to win the crown.

“I’d like to say a big thanks to everybody in this Mercedes team,” he said. “What you’ve done the past couple of years is incredible. I’m so grateful.”

Verstappen won the race convincingly ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and his Finnish compatriot Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.

Vettel finished fourth ahead of Frenchman Esteban Ocon of Force India, Williams’ Canadian rookie Lance Stroll on his 19th birthday, and local Mexican hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India car.

Dane Kevin Magnussen finished eighth for Haas ahead of Hamilton and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who battled hard to resist Hamilton before finishing 10th for McLaren.

Verstappen led from the first lap once Hamilton and Vettel had clashed.

“The start was very crucial, I went around the outside and from then on I was just looking after the car and the tyres,” Verstappen said after his third career win. “Big thanks to Red Bull, without them it was not possible. After last week (when he received a five-second penalty in Austin that cost him third place), it was a perfect race.”

Mercedes’ non-executive director Niki Lauda, a three-times world champion, hailed Hamilton’s achievement.

“Lewis won it, he deserves it,” said Lauda, who said Vettel was at fault for the opening-lap collision. "I don’t know why Sebastian drove so aggressively to destroy his race. Lewis was in front and Vettel hit him with his front wing, I just don’t understand it.”

RESULTS

1 Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - 1h36m26.552s

2 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes +00:19.678s

3 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari +54.007

4 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari +1:10.078

5 Esteban Ocon (France) Force India +1 lap

6 Lance Stroll (Canada) Williams-Mercedes +1 lap

7 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India +1 lap

8 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Haas +1 lap

9 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes +1 lap

1. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren +1 lap

11 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams +1 lap

12 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) McLaren +1 lap

13 Pierre Gasly (France) Toro Rosso +1 lap

14 Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Sauber +2 laps

15 Romain Grosjean (France) Haas +2 laps

r. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Renault +12 laps

r. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber +16 laps

r. Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) Toro Rosso +41 laps

r. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Renault +47 laps

r. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull +66 laps

Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel,1:18.785, lap 68

POINTS - Drivers

1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 333

2 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari - 277

3 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes - 262

4 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull - 192

5 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari - 178

6 Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - 148

7 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - 92

8 Esteban Ocon (France) Force India - 83

9 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Renault - 54

10 Lance Stroll (Canada) Williams - 40

11 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams - 36

12 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Renault - 34

13 Romain Grosjean (France) Haas - 28

14 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Haas - 19

15 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) McLaren - 13

16 Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren - 11

17 Jolyon Palmer (Britain) Renault - 8

18 Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Sauber - 5

19 Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso - 5

Constructors

1 Mercedes - 595

2 Ferrari - 455

3 Red Bull - 340

4 Force India - 175

5 Williams-Mercedes - 76

6 Toro Rosso - 53

7 Renault - 48

8 Haas - 47

9 McLaren - 24

10. Sauber - 5