Car No.44 stopped in front of the board marked for the winner at parc ferme and the driver held his head. Lewis Hamilton lifted the helmet visor, wiped his moist eyes and climbed out of his black Mercedes to stand on it, soaking in the feeling as seven-time world champion. He had just equalled Michael Schumacher's world record for most Formula 1 titles.
It had been more about when than if in a season held amid the Covid-19 pandemic and dominated by the 35-year-old Briton. Hamilton only needed to finish ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas to seal the 2020 crown. He showed his sense of occasion, realising his dream in style, winning the wet, chaotic and yet exciting Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday with a peerless drive.
Starting at a season-lowest sixth, the Mercedes driver did not have a great start and fell almost a pit stop behind the race leaders initially. Just as everyone started sliding and locking up wheels, Hamilton, like the German ace he soon equalled, began demonstrating his mastery on rainy and slippery conditions, finding the grip to gobble up positions.
Hamilton was leading the race by Lap 38 (out of 58), eventually holding the position from Racing Point's Sergio Perez and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to clinch a record-extending 94th victory in scintillating fashion.
"What a day! It's a lot to take in. I remember watching Michael win those world championships. Seven is just unimaginable. I'm lost for words. I know I often say it is beyond wildest dreams, but my whole life secretly I have dreamt as high as this," said Hamilton after clinching the 2020 F1 crown with three races to spare.
"Today coming here we knew we were on the back foot and did the best we could (in qualifying). I kept my head down and kept believing it would come back to me."
One could argue it's all too easy having the fastest car. So did Bottas, who finished a lowly 14th after spinning five times during the race. He was embarrassingly lapped by a dominant Hamilton in the same machinery.
One by one Hamilton has chased down all significant F1 records—all once owned by the great German driver he replaced at Mercedes in 2013. The Briton holds the world records for most poles (97), wins (94) and podiums (163) and now has also equalled Schumacher for most championships, once thought beyond impossible to reach.
"That's for all the kids out there: dream the impossible, speak it into existence," said Hamilton, as he fought back tears, after one of his most emotional, career-best wins. "Don't listen to anyone who tells you "you can't achieve something". You've got to work for it, chase it, and never give up."
Long-time German rival Vettel, who was the first to congratulate Hamilton, summed up the performance. "Today was not his race and he still won it," said the four-time world champion.
Hamilton, whose first title came in 2008 with McLaren, has blown open F1's greatest of all time (GOAT) debate—earlier confined to the likes of Ayrton Senna and Schumacher. It shows the distance travelled by a boy who does not come from luxury or privilege but a modest background where his father Anthony once switched between four jobs to sponsor his son's nascent career.
Hamilton made all that worth it on the track, showing a natural gift for speed from a young age. His racing instinct was noticed by Ron Dennis when Hamilton famously told the then McLaren boss, "I want to race for you one day." The rest is history.
Numbers only tell part of the story that shows the rise of one of the sport's biggest figures who is also a champion of causes, backing movements like the Black Lives Matter (BLM). He has increasingly used the F1 platform to make his voice heard on various subjects like racial injustice, diversity, the sustainability of the sport and environment.
Sunday in Istanbul provided such an example. "This has been such a tough year for everybody and I hope for a better year next year. I haven't been out. I haven't taken any risks this year as I had a championship to fight for. That's made it quite difficult. I'll wait until I can be around my family, my friends and celebrate with them," said Hamilton.
The world champion also set up the Hamilton Commission this year with the aim to increase the representation of Black people in motorsport. Hamilton's presence also made Mercedes repaint their silver livery black for the 2020 season.
Every time he has looked down and out, the boy from Stevenage has risen from nowhere. Like the "Still I Rise" tattoo between his shoulder blades, he asserts himself, on or off the track, emerging on top more often than not.
Asked by former driver Mark Webber on the rostrum how many titles he can win, Hamilton said: "I feel like I'm only just getting started."