LONDON (Reuters) - If there is a secret to Lewis Hamilton’s fifth Formula One title, beyond the Briton’s individual brilliance in a car that was not always the fastest, then his Mercedes team can provide an answer.
The mistakes of others played a part in helping the Briton, who wrapped things up in Mexico on Sunday, but the champions lived up to the old adage that when the going gets tough the tough get going.
Hamilton, now in his sixth season with Mercedes and more of a leader than ever, raised his game to new levels but Mercedes also rose to a challenge greater than any they had previously encountered.
“We’ve grown stronger as a team,” principal Toto Wolff said when asked what had changed.
“The relationships are strong within the team and there’s a trust, there’s a belief in the strength in the team and particularly in the moments where it has been very difficult. The off weekends.
“We kept calm, tried to analyse why it didn’t go and we came back strong.
“And I think that is one of the fundamental strengths of this team that in times of adversity we focused on solving the problems rather than adding to the difficulties, creating additional confusion.”
Mercedes, the dominant team of the past four years, faced stiffer opposition from Ferrari this year — at least until after the August break when the errors crept in.
Sebastian Vettel started out with two wins in a row and the Italians suddenly looked like they might have the edge on performance.
The championship lead passed between Vettel and Hamilton, with the Briton winning some races against the odds and others in dominant fashion.
In Germany, Vettel skidding off into the barriers while leading was a bonus that gifted Hamilton victory and a 25-point windfall.
A double non-finish in Austria before then had dealt Mercedes their worst day, mechanically, since Mercedes returned as a constructor in 2010.
That failure was made more painful by a glaring strategy error, but the team’s response was significant.
Chief strategist James Vowles, his words relayed to a global television audience of millions over the team radio, took full responsibility and said his mistake had thrown away the win.
Wolff said that was entirely in keeping with the team’s philosophy.
“You are allowed to make mistakes and also to call them out. We have a motto which is ‘see it, say it, fix it’,” he explained after Hamilton won in Japan to take a 67-point lead and stand on the brink of his fifth championship.
“And that needs the environment that you are not scared for your job or your role, and (at) the Monday morning briefing after the race... everybody starts with the shortcomings and the mistakes they did on the weekend.”
Hamilton has had precious few of those this year, the 33-year-old now standing alongside the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only drivers to win at least five titles.
There have also been no fireworks with Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, a marked change from the tense years where Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel with Nico Rosberg, the German who beat him to the 2016 title before retiring from the sport.
But Hamilton is also now at the peak of his powers and that has been evident.
“Lewis has shown what a class act he is,” Wolff said this month.
“Both on and off the track he is more complete than ever before, showing commanding performance in the car and challenging the entire team to perform to higher levels at the same time.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond