Lewis Hamilton is the first Formula 1 driver to win 10 races in a season and fail to secure the world title – and he will not be celebrating.
“You can’t win them all,” the 31-year-old Briton said as he conceded the title to Nico Rosberg on the podium despite winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “I did everything I could these last four races.”
Hamilton shrugged off team orders to speed up in a final bid to hinder Rosberg. But the trickery did not work and in the end, he said: “A big congratulations to Nico, his first world championship.”
Defeat in the title race, in which German Rosberg got nine race wins, means Hamilton will have to wait to become only the fifth driver with four or more world titles – Alain Prost and Sebastian Vetel won four, Juan-Manuel Fangio five and Michael Schumacher seven.
That means Hamilton is brilliant but perhaps not quite a Formula 1 legend. And that is hard for a personality who Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff has called a “rock star racing driver”.
Wolff said Mercedes would go away and “look at the team” in a bid to douse the rivalry for 2017.
But Hamilton will be pressing for season-long reliability after losing precious points to breakdowns and his own tactical errors in the first half of 2016.
And as he is one of the best-known and most popular global sporting figures, everyone will be watching to see how he reacts.
Hamilton, his friends and family, notably his father Anthony, have confidence that the boy from a once-broken home and a mixed-race family on a Stevenage public housing estate will bounce back.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who aged 86 has seen every champion crowned since the world title began in 1950, has said that Hamilton is needed by Formula One.
“As a driver, he (Hamilton) is absolutely outstanding,” Ecclestone told reporters this year. “He is as good as there’s ever been and, apart from the talent, he’s a good guy. He gets out on the street and he supports and promotes Formula One.
“He is box office, 100 per cent. It doesn’t matter what comes out of Lewis’s mouth. It’s good even if it’s silly. He’s great for the sport.”
Hamilton’s playboy party-going, his affinity with musicians and his love red of carpet appearances has cut him apart from the Formula One pack.
Though he can exasperate his team, Mercedes understand him and his individuality.
“F1 is part of the entertainment business and Lewis is a rock-star driver, but this is his life. He is authentic in that – he’s not just trying to project a picture for the entertainment bit,” Wolff said this year.
“But everybody has to be how he is: one of our drivers is a bit more cosmopolitan, because this is what suits him and the other one likes to keep it more quiet and be with his family,” the team leader added of the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry.
Hamilton is still motor sport’s first great digital-age champion and he has exploited it all in a way similar to Portuguese football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both share common threads – humble roots, a paternal career-developing figure, a weakness for ‘bling’ and finally a partnership with a great brand in their chosen sport – with Hamilton it has been Ron Dennis at McLaren and Mercedes.
Despite the rivalry, Hamilton has matured in 2016 after years of occasional outbursts, impulsive behaviour and sometimes reckless decisions that have led to clashes with authority.
The Briton is now more recognised as a senior representative of the drivers.
His media image has matured, too, as he has taken control and reconstructed his personal brand appeal.
Hamilton does a lot of charity work, especially with children. He is an ambassador for UNICEF and has close ties with Harlem Children’s Zone and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Education Africa.
His relationship with American pop singer Nicole Scherzinger is over and Hamilton’s relationship with his father has suffered during this ‘growing up’ in the spotlight. Once his manager, Anthony Lewis was released from those responsibilities by his son – as hard-headed a decision as choosing to leave Dennis’s McLaren in 2013.