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    ANALYSIS: Story of the Year - Lewis Hamilton Lewis had to be on top form...

Lewis had to be on top form throughout the 2017 Formula One season, but emerged as a four-time World Champion and the most successful British driver in the sport's history.

It's always tough to read the potential pecking order from pre-season testing. Pace and reliability definitely looked encouraging for the Silver Arrows, but Ferrari appeared to be much more of a threat in 2017 and the new regulations meant there was a misty, unknown atmosphere in the air ahead of the first race in Melbourne.

The opening weekend of the year at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit certainly got off to a good start, with Lewis securing pole position by 0.268 seconds. But, Sebastian Vettel's Prancing Horse was alongside him on the grid. It proved to be Vettel standing on the top step of the podium by the end of the race, after jumping Lewis in the pits.

Advantage Ferrari, following round one, but the Silver Arrows returned to form in China with Lewis taking a dominant victory. Two races, two different drivers on the top step of the podium and two teams fighting at the front - it was what everyone had been hoping for, and was just the beginning of this titanic tale.

But, Vettel wasn't the only threat to Lewis. New team-mate Valtteri Bottas had quickly settled into the team after replacing Nico Rosberg over the winter and was snapping at Lewis' heels. In Bahrain, it was Valtteri who took pole position, with Lewis in second. But, both were passed by Vettel and it was another win for Ferrari. We had a proper fight on our hands!

Qualifying in Russia went Ferrari's way and while Valtteri brought the Silver Arrows back to the P1 spot, Lewis struggled with overheating issues and was a distant, lonely fourth. He was back fighting hard at the front in Spain, though, and what a battle it was! Lewis and Vettel went wheel-to-wheel, with the Brit emerging ahead.

"It was the rawest fight that I can remember having in a long-time," he said, afterwards. "I loved it, this is why I race. This is what made me get into racing in the first place. This is what the sport needs to be like every single weekend. To have a close battle like that with a four-time Champion is awesome."

Monaco didn't go quite so well. Lewis was eliminated from Qualifying in Q2 after a crashed car brought out the yellow flags, preventing him from setting a faster lap. He rallied back to seventh in the race, but with Vettel winning at the Circuit de Monaco, Lewis found himself trailing the Ferrari driver by 25 points after six rounds.

Formula One headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track Lewis loves and has always gone well at. It was an emotional weekend for him, qualifying on pole position and matching his hero Ayrton Senna's career tally of 65. He backed that up with a commanding victory on Sunday afternoon, drawing back crucial points in the title battle.

Then, Azerbaijan happened. The Championship rivalry reached new levels of intensity when Vettel made contact with Lewis' car during the opening Safety Car period. Vettel was later handed a 10-second stop/go penalty, but Lewis ended up finishing behind his rival after a loose headrest prompted an unscheduled stop. He crossed the line in fifth, one spot behind Vettel.

There were more troubles in Austria, this time on the mechanical side, with a gearbox penalty putting Lewis out of contention. But he still battled back to fourth and finished just 1.4 seconds behind third-placed Daniel Ricciardo. The gap to Vettel was 20-points as the sport headed to Silverstone, for arguably Lewis' most coveted race of the season.

It was not only an incredibly special race weekend for Lewis, but it proved to be a pivotal moment in the Championship scrap - with Lewis putting in a remarkable performance on home soil to claim his fifth Silverstone victory and fourth of the season, while Vettel dropped several spots with a late-race puncture. The gap in the Drivers' standings? Just one point.

"I'm so happy... this has got to be one of my sweetest wins here," he said, after the race. "I was gunning for this victory and really can't find a fault at the moment. The team did an exceptional job this weekend. This result really opens up the Championship."

The positive momentum didn't quite carry into Hungary, with the track better suiting the Ferrari machines. Valtteri and Lewis were third and fourth, swapping positions mid-way through the race to try and take the fight to the red cars, but Lewis kept up his promise and gave the spot back to Valtteri on the last lap - perfectly showcasing the mutual respect the two hold for each other.

Vettel's advantage was back up to 14 points by the time F1 departed Budapest for the summer break, but Lewis returned to the race track with remarkable speed and determination. It signalled the start of his Championship fightback, and it all started at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix.

It was the 200th race start of Lewis' career and what better way to celebrate the landmark than by winning it? He became only the fourth driver to take victory in their 200th race, having fended off Vettel - who was on UltraSofts, to Lewis' Softs - after a late Safety Car period to slash the all-important Championship gap to seven points.

The success continued at Monza, with Lewis emerging from the spray in the rain-hit Qualifying session to take a record-breaking 69th pole position, surpassing the great Michael Schumacher's tally. He backed that stunning performance up by leading home a commanding 1-2 finish in Italy, finally snatching the lead in the Drivers' Championship for the first time in 2017.

While Monza has typically suited the Silver Arrows, the Marina Bay Street Circuit is the complete opposite. The team entered the weekend expecting damage limitation, and Lewis was only fifth in Qualifying. But, the team's fortunes changed in remarkable style on lap one when the two Ferrari drivers and Max Verstappen's Red Bull collided. Lewis stormed into a lead he would never relinquish to make it three wins in a row, and properly stamping his authority on the title bout.

Second place in Malaysia, to Vettel's fourth, and a brilliant race victory in Japan - when his title rival retired - catapulted Lewis into a commanding Championship lead. He'd well and truly turned his season around and headed to Austin for the United States Grand Prix with a shot at wrapping up the title.

He couldn't have done much more, dominating the race and winning by just over 10 seconds. But, Vettel was right there in second-place, keeping his title hopes alive for another round. The result did secure the Constructors' crown for the Silver Arrows though, with first and fifth. Four in a row for the team! One down, one to go...

It was back down to earth with a bump for Lewis on the first lap of the Mexican Grand Prix. Contact with Vettel at Turn 3 punctured his tyre, causing him to limp back to the pits at painfully low speed. Vettel had to pit for repairs too, with both fighting their way back up the order.

Initially, Lewis struggled to get through the slower cars, but he ultimately picked his way to ninth place and that was enough. He'd done it! Four-time World Champion and Britain's most successful F1 driver! Not the style he'd expected to win it in, but he never gave up, pushed to the absolute limit and came away with a fourth title.

"To be honest, this fourth world title is not even registering right now," he said after the race. "There is all this energy from the people around you, but it takes a while for it to really sink in. I am incredibly grateful when I think about everything that was going on this year and everything that had to be in place to produce this result.

"I didn't do this on my own; there are over a thousand people back in Brackley and Brixworth who have created this beast that has given me the opportunity to exploit my abilities. It doesn't matter what happened in the race today. I carry 'Still I Rise' on the back of my helmet - it means when you get knocked down, you get back up again and keep pushing as hard as you can. I never gave up, and I kept pushing."

He still had two more races to complete, as well! Brazil wasn't the smoothest weekend for Lewis, after a crash in the first segment of Qualifying, but he put in a Champions' drive to storm back up to fourth place - a real masterclass in bouncing back.

His season was sealed with second place in Abu Dhabi, rounding off a Silver Arrows 1-2 and donuts on the start/finish straight with team-mate and race winner Valtteri. Because, well, why not? It had been quite a season for Lewis. He returned from the summer break with a 14-point deficit in the standings, but ended the year 46-points clear.

"The first half of the season was a little bit up and down in terms of extracting the maximum performance from the car," Lewis said, reflecting on the season. "Then, in the second half, understanding the balance, hitting the nail on the head most weekends and getting to the point of exploiting the car and my potential on a consistent basis was really the turning point for me.

"Often in a difficult race, you're applying the pressure, hoping that you can squeeze a little bit of a mistake from the driver ahead.

"I would say it's the same with the team: you're pushing right to the limit and squeezing every drop from the car, yet you've got to make it go quite a long distance in terms of life and reliability. That's where Ferrari was not the same as Mercedes.  Nonetheless I'm looking forward to the tough battles that we're going to have next year."

It was an extraordinary, record-breaking, intense year for Lewis and he's determined to do it all over again in 2018.  

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