By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The podium celebration was muted, and the smile looked forced, but Lewis Hamilton said he still felt great after winning a season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that handed his title to Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.
"I won today so I don't feel like a loser," declared the Briton. "I did everything with the opportunities I had. We had lots of ups and downs throughout the season, starts where I fell back and I fought back and I never gave up."
Hamilton, who had an outside chance of becoming the first British driver to win four championships, did his best to push Rosberg into trouble by lapping fast enough to win but slow enough to allow others to catch up.
"I don’t feel I did anything unfair. We’re fighting for a championship, I was in the lead, I control the pace. That’s the rules," he said later.
In the end, Rosberg managed to hold on to second place and take the title by five points while team bosses mulled what to do with a star driver who ignored team orders to go faster.
"Nico is going to enjoy this, it is an amazing feeling when you win a world championship," said Hamilton.
"I don't want to take anything away from that, he did everything he had to do this season and I hope we both have cars as his was this season so we can fight again next year."
The last comment said it all, Hamilton suffering costly reliability problems while Rosberg had a far easier time.
The conspiracy theorists have been busy for some time, and Hamilton gave them a stir earlier in the week when he questioned again why his and Rosberg's mechanics had been switched after last season.
The Briton has also made clear he felt he was the moral winner, if not the actual champion, given that he won more races and took more pole positions. He ended the year with a run of four wins in a row from pole.
"I did everything I could these last four races and that’s really all I could ask of myself," he said.
"I’m going to have a lot of fun tonight, celebrating with the team and everyone. You can’t win them all.
"Obviously, we had a lot of problems this year, and that’s inevitably why I’m in this position but I’m still grateful for all the success and the ups and downs we had as a team."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)