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Formula One - 2008

Lewis Hamilton 2008 Formula One World Champion

All the heart-stopping action from David Wakefield

As I write this on the Monday morning following the extraordinary events at Interlagos yesterday evening, the enormity of the achievement of Lewis Hamilton and his Mclaren team is still sinking in. 

As commentators on motoring and motorsport, we’re expected to provide an unbiased and pragmatic view of matters but I have to deviate from the company line to declare my hand here and state for the record that I’m a proud, dyed-in-the-wool, long-standing and unashamed fan of the Mclaren Formula One Team, but perhaps in the circumstances you might indulge me just this once.

For the entire ninety-odd minutes of the race I was, as I’m sure the vast majority of Formula One fans were too, on tenterhooks - analysing every move, every pitstop, every change in the weather - trying to pre-empt every permutation which might swing the championship one way or the other.

For those of us willing Lewis & his family of silver-clad team mates to a successful outcome of the championship, the tension had begun as soon as the final qualifying session ended.

Hamilton had put his car on the fourth place on the grid for Sunday - crucially behind both Ferrari drivers - and whilst he only needed to finish fifth in the race to take the drivers’ crown, starting further up the grid would undoubtedly have been a more comfortable place to have opened proceedings.

Come Sunday afternoon then and tensions were heightened even further when a snap rain shower delayed the start by 10 minutes to allow the teams to fit wet tyres to the cars and playing another joker in the already high-stakes game which was about to unfold in Brazil.

Once proceedings did get underway, Mclaren’s conservative gameplan became evident and knowing that they only had to get Lewis’ car to the finish in fifth place or higher it seemed that they were happy to keep him trundling round out of trouble in fourth spot.

A sensible strategy on the face of it and one no-doubt being scrutinised and adjusted perhaps on a turn-by-turn basis given the stakes, it did not make for particularly stress-free viewing (at least not for this viewer) as Massa did everything he needed to do by faultlessly reeling off fastest lap after fastest lap as he disappeared at the front of the pack.

As the pit stops came and went the tension was ramped up further - would there be a problem with the re-fuelling lines? Would the wheels come off and be replaced cleanly? What was the significance of the increased downforce being applied to the front wing? Who’d get out in front of who? Would a team change their strategy to allow their driver to run shorter or longer in the race to get an advantage..?

Acutely aware of the importance of getting things right, the pit crews at Ferrari and Mclaren looked to be taking no chances - going about their work methodically and carefully, it being particularly noticeable that the Italian team had dispensed with the high-tech (but fatally-flawed) traffic light system - instead employing the good old ‘lollipop’ to release their drivers back in to the fray.

As it transpired, the fuel and tyre stops passed with no real dramas and normal service was resumed as the race headed into its closing stages & as we all hunkered down, anxiously analysing every on-board shot of opposite lock, every stern-faced stare from a pit-wall engineer or team boss as they scanned the timing screens and so we counted down the laps remaining as they ticked off the on-screen graphic.

Then, just when perhaps we were starting to relax a bit, to maybe allow ourselves a bit of a well-earned rest from the mental torture being riven upon us via satellite, the news came through that rain was expected before the end of the race and countless fans around the world found themselves reverting to the role of F1 strategist as they attempted to calculate just what action would be required to get ‘their’ driver in, wet tyres fitted and back out in an advantageous position.

The television feed cut to pictures of ominous black clouds looming above the grandstands and we all waited for the inevitable shots of spectators at the circuit putting up umbrellas and donning plastic ponchos.

Business-like, the engineers on the pit wall stations were seen talking to their drivers and other team members on the radio - advising that the rain was pretty much imminent and that action should be taken to prepare…

Soon then, the rain arrived and in came the drivers for another, unscheduled stop - would this torture never end? Race fans with an agenda (ie those of Ferrari and Mclaren) shuffled uncomfortably on the edges of sofas as they watched the fireproof-suited crews go to work again - no fuel this time, just the lightly-treaded rubber which hopefully would see their charge through to the finish line and glory.

Back out they went - Massa still at the head of the field and in a prime position should his British rival quite literally slip up further back.

With only a handful of laps to go though, this wasn’t looking likely and despite the feeling that they’d been so cruelly robbed in similar circumstances before, the supporters of the 23 year old prodigy from Switzerland (via Hertfordshire) started daring to believe that it could all be going to happen - that their Lewis, the boy who’d once presumed to tell none other than Ron Dennis that one day he would drive one of his cars could be about to make it all true and become World Champion in only his second year of F1.

They splashed round, laps expiring in wet but not torrential conditions with the Golden Boy holding station in fifth - the place he needed to hold to clinch the title.

However, steadily climbing up to the back of the Mclaren was Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso. It appeared that he was not in the mood to sit back and leave the finely-balanced title race to the two protagonists.

He was faster than Lewis and he knew it, and when Lewis slithered wide just a couple of laps from the end of the race he darted past into the coveted fifth place.

Hearts leapt and fell in an instant - this was it, the hopes and dreams of countless Mclaren supporters seemingly dashed for another year as Lewis Hamilton’s chances of victory disappeared in the plume of spray from the car which had just passed him.

Martin Brundle & James Allen relayed the news as they watched helplessly at the track - any pretence of impartiality rendered false as the resignation and disappointment was betrayed in their voices - if it remained like this, Felipe Massa would be carrying on where Kimi Raikkonen had left off and bring both championship titles to Maranello for 2008.

Hamilton had just two laps in which to get back past Vettel and re-claim the fifth spot upon which rested the hopes not just of the young man from Stevenage or his team from Surrey, but the hopes of all the Mclaren supporters worldwide who had been hanging on every move of this excruciating race.

It didn’t look good though, Vettel was spearing away as he released himself from the wake of the silver car and headed off to complete his final lap - the final lap which Massa had already started, believing that the cards had fallen for him at last - the disasters of the season now a distant memory as he barrelled down into the Senna S curves.

Ferrari supporters in the stands, already hyped up at seeing their beloved Felipe owning the race all afternoon prepared themselves for the inevitable riot of celebration which was less than a minute and a half away, whilst back in the UK, your rueful correspondent sighed, the last hour and a half of spent adrenaline ebbing away at the thought of another title slipping away at the last moment.

But then, a voice from the TV, I think it was Martin Brundle: “Is that Glock..?”

The director cut to a shot of a red and white Toyota - the red and white Toyota of Timo Glock who had just been passed by the charging Vettel and was now, on the last corner of the last race of the season being passed by Lewis Hamilton.

For fifth place.

Not having changed his grooved dry tyres at the last flurry of pit stops, Glock had managed to stay out in fourth, but now, struggling for grip, his tyres had given up the ghost and with little traction on the greasy track finally succumbed to Vettel and now Lewis Hamilton.

Massa was already across the line, his team celebrating and the red-clad crowd going wild as they celebrated the maiden win for their local boy Massa, but into the final corner charged Hamilton in his Mclaren as the ITV commentators struggled to convey to a disbelieving audience that Lewis Hamilton, at only 23 years old and in his second year in the top echelon of motorsport had indeed snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

TV viewers were treated to the somewhat poignant (depending on your viewpoint) image of Felipe Massa’s father and team mates jumping for joy in the Ferrari garage before realising that their jubilance was somewhat premature as the reality of the situation dawned upon them but a split second behind the rest of the world.

He’d come so very near but, by one point only, their boy had missed out on the ultimate prize and Lewis Hamilton was the 30th and youngest Formula One World Champion.

He’d done it the hard way, but he’d done it - we could all breathe again. 

McLaren celebrate Lewis' victory

 

2008 Final Drivers' Championship Standings: 

 

1 Lewis Hamilton

McLaren-Mercedes

GB

98

2 Felipe Massa

Ferrari

Brz

97

3 Kimi Raikkonen

Ferrari

Fin

75

4 Robert Kubica

BMW Sauber

Pol

75

5 Fernando Alonso

Renault

Spa

61

6 Nick Heidfeld

BMW Sauber

Ger

60

7 Heikki Kovalainen

McLaren

Fin

53

8 Sebastian Vettel

Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Ger

35

9 Jarno Trulli

Toyota

Ita

31

10 Timo Glock

Toyota

Ger

25

11 Mark Webber

Red Bull-Renault

Aus

21

12 Nelson Piquet

Renault

Brz

19

13 Nico Rosberg

Williams-Toyota

Ger

17

14 Rubens Barrichello

Honda

Brz

11

15 Kazuki Nakajima

Williams

Jpn

9

16 David Coulthard

Red Bull-Renault

GB

8

17 Sebastien Bourdais

Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Fra

4

18 Jenson Button

Honda

GB

3

19 Giancarlo Fisichella

Force India-Ferrari

Ita

0

19 Adrian Sutil

Force India-Ferrari

Ger

0

19 Anthony Davidson

Super Aguri-Honda

GB

0

19 Takuma Sato

Super Aguri-Honda

Jpn

0





 2008 Final Manufacturers' Standings:

1 Ferrari

172

2 McLaren-Mercedes

151

3 BMW Sauber

135

4 Renault

80

5 Toyota

56

6 Toro Rosso-Ferrari

34

7 Red Bull-Renault

29

8 Williams-Toyota

26

9 Honda

14

10 Force India-Ferrari

0

11 Super Aguri-Honda

0

 
 
 
 
 






 


 




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