Lewis Hamilton is currently locked in a very tight battle in the championship. Whilst this year he has just one other competitor, his team mate Nico Rosberg, he was locked in another very tense battle back in 2008 between himself and three other drivers: reigning champion Kimi Räikkönen with Ferrari, the Finn’s team mate Felipe Massa and the BMW Sauber of the very impressive Robert Kubica. As the season progressed Räikkönen and Kubica dropped out of contention and this left Hamilton and Massa locked in a title fight which went to the wire at Massa’s home country of Brazil. This was the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix: the most dramatic title decider in the history of Formula One.
One year previous Hamilton lost the title at the last race to Räikkönen following a poor start and a gearbox glitch early in the race. He fought back to seventh but missed out by a single point. This race was to produce an even more dramatic finish than the title decider the year previous. The 2005 and 2006 titles were both decided at the famous Interlagos circuit, both going to Hamilton’s team mate in 2007 Fernando Alonso.
Heading into the race, the objective for Hamilton was simple. Fifth place would guarantee the title, whatever Massa does. McLaren however needed 12 points more than Ferrari to win the Constructors’ Championship, and with 18 available the task was tough. In qualifying, Massa produced a very good lap to take a massively important pole position ahead of a very impressive Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. Räikkönen lined up in third ahead of Hamilton and the second McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen. Alonso (now at Renault), Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld rounded out the top eight. Kubica could only manage 13th alongside the retiring David Coulthard. The two Force Indias of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil rounded out the 20-car grid. For Hamilton, all he had to do was finish where he started and he would be champion. Simple surely? Not so.
With a matter of minutes on the grid before the race, ITV (who were presenting Formula One for the final time) angered the Brazilian crowd by showing their support for Hamilton. Alonso and Räikkönen were adamant that they were going to help Massa whilst Trulli said that he would run his own race. More significantly however, rain fell on the track. The race was to be held in wet conditions and there was subsequently a delay whilst all of the cars bar Kubica switched onto intermediate tyres. The polish driver pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap for a fresh set of intermediates. The first lap did not pass without incident as Coulthard bowed out of his final race following a tap from Rosberg’s Williams. One corner later, Nelson Piquet Jr. lost control of his Renault and slammed into the barrier. This brought out the safety car but the track was drying quickly. Fisichella was the first car to pit for dry tyres and by the eleventh lap all of the remaining 18 cars were on dry tyres. During this point, Vettel and Alonso had both progressed through to the front of the pack and were gradually closing in on Massa, but Vettel had to pit before the Ferrari driver as he had less fuel on board.
Timo Glock in the Toyota made his second and final stop on lap 36, being fuelled until the rest of the race. Massa and Hamilton were in two and four laps later respectively. Fisichella, who was having an impressive run, was hindered by transmission problems during his stop and he dropped to the back of the pack. Vettel pitted for the final time on the 56th lap. At this point, Massa led Alonso, with Räikkönen in third, Hamilton in fourth with Vettel closing in. With less than ten laps to go, rain fell again. Within four laps, most of the cars were on wet tyres again, an exception being the two Toyotas. This meant that Glock had taken fourth place ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. As the rain became heavier, Hamilton ran wide with just a couple of laps to go, letting Vettel past. The crowd roared as Massa was set to become the first Brazilian F1 Champion since Ayrton Senna clinched his final title in 1991. All was not lost however, as the two Toyotas were struggling, and their lap times were increasing significantly.
The final lap came around, Massa had driven the race of his life in conditions where he does not usually excel, but he controlled the race brilliantly to take his sixth race win of the season, more than anybody else that year, and with it, Ferrari had won both championships, or so they had thought.
On the tricky Junçao corner, Glock ran wide, letting both Hamilton and Vettel through. Hamilton was back in position; he crossed the line in fifth place to snatch the title on the final corner of the final lap of the final race and to become the youngest World Champion at that time. “It’s insane, I don’t believe it!” was all he could say to the TV crews following the race. It was one memory which remains etched in my mind forever, that very moment. What an incredible way to decide a World Championship. Whilst Glock was not very popular with the Tifosi or the Brazilian fans for supposedly gifting Hamilton the championship, the stats show that his times mirrored that of his team mate Trulli, so both were struggling on dry tyres on a wet track, rubbishing any conspiracy theories. Massa was clearly gutted with the result, but he fought absolutely valiantly, and he did all he could on the day. It’s a bit ironic that Massa would lose the title in the race in which he delivered one of his strongest performances all season.
Alonso took a very impressive second in his revised Renault, ahead of Räikkönen who took third in the championship away from Kubica, who struggled to eleventh. Vettel was fourth ahead of new champion Hamilton, Glock, Kovalainen and Trulli. This race also turned out to be the final race for the Honda team, who pulled the plug on their Formula One effort, only to be rescued by team boss Ross Brawn for 2009. The team would clinch both titles at Brazil one year later. Honda finished in 13th and 15th in their last race.
Despite their on-track problems in 2010 and 2011, which saw the pair collide on numerous occasions, it has been good to see that Hamilton and Massa have a pretty respectful relationship towards each other. Now both at new teams, Mercedes and Williams respectively, the two are still doing battle on track to this very day. If only Abu Dhabi can produce a title decider twice as exciting as this one…
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