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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Massa wins Brazil, Hamilton takes championship in thriller

Ferrari nails down constructors' title

It came down to the very last corner, but Lewis Hamilton got the fifth place he needed to become the youngest champion in Formula One history Sunday at an eventful race in Brazil.

“I didn’t know, I was shouting – ‘do I have it? do I have it?’ As I came into turn 1 they told me – I was ecstatic, just ecstatic,” Hamilton said.

Felipe Massa won the race in front of his home support, and for one brief, shining moment thought he might have captured the championship as well.

But Hamilton, who dropped to sixth after coming in for wet tires as a rain shower hit in the race’s final laps, overhauled Timo Glock, who had gambled on sticking with dries.

“We did everything to perfection and we almost managed to pull it off,” said Massa. “Then, as I crossed the line, (race engineer) Rob (Smedley) told me that Hamilton had finished fifth and therefore he took the title by one point. Sport is like this and one has to accept that. Congratulations to Lewis: whoever gets the most points deserves the title.”

Fernando Alonso was second for Renault, another top-notch performance for the resurgent two-times world champion and the French manufacturer, and Kimi Raikkonen third for Ferrari.

Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel was once again the focus of attention as he passed Hamilton in the rain and fought to keep the McLaren man behind him. Until Glock faded, it seemed the young German would keep Hamilton’s Brazil curse alive. Vettel finished fourth.

“I wasn’t sure where I was after the final pit stop for rain tyres, I was definitely not aware that I might be influencing the world championship,” Vettel said. “It was hard to know who was a backmarker or not and as it got darker and darker it was even difficult to know who the cars in front of you were.”

But this year, there would be no final race failure to put the championship in the bag, and the one point margin would be in Hamilton’s favor.

After a rain shower delayed the start of the race and threw pre-race strategies out the window, Massa dominated the race from pole. But for much of the day, it looked as if Hamilton would finish within the fifth or better margin he need to win the title.

Then the rain returned, forcing a tire change from both Massa and Hamilton. The Ferrari had enough of a gap to re-emerge in the lead, but Hamilton found himself teetering on the brink in fifth as Toyota surprised the field by staying on the dry rubber.

Hamilton lost the position on the final lap to Vettel, and there was nothing he could do about it.

“I was trying my hardest to get to Vettel but he was just as quick as me – if not quicker,” Hamilton said.

As Massa crossed the line and took the checkered, it suddenly looked as if his slim hopes at the championship were about to come good.

But it was heartbreak instead for Massa as Glock could not maintain pace in the rain-soaked conditions.

“I was on dry tyres at the end of the race when it was raining quite badly and it was just impossible on the last lap,” Glock explained. “I was fighting as hard as I could but it was so difficult to just keep the car on the track and I lost positions right at the end of the lap.”

There was some small consolation for the team, however, as Ferrari’s first and third secured the constructors' title. Massa had nothing but praise for the effort of his team.

“I am very proud of the whole team and how much support they have given me during this fantastic season,” Massa said. “Now we must be happy with what have done, namely bringing home the constructors' title which I know is so important for the team. It was a season of highs and lows and we have learned a lot, from the good moments and from our mistakes.”

Nor was the support of his fans lost on the Brazilian.

“I can leave Interlagos with my head held high because once again I have won in front of my home crowd and because this is an unforgettable day,” he said.

It was a difficult day for fellow Brazilians Nelson Piquet and Rubens Barrichello, Piquet retiring on the first lap and Barrichello finishing in 15th. Both driver’s futures are in doubt.

“It's really frustrating not to complete my home Grand Prix because a lot of things happened in the race and we could probably have taken advantage of them,” commented Piquet.

David Coulthard's final race ended with disappointment as he was punted in the first corner by Nico Rosberg’s Williams.

“I’m pretty gutted, it’s not how I wanted to end my career,” Coulthard said. “I was going to do some donuts for the crowd, which is something you normally get fined for, but it didn’t work out. I can’t complain though, I’ve had a good career, so thank you to everyone who has supported me.”

For a long time, Coulthard was Britain’s best hope for a champion. Today the country, home to so much of what is Formula 1, has a new champion, and it was his day.

“I am speechless, I am struggling to say anything,” he gushed. “I’m just thankful and proud of the team and everyone around me. I am so thankful I could return the favour. It is the dream, this is the dream. This is the dream for other kids and other families. Thank you.”
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