I though that we we had in Brazil in 2007 was as good as it gets when it comes to title deciding season ending Formula 1 races. I was wrong .
Both Hamilton and Massa could have had wrapped the title before the Brazilian Grand Prix. But the reliability problems, driver mistakes, safety cars, rain soaked races and some controversial decisions of stewards created the foundations for potentially interesting final race.
Felipe Massa did as expected. The Interlagos circuit seems to suit Ferrari especially with Massa behind the wheel. Massa secured dominant pole position and few people doubted he would go on and win the race. There was however rain in the air for the better part of the weekend and that still could play some role. It did. A nice little shower felt on the track with only minutes to go and the start had to be abandoned and delayed by 10 minutes. Almost all the cars switched to intermediates and the race was go. Massa pulled away and from then on he only lost his lead when he went for pit stops. Behind him Heikki Kovalainen dropped back, Trulli kept second, Raikkonen 3rd and Hamilton moved ahead to 4th place. At this point came the end of David Coulthard’s Formula 1 career after collision with Nico Rosberg that sent his car spinning, dancing and hitting Kazuki Nakajima. A corner later Nelson Piquet spun off ending his race. Robert Kubica had to pit after realizing starting on dry tyres was not such a good idea.
Little else happened until the track started to dry and the teams went for dry tyres. Not a first time this season Alonso and his crew made a good early call. When all the drivers came back out on dry tyres the order was Massa, Vettel (on different strategy), Alonso, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Hamilton and Glock. The first three pulled away while Hamilton was taking it easy. He took the position from Fisichella without too much trouble and held on to his 5th place that he needed for the title.
Vettel was confusing the things a bit with his out of sync 4 pit stops strategy but otherwise not much has changed for a while. At this stage it was rather quiet but tense race with Hamilton being always around that important 5th place.
Then came the next round of pit stops and the very long one from Timo Glock. He took on over 14 seconds of fuel and it became clear that his intentions were to go full distance with that. All the other pit stops suggested that the rest of front runners will likely have to stop one more time. I bet nobody could foresee at this stage what implications would this Glock’s long pit stop have on the outcome of the 2008 championship battle.
Then, despite the earlier radio communications suggesting otherwise, the rain came again. Not a heavy rain, but steady. With five laps to go some drivers (Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Rosberg, Bourdais, Kubica) gambled on intermediates, a lap later followed by Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Vettel and Button. Felipe Massa stayed out for one more lap but then made the switch to inters as well. Only Glock and Trulli stayed on dry tyres hoping they will be able to hold on for two-three more laps.
And here it became interesting. Felipe Massa kept his lead despite the tyre switch. Hamilton however reappeared only at fifth with Sebastian Vettel chasing him down. Robert Kubica decided to unlap himself and overtook Hamilton. It looked at that moment that all he achieved was to disturb Vettel’s charge. But only seconds later Vettel made the move and took that crucial 5th place from Hamilton. Massa was safe in front but all the attention turned to Vettel and Hamilton. After few corners it became obvious that without Vettel making a mistake Hamiton has no chance to take the 5th place back. The wild celebrations started in Ferrari garage soon after Massa crossed the line. What everybody missed however (including the TV directors) were the on the dry tyres struggling Toyotas. The last corner of the last lap of the last race of the 2008 season – Vettel and Hamilton overtook Glock without anyone really noticing. When the final results came up on the screens they read MAS, ALO, RAI, VET, HAM, GLO. Lewis Hamilton was very close to repeating the history loosing 7 points lead and the title in the final race. Instead he made the history by becoming the youngest ever Formula 1 champion.
Felipe Massa won the race but lost the title by a single point. It was a very different podium ceremony. The guy who had the reason to celebrate was not there and so it was all about Massa thanking his supporters. I must say I was very impressed with the way Felipe Massa handled the situation on the podium and during the press conference.
Fernando Alonso made it to the podium for the 3rd time this season and probably against his own expectations climbed to 5th in drivers championship. Kimi Raikkonen’s 3rd place elevated the outgoing champion to 3rd place in the championship ahead of Robert Kubica who had the weekend to forget. Sebastian Vettel ended his great season and his Toro Rosso career on high with 4th place and a memorable few laps of fight with Lewis Hamilton.
Nick Heidfeld finished 10th but he finished. He is the only driver who finished all 18 races of the 2008 Formula 1 season.
This was a great finale to an exciting season, arguably the most exciting ending to the Formula 1 season, at least for me it was.
Photos: Shell Motorsport, Daimler Media