Lewis at the last
The 2008 season will live long in the memory in providing the most dramatic ever finish to a Formula One season.
Few can ever forget the chaotic closing scenes in Brazil as Lewis Hamilton won the title by a single point from home favourite Felipe Massa by overtaking Timo Glock on the final corner of the final race.
After a fractious 2007 season tarnished by rumours of in-team fighting, double world champion Fernando Alonso elected to leave the McLaren team and re-join Renault. Heikki Kovalainen would be Hamilton's new team-mate. The season also marked the first time since 1994 that every car was driving without the aid of traction control, putting more of an onus back on driver skill.
After his near-miss in winning the championship on his debut season, Hamilton started the season as favourite and backed this up by winning the season opener in Australia from pole. Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber finished second from the Williams of Nico Rosberg. But Ferrari got off to a slow start with Massa retiring and Kimi Raikkonen languishing in eighth.
The signs looked ominous but two poor races for Hamilton followed, the Brit managing only fifth and 13th as the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa dominated in Malaysia and Bahrain. Hamilton's third place finish at the Circuit de Catalunya limited the damage and a second place behind Massa followed in Turkey. Even so, a sterling start to the season meant defending champion Raikkonen led Hamilton and Massa by seven points going into Monaco. But that would be as good as it got for the Finn as his season unravelled dramatically from that point on.
Hamilton achieved the rarity of claiming his first Monaco win from the second row but a subsequent retirement in Canada and 10th place in France handed back the initiative to Massa. Next was Great Britain where the home favourite did not fail to live up to expectations, winning the race convincingly from Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello as the Ferraris faltered. Victory in Germany moved Hamilton back to the top of the drivers' standings by four points from Massa with Raikkonen dropping a further three behind his team-mate.
An unusual Hungarian Grand Prix saw Kovalainen win from Timo Glock and Raikkonen and the topsy-turvy title tussle turned back in Massa's favour with back-to-back wins in Europe and Belgium. Neither title contender grabbed the initiative at Monza, Massa and Hamilton finishing sixth and seventh respectively as rising star Sebastian Vettel won his first grand prix for Toro Rosso ahead of Kovalainen's McLaren. A third place finish for Robert Kubica thrust the Pole into championship contention, only 14 points behind Hamilton after an amazingly consistent season.
The inaugural Singapore Grand Prix will go down as one of the most controversial in the history of the sport although, at the time, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Massa started the race from pole with Hamilton and Raikkonen lining up second and third. They continued in this order until Renault's Nelson Piquet Jnr spun out and crashed on lap 14, bringing out the safety car. The leading drivers all pitted when the pit lane was opened. Massa prematurely left the pit box with his fuel hose still attached and dropped to last place. Alonso, who had pitted before the safety car was deployed, subsequently took the lead and won the race. Nico Rosberg managed to finish second despite incurring a stop-go penalty and Hamilton completed the podium in third.
In September 2009, Renault admitted to an FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting that Piquet had deliberately crashed under the orders and instructions of Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and chief engineer Pat Symonds, in the hope of helping Alonso win. The Renault team were handed a disqualification from F1, which was suspended for two years pending any further rule infringements. Briatore was banned from all FIA-sanctioned events for life, while Symonds was banned for five years.
The result saw Hamilton extend his lead in the drivers' standings to 7 points over Massa, who failed to score. McLaren also took over the lead in the constructors' championship by one point from Ferrari.
There was to be no questioning of the tactics that netted Alonso victory in the subsequent Japanese Grand Prix and Kubica made further inroads on the title standings with another fine second place. With two races remaining the standings read; Hamilton 84, Massa 79, Kubica 72.
With his failings during the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix still fresh in the memory, Lewis Hamilton answered the critics in the best possible way, dominating the race from pole position and winning by 14.925s from Massa with Raikkonen third.
And so to Brazil where Hamilton again started as overwhelming favourite to lift the title. The conundrum; Hamilton needed to finish no lower than fifth to win the title. Surely it couldn't go wrong for a second year?
Once again buoyed by a partisan home crowd, Massa romped to pole position as Hamilton started from fourth. Weather was forecast to play a big factor and so it transpired when the race was delayed by ten minutes with heavy rain hitting the track four minutes before the start time.
Massa retained his pole position lead into the first corner, followed by Jarno Trulli, Raikkonen and Hamilton but opening lap spins form David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella brought out the safety car as conditions began to dry. Massa became the first of the championship frontrunners to pit, with Alonso and Hamilton pitting two laps later. When Raikkonen pitted on lap 43, Massa had regained the lead ahead of Alonso with Hamilton fifth.
With the expected rain falling on lap 66, the McLaren pit crew made the decision to bring Hamilton in. Massa, enjoying a commanding lead at the front, pitted a lap later and rejoined in the lead. The only question now was whether Hamilton could stay ahead of a charging Vettel for the fifth place he required for the title. With two laps remaining and Hamilton's tyres struggling for grip, Vettel easily swept past the McLaren and the title swung back in favour of Massa, who crossed the line to win from Alonso and Raikkonen.
Scenes of wild celebration in the Ferrari garage turned to despair moments later when Hamilton reeled in Timo Glock's Toyota, now floundering on dry tyres, to re-take fifth place on the very last corner. He had won in unbelievable circumstances to become the sport's youngest ever world champion.
Will we ever see a more dramatic finish to a title showdown?