The country continent, as Brazil calls itself, put its full weight behind local hero Felipe Massa and pushed him home a winner Sunday in the season-ending Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil. But 80,000 close, personal friends in attendance at the ...
The country continent, as Brazil calls itself, put its full weight behind local hero Felipe Massa and pushed him home a winner Sunday in the season-ending Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil. But 80,000 close, personal friends in attendance at the Interlagos track outside Sao Paolo weren't enough to boost the Paulista to an FIA World Drivers' Championship. That went to Englishman Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes McLaren whose seeming loss of a second consecutive world title was reversed on the final corner of the final lap.
Hamilton, who needed to finish in fifth position even if Massa won, was in sixth through most of the final lap until ahead of him, Toyota's Timo Glock, slid out of position after choosing to stay on dry tires when, with five laps left, rain forced most runners to pit for wets.
Hamilton won the title, 98-97.
"Guys, I'm speechless, I'm speechless," Hamilton cried into his radio to his pit. "That was so frickin' close."
It was so close members of Massa's family did not realize he had lost the overall title, despite winning more races. They danced and hugged in the Ferrari garage as Hamilton's entourage did the same in the McLaren Mercedes garage. Only when Hamilton's place across the line was recorded across the picture of the television feed beamed to each garage did hearts sink.
Massa, his voice thickened and scratched by tears, told his team via radio, "Thank you. Thank you. I'm so glad to race for this team."
Hamilton becomes, at 23 years, nine months, 26 days, the youngest champion yet in Formula One, a distinction set in 2005 by Spaniard Fernando Alonso for Renault, and Britain's first world champion since 1996 when Damon Hill won for Williams.
After qualifying fourth, Hamilton sought to hold station but found himself in fifth after pitting on Lap 67 for rain tires. That was the title won until he was passed with two laps left, Lap 69, by an even younger threat, 21-year-old German Sebastian Vettel of Toro Rosso, a superb wet-weather driver. Their dice came with backmarker Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber in the mix, the three weaving about until Vettel claimed the higher place and began to pull away.
"Great fun!" said an enthusiastic Vettel, who moves to the Red Bull team next season. "Towards the end, I was concentrating on staying on the track and I didn't know where I was in terms of position. I just tried to pass Lewis like any other guy, and I succeeded. I passed Timo just at the last corner as he was struggling on dry tires. I was definitely not aware I might be influencing the world championship."
Massa, world champion, if you will, for the 38.9 seconds it took Hamilton to reach the finish line, led Alonso and teammate Kimi Raikkonen across the line ahead of Vettel, Hamilton, Glock, McLaren No. 2 Heikki Kovalainen, and Toyota veteran Jarno Trulli in the points. Thereafter came Red Bull's Mark Webber, BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, Kubica, Williams's Nico Rosberg ahead of Honda's Jenson Button, whose dismal season in a pig-dog car fittingly ended with the car's engine going alight in parc ferme, Toro Rosso's Bourdais, Button teammate Rubens Barrichello, Force India's Adrian Sutil, Williams's Kazuki Nakajima and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella. The only cars not to finish were put out on the first lap: retiring Scot David Coulthard, who will continue to consult for Red Bull Racing, and Brazilian Nelsinho Piquet, who lost a chance at a strong, seat-saving finish for Renault. Massa set fast lap on the 2.7-mile circuit on Lap 36, a 1 minute, 13.736.
"It was just impossible on the last lap," Glock said. "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."
Raikkonen edged Kubica for third in the drivers' race on the first tie-breaker, race victories. They finished on 75 points. The Finn, who snatched the world title from Hamilton and Alonso a year ago at Interlagos, won two races, Malaysia and Spain compared to Kubica's one, Canada.
With both cars ahead of the McLarens, Ferrari won the scuderia's eighth world constructors title in 10 years, 172-151. BMW Sauber finished third ahead of Renault, 135-80. Toyota (56), Scuderia Toro Rosso (39), Red Bull (29), Williams (26), and Honda (14) rounded out the field. Force India did not score in the season's 18 races. Super Aguri, also pointless, dropped out of competition after four races.
"Everybody did a great job," a composed and gracious but claiming to be "very, very emotional" Massa said in the post-race interview. "Everybody worked really hard to achieve our goals. Sometimes things don't happen the way we want, but that's racing. I think we need to be happy with our construction championship. It's very important, and I'm sure our president (Luca di Montezemolo) and everybody inside the team is very, very proud, very happy, like me, because we need to be. The second thing, we need to congratulate Lewis because he did a great championship. He scored more points than us, so he deserved to be the champion."
An incredulous Hamilton, who grew up in public housing in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, told BBC Radio 5 Live three times, "I can't believe we've done it," before acknowledging he did not know he had won the championship when he crossed the finish line. "I wasn't quite sure," he said. "The team didn't tell me right away. I'm ecstatic. My heart is on the limit, on the edge."
Hamilton's father, who worked several jobs simultaneously to keep his son racing, told 5 Live the world championship was "everything we've worked for, the culmination of 16 years of hard work."
"I hope this is inspiration for others out there," Hamilton Sr. said. "When we started, we had no money, we had nothing. Now we're at the top of the world, in Formula One. It shows it can be done."
Alonso's showing was his third podium, including two victories, in the final four races. He advanced on tire strategy in the rain, which included a safety car at the start of the race. Alonso pitted at the right moment after the safety car and jumped from sixth to third. At one moment in the latter stages, his pit advised him over the radio that he was racing Massa for the lead.
"Well, I was surprised about that comment from the pits," said the former McLaren driver linked a number of times this season with a future Ferrari drive. "Obviously, they try to motivate me. They try to push me to the limits, and they don't want that I relax at any part of the race. But I think Massa was a little bit too quick today, and I was more concerned about the gap with Kimi, trying to keep the second place. The race victory, I knew that was impossible."
Raikkonen, by now a top driver unaccustomed to playing backup, continued a recent refrain about his support role.
"I knew what I was supposed to do," he said. "It wasn't the best race ever. The car was quite difficult -- I don't know why -- the tires felt quite tricky to get especially the front tires working. I was catching up Fernando but then came the rain."
Kubica, who led drivers' standings at one time in the season, lost his third ranking on a downbeat ending to the season, though it was overall the team's best to date. He started the race from pit lane on dry tires and things went downhill from there.
"Losing third place in the drivers' championship in the last race is definitely not the best situation," Kubica said. "We made too many mistakes during the weekend and this is the result."
Rain that bookended the race informed then decided it. A cloudburst three minutes before rolloff delayed the start by 10 minutes as teams were given the opportunity to change to wet tires. They were changing to dry tires again within a dozen laps. Rain didn't reappear until the final five laps.
At the start, Massa sped from pole into a lead he managed throughout, while Coulthard, 37, took a tap from Rosberg that slung him around and into Rosberg's teammate Nakajima.
The exit on Lap 1 brought an ignominious end to the F1 career of the Scot who claimed 13 victories in 15 years, finished second in the World Drivers' Championship once and third five times. He leaves as the only driver to describe suffering bulimia as a young racer. He stepped into Formula One to replace Ayrton Senna, fatally injured at Imola in 1994, for Williams before moving to McLaren and finally Red Bull. He finished his career at the hands of Williams, as well, he told reporters. "Williams to Williams", as he put it.
"I'm pretty gutted," Coulthard said. "It's not how I wanted to end my career. I felt good on the warm-up laps going to the grid; I had no problem with it being wet and I wanted to get to the checkered flag. 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."