Brazil Flashback 2008 - Hamilton's last gasp title triumph 16 Oct 2009
Although Interlagos isnt hosting the season finale this year - that honour falls to the new circuit in Abu Dhabi - the Brazilian Grand Prix could well see Brawn GPs Jenson Button wrap up the title. And if the action this weekend is even a little like that of last years race, then get ready to be treated to a tremendous showdown.
Last season two rather than three title contenders arrived in Sao Paulo - McLarens Lewis Hamilton and Ferraris Felipe Massa. The odds favoured Hamilton, who with a seven-point lead only needed to finish fifth to clinch the crown, even if Massa won.
The constructors championship was also up for grabs, and with McLaren trailing leaders Ferrari 145 points to 156, the silver team needed a one-two finish to have a chance of securing both titles. Ferrari, however, had been dominant at Interlagos in 06 and 07, and Massa was looking very self-assured as he arrived for his home race. As well as the title seekers, it would also be a big weekend for Red Bulls David Coulthard who was set to make his final race appearance after a 15-year F1 career.
In Fridays first practice Hamilton and Massa started as they meant to go on, with the Brazilian slipping just 0.190 seconds ahead of the Briton in the sessions dying moments. Massas team mate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, ahead of BMW Saubers Robert Kubica and McLarens Heikki Kovalainen. The next 13 cars were covered by just eight-tenths of a second.
In the afternoon a slightly damp track jumbled up the order somewhat, and Renaults Fernando Alonso took the top slot ahead of Massa and Toyotas Jarno Trulli. Hamilton was down in ninth, behind Raikkonen, Red Bulls Mark Webber, Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel, Renaults Nelson Piquet and Williams Nico Rosberg. Alonso was on top again in Saturdays final practice, this time ahead of Hamilton, Kovalainen and Massa.
Qualifying was a predictably tense affair that afternoon, with Massa and Hamilton looking quick throughout the opening two sessions. Ultimately it was the Brazilian who seized the advantage in Q3, becoming the first man to achieve three consecutive pole positions at Interlagos. Trulli took a strong second place, ahead of Raikkonen. Only then came Hamilton, the fourth-placed Briton seemingly confident with McLarens fuel strategy. Team mate Kovalainen was fifth, Alonso sixth, and Vettel seventh. Thus the scene was set for a cracking season climax.
And if the mixed-up grid wasnt exciting enough, there was another thrilling ingredient added to the mix come Sunday - rain, and lots of it. An unlucky Coulthard was the first victim of the wet track, after getting tapped into a spin and retirement by Rosberg at the start. It was an undignified end to his F1 career. Up at the front, however, pole sitter Massa led from the outset and continued to control things throughout the afternoons 71 laps.
It was a dominant performance from the Ferrari star and despite rain in the closing stages prompting him, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel to pit for wet tyres, he remained unruffled and romped home to a worthy win, ahead of Alonso and Raikkonen. Hed done all he could, and Hamilton had lost the fifth place he needed after a daring post-pit stop pass by Vettel. When Massa took the chequered flag, for a fleeting moment he, his family, and the whole of Brazil, thought he was champion.
But the Interlagos race had a sting in its tail. Insignificant though it may have seemed at the time to race leader Massa, fourth-placed Timo Glock had chosen not to pit when the rest of the frontrunners swapped to the wet tyres. It was a decision that ultimately proved critical to the destiny of the 2009 title. As the rain kept falling, Glock rapidly began to struggle for grip, and at penultimate corner of the last race of the season, Vettel and then Hamilton were able to pass the German.
Hamilton had held his nerve and grasped the fifth place he needed to secure the crown at the very last gasp. It made him the youngest champion in Formula One history.
Although Massa was gracious in defeat, saying, We need to congratulate Lewis - he scored more points than us, so deserves to be champion, he was clearly devastated and vowed to come back stronger.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was lost for words, only managing to mutter that he was speechless after the most dramatic race of his life. Ferraris one consolation was that Massa victory had secured the Italian team the constructors title. The day, however, belonged to Hamilton and McLaren.