Lewis Hamilton admitted that he was struggling to regain his breath after bringing his boyhood dream to a 'fairytale'conclusion in the Brazilian Grand Prix at the weekend - by becoming the youngest-ever Formula 1 World Champion.

The McLaren-Mercedes star entered the race around the Autodromo Carlos Pace in S?o Paulo needing to finish just fifth in order to clinch the crown - but as it would transpire, that would prove to be considerably easier said than done. Though he was never on race-winning pace throughout the grand prix, the 23-year-old at least looked to be comfortable inside the top five - until two laps from the chequered flag.

Having been momentarily wrong-footed by Robert Kubica controversially un-lapping himself in the BMW-Sauber, Hamilton ran wide - and in that split-second error Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel dived through as well to steal fifth position. With the Briton appearing to have no answer to his German rival, all seemed lost - until Lady Luck rolled one final dice to conclude an extraordinary 2008 campaign.

As Ferrari's Felipe Massa took the chequered flag to the jubilation of his throngs of partisan supporters packing the Interlagos grandstands - the Brazilian, his team and his fans all clearly believing he had done enough to sensationally steal the title and become the country's first world champion since the late, great Ayrton Senna last lifted the crown back in 1991 - Hamilton and Vettel came around the final corner to find fourth-placed Timo Glock struggling even to stay on the track as the Toyota ace grappled with slick tyres on an increasingly damp surface.

As both swept past the German - like Hamilton, a former GP2 Series Champion - confusion reigned, and even the Stevenage-born star himself admitted that when he crossed the line he was unsure whether he was champion, or whether he had agonisingly lost out at the last for the second year in a row. When the confirmation came through from his McLaren team, despair quickly turned into elation.

"Amazing - I can't even get my breath back," Reuters quotes him as having confessed after the incredible drama had finally died down. "It was one of the toughest races of my life, if not the toughest.

"I didn't know where Glock was and Vettel was the guy to beat and I couldn't catch him, so at that point I was going to finish sixth. My heart was in my mouth.

"I was shouting 'Do I have it, do I have it?' and then they came on when I was at turn one and they told me and I was ecstatic. It's been a dream.

"It was absolutely fantastic, an amazing achievement on one of the most troubled days. It was such a hard race and I'm ecstatic, very emotional [and] very thankful for my team and my family and everyone who has supported me."

Not only did he become the youngest-ever F1 World Champion - beating the record previously held by former team-mate Fernando Alonso by 122 days - but Hamilton also replaced Damon Hill as Britain's latest title-winner twelve years on from when the British Racing Drivers' Club President had claimed the laurels, in addition to breaking new ground as the sport's first black driver to clinch the honours and delivering the crown back to McLaren for the first time since Mika Hakkinen triumphed just before the turn of the Millennium.

Moreover, it repaid Ron Dennis' faith in him, after the now nine-time grand prix winner had gone up to the Woking-based outfit's team principal as an eleven-year-old karter back in 1996 and told him that one day he would drive for him. Less than three years later, Hamilton had been signed up to McLaren's Young Driver Development Programme - and the rest, as they say, is history.

"It's such an amazing achievement for myself, my family and my team," he enthused. "[McLaren] have worked so hard for so many years and they haven't had a championship for so long. To be the one that gives them that championship is a real honour.

"It's been a long journey in which I had the support of many people. My team did a fantastic job during the entire year and we sacrificed ourselves lot. I am happy for having achieved this for all of us.

"It's a fairytale story that he (Dennis) gave me that opportunity years ago and he had the foresight to bring me in and groom me to get to this position. I've grabbed it with both hands and I've paid him back. I've paid him back in full."

Understandably distraught afterwards, Massa could barely control his emotions in parc ferm? and up on the podium - knowing he had done all he could and yet still missed out. Dignified in defeat, however, the 27-year-old truly came of age this year, and his day will surely come.

"Unfortunately we missed by one point, but that's racing," reflected the S?o Paulista. "They kept saying, 'Wait a second'. When I was getting to turn three, they said '[Hamilton] passed Glock'.

"The race was just perfect; we did everything just fantastically. We need to be proud."

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