Jody Scheckter has argued that Lewis Hamilton is the rightful Formula 1 World Champion in 2008 - after both the British star and Ferrari rival Felipe Massa crossed the finish line at Interlagos believing they had clinched the crown.

The season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix around the Autodromo Carlos Pace in S?o Paulo was a truly epic encounter, with adverse weather both at the beginning and the end - leading to a chaotic final couple of laps that saw the title slip through Hamilton's grasp and then fall into his palm again in quick succession. It was, Scheckter acknowledged, a fitting and extraordinary culmination to what has been a great season.

"The ups and downs were just incredible," the 1979 F1 World Champion told Radio. "With rain at the beginning and then at the end, it was really tough on everybody.

"There was massive pressure on [Hamilton]. He always said 'no, it's no different', but really I think he was trying to convince himself. The conditions made things even more difficult; any decision could have been the wrong decision - it was really just about a lot of luck at the end. Would it rain early? Would it rain late?

"Ferrari must have said when Massa crossed the line 'You're champion, you look like you're champion', but Lewis deserved it. There's no question about that. When you look over the year he deserved the championship."

Insisting that the eventual outcome had been 'very much' the right result, former Tyrrell, Wolf and Ferrari grand prix-winner Scheckter suggested Hamilton's principal emotion once the chequered flag had fallen would have been one of pure 'relief' that - after threatening to fall at the last hurdle for the second year in succession - his dream had finally come true

"There was a lot of tension that just built up and built up and built up," the South African explained, "and now it's just relief.

"I think Lewis deserved the championship. I think there were some wrong decisions made on what he did and what other people did around him. I believe he should have won the championship a couple of races ago, but he did it, so that's the main thing. It ended right."

As to the future, Scheckter claimed that with one title now under his belt, Hamilton would be a veritable force to be reckoned with in the years to come - but then so would Massa, who has really come of age this year, and Scuderia Toro Rosso's Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel.

"He's got to get all the things together," the 58-year-old replied when asked if championship glory would spur the McLaren-Mercedes ace on to even greater successes in the future. "He's with the right team and I think he's got the talent to win the championship again. Let's hope so.

"No question [that Massa can challenge again too]; he's a good driver as well. You're talking about the top drivers, and I think Vettel will also be up there. There's a lot of very good talent around at the moment."

by Russell Atkins