Whilst suggesting that a number of drivers will be in consistent contention for Formula 1 World Championship glory over the next few years, Damon Hill has tipped Lewis Hamilton to now emerge from the pack as the most consistent of them all.

The McLaren-Mercedes star replaced Hill as Britain's most recent title-winner when he claimed the laurels at the end of a truly extraordinary Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos at the weekend - and in so doing also became the youngest driver ever to inscribe his name upon what is arguably the most coveted trophy in international motorsport. It was Hill, acknowledged, quite a finale.

"I think it was an epic season," the British Racing Drivers' Club President told Crash.net Radio. "I think it was an epic final, an epic drive by Lewis and an epic last lap.

"It was the most exciting Formula 1 race I can ever remember watching. It was just tremendous - very, very exciting. There have been a couple of close finishes before, but nothing like that for the world championship.

"We were in the BRDC Clubhouse [at Silverstone], and the excitement was pretty electric here, so I don't know what it must have been like in the Ferrari garage or at Interlagos or in Brazil in general."

Indeed, the emotions of the 71-lap encounter around the Autodromo Carlos Pace in S?o Paulo were palpable, with rain both at the start and end of the race threatening to throw the title chase into disarray, and both Hamilton and Ferrari rival Felipe Massa believing they had done enough to clinch the crown as they crossed the finish line.

For the Briton in particular it was a harrowing final few laps, as Sebastian Vettel's pass on him left him in sixth place with just two tours remaining - and therefore, for the second year running, looking like he was going to cruelly miss out on the honours right at the last.

"I would think he was probably thinking a few expletives that are not worth repeating," Hill joked of the moment the Scuderia Toro Rosso star passed Hamilton, "but there's nothing you can do. You know that all you can do is do your best.

"You're in the frame of mind that you're ready for anything, but of course you don't really want to have a sudden downpour [just before the start], you don't really want to have to make a decision in the last few laps as to whether or not you go onto intermediates - and you don't want to be out of the position where you need to be three corners from the end of the last lap.

"He must have been under extreme pressure and he coped with it very well. It would have been very easy to have been rash and just throw it off the road, but he didn't. What a lot of anxiety Lewis has had to deal with, but he came through and he's a brilliant driver who's done a brilliant job. [Afterwards he would have been] numb, I should think, and a bit dizzy - but very excited and very happy."

The 1996 world champion added that Hamilton's triumph would likely produce ripples well beyond F1 - all the way down the racing ladder to the very lowest rungs, where today's young karters are bidding to follow their own dreams and re-create the Stevenage-born ace's outstanding success.

"It's very, very important for British motorsport that he's won a world championship," the 48-year-old underlined. "It had been twelve years since I'd won it, and it was starting to look a little long in the tooth. Congratulations - we're back!

"There has to be hope there, and I think Lewis has provided hope for a lot of people who want to achieve things in their life. I think he's shown that if you're dedicated and if you're prepared to work hard, it's all there for the taking.

"He has got talent and he has been supported by McLaren, but it's wrong to think that it's ever been easy. People invest in those who show commitment, and he's shown that commitment to himself and to his talent, and he can go a long way.

"I always think that there's some sort of mechanism that means that certain people get the championship. I think Massa has shown that he's a championship contender; he's improved enormously this year and has been pushing all the way. Maybe he'll get another stab at it, but Lewis is this year's world champion and from the last [British] one to the new one, I just want to say 'welcome to the club' and send my warmest congratulations to him, to McLaren and to his family."

Michael Schumacher suggested last week that his record of seven world titles may one day be broken, but his former sparring partner Hill urged caution - insisting that the field is now too competitive to allow for one driver to dominate in the way that the German did in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He did, however, suggest that if anyone is capable of doing it, it is Hamilton.

"I think if you look down at the grid at the moment, yeah, I'd say he'd be the guy who could potentially do that," the former Williams and Jordan 22-time grand prix-winner asserted, "but I also think the championships are so closely-fought now between any number of contenders.

"[Fernando] Alonso is not out of things, you've got Massa, you've got [Kimi] Raikkonen still, Vettel is a new star and there are lots of other potential guys who can win the world championship. That means, I think, that dominating it and winning multiple world championships is probably a thing of the past, for a while anyway.

"I don't know [what will happen in 2009], and that's good. I think it's not good to be able to predict; the only thing you can predict is that the best drivers will be at the forefront. I think Formula 1 has shown that it's a sport, that it's a challenge - and that it's tremendously exciting and a real goal for any racing driver to aspire to."

by Russell Atkins