Former Ferrari great Michael Schumacher has congratulated Lewis Hamilton on following him into the pantheon of Formula One world champions, but insisted that he expected to see the Prancing Horse - and Felipe Massa - back on top next season.
The German, who now holds a 'special advisor' role at Maranello and has been on the pit-wall at many races this season, was not in Brazil for the 2008 finale, but caught the action on television as he prepared for the latest step in his conversion to motorcycle racing by attending the WSBK finale in Portugal. Despite having been involved in several title showdowns of his own during a 16-year career in the top flight, Schumacher admitted that he had not witnessed drama like that on offer at Interlagos.
While Massa did all he could to close a seven-point deficit to Hamilton in the final race, the Briton managed to secure the fifth place minimum that would confirm his as champion - but only after dropping to sixth on the road in the closing stages and then wresting the place back from Timo Glock on the final corner...
"What a finale," Schumacher admitted in a congratulatory note to the new champion on his personal website, "I have never seen anything like this, not as a racer and not as a spectator -- you can probably only say it was fate."
While Hamilton now sets his sights on trebling his championship haul in a bid to 'earn' the McLaren sportscar on display at the team's Woking headquarters - although three titles still falls a long way short of Schumacher's seven - the German expects Massa to bounce back from the disappointment of seeing the title in his grasp for a matter of moments before Hamilton's change of position was confirmed by engineer Rob Smedley.
The Brazilian, who Schumacher took under his wing in 2006, had bounced back from failing to score at either of the first two races of the year, and facing speculation about his future at Ferrari as a result, to become the Scuderia's undoubted number one challenger. Having pushed Hamilton all the way to the end of the season, Schumacher believes the experience will serve him well when the field reconvenes for 2009.
"I congratulate Lewis Hamilton and I am sending very warm greetings to Felipe and all our guys in Brazil," the German continued, "Felipe can leave that race with his head up as, with this performance, he surely has convinced all the people who still had doubts about his driving skills. He will, for sure, attack again next year."
Schumacher's second career continued as he tested Ducati and Yamaha superbikes at the new Portimao facility on Monday.