Lewis Hamilton acknowledges that in having claimed the Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship crown at Interlagos last weekend he has reached 'the pinnacle' of the sport - but insists that already looking ahead to 2009, he still has 'work to do' and 'mistakes' to avoid.

The McLaren-Mercedes star - at just 23 years and 301 days of age - became the youngest driver ever to lift the ultimate laurels at the end of a nail-biting final few laps to the Brazilian Grand Prix, beating the previous record held by former team-mate and bitter rival Fernando Alonso by 122 days.

What's more, his last corner success helped to erase the painful memories he had endured at the Autodromo Carlos Pace twelve months earlier, when he had similarly travelled to S?o Paulo in a seemingly dominant position - only to make a mistake during a nervous opening lap and later suffer a freak gearbox glitch that cost him more than half a minute...and with it the drivers' honours. This time around, he played things considerably calmer.

"I've reached the pinnacle of my sport," Hamilton is quoted as having said by the Hertfordshire Mercury. "Everyone has their ups and downs - that's what builds character.

"Last season I lost the championship by one point, but I had no regrets. Losing is part of the growing-up process. Every track I've been to I've been treated well. I'm proud to have achieved what I've achieved."

As if the coveted drivers' trophy alone were not enough, the nine-time grand prix-winner also received words of praise from the Queen, who said she was 'delighted' by his success and sent him her 'warmest congratulations on [his] remarkable and historic achievement'.

Hamilton confessed his path to glory had been something of a labour of love for himself, his family and his McLaren team, who have supported him from a young age and to whom he pledged his long-term future again in the wake of his title triumph [see separate story - click here].

"Sure I've had to make some sacrifices," he revealed, "but my family have had to make more than me. I'd certainly rather have spent my weekends racing cars than going to the cinema or smoking in the bike shed.

"When I started I was six-years-old and I said to myself 'I want to be a racing driver'. My dad kept pushing me to help with that opportunity, and without him it wouldn't have been possible.

"We've been through all the troubles together and risen to the top together. [The fame] was tough at first because I lost all my privacy. It was difficult because I was getting so much attention, but that's the sacrifice you make.

"Now a majority of the time it's an absolute pleasure when people come up to you and congratulate you - you have to be proud of it. I don't know how many more years I've got, but I know the day I walk in here without a smile on my face will be the day I give it up.

"Everything here is overflowing with energy; it's so positive. I wouldn't want to be with any other team, [and] I hope there will be many more championships to come."

Admitting he is looking forward to spending 'more time with [his] family' over Christmas, beyond that Hamilton clearly has his sights firmly set on defending his hard-fought and hard-won title in 2009 - provided, he urged, there are fewer penalties and mistakes.

"I need to avoid penalties and mistakes next season," he insisted. "We have a tough job and we'll be working to make sure we come out and do the best we can. I have so much belief in the team. We've had some difficulties, but we will have a top car.

"It's easy for me to stay motivated. I've always dreamt of racing in Formula 1, [and] I have got loads of energy now. I still have work to do, [but] I'm absorbing all the positives. I'll be back next year - but hopefully won't leave it until the last lap to win."

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