Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship through a combination of skill, luck, McLaren-Mercedes' expertise and having 'the perfect wingman' alongside him in the form of team-mate Heikki Kovalainen – that is the view of grand prix legend Niki Lauda.
Hamilton became the sport's youngest-ever title-winner when he passed Timo Glock in the second-to-last corner of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos earlier this month and went on to cross the finish line fifth, dramatically depriving Felipe Massa of the laurels on the Ferrari star's home turf. It was, acknowledges Lauda – a driver well-versed in close finishes, having won the 1984 crown by just half a point over McLaren team-mate Alain Prost – quite something to behold.
“It was one of the best [seasons] that I can remember,” the Austrian told the official F1 website. “Three races to go and we still had four drivers in the championship game – from three different teams. That's pretty unique. The final decision was all about keeping cool on the driver side and, on the team side, having a car that delivered just at the right time. All I can say is hats off to everyone!”
With McLaren and Ferrari having duelled right down to the very last lap of the very last race for both drivers' and constructors' honours, Lauda contends that the final outcome was what it should have been, as Hamilton broke new ground and the Scuderia
proved that – even in the absence of Jean Todt – it remains a formidable F1 force.
“Both teams had to work very hard to face changes and complex situations,” underlined the 59-year-old, who drove for both McLaren and Ferrari during his own 13-season career in the top flight from 1971 to 1985. “In the end, the spy scandal was more of a budget and reputation situation for McLaren, as they were able to go back to daily work and continue to concentrate on the performance and reliability of the car.
“Ferrari had to concentrate on avoiding a gap in leadership. Stefano [Domenicali – team principal] was in charge of team management even before Jean Todt left, so he had to make sure the team held on to its performance. In the end both teams secured a world championship, Ferrari the constructors' and McLaren the drivers'.
“The right candidate is the one who has accumulated the most points at the end of the season – and that was Lewis Hamilton. History has shown that it is not necessarily the one with the most wins or the most competitive car. Hamilton had the right package, and as a result he is world champion.
“It is the right package that counts, and all of these points together – skill, team and luck – enriched with the right sense of caution, are what makes a world champion. You have to know when it's the time to bet high, or to just hold on to what you have.
“Situations like [Ferrari's disastrous pit-stop in Singapore] happen in the heat of the race and have not been done purposely against Felipe. The team has to learn from such mistakes and make sure they never happen again. Of course, without these mistakes Felipe might have been world champion, but it does not make any sense to argue over spilt milk. Felipe and Ferrari will try again in '09, that is for sure.