Formula 1's recently-crowned, youngest-ever world champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he never expected to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award - after finishing as runner-up for the second year in succession.

Following his record-breaking rookie season in the top flight in 2007, Hamilton missed out on the public-voted BBC honours to boxer Joe Calzaghe, and a year on he was pipped to the post by three-time Olympic cycling gold medallist Chris Hoy - who he had been due to compete against in a special Man vs Machine Challenge at Wembley Stadium's Race of Champions earlier the same day before the contest was called off due to unsafe track conditions.

That means Britain still has to look back to 1996 for its last motor racing Sports Personality of the Year, in the shape of Damon Hill, with fellow world champions Nigel Mansell, Sir Jackie Stewart and John Surtees also having clinched the prestigious laurels, as did 'nearly man' Sir Stirling Moss in 1961, his final year of F1 competition.

"In an Olympic year, I always thought an Olympian would win," Hamilton confessed. "I was up against such amazing athletes and I was very proud to be standing up there with them."

The 23-year-old certainly made a spectacular entrance to the Beeb's glittering annual extravaganza, with his title-winning McLaren-Mercedes suspended above him and to the classic Fleetwood Mac theme tune The Chain in the background, ahead of F1's return to Auntie next year.

As he reflected on what he described as 'an incredible year' and looked ahead to what he hopes will be an equally impressive 2009, the Stevenage-born ace was in optimistic mood.

"In that last race, I think everyone had the same feeling as me," he confessed. "My heart was in my mouth. Through the race you always know what's going on, and [over] those last couple of laps we had it and then we lost it, and I got to turn ten and I couldn't get past Sebastian Vettel. It wasn't until the last corner that I got [Timo Glock].

"I still didn't know if I had it, and as I was coming across the line I was just praying that I did. In those last couple of laps, my whole career and life kind of flashed by my eyes. I came across the line and was waiting for the team to tell me whether I'd won it or lost it, and when they told me just all these emotions came out. It really was one of the most draining moments that I've had, but the proudest moment of my life."

When questioned finally about his chances of going on to match or even beat the record of seven trophies achieved by the legendary Michael Schumacher - the most successful driver in the history of the sport, and one whose achievements some have suggested Hamilton could one day surpass - the nine-time grand prix-winner was humble.

"I personally don't set my sights on that record," he insisted. "I'm just privileged to have had the opportunity to win one. We're going into next year and I am at the beginning of my career, so I have the opportunity to try and win some more, but I feel very confident and very enthusiastic - and even more concentrated on next year and doing a better job."

Speaking at the star-studded annual FIA Gala in Monaco, meanwhile, Hamilton acknowledged that 2008 had been 'a very special' year for him and 'the fulfilment of a dream I've had since childhood and an ambition that has taken my family and me on an amazing journey'.

"The fact that I won the drivers' world championship on the very last lap of the very last race is something that makes me so proud of our efforts in 2008," he underlined. "We pushed to the limit on every single lap, from Melbourne to Brazil - and it's that determination and spirit that ultimately won us the world title.

"It's always very rewarding to receive recognition for all the work you put into the season, and the FIA Prize Giving Gala in Monte Carlo is of course a fitting venue at which to celebrate all our efforts before we push ahead into 2009."

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