Lewis Hamilton became the ninth Briton to win the FIA Formula 1 World Championship this year - and just like in 2007, the battle for the crown went all the way to the wire.

Indeed Interlagos was the scene for another title showdown and it wasn't until the final lap and the very final corner that the matter was decided. If ever there was a race that showed just what F1 should all be about it was the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 2.

Here columnist Mark Blundell looks back over the year and in the first of two interviews about 2008 with Radio's Rob Wilkins, discusses the performances of Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica et al...
Mark, the 2008 F1 season finished in Brazil with a nail-biting grand prix. Looking back over the season, what do you think people will remember most about it?

Mark Blundell:.
They are going to remember that last race because it was a spectacular finish. It was probably one of the best sporting finishes we have seen in any sport over the last 10-15 years - and that makes it very memorable. Overall we have had a season with several different winners. We have had lots of politics in the sport - both on the track and off it again, and we have had the development of a new world champion. A host of other young guys have come through too. It has been a great season.
At the start of the year, you tipped Felipe Massa to take the drivers' title and Ferrari to take the constructors'. You came very close to getting it absolutely spot on, didn't you?

Yeah, but not quite close enough! [laughs] I thought maybe Felipe was going to pull it off and over the course of the season he did incredibly well. There were a few little mishaps by the team, which were quite costly in terms of points that were lost. But then there were occasions when he didn't turn up with the goods too - Silverstone being one of them, where the wet conditions obviously didn't suit the car, but he was just off the circuit more than was really necessary. However, Massa matured a great deal and he was incredibly gracious at the end of the season. The way he handled defeat and missing out on the world championship was very commendable. I still think there is a world championship left in him.
Lewis Hamilton of course took the title, how important was it for him to do that after just missing out in 2007?

It was incredibly important for him to be in a position again to fight for the world championship and fortunately McLaren-Mercedes gave him a great car to do that. But the important factor is he made it count and that was a year on from all the trials and tribulations of 2007. He has learnt a great deal and he made the most of that. Some of the races he won were outstanding - Silverstone and Monaco for example. To be in only his second year and be the youngest to ever win the world championship is very special. He is still learning and everybody should be aware of that. There is a lot more to come from him and that is scary.
It's great for Britain isn't it to have another world champion?

It is fantastic. He has done a great deal for the sport and has done a lot of good for the country as well. A lot of great sporting personalities are coming out of the UK at the moment and that is something we should all be really proud of. As I said, Lewis is special and he underlined that by pulling off the championship. He has a great team of people around him and great machinery. We shouldn't underestimate what McLaren contributed to that championship fight. Also despite what went on off the track, he kept his head held high. There were a couple of moments when it dipped, but overall he won it in style.
Felipe Massa, as you said, was very gracious in defeat and clearly had the better of Kimi Raikkonen this season. How impressed were you by Felipe?

I was really impressed with Felipe. He developed into a front running guy in the team and that is something Kimi will have to consider coming off the back of winning the championship [in 2007]. Kimi lost some prominence inside Ferrari and that is something he will want to make sure gets put back in place. When Massa came into the sport he was quite erratic and his results varied. He has gradually learnt though and got into a top team and has really made it pay now. He obviously had a great mentor with Michael Schumacher for a few seasons. But I think everybody at Ferrari was proud of what he achieved.
Kimi really seemed to struggle at times, were you surprised by his lack of form?

I was very surprised because I felt Kimi would go on again after pulling the championship off. There was a lot more still to be done and there was no pressure on his shoulders because he had delivered. I thought he would be right there and in contention. At the beginning of the season he was up there and all was going according to plan. But then all of a sudden things dropped out and he went below the radar. On many occasions we saw Kimi struggle in qualifying trim, but then gradually as the race went on you would see him and the Ferrari getting it together. He would come on strong in the race itself and pull off fastest lap after fastest lap. But it was all too late then - that was very costly to Ferrari and Kimi in terms of points. He never collected enough when it mattered.
Fernando Alonso ended the season very strongly and of course won in Singapore and Japan. Has he salvaged his reputation now after what happened at McLaren in 2007?

His reputation as a racing driver inside the cockpit of a Formula 1 car was never under threat. We know what his abilities are - he is a two-time world champion and we know what he can do behind the wheel. It is very evident. However, what he is like outside the cockpit is still questionable and that has probably limited him in terms of where he had opportunities to go. But, saying that, he did a great job. He is a fighter and he understands what needs to be done inside the team.

At the same point I think Renault came on strong too. The regie had a bit of a 'free-up' on the engine side and it gave them a bit more horsepower towards the mid-to-end of the season. Towards the end of 2008 Renault were consistently up there. That didn't come from aerodynamic changes nor was it a case of Fernando being two seconds a lap faster. He was doing nothing different to what he did in the first race. What happened was that he had a little bit more horsepower and a little bit more driveability to get the car round. That was the biggest plus point.
Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel both secured their maiden wins this season and both really made a name for themselves. What did you think of their performances?

We had already seen some inspirational performances from Robert Kubica in 2007. Let's not forget either though that he was in contention for the world title this year for a long, long time. There was a bit of frustration there and he felt BMW had let him down slightly by not developing the car after he pulled that win off in Canada. But he got good experience and he is a great driver with a lot of grit. That will stand him in good stead for the future.

Vettel also did well, as you say, and he was definitely the star in the latter half of the season. He came through and once Toro Rosso got behind him and developed their car, we saw Vettel consistently putting himself in places in qualifying that nobody expected. He definitely put himself in situations during grand's prix too that everybody was shocked by - including him I would imagine. Nobody expected that little team to be doing what they were doing. They showed up the 'big brother' team, Red Bull Racing, on many occasions. Vettel drove with real maturity and a great deal of speed. In wet conditions he was one of the quickest, if not the quickest. Again he is somebody that could be a potential world champion, given the right equipment, and he has an old head on young shoulders.
If you had to pick out your top five drivers' of the season, who would they be and why?

It would have to be Hamilton and Massa followed by Vettel, Alonso and Kubica [the guys we have just talked about]. Those are the ones I would look at and their results showed what was capable and what the potential was. They extracted that potential - and that was the important thing.
Sebastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet Jr both made their F1 debuts this year, while Kazuki Nakajima, Timo Glock and Sebastian Vettel all took in their first full seasons. How did you think they got on and if you excluded Vettel, who would be your rookie of the year?

Probably Timo Glock would be my rookie of the year if you excluded Vettel, although of course he had experience before his entry with Toyota. Timo had a bit of a rocky start and he had that incident early on in the season, which took the wind out of his sails. But once he got settled down he put in some very strong performances. He compared well to Jarno Trulli and Trulli is an established guy. We know the kind of pace Jarno can show in qualifying. Glock matched that and beat it on occasions. During the races Timo put in some great performances as well. I would probably have to tip my hat to him in many ways.
How did you rate the other rookies?

Nelson Piquet Jr had a tough debut year. He has a big name to live up to and he didn't quite manage it. He has been retained though for 2009 and now there won't be any excuses. He needs to match up to his team-mate and that will play on his mind. Only the year before we saw a rookie come in - namely Hamilton - and he matched up and beat Alonso on many occasions in the same equipment. So it is doable and Piquet will be thinking about how he can get closer to Fernando. It seems Nelson just needed to build up his confidence and that seems to be installed now. It should give him the drive for next year. Let's wait and see.

Sebastien Bourdais meanwhile had a bit of a struggle trying to get the car to his liking and his style having come across from Champ Cars. He adapted well however and definitely in the latter part of the season he was solid. He was a bit unlucky on many occasions and got involved in a few incidents, some of them not his fault whatsoever. That was very costly in terms of a big result and that could have made a big difference.

Kazuki Nakajima was a little bit up and down. Sometimes his name would be there and he would be in a strong position and at other times he would be no where. But some of that of course was related to what Williams was giving him on the day. He made a few mistakes and maybe a few too many.
What were your thoughts on David Coulthard's final season?

Coulthard had a solid season but in some ways it was probably not as good as he would have liked. It was a typical DC year. He always brought the car home nine times out of ten, if it was possible to do so. He was a good team leader and he has given the team a lot of input. He came out with his head held high. Unfortunately his last race didn't go according to plan. But that is racing. He is a good guy and a true gent. There is a lot more still to come out of him in the sport in one way or another. I know he is going to fulfil a role with the BBC now and that will be exciting for him. I also think there are some other roles that could come his way in the future.


Coming soon: The second part of Mark Blundell's 2008 F1 season review.

by Rob Wilkins


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