Lewis Hamilton is the youngest Formula 1 World Champion in history after the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos – but up until the very last corner of the very last lap, the crown was going the way of Ferrari rival Felipe Massa.
The McLaren-Mercedes star entered the final tour in only sixth place, and when Massa took the chequered flag to win at the end of 71 incredible laps the Brazilian was indeed world champion – but that elation would last only a matter of seconds.
With high humidity in the air and black clouds looming, rain remained an ever-present threat ahead of the start. What's more, given the tight, funnelling nature of the first corner and memories of 2007 still fresh in people's minds, tensions in the build-up to the race were running very – no, extremely – high.
Then, the first drama struck, barely minutes before the lights were due to go out – as the rain arrived, almost with divine intervention, and with a vengeance. A delayed start was called to allow for tyre changes, but no sooner had the heavens opened than they closed up again, and the strength of the sun began to dry the track out once more – leaving the teams with quite a dilemma and, for Hamilton and Massa, a world championship at stake.
With the main straight and Senna 'S' still distinctly wet, but other parts of the circuit bone dry, knowing which tyre to choose became a real headache. As the field eventually peeled away for its warm-up lap, though, the leading contenders all did so on intermediates – with Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber the only dissenter, the Pole aiming to turn an unlucky 13th on the grid into a luckier finish, but rapidly changing his mind at the end of the formation lap as he pitted for a change of rubber.
A textbook getaway from the front row saw Massa lead Jarno Trulli into turn one, from Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton, with Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren playing the perfect team role by slotting in as his rear-gunner just behind, though the Finn would subsequently lose out to both Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the Renault later around the opening tour.
No sooner had that happened, though, than the safety car was deployed, for a smash in the middle of the pack initiated by Williams' Nico Rosberg, involving rookie team-mate Kazuki Nakajima and that removed home hero Nelsinho Piquet and – most cruelly of all – David Coulthard from the fray. In the Red Bull Racing ace's very last grand prix, it was a particularly unjust way for the popular Scot to bring down the curtain on his successful 15-year career in the top flight.
That left the order behind the safety car Massa from Trulli, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Kovalainen, Sébastien Bourdais, Timo Glock and Mark Webber. As the action resumed Massa made sure of scampering away, as Giancarlo Fisichella in the Force India pitted to change tyres onto slicks and Kovalainen and Alonso duelled energetically and entertainingly over sixth place.
As Massa began to pull clear from Trulli, Hamilton seemed to be slipping into Vettel's clutches, making it even more pivotal for McLaren that Kovalainen get by Alonso to protect the sister Silver Arrow.