The Formula 1 season comes to an end this weekend in Brazil at the famous Interlagos circuit and it all comes down to this race. After nearly a thousand competitive laps raced over more than 3,000 miles, in a season that sees the teams travel far in excess of 40,000 miles, just seven points separate the top three drivers: double world champion Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi 'The Iceman' Raikkonen.

Should Lewis Hamilton lift the ultimate prize in South America next Sunday he will become the youngest world champion, the first black world champion and the only rookie champion the sport has ever seen. Quite a set of records. But the young Brit still has work to do - such is the state of the points, the mathematics of how each driver could win are long, complicated and boring but suffice it to say, if Kimi and Fernando are standing on the podium on Sunday evening, Lewis needs to be there too if he wants to guarantee victory.

The first season in F1 is supposed to be hard for a driver - just look at Rosberg in an unreliable Williams in 2006, or Alonso in a Minardi in 2001 - it is completely unheard of for a driver to be plucked from a feeder series and dropped straight into the cockpit of a front-running car, never mind in the privileged position of being a World Champion's team mate. So Lewis Hamilton was in an excellent position to have a truly stellar debut year - with no real pressure to perform against his team mate (no one could expect Lewis to challenge Fernando) he couldn't be in a better learning environment.

But, it seems that the F1 gods were not about to let him off that easily. And it was in Monaco when the seeds of a difficult season began to germinate, after it was suggested that McLaren had prevented Lewis from challenging Alonso for victory in the Principality. An FIA investigation decreed that this was not the case and the teams moved on to Canada for round six of the championship. The relationship between Alonso and Hamilton was starting to look a little strained as what had started as a clear line between the master and the apprentice was beginning to blur into non-existence.

To get an idea of how and why the relationship between the two drivers could have gone so wrong at McLaren, you have to put yourself in Fernando Alonso's shoes. You've just won two World Championships against Michael Schumacher's Ferrari - the single most dominant racing team and driver combination in the history of motor sport, let alone Formula 1. You've completely destroyed your team mate every year you've been in the sport - you are the best. You are the saviour of Formula 1. With Carlos Ghosn (Renault CEO) making noises about canning the Regie's F1 project you sign to a struggling McLaren team, to affirm your status as one of the greats by winning with another team and, would you believe it, the car is fast. Life is good.

Imagine then, if you can, how it would feel seeing someone who has never driven an F1 car competitively not just keeping up, but on occasion actually beating you. One can only sympathise with the conclusion that the sole possible justification is that your team are favouring your younger, more marketable, more British team mate.

With four safety car periods, two black flags and one utterly massive accident, dramatic doesn't really do the first leg of the two American rounds justice and the race in Canada was, undoubtedly, the turning point of the season. Not to put too fine a point on it, Alonso was all over the place - repeatedly understeering onto the apron at Turn One and seemingly unable to match Hamilton's pace, the World Champion was showing the first signs of being rattled by the young rookie. Lewis went go on to take his maiden F1 victory that day in Montreal and then, for good measure, took a second at the following week's US GP in Indianapolis.

It was after the teams headed back to Europe that the Spying Row began to truly dominate Formula 1. Ferrari announced that it was taking its own Head of Performance Development, Nigel Stepney, to court. Some claimed it was to do with a 'mysterious' white powder found near the Ferrari's fuel tanks; some said it was to do with 'Nigel Stepney's behaviour' others simply placed their fingers firmly in their ears and said "la la la la la". The series of events that followed this announcement surely made up the most bizarre few weeks in F1 history. As accurate a description as it may be to say that, "everything went mental", that statement doesn't really contain enough factual information to be a sufficient pr?cis of the events that followed the Scuderia's announcement. So here we go...

Shortly after Ferrari told the world they were going to take Stepney to court, McLaren announced that they had suspended Mike Coughlan as they suspected he had received technical data from a Ferrari technician. Ferrari then claimed Stepney was the source of the leak, but no one was willing to disclose the contents of the so-called 'technical dossier'. Stepney denied passing on the info and McLaren claimed that Coughlan was the only person who had access to the information. McLaren are called in front of the World Motor Sports Council to answer the charge that they had, "unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, including information that could be used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car."

It seemed that Lewis, who at this point was leading the World Drivers' Championship, was about to have everything taken away from him. McLaren could be excluded from the Constructors' (teams) and the Drivers' World Championship - robbing the young Brit of his only chance to take an historical rookie drivers' title. McLaren were found guilty. But against all expectations, especially given the FIA's 'history' with the two teams, McLaren was not punished on the grounds that there wasn't enough evidence to prove the team had used the info. The drama wasn't over though, with the FIA saying that should more evidence come to light, the case could be reheard.

This would happen much sooner than anyone thought.

At the start of the third qualifying session in Hungary, the day after the ruling had been announced, the drivers lined up at the end of the pitlane with Hamilton up front and Alonso and Raikkonen close behind. When the lights turned green Lewis was told by McLaren to relinquish his position to Fernando for 'tactical reasons' but he failed to do so, much to the irritation of the world champion. For the most part the rest of the session passed without incident. However, right at the end of 'Q3', the top guys tend to dive into the pits to get fresh tyres - so they can have one last attempt at setting an unbeatable time when they have the minimum fuel and, therefore, minimum weight in the car. Alonso came in first, closely followed by Hamilton, who queued up behind the Spaniard in the pitlane. The mechanics fitted tyres to Fernando's McLaren and waved him off - no movement. He hadn't stalled, the lollipop had been raised and the team was now frantically signalling for him to go - but still, no movement. After nearly half a minute he left the box, leaving Hamilton with no chance to make it round the circuit in time to complete a final lap.

What followed is, yet again, one of the most remarkable incidents in F1 history. The story, recounted in the hearing that would follow later in the season, is that Fernando Alonso was so incensed by Hamilton's tactics at the start of Q3 that he went to Ron Dennis and threatened to disclose e-mails to the FIA which disproved Dennis' claim that only Coughlan had seen the Ferrari dossier. Dennis went straight to Max Mosley who told him - according to the McLaren boss - to "do nothing about it".

Despite Alonso's apparent retraction of this threat - and Ron Dennis' communication of this to the FIA - it emerged after the Hungarian GP that the governing body had, mysteriously, decided that they wanted McLaren's drivers to disclose any electronic communication that might hold evidence of McLaren's use of Ferrari data. Don't forget that at this stage the only people who knew about the aforementioned 'discussion' between Alonso and Dennis, were Fernando Alonso, Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh and Alonso's manager.

Another hearing was called and, yet again, McLaren found itself in the dock in Paris. It transpired that the e-mails contained some (circumstantial) evidence that Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso had been using Ferrari data in testing. McLaren were found guilty again - surely this was going to be the end of Lewis' championship? Eventually the FIA decided that the drivers could stay in the hunt, but McLaren would lose all their points from 2007 and be fined a completely unfathomable $100,000,000. At last, it was time to get back to the racing.

By the time we knew McLaren's fate, we were at round 14 of the championship in Belgium and, without a team campaign to worry about, we saw the first signs that the gloves were off in the fight for the championship, as Alonso made a 'questionably stubborn attempt' to stick to the racing line at the first corner of the Belgian GP - to the considerable detriment of his team-mate.

All through the latter half of the season, the media has been peppered with quotes and 'quotes' from the two drivers, with Alonso claiming McLaren are favouring Hamilton and Hamilton claiming that Alonso needs to be a bit more loyal to his team. It must be said though, that it is the rookie who has handled himself in what you might call a proper manner. There have been stories of Alonso breaking doors in a strop, claims that the team are sabotaging his efforts and less-than-subtle meetings with Renault's team bosses. Meanwhile, Hamilton has remained calm, measured and, for the most part, discreet.

He's kept his head on the track too and, thanks to a fantastic drive in the rain in Japan, coupled with Alonso smashing his McLaren to pieces at Turn 5, Hamilton went to the final two races 14 points ahead of his team-mate and Lewis could - and should - have sewn it up in China last weekend (the scene of Alonso's post-qualifying door smashing incident). But, a combination of poor strategic decisions and a bit of over-exuberance on Lewis' part meant that he ended up in the gravel, allowing Fernando to close the gap and take the championship fight to the very last race.

Which brings us back to where we started. Can Lewis take the championship in Brazil, a circuit on which he has never raced? Will Alonso take his third crown in as many seasons and, almost as importantly, will he take the number one back to Renault? Will Kimi Raikkonen spring from nowhere and romp home with a title he has been quietly fighting for all year?

One can't help but smile at the irony of a championship so sullied by the politics that have infected F1 over the last few years being decided in such a raw, exciting manner - three drivers on a track, fighting for glory. The way it should be.

Whatever happens, it's going to be a thriller. 'title reckoner' - break down of how each driver car win the championship

Spying timeline



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