Lewis returns to the scene of his World Championship glory
Lewis returns to the scene of his
World Championship glory
Just one race remains for Lewis Hamilton with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, and it’s at a circuit that bears special memories.
Fans, race promoters and TV moguls alike love it when the Formula 1™ World Championship isn’t decided until the final race of the year. Teams and drivers are understandably a little more nervous about going into the last round with it all to play for, especially when the venue for that climactic battle is Interlagos – the circuit where almost anything can happen.
That’s how the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix stacked up for Lewis Hamilton and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
The season had begun encouragingly, with Lewis dominating the Australian Grand Prix and taking maximum points, but Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa came back strongly. As the Formula 1™ circus pitched up in Monaco for the sixth round Räikkönen and Massa led the points with two wins each; Lewis, having not added to his victory tally, was third.
Lewis rates the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix as one of his finest victories. After brushing a wall in the wet and puncturing a tyre it looked to be all over, but the car was undamaged, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes strategists instantly calculated a new plan, and the pit crew sent him out with fresh tyres and enough fuel to finish the race.
Emerging in fifth place, Lewis initially ran slower than the cars ahead but as his fuel load diminished he began to lap up to three seconds faster than the cars ahead. While his rivals were spinning, sliding or treading around tentatively he was completely ‘in the zone’. By the time he made his second and final pit stop, fitting dry-weather tyres, he was already 40s ahead.
Winning in Monaco brought Lewis closer to the title lead, but failing to score at the next two races put him on the back foot once more. He arrived at Silverstone needing nothing less than a victory to make up ground.
A mistake in the all-important final qualifying session left Lewis fourth on the grid. Then race day dawned murky and wet – the perfect conditions for a wet-weather maestro. Later he would reveal that it was a pre-race visit from his brother Nic that galvanised him for the task ahead: “I told him I was worrying about the race and whether I would be able to get through it without making a mistake. He told me not to worry; he told me I was a great wet-weather driver and reminded me of a Cadet kart race I did years ago where I lapped every single one of the karts twice. That made me feel a whole load better and gave me some much needed additional confidence to go out there.”
Lewis took the lead at the start and simply drove away from the opposition, taking the changing conditions in his stride and finishing over a minute ahead of second-placed Nick Heidfeld. Three-times world champion Sir Jackie Stewart hailed it as one of the greatest wet-weather drives of all time.
Best of all, Lewis was leading the Drivers’ Championship again.
A week later Lewis put his MP4-23 on pole position for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim but what looked to be a straightforward run to victory was turned on its head by a mid-race Safety Car deployment. That left him in fourth place after his final pitstop and needing to gain ground quickly – which he did at over a second a lap, passing team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, then Massa, then leader Nelson Piquet Jr.
Lewis’s lead shrank over the following races, helped by a controversial penalty in Belgium and a no-score in Japan. In China, though, he beat Massa by 14.9s to extend his lead to seven points going into the final round.
On home soil in Brazil, Massa had to win, with Lewis finishing sixth or lower, in order to turn the tables. Surely this last race of the season would be at least reasonably straightforward?
Massa qualified on pole, Lewis was fourth. Then a heavy downpour delayed the start by 10 minutes. Nerves were beginning to fray.
With nothing to lose Massa led away from the start, pushing hard on a track that was wetter in some places than others. Lewis, driving more conservatively, held on but was one of the last frontrunners to pit for slick tyres when the surface was dry enough. That left him in seventh place.
By lap 17 he was back up to fifth but there were another 54 laps to go…
When Sebastian Vettel pitted from second place on lap 27 Lewis moved up to fourth and tensions eased in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes garage. But the weather radar bore ominous news. With seven laps remaining the rain returned and the frontrunners pitted for intermediate tyres – except for Toyota’s Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli. Staying out promoted Glock to fourth place, ahead of Lewis and Vettel. And then Vettel overtook Lewis, demoting him to sixth.
The clock was ticking down and Glock, seemingly against the odds, was still running at a competitive pace. On the final lap that suddenly changed as the track passed saturation point and our GPS data showed Glock slowing down…
Lewis barely needed any encouragement to catch him. Vettel was already through, and with one corner left Lewis slithered through the inside line as the Toyota missed the apex and spun up its rear tyres. The finish line was in sight – Lewis had done it! Fifth place gave him the title by 98 points to Massa’s 97.
“The last two laps were the toughest two laps of my entire career,” he said. “I was pushing and pushing to get close to Vettel. For a racing driver to accept that you are not going to be winning is tough. But we wanted the bigger prize. It was exhausting. There was so much going on.
“Now I can have number one on my car, and that is the coolest thing ever.”
This weekend, at the same circuit where he carved his name in racing history by winning the F1™ Drivers’ Championship, Lewis will be racing for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for the last time. It’s certain to be an emotional occasion for everyone and we aim to close this chapter of his career in style. With Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso fighting for the title the shackles are off: both Lewis and Jenson are free to go for the win.
It will be a great way to end what has been a fantastically eventful year of racing.