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F1 History 10

I was there when… 2008 Brazilian GP

Sport had rarely witnessed such hyperbolic overdrive. Lewis Hamilton needed to finish only fifth to clinch his maiden world title. There are no racing certs in F1, but in a 2008 McLaren the title was his to lose.

history  I was there when... 2008 Brazilian GP

There were factions, however, who wanted him to do just that – and the headlines became more bizarre by the day. In Spain, there was a sustained internet campaign to inflict a voodoo on Hamilton, while a couple of Brazilians hijacked one of the Englishman’s pre-race PR appearances and chucked him a toy black cat – a symbol of misfortune in Brazil, but less so in Stevenage.

One year beforehand the Brazilians had embraced F1’s bright-eyed young starlet, but back then he’d been fighting Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen for the world title. Now he was up against one of their own, Felipe Massa, who was so local that he’d once worked as a food delivery boy at Interlagos.

Why Massa would have made a worthy champion
Pole positions: Massa 6, Hamilton 7 (Massa won the battle 10-8 overall)
Wins: Massa 6, Hamilton 5
Fastest laps: Massa 3, Hamilton 1
Laps led: Massa 361, Hamilton 296

Massa took pole, as he had in 2007, while Hamilton qualified fourth, half a second shy of his rival. So far, so good – but an uncertain weather forecast promised an extra element of complication for Sunday.

Rain before the race

A huge thunderclap struck an hour before the scheduled start, but the rain held off until the final few seconds, triggering a 10-minute delay to allow teams to fit Bridgestone wets. Most did just that, although BMW left Robert Kubica on dry rubber… against his wishes. He would be in at the end of the final formation lap to make a belated switch.

history  I was there when... 2008 Brazilian GP

Massa made a clean start to lead from Jarno Trulli (Toyota), Räikkönen and Hamilton, but the race was swiftly neutralised: in his final F1 start, David Coulthard was bundled off the road after being hit by both Williams drivers, while Nelson Piquet Jr cannoned into the tyres at Turn Three. Force India took one of its traditional gambles during the interruption, putting Giancarlo Fisichella on slicks, and within minutes of the restart the Italian began posting the race’s briskest laps to date.

That triggered a glut of tyre stops, although McLaren was cautious and left Hamilton out for a couple of laps too many. That put him back to seventh, although he soon recovered to fifth, as required. It was a most untypical Hamilton drive, though – juggling the percentages rather than flirting with fire. That would be his motif for much of the afternoon.

Massa continued to lead and made his final scheduled stop on the 38th lap of 71, resuming ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Renault, Räikkönen, Hamilton and the ever-impressive Sebastian Vettel, in his final drive for Toro Rosso before taking the Red Bull seat vacated by Coulthard.

Last lap change

It looked fairly straightforward: Massa was on the cusp of another memorable home victory (he’d won here in 2006, but had to cede the following year to support Räikkönen’s successful title tilt), while Hamilton continued to pursue a tactic of adequate stealth. And then, with 10 laps to go, the rain returned.

history  I was there when... 2008 Brazilian GP
Hamilton and Vettel pass Glock

Gradually, the leaders peeled in for wets – but Toyota threw a curve ball by leaving both its cars out. Massa continued to lead from Alonso and Räikkönen after the stops, but Toyota’s gamble elevated Timo Glock to fourth, ahead of Hamilton and the fast-closing Vettel. With two laps remaining, the German passed the McLaren… and handed a crucial advantage to Massa. “I didn’t know what position I was in,” Vettel said, “and had no idea I might be influencing the championship.”

Conditions had remained merely greasy thus far, but the final lap coincided with a proper Brazilian deluge. It began with Hamilton 0.754sec adrift of immediate target Vettel… and 13.144sec shy of Glock.

I was there when…
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Everything looked cut and dried for Massa – and that was the initial response in some parts of the Ferrari pit, as the leader took the flag. The Brazilian’s own celebrations were tempered, though, and he raised only a cautious fist while awaiting further news of events in his slipstream. Some of his team were too engrossed in their own elation to notice a crucial detail down at Junção, the left-hander prior to the long, uphill drag to the finishing line.

Vettel and Hamilton were closing fast on Glock, whose tyres had by now lost all purchase, and both passed the Toyota in the season’s closing seconds. Fifth was Hamilton’s once again and the balance of power had transferred somewhere in the middle of a ball of spray.

history  I was there when... 2008 Brazilian GP

Ron Dennis spoke afterwards about McLaren getting its tactics right, but that honour belonged to Toyota (whose gamble, after all, had promoted Glock from seventh to sixth). If McLaren had left Hamilton on dry tyres, chances are that the last-minute drama might have been avoided completely.

This was a title success born of providence rather than strategy, but the dignified, tearful Massa accepted his misfortune with remarkable grace. “When I crossed the line the positions meant I was going to be champion,” he said, “but then I was told Lewis had passed Glock. That’s racing, though. There are always explanations for what happens in life and if things worked out like this today, it’s just the way it was meant to be.”

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history  I was there when... 2008 Brazilian GP

Add your comments

10 comments on I was there when… 2008 Brazilian GP

  1. Mario Carneiro Neto, 21 November 2013 16:00

    I was living in Boston, it was the end of my third semester in college and I couldn’t believe that maybe Felipe would become champion and I wouldn’t be at home to celebrate with my friends & family. I watched the race inside my college dorm room, the Brazilian TV Globo feed, through a not really legal internet stream, as Boston University wasn’t inclined to pay for Speed TV for its motorsport oriented students. They had commercials, anyway, and who puts on commercials during F1? So I remember deserately screaming at the small computer screen, crying out all sorts of obscenities in Portuguese, which thankfully my roommate didn’t quite understand. But I think he got the message, though it looked like I was watching football finals, and not Formula One. I was never a Lewis Hamilton fan, so I wanted him to lose so badly, when Massa crossed the finish line in first I was shouting and jumping up and down and then…..then….Timo Glock pulled aside. Didn’t even fight. And let Hamilton through. I was devastated. I knew that would be Felipe’s last chance at a title, and his best one. I was despondent that day but I remember thinking “Wow, F1 is exciting again, finally”. Couldn’t wait for 2009. Little did I know Vettel was coming….

  2. Richard Craig, 21 November 2013 16:20

    I remember watching this with incredulity, thinking that there was no way Hamilton was going to lose the title at Interlagos two years on the bounce. I really wanted him to, mind you.
    One thing that irks me about retrospective accounts of this race is the number of people who said that Massa was champion for 30 seconds or whatever length of time it was – no, until 2008’s winner was confirmed for sure, it was still Kimi Raikkonen. Sadly, Felipe was never more than provisional champ.

  3. ImmoralHazard, 21 November 2013 16:21

    I am going to repost what I posted on the MS Forums in 2012 after the season-opener:

    “In 2008, the team cost him the championship with the refueling debacle in the Briatore-rigged race. A similar faulty refueling in Canada cost Massa valuable points in Canada. In both cases the fault lies with the team. Without those incidents, he would not have been in the position where all it took was for Glock to be on the wrong tires and it cost him the championship. Of course, Massa did not help his cause by bad driving in the wet at Silverstone.

    That season Ferrari gifted the championship to Hamilton and McLaren, the same way the previous year the internecine strife at McLaren gifted the championship to Kimi and Ferrari. Both Hamilton and Kimi won those championships by the skin of their teeth, and not by outright domination.”

    Presumably by attributing the above quote to myself, I am not plagiarizing myself.

  4. Gavin Brown, 21 November 2013 21:29

    Unbelievable race. Possibly one of the best I have ever seen.

    I said back then and I still believe that two champions were crowned that day – unfortunately only one could officially take the trophy home though.

  5. Lucas, 22 November 2013 00:38

    No, I don’t think Massa deserved that championship. Much has been written about Ferrari being at fault at Singapore, or about him “having more wins”. Few remember, though, that he lost many valuable points by no fault other than his own – he had a completely avoidable accident in the first race, then he had a silly race-ending spin in the second race, made another mistake at Monaco while leading, and an awfully embarrassing race at Silverstone. And that Hamilton had a problem at Bahrein start, a disastrous pit stop at Malaysia, a puncture in Hungary (where he still managed to go from P10 to P5 in a difficult track to overtake) or that McLaren gave him wrong tyres in Monza’s quali (where he started from P15 and still managed to finish just one position before Massa, who started from P6).

    Also, what made Massa end with “one more win” than Hamilton was a race that was dominated by Kimi, had a very exciting fight for the lead in the last laps when it started to rain, resulting in a DNF and a penalty that handed the victory to a driver which was never in contention.

    Also, 2008 was one of those years when Mosley wasn’t really trying to change the notion that, under his reign, FIA seemed to mean “Ferrari International Assistance” – couple that to his problems with Ron Dennis and the presence of Allan Donelly and the result was that many times there seemed to be completely different outcomes from race incident analysis whether the car was red or silver.

    I simply cannot understand how anyone wouldn’t think that the title went to the guy who drove better that year.

  6. Rich Ambroson, 22 November 2013 00:41

    Massa drove like a Champion that year, no question. He didn’t drive into the back of a parked car in pitlane, for sure, either. The penalty handed to the Woking driver at Spa was relevant, and if Kimi went out and that benefitted Massa later, that’s not the first time that sort of thing has happened.

    Again, Massa, unlike the guy who Glock let by at the last corner in Interlagos, did not drive into the back of a parked car in pitlane when the red light was on… a more worthy Champion than the guy in the record books.

  7. Frank, 22 November 2013 00:51

    Massa impressed me very much with his reaction after the race, and the look on his father’s face broke my heart.
    At the time I was glad Hamilton won it – he had been robbed in Spa by a crazy penalty and fate had squared it up.
    Looking back on it now though, I kind of wish Massa had won it. I wonder what Hamilton’s state of mind would be these days if he was still without a championship after 7 seasons.

  8. nicolas nogaret, 22 November 2013 11:13

    so massa won more races ?
    actually gifted by his team mate while hamilton’s team mate did everything in his power to stop him

  9. Rich Ambroson, 22 November 2013 16:31

    Massa also “gifted” Kimi a win at Interlagos in ’07. I don’t think Heikki was doing everything he could to prevent his teammate from winning the WDC in ’08…

  10. Paul Dishman, 26 November 2013 18:32

    I remember being so disappointed in 2007 when Lewis looked to have the Championship in the bag only to lose out. That last lap in 08 had us groaning not again! Then he slipped past Glock and up the hill and across the line. Relief and Excitement! Absolutely delighted – a worthy champion. I thought Felipe Massa handled defeat with great dignity, hopefully he can find some success to finish his career with Williams.

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