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The 2008 Formula 1 season built up to one of the most dramatic and thrilling climaxes in motorsport history at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Going into the final race of the season at Interlagos, a legendary circuit in Sao Paulo, the championship battle was set for a showdown between local hero Felipe Massa of Ferrari and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

The Stage is Set

In a year filled with ups and downs for both drivers, it all came down to the last race decider. Massa had dominated the weekend, taking pole position in front of his home fans and looked on course to be crowned Brazil’s first world champion since the great Ayrton Senna. But Hamilton only needed a 5th place finish to claim his maiden title, no matter if Massa won. What transpired over 71 unforgettable laps was a final twist almost too unbelievable for Hollywood.

Felipe Massa in the Ferrari during the Thursday practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco (Photo by David Davies – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Massa’s great getaway

As drops of rain began to fall at Interlagos, the race burst into life. Both Massa and Hamilton made clean getaways when the lights went out, running line astern in the opening corners. Behind them, crashes and incidents triggered the safety car, closing up the pack. When racing resumed, fortunes swung as cars pitted for tyres in the damp but drying conditions.

Hamilton dropped from 4th to 6th after a slow stop, but with young pretender Sebastian Vettel swarming behind, he crucially stayed ahead in the points-paying positions. Up front, Massa soared off into a commanding lead. The fervent home crowd roared on their man, the title appearing to be flowing towards the Ferrari garage.

Last Lap Heartbreak

Then the cold claws of fate intervened. Rain again swept across the circuit, causing Hamilton to pit from 4th place for intermediate tyres with just a handful of laps to go. Massa also stopped next time around, retaining his lead but critically, Toyota gambled on leaving Timo Glock out on dry tyres. Running 7th, the German suddenly vaulted up to 4th as those who pitted fell down the order.

Hamilton now found himself in 6th, with Vettel just behind but closing rapidly. Coming through the long final turn onto the pit straight, Hamilton went defensive against Vettel but ran wide, allowing the Toro Rosso through. With two laps left, Hamilton was out of the points and Massa was champion to elect.

Ecstasy to Agony

Hamilton chased desperately but couldn’t find a way back past Vettel, leaving Massa just seconds from fulfilling his ultimate dream – a home victory to deliver Ferrari’s first drivers’ crown since 2004. His family and mechanics erupted in celebration in the pits. While in the sister McLaren garage, their hopes sunk as Hamilton’s title slipped away.

But in a scarcely believable final twist, Glock struggling massively for grip on his dry tyres, had hit trouble. Hamilton bore down on him and sensationally swept past on the final corner of the final lap to grab the 5th place he required as Massa took the chequered flag.

In a moment etched in F1 history, the race broadcast captured the Ferrari garage plunging from elation to dismay in an instant. The title had been decided by just a single point at the last gasp. Utter ecstasy for Hamilton, bitter agony for Massa in front of his adoring fans.

Dignity in Defeat, Respect in Victory

In the immediate aftermath, Massa showed immense courage, respect and dignity to congratulate Hamilton on the podium despite his crushing disappointment. He earned admiration from around the world for his reaction after missing out by the barest of margins. Hamilton broke down in the green room, the enormity of the situation overwhelming the new champion.

Both behaved with great composure and class. The incident only heightened the respect between two ferocious but friendly rivals, their battle adding another legendary chapter to Interlagos’ storied history. It represented the changing of the guard as Hamilton claimed the first of many titles.

D4H7ME British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton (R) of McLaren Mercedes and Brazilian Felipe Massa (L) of Ferrari chat prior to the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at the race track in Interlagos near Sao Paulo, Brazil, 02 November 2008. Photo: GERO BRELOER

Conspiracies and Suspicions

Inevitably in such dramatic circumstances immediately accusations flew that Glock had deliberately let Hamilton through. The conspiracy theories however held no water – Glock had simply stayed out too long on the wrong tyres. The Toyota order to not pit was an error, not any Machiavellian scheme as emotionally charged figures in the Ferrari camp may have thought.

Years later

Now, many years after 2008, the passage of time has only enhanced the legend of that season finale. Throughout that time, we’ve witnessed many season finales, including the 2021 last lap battle between Lewis and Max. The theatrical denouncement in Brazil vaulted both to superstardom. And gave Formula 1 one of its most incredible, enthralling stories ever told.

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