Lewis Hamilton broke the hearts of 80,000 Brazilians at Interlagos by sneaking the Formula One world championship in the last few yards of the season’s final lap while Ferrari were already celebrating for Felipe Massa.
Massa took the chequered flag to win the race with Hamilton stranded behind Sebastian Vettel in sixth place, but while his family celebrated in the Ferrari garage a slowing Timo Glock – caught on the wrong tyres in a late rain shower – was passed by both drivers to make Hamilton champion.
“I was shouting ‘do I have it, do I have it?’ and then they came on when I was at turn one and they told me and I was ecstatic,” he said afterwards.
Rain bracketed both ends of the race, with a torrential downpour over the grid delaying the start by 10 minutes and forcing teams to make sudden adjustments to their tyre strategies to cope with a track that was wet in some places and bone dry in others.
And rain hit again with a handful of laps to go, shaking up the field when Hamilton had seemed to be heading for an unruffled fourth place and the championship.
Glock gambled by staying out on dry tyres, climbing to fourth, while Hamilton could not hold off Vettel after they both pitted and dropped to sixth with less than two laps to go.
Massa took the flag to win the race and at that point was world champion. But even as his family hugged each other in celebration, Vettel and Hamilton were passing Timo Glock in the final corners of the race as he struggled to keep his car under control in the wet.
And in moments the jubilation in the Ferrari garage turned to heartbreak, while over at McLaren the celebrations were just beginning.
After taking the cheers of the crowd during a sombre podium celebration, Massa told the post-race press conference: “We saw Lewis passing Glock again and that is really mixed a lot of emotions, but that is racing. The race finishes at the chequered flag. We finished in front and we have to be very proud of that, we missed one point but that is racing.
“We need to be proud about our job, we need to be proud about our race and our championship. I know how to win and I know how to lose. It is another day of my life. I will learn a lot from this day but I am very emotional.”
Hamilton said: “Before it started to rain I was quite comfortable. My tyres were a little bit shot so I was struggling to keep the pace up, but I was able to stay ahead of them and that’s all. Then it started to drizzle and I didn’t want to take any risks.
“Vettel got past me and I was told that I had to get in front of him, and I couldn’t believe it. Then at the last corner I managed to get past Glock and I’m telling you it was just amazing. It was one of the toughest races of my life, if not the toughest.”
The cautious start in the wet took the venom out of the first corners for most drivers, with Hamilton surviving his start on the dirty side of the track to slot in behind Massa, Jarno Trulli, and Kimi Raikkonen in a championship-winning fourth. Behind him, Vettel and Fernando Alonso had both passed his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen.
Further back, David Coulthard’s final race ended at the first corner as he was rammed by Nico Rosberg and span into the second Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. Nelson Piquet also crashed out – but, astonishingly, these would be the only two retirements of the race.
A short safety car period was followed by the teams all looking to pick the most effective moment to come in for dry tyres, and Vettel and Alonso judged it best, moving up to second and third. But the young German was considerably lighter than the cars around him and, as the pit strategies worked their way through, he found himself with Glock behind Hamilton.
At the front Massa was driving confidently and efficiently, ensuring that whatever happened behind him he would do his bit to secure the championship by winning the race. Alonso could make no significant impression on him and, later in the race, came under pressure from Raikkonen.
Further back, Hamilton looked comfortable for fourth place, despite a scare when Trulli was released into his path in the pitlane and the cars almost made contact.
But then the rain came, and all bets were off.