This article was originally posted in 2018, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the race.
Maurice Hamilton recalls the most dramatic of championship finishes at Interlagos in 2008.
One of the most dramatic Formula One world championship finales occurred at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November 2008.
It all started a year earlier. In 2007, rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton had arrived at Sao Paulo's Interlagos circuit with a four-point lead over McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso and a seven-point lead over Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. He had already blown one chance to wrap it up, infamously beaching his car on entry to the pit-lane at the penultimate round in China.
In Brazil, after nearly colliding with Alonso on lap one Hamilton dropped down the order and, despite recovering to a safe position, then encountered car trouble. Raikkonen was able to steal the title from under the noses of the two warring McLaren drivers.
In 2008, Alonso moved on to Renault and, despite two early wins, Raikkonen had been unable to replicate his championship-winning form. That left Hamilton and Massa to fight it out for the title, but both squandered big opportunities that year.
Massa retired from the lead on the final lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix with car trouble and drove away from a pit-stop in Singapore with the fuel hose still attached to his car. He went on to finish fifth there, while Hamilton was third. At the following race, in Japan, a wildly aggressive start from pole saw Hamilton tangle with Raikkonen. Hamilton would finish down the order, with Massa fifth, although he made amends at the penultimate race by leading Massa home from pole.
That meant Hamilton returned to Interlagos with a five-point lead over Massa -- points were awarded to the top eight finishers (10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1). To become F1's youngest champion, a fifth-place finish was all Hamilton needed.
Lewis Hamilton: In 2007 I lost the championship in front of so many people, managing the embarrassment and managing the emotions was really difficult. I'm a very emotional guy ... that experience was a bit traumatising at such a young age.
Felipe Massa: When I started that week, I had in my mind only one thing that I had to do which was to win the race. I was not thinking about my fight with Lewis because this is the last race, so in the worst case I need to win -- that was the only thing I was thinking about, in my mind, every day of the week since the week started.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: I think it's quite funny when you look at people's memories of that weekend because the memory is quite different to the reality. It wasn't really viewed as a championship decider, it was really viewed as Lewis' coronation -- that it was already his, signed, sealed and delivered.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren engineering director: It's really difficult to win in this sport -- really, really difficult. Particularly at McLaren we'd been fighting a long time and at that point we'd had a lot of second places, if you actually go and add it up it's a lot of near-misses. The last constructors' at McLaren was 1998 and the last drivers' was 1999, then there's a lot of second places in the middle. Particularly in 2007, we'd missed it by a single point with two drivers, which I don't think has ever happened. Then you think, 'how close can you get without doing it?'
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: In the latter part of 2008 we had the advantage and we were letting points slip. You look back at 2007 and it was pretty much the same. That was certainly very vivid in our thoughts and certainly influenced how we approached the weekend, the strategy we adopted ... we were quite defensive in our approach. And as the race panned out, that nearly cost us very dearly.
Tension at the start
On Nov. 2, 2008, Massa was on pole position. Hamilton had qualified fourth, ahead of McLaren teammate Hiekki Kovalainen. McLaren was confident it had the pace to stay inside the top five -- but the grey skies above the circuit promised an unpredictable contest was in store.
Felipe Massa: To be honest, I never felt big pressure before the race. I was really calm but also feeling the extra power. I was always really feeling that maybe the weekend was mine. I would say I had an amazing feeling on the grid from all the people ... I had a great atmosphere from everybody, from all the Brazilians, from all the people that were pushing me in a nice way.
Luis Fernando Ramos, circuit announcer: On the drivers' parade, I had spoken to Felipe for most of the lap -- it was broadcast around the circuit. Felipe thanked the fans, told them how amazing they were. They were just screaming his name. As we got to the final corner -- which, thinking about it now is ironic, given what happened there later -- I just grabbed the microphone and said: 'Who thinks Felipe is going to be world champion today!' There was a huge roar like we were at a football stadium. As we got to the end of the parade, I remember saying 'Felipe, I have goosebumps, what do you have?', and he just said 'Much more than that!'
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: Felipe has always been a guy who needed an arm around him and have some love and respect, and you couldn't have hoped for more love and respect from the whole of your nation at that point.
Luis Vasconcelos, journalist: For once, the Brazilian public got behind him. Because since [Ayrton] Senna they had never really got behind any driver. It was always quite split. It was like [Rubens] Barrichello was not as good as Senna, so he was crap. Felipe was not as good as Senna, so he was crap. But Felipe had won six races, was fighting for the title. So for the first time ever the Brazilian fans were pushing and supporting Felipe and booing Hamilton.
Lewis Hamilton: The noise, the atmosphere, was just crazy. I had perhaps two percent of the fans wanting me to win while the rest were for Felipe. It was just so intense. But I didn't resent it -- it was normal. At Silverstone I had all the support and Felipe didn't.
As the start approached, the rain started to fall, delaying lights out. Hamilton had claimed superb victories in similar conditions at Monaco and Great Britain that year, while Massa had struggled to master the rain.
Luis Fernando Ramos, stadium announcer: It was absolutely nerve-wracking. It started raining and I thought 's---, it's wet, it's over', because Felipe's reputation in those conditions wasn't great.
Felipe Massa: Then it was a quite strange feeling, we had to wait in the car. Something was telling me maybe this can be for some good or maybe some changes for the race. I know that in the dry, Lewis had a pretty big chance to score a good amount of points so maybe this can change the race.
Lap 1-63: On a knife-edge
Massa led away cleanly and Hamilton avoided any drama at the start. An early Safety Car was deployed for another crash and the rain soon eased off. Everyone switched to the dry tyre -- Hamilton was one of the last to do so, briefly relegating him to sixth position behind Giancarlo Fisichella.
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: We didn't want to be the first to go over to the dry tyres, we didn't need that risk. The person who did migrated up the grid and then it's like s---, we should be fourth here but we're fifth -- but it's still fifth, so it's OK. With Lewis' ability in the wet, which he's had from the very beginning, we had been able to make some very aggressive choices in those races that year. He'd had those wins in Monaco, Silverstone, some really excellent races in the wet so it should have been an excellent opportunity for us.
Lewis Hamilton: We knew what we had to do and the points we had to score. I guess that impacted what we did because we didn't need to put it all on the line to win.
For most of the race, the championship battle was finely poised: Massa led comfortably out in front, while Hamilton switched between fourth and fifth position -- both enough for his first championship.
All the while, dark clouds lingered around the Interlagos circuit. There would be another rain storm before the chequered flag fell.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: Felipe had the car and was so good that day. He was just cantering along. You can hear it in his voice, you can look at the telemetry, you can see how hard he's pushing -- you know we've got bags of pace in hand at this point. The whole pack is behind and they're all scrabbling, he's just eking it out bit by bit as the race goes on.
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari team principal: Felipe was perfect out in front. He showed why he deserved to be champion -- which he would have been without our errors earlier in the year.
Felipe Massa: When I changed to the dry tyres the race was pretty easy on my side because my pace was very, very strong so I managed to open the gap. I managed to really have quite an easy race but then suddenly it starts to rain again at the end of the race so everything changed.
Lewis Hamilton: Before it started to rain I was quite comfortable, and I was just focused on having a clean race. Everything was going fine until it started raining again.
Lap 63: The game-changer
Light rain started to fall on Lap 63 of 71. Hamilton, running fourth, pitted two laps later for the 'intermediate' wet-weather tyre, as did the man directly behind him -- Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel. Massa made the same stop the following lap. While most took that same option, two cars had crucially opted to go with a different strategy to the rest.
Toyota had left Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli out on the dry tyre, banking on the rain staying light enough for them to go to the finish without the time lost in a pit-stop. The decision elevated Glock from seventh to fourth -- meaning Hamilton was now in fifth, with Vettel's charging Toro Rosso right behind him. The battle for fifth had now become one which could decide the entire championship.
Timo Glock, Toyota driver: Every time I came through Turn 3, Turn 4, Turn 5, into the middle of the circuit, the cloud above was getting bigger. I told them for sure it was going to end up in a chaotic last one, two, three laps, and that we should prepare ourselves to change tyres. They said we'll stay out because they thought it would be dry enough until the end of the race. I told them: 'listen, it's going to piss it down massively in the last couple of corners on the circuit, it's going to get worse and worse'. They said there were guys already coming in to change tyres but that the strategy for us was much better to stay on dry tyres. So that's what we did.
Luis Fernando Ramos, stadium announcer: After the Toyotas stayed out I had said to my co-commentator, 'it's all in Vettel's hands, he has to overtake Lewis for Felipe to have a chance'. Then, it happened!
Luis Vasconcelos, journalist: In Formula One there has always been this unwritten rule that you don't really fight championship contenders on the last race if you're not one of them. But nobody told that to Vettel.
Hamilton, stalked closer and closer by Vettel, suddenly gets un-lapped by the BMW of Robert Kubica on the inside of the circuit's final corner, Juncao. The spooked McLaren driver then made a crucial mistake -- running wide, allowing Vettel past him.
Suddenly Hamilton was in sixth position with just three laps to go.
Sebastian Vettel: At that moment I had no idea I might be influencing the championship. When Lewis went wide, it was natural to take the position. I was racing for Toro Rosso for the final time and I wanted to go out with the best result possible.
Lewis Hamilton: I remember thinking, 'man, you've got to be kidding me, not again'.
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: That moment was horrible, like 'we've just thrown it away again'. All the feelings of disappointment from 2007 came flooding back. Just gut-wrenching disappointment. Then you quickly snap back and remember you're still racing.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren engineering director: I had literally given up Formula One at that point, for those few minutes. It was 'this is too much, I can't deal with this, I'm quitting'.
Dudu Massa, Felipe's brother: When Sebastian passed Lewis, we started off some celebrations in the Ferrari garage. But I remember me and my dad asking people to calm down, my mum was starting to cry -- my dad told her 'no, no, wait, not until he finishes'. We were telling people to wait because it wasn't over yet.
Hamilton spent the next two laps trying to catch and pass Vettel to move back into the position he needed for the world championship.
Lewis Hamilton: That was horrible. I just remember Sebastian just being right there but I couldn't get to him. My tyres had frickin' over-inflated, so I just remember that... [it was like] my mum was on the edge of a cliff and she was right there but I couldn't do anything to grab her. There was nothing I could do.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: It became very, very difficult not to be 100 percent concentrated on Lewis from that point. You know your race is coming to the final couple of laps, Felipe's been inch perfect, he's not going to drop it.
Felipe Massa: Rob was always talking to me in the way that 'OK Lewis is sixth, but the race hasn't finished yet, it's raining, anything can happen so keep concentrating'. He was always speaking to me like that so I never really had my mind on 'I will be the world champion'.
Timo Glock: On the second-to-last lap I told the team, 'I need to come in because it's already raining in the last corner'. They told me I couldn't as the pits were already closed because there were people already there preparing the area for Felipe and the top three to park their cars. People were walking around the pit-lane so I wasn't allowed to come in, the team said 'now you need to stay out.'
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: It soon became quite apparent that the rain had got a lot worse and Glock's lap times started to drop away. At that point we were communicating to Lewis that the opportunity wasn't with Vettel any more, it was with catching the Toyota. That was clearly a big call. I think that was very difficult for him to process in the car -- because he can't see what we can, all he can see is the guy in front.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: At this point what I'm watching the whole time was how wet it was getting in the pit lane. I was thinking 's---' and just saying 'f---king stop, please just stop f---ing raining', because it's getting heavier and heavier, and obviously I knew what that meant.
At the end of the penultimate lap, Glock's final sector time confirmed Smedley's worse fears. The Toyota driver recorded a 21.8s -- which would be three seconds slower than Vettel and Hamilton, who were now just 15 seconds down the road and gaining fast.
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: At that moment the feeling suddenly was very much -- this is on!
Lewis Hamilton: Honestly, I felt as though my heart was about to explode in the closing stages of the race. I don't know how I kept my cool.
Timo Glock: I started the last lap and at the first corner it's just so wet, no grip, and I knew it was going to be a massive struggle just to finish because it would be even worse at the end of the circuit.
A champion ... briefly
Out in front, Massa completed the most perfect race of his life -- waving his finger in the air as the home crowd roared him across the finish line for the last time.
Hamilton would not take the chequered flag for another 39 seconds. As things stood at that moment, Massa was the world champion, Brazil's first since Ayrton Senna in 1991.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: When he crossed the line, Lewis was still sixth, the whole f---ing place erupted.
Felipe Massa: I could feel really the place shaking. The noise, for sure you cannot hear so much because the noise of the car was quite high in that year with the V8s but I could really feel the whole people around, I could really feel the feeling from the people.
Dudu Massa, Felipe's brother: When Felipe finished the race we still waited a little bit but the emotion was so high that one single clap for somebody exploded the emotions. Then a friend of ours got a little more emotional, he was a big guy, and he hugged us and we lost some composure. Then everyone lost it and was jumping around. I don't know how to explain it, we just got blind.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: Everyone was going mad but I was desperately trying to watch the screens in front of me because I could see Hamilton was gaining pace and Glock had started to struggle big time.
Timo Glock: I could barely keep the car pointing forwards. I was just trying to focus on myself, keep the car on track. I was slipping and sliding around and really couldn't do anything but hope I made it to the finish.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal: We were saying to Lewis 'take it easy', we knew we're racing Glock. With the GPS we could see Glock coming back towards us... we had the conviction that we were going to catch him. But then you start to worry -- is it raining as hard as you think it is? Are you really going to catch him? Are we going to have got this really wrong?
Hamilton, still chasing Vettel, tried one last lunge at the Toro Rosso driver midway round the final lap, but was still unable to get close enough to pass the young German.
Lewis Hamilton: I remember that moment going into Turn 10, I couldn't dive up the inside of him, I see him get the apex, come out of it and see him pull away as the time is ticking down -- 25 seconds or whatever, knowing that my whole year, all the input, all the stress, all the strain, was going to be lost. But he was right there, less than 10 metres in front of me.
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: At the time, the way the communications were at McLaren, there was a guy called Richard Hopkirk on the pit wall communicating with Lewis. I lost all radio protocol. 'Tell Lewis that Glock is the man we need to focus on', Richard said 'Well I can't tell him now, he's coming through a corner...', I cut him off and said 'JUST F---ING TELL HIM!'
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: All the guys had already come out to the wall to celebrate. I was still trying to focus on the GPS and see what was happening with Lewis. Everyone went mental and started to jump on me, pulling me off my chair, congratulating me, slapping me on the back. I was trying to stay focused on this map and I was almost laying horizontal in this mess when I see that it looks like Hamilton had passed him, then I saw him eek out on the map. It was like 'oh f---, he's passed ...'
'Is that Glock?'
While most were oblivious, one person who did notice what had just happened was former racing driver Martin Brundle, commentating on the English-language world feed. As the cameras switched to the angle looking down at the Juncao corner where Hamilton had made his mistake several laps earlier, it showed Vettel and the McLaren driver moving off the racing line to pass a slow-moving, red and white Toyota. Hamilton was now in fifth position.
Brundle stuttered, his voice rising with excitement to deliver his most famous call.
'That's ... is that Glock ... is that Glock going slowly!? THAT'S GLOCK!''
Martin Brundle, TV commentator: That just came from within, realising the significance of it. You live on your wits as a commentator, that's why I love doing live television. It's not about notes or anything scripted, it's literally say what you see and call it how it is. You realise it's playing out in the most unbelievable, dramatic way -- one man and his team are there celebrating the championship while the other one is there winning it in front of your eyes.
Timo Glock: Honestly, I had no idea who had passed me. I didn't pay attention to any of that really because I only wanted to keep my car on the track.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren engineering director: I didn't have an active role on the pit-wall in those days, so I wandered down to the end of the pit-lane, the other side of Ferrari, just to get away from what was happening. I thought, 'well, it's all over, I better get back home'. As I was walking along the pit wall all the press had gathered at the back of the pit wall, all the cameras and everything, because they were thinking they were winning. I couldn't even get through, I was blocked by all these cameramen and everything, so I just dived down underneath this sea of people by myself, went straight through them. As I popped up the other side I just saw on the big screen as Lewis overtook Glock and thought, 'hang on, we've done it!'
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari team principal: As you can imagine, it was painful. Very painful. I understood from that moment that for Felipe the championship was done.
Lewis Hamilton: I didn't know I had passed Glock. I knew there was some commotion, a bunch of cars, I thought they were backmarkers. I came up that hill [not knowing]. It was the worst feeling I can remember having, and when I crossed the line....
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: I was looking at the timing screen, watching, waiting, hoping, and Hamilton and Glock swap positions on the screen at the line. Then it all kind of all stopped and everyone was like 'wait, has he won, has he won?'
Lewis Hamilton: I was shouting 'do I have it, do I have it?' and then as I went into Turn 1 they told me. I was ecstatic. I'll never forget that moment.
The dramatic finish had yet to be realised in the pit-lane. Cameras showed Massa's family celebrating with Ferrari mechanics, while Hamilton's brother Nicholas and girlfriend, popstar Nicole Scherzinger, celebrated with McLaren mechanics.
The bad news quickly filtered around the Ferrari garage and the Interlagos circuit.
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari team principal: I went immediately into the radio -- because behind me the team was already cheering -- that someone had to tell Felipe's family they had lost the championship.
Dudu Massa, Felipe's brother: We were celebrating, then got told Hamilton was fifth, not sixth. The mechanic who told us Lewis passed Glock was suffering more than us. For a mechanic from Ferrari to then come and tell the family 'Felipe didn't win the championship', it was taking away a dream for a family, for friends, even a whole country. The guy was feeling really, really bad. He smashed the wall with his head and everything, he was so upset.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren: At this point I'm running back to our pit wall. I think Nicole was running out of the garage at the same moment. I think we were two of the first people to really work out what had really happened.
Luis Fernando Ramos, stadium announcer: The whole atmosphere changed instantly. A guy wrote to my blog a few days afterwards, he said 'when Felipe crossed the line I was jumping, then I heard your voice over the tannoy saying Hamilton was fifth.... When I heard you say that it was like a policeman coming to my house to say my mother is dead'.
Smedley opened his radio channel to deliver the bad news. He then said: 'You've done a very, very good job. Well done, son, I'm very, very proud of you.'
Massa, his voice breaking with emotion, replied: "I'm so proud of you anyway. I would have been even more with the championship but anyway, thank you!"
Felipe Massa: I was just waiting for a message -- it took forever to come. Unfortunately the message that came was a little bit different from the one I was hoping for, or expecting to hear.
Robert Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: We made all the perfect calls. Felipe drove the perfect race. It was probably the most perfect race I ever witnessed from the pit-wall. I actually felt really, really elated and proud. It didn't hit me properly until an hour later. So that was both the best and one of the worst moments as well.
An ecstatic, disbelieving Hamilton opened up his own radio channel to tell McLaren: 'Guys, I'm speechless! That was so frickin' close ...'
Meanwhile, the man who had become one of the main protagonists of the entire drama was still blissfully unaware of the role he had played in it, his thoughts still on a strategy call which had ultimately gained him two positions overall.
Timo Glock: I was coming back to the pits and they told me on the radio, 'Hamilton won the championship' ... but never told me I was the guy who had decided the championship! We were just happy the strategy had paid off for us, we had gained a few positions. So I stopped the car not knowing anything. Lewis was parked right in front of me, I got out of the car and congratulated him, and then just went to the scales where every driver gets weighed.
As Massa pulled up in parc ferme in the pit-lane, he opened his visor and wiped tears from his eyes.
Felipe Massa: It was an amazing moment to win, just the perfect weekend. But to lose in the last metres, it was tough ... There was no way I could not cry. Imagine winning the title at home, it would have been the most incredible feeling.
Timo Glock: There was this bunch of journalists coming towards me and so I walked to the side, because I thought they were going straight to Lewis. But everyone went to me! They were like 'was this planned before the race?', 'did you help Lewis win the championship!?' I was totally confused, like 'what the hell is going on!?' I didn't know what had happened. It was only then they told me I was the guy who had decided the championship.
Luca Colajanni, Ferrari press officer: Immediately after the end of the race many of us in the garage had more than a slight suspicion that Glock had let Hamilton past to deny Felipe the title. But in cold blood later, it was clear he could not have done anything.
Timo Glock: There were a couple of journalists who were very aggressive, especially from the Italian side, pointing fingers at me and saying I had done this on purpose, 'how much did Mercedes [McLaren's engine supplier] and Lewis pay you?' It was a situation I never thought I would be in. We even had letters come in to my family, to my dad and mom's house about how I had done this and how people should shoot me, I shouldn't be in the sport anymore. I could not believe how bad people could be, it was pretty extreme.
Felipe Massa: I understand what happened. He had the wrong tyres on. I definitely don't believe he helped Lewis or did anything on purpose. But I would say, maybe he could have fought a little bit more...
As a bewildered Glock fielded questions from the media and Hamilton and McLaren celebrated further down the pit-lane, Massa was still required to go through the F1 post-race traditions -- standing on top of the podium as the winner of the race. His eyes glittering with emotion, the Brazilian walked to the front of the podium, thumped his chest and let out a passionate roar for his home crowd.
Felipe Massa: I was proud. Winning the Brazilian race is the most important thing a Brazilian driver can achieve. I was looking at the people -- my people, the Brazilian people -- under the podium and just wanted to show them that I was proud to be there and that we always fight until the end. This was my feeling.
Martin Brundle, TV commentator: That podium ceremony stands out. Felipe was very magnanimous. I thought it was an incredible sporting moment, sadly not an incredible moment for him. But he took it with great professional style and a certain amount of humility in a moment of immense pain. To win the world championship a few kilometres from where he was born, in a Ferrari for goodness sake... he felt that for a short moment. Talking about it now I still feel pain for him.
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: It didn't surprise me, knowing him as well as I do, it's exactly what I would have expected from a man like that.
Luis Vasconcelos, journalist: It was very dignified, very impressive. He gained a lot of respect in Brazil by the way he acted that Sunday night. I think that will always be the image people remember of Felipe Massa.
After the podium ceremony, the contrasting emotions continued to play out down in the Interlagos paddock below.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren engineering director: I consider that a weekend of hell, really. It was like surviving a plane crash. We had a party, but to be honest the party we had the previous year after Brazil when we lost was massively better. Same location, same people pretty much, just in 2007 we all had something to forget. .
Phil Prew, McLaren race engineer: I used to fill in a race chart -- a written sheet of lap times, gaps to others, things like that. Most of the time they were incredibly detailed. The one from that race in Brazil has almost nothing written on it -- at the end it just says 'P5, WORLD CHAMPION!'
Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer: When it finally settled, it was without a doubt the most emotional I've ever been at work. It was actually quite hard to deal with. I remember calling my wife and not really being able to talk to her, trying to explain what had happened. I called my mum and dad, too. After that I was just trying to find somewhere private to have some emotional time to myself I guess. It was tough. I cried for about an hour.
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari team principal: I say this with a lot of respect for Lewis because he is a fantastic champion, but Felipe deserved the title that season. He had been the better driver. But nothing was in Felipe's hands because of everything that happened before then.
Lewis Hamilton: I had it the year before and it was the one of the most, if not the most, devastating experiences, losing the first year. Even though I didn't expect to win in 2007 the stress and the strain I went through was too much to take -- as immature as my mind was, basically. To dig myself out of that bottomless pit, because I was in a deep pit at the end of 2007, to come back and be strong, win the first race of the year in 2008, then get to the end of the year and again to [nearly lose it] ... I don't know how I would have come back from it.
Felipe Massa: If the rain had worsened one minute later, I would have won the title. It had to be that way. I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe one day I will find out why.
Additional reporting by Laurence Edmondson