In the immediate aftermath, he said he simply could not believe he had won. Such were the dramatic circumstances of Lewis Hamilton's succession to the throne as the youngest world champion in the history of Formula One in Brazil last week.
For 38 nail-biting seconds, it seemed Felipe Massa had beaten him with less than two laps of the season to go. Then Hamilton overtook Timo Glock's struggling Toyota, almost within sight of the finish line, and suddenly the fairytale was real again.
"It's amazing," Hamilton gasped. "I can't get my breath back. It's been such a long journey with loads of support from back home."
Having lost the crucial fifth place he needed to Sebastian Vettel on the 70th of the 71 laps, he admitted: "I was trying to analyse everywhere I was losing time. I had no rear tyres left so I could not get close to him. Then they told me Glock was just ahead, on slick tyres and struggling.
"I came through Turn 11 and saw Vettel pass him, and he was just about to turn into the corner and I shot up the inside. At that point I relaxed and I was expecting the team to go, 'Woo-hoo, you've won the champ-ionship!' But they didn't, so I was panicking for a second..."
It was the greatest championship showdown in the sport's history, with the Ferrari camp momentarily believing Massa had won the title, McLaren believing their man had lost, and then Hamilton overtaking Glock in the final corner to regain the position he needed long after Massa had crossed the line a brilliant victor. Some great television coverage captured the moments when the Hamilton clan realised what had happened, when the awful truth hit the Massa family, and when Massa himself won and lost not just like a man, but like a king. There were two champions in the Brazilian Grand Prix, but only one will get a crown.
"As I crossed the line I was thinking, 'Do I have it'?" Hamilton revealed. "Once I found out, I was more emotional than ever. It was such a dream to repay the faith of McLaren."
And he admitted how exhausting he found the whole thing. "It took a lot out of me last year, but this year took even more. There was so much going on, with people pulling me left and right. I wanted to just embrace the moment, and I still am. It feels great. And I don't have to have that No 22 any more. I can have No 1 on my car, and that is the coolest thing."
McLaren's strategy called for fifth place, and Hamilton looked shaky at times when required to operate out of his element, which is hunting for victory. But now that the title monkey is off his back he stands on the threshold of a career that could see him set new benchmarks.
Britain's previous champion, Damon Hill, veteran of many on-track battles with Michael Schumacher, said: "Maybe Lewis will even challenge Michael's tally, though I think circumstances today are different, so that may be more difficult. But that will be the unfolding story with Lewis."
Hamilton says he will take valuable lessons from 2008, when he matured as a driver but also discovered just how punishing mistakes can be. "I think losing the 2007 world championship probably made me stronger and that is why we pulled through at the end of this one. This year we won some of the best races – Silverstone, Monaco, Germany – but there were races we lost either through a mistake from myself or by the team.
"People say the second year is harder,but I don't believe that. I think you just get stronger, you learn from mistakes, and hopefully I will continue to grow as a driver. If that means winning more championships, so be it."
When he visited the 1,000 employees at McLaren's Woking headquarters last Wednesday he told them: "I love this team, I'm going nowhere. This is the best team in the world. I'm very proud of everything McLaren have achieved. I used to go to the old headquarters and see Ayrton Senna's championship-winning car, and I used to touch the steering wheel and dream that some day I'd have one with my name on and the No 1 on the front. And now that dream has come true."Reuse content