Hamilton is champion... on the final corner: 'I'm thrilled. It's been a long journey'

Fans of Lewis Hamilton were celebrating last night after a dramatic day of twists and turns that saw him become the youngest world Formula One champion.

Cheering him on from the Brazilian stands was his pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, who jumped up and down with delight as she realised he had finished in fifth place – good enough to secure him the title. His delighted family, including mother Carmen Lockhart and stepmum Linda Hamilton spent much of the afternoon in Sao Paolo watching him struggle to make an impact.

Hamilton, 23, dropped to sixth position with two laps remaining, which was too far back to give him the title. But, in a nailbiting final few seconds, as the Ferrari team prematurely started celebrating, Hamilton slipped past the ailing Toyota driven by Timo Glock on the penultimate corner. The previous British world champion Damon Hill described the race as "the most exciting in Formula One I have ever seen".

The young man from Stevenage now joins the pantheon of F1 British greats, among them Sir Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Nigel Mansell.

Hamilton initially struggled to comprehend the scale of his achievement but paid tribute to his McLaren team: "This is for you and my family." He added: "It's pretty much impossible to put into words. It's been such a long journey – all the sacrifices we've made, I'm so thrilled to do this for everyone. It was one of the toughest races of my life."

The driver, who has grown in stature and maturity in almost every race since the agony of last season when glory slipped through his fingers on the final race, was forced to endure the booing of the crowd at the Interlagos track – home to title rival Felipe Massa.

Hamilton's determination to make it in Formula One transcended his humble upbringing. His grandparents came to Britain from Grenada and his parents separated when he was just two. From the age of 12, he lived with his father and stepmother and half brother who has cerebral palsy.

His father Anthony said victory should spur other families on. "This is the culmination of 16 years of hard work, and we have to hope this is inspirational for other families and kids. We had no money when we started out but now we're on top of the world. The reality is it can be done," he said.

Hamilton received congratulations from Gordon Brown last night. He said: "I think the whole of Britain are proud of the inspirational Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren team."

David Cameron said that Hamilton was "now officially a British sporting legend and a role model for what you can achieve if you follow your dream".

Sir Stirling, 79, said: "It's very difficult comparing drivers from my era, when it was really dangerous, to now, so it's not like for like. But I think if you're talking about a man's ability to control a car, use a car, I think he's up there with the best now."

10-year-old bet wins punter £125,000

By Genevieve Roberts

One Lewis Hamilton fan had a decade-old bet riding on the result.

After seeing him on a go-kart track at the age of 13, a man from Peterborough staked £100 on a 500-1 shot that Hamilton would win the championship by his 25th birthday. The unnamed punter last night collected £125,000 from Ladbrokes, the company's largest single motor sport payout.

The man, whose son used to race karts against Hamilton, placed the bet on 13 May, 1998. He said: "From his early days it was easy to see he had driving ability, coupled with a fantastic attitude to racing."

Sir Jackie Stewart echoed his sentiments, saying Hamilton had "enormous natural talent and raw skill".

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