History repeated itself in a classic Brazilian Grand Prix confrontation yesterday, as outsider Kimi Raikkonen came through to snatch the world championship from McLaren's grasp in a race when everything went right for Ferrari and everything went wrong for erstwhile series leader Lewis Hamilton.
All weekend the English rookie had borne the stamp of a man ready to embrace his destiny. From his maiden laps of the tricky Interlagos tracks, to the dignified but firm manner in which he dealt with a fractious and partisan journalist, to the way he drove his last race of his polemics-ridden rookie season of Formula One, he had world champion stamped through him.
He dropped the ball in China a fortnight ago, but when the chips were down in Brazil, he seemed ready to deliver in style.
If it was going wrong for Hamilton, there was always a good chance it would happen in the tight first corner, especially as he was starting from the dirtier side of the grid.
And it did.
Felipe Massa made a great start from pole position, to Hamilton's right, and carved across to protect the inside line. At the same time Kimi Raikkonen boiled up from the second row, on Hamilton's right. By the first corner the two Ferraris were ahead, and as Hamilton had to back off momentarily to avoid contact with Raikkonen, Alonso snatched his chance to go down the inside of his team-mate. It was touch and go, as they were inches apart, but the Spaniard got the job down. Hamilton's response, an attempt to go round the outside at the next corner, proved his undoing as he slid wide and dropped to eighth.
At the end of the lap, Raikkonen, running second to Massa, had 108 points. Alonso, third, had 109, Hamilton, eighth, 108. A lap later Hamilton passed Jarno Trulli's Toyota. Five laps later he pulled a move down the inside of Nick Heidfeld to snatch sixth place in the first corner, appropriately named after the late Ayrton Senna. Now it was Alonso 109, Raikkonen 108, Hamilton 110. But then came disaster on the eighth lap as McLaren number two momentarily slowed to a crawling pace, until Hamilton managed to coax it into life again, now down in 18th place.
There were 63 laps left in which to attempt a salvage operation.
Meanwhile, Alonso backed off, content to run third as the two Ferraris pulled away. There was nothing that the Spaniard could do, if Ferrari engineered a switch between their drivers. Thirteen laps into the race, Massa was 1.7seconds ahead of Raikkonen, with Alonso cruising 8.3seconds further back. Hamilton, up to 16th, was stuck firmly in midfield traffic. He was back up to 11th by the 17th lap, but when both McLaren drivers pitted on the 22nd lap, Hamilton dropped back to 14th. But where the Spaniard's car was fitted with another set of harder compound tyres, his crew opted for the softer tyres and a light fuel load to try and catapult him past the slower cars immediately ahead.
Meanwhile, Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber was challenging Alonso for third place, and the Pole moved ahead in Turn One at the start of the 33rd lap. That dropped the champion's score to 108, while further back Hamilton overtook Vettel and gained another place when Ralf Schumacher pitted. That left the Englishman ninth, just outside the points, on 107 overall. Raikkonen, still second but catching Massa, had 108. Half distance loomed.
Hamilton's final pit stop, on lap 36, dropped him a lap down on the Ferraris, but he retained ninth place and a chance of points. It wasn't over just yet.
By lap 40, Kubica's second pit stop had put Alonso back to third, thus he had 109 points to Raikkonen's 108 and Hamilton's 107, but all Ferrari had to do was slow Massa and let Raikkonen lead, and the Finn would have 110 points... Alonso was thus far from safe.
Hamilton came back into the picture as David Coulthard pitted from eighth place on lap 42. Now he was eighth and had another point, and had his sights set on Jarno Trulli's Toyota. He and Raikkonen now had 108 to Alonso's 109. But then Massa ran wide in one corner, losing a lot of ground to Raikkonen, on the 44th lap. Ferrari's end game was unravelling.
Massa pitted for the last time on lap 50, but crucially Raikkonen went three laps longer. This time he kept the lead, and with 10 points in his grasp he now led the title chase with 110, Alonso, who pitted on lap 52, was back to fifth behind Raikkonen, Massa, Rosberg and Kubica, and thus had 107 points. Hamilton, now unlapped in eighth, still had 108. But then Rosberg's stop on lap 54 moved Alonso back up a place, on to 108 too, and when Hamilton made a third stop on lap 56 he dropped back to ninth behind Coulthard again. Down to 107, but only until the 57th lap when he grabbed eighth back from the Scot. Back to 108, two places needed. But just to complicate things further, Kubica's third stop on lap 58 moved Alonso back to third, and 109 points. People were starting to get dizzy...
Now Hamilton's hopes lay in the duelling BMW Saubers and Rosberg's Williams doing something nasty to one another, for Trulli in seventh was well beyond his reach. On lap 61 Rosberg dived inside Heidfeld, both ran wide, and Trulli closed in as Kubica gratefully jumped back to fourth. But none of it helped Hamilton, until Trulli pitted on lap 63.
Now it was Raikkonen 110, Alonso 109, Hamilton 109.
And, in quite possibly the most dramatic race of the season, and against all the odds, that was how it finished. Raikkonen was Finland's third world champion, Hamilton was his runner up on results countback. After leading almost all season, he had lost at the last gasp. But he lost with dignity, and he will be back.Reuse content