And so, ultimately, Lewis Hamilton stumbled at the last hurdle. After leading the world championship fight outright since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, he lost by a point in a dramatictitle fight in which a combination of factors – including a crucial transmission gremlin – left him down in seventh instead of the fourth place that would have been sufficient to get the job done.
Yet he lost with dignity, and not, as have some vaunted British heroes, because he crumbled or because, after all, he had been overhyped. Championships lie in his future, of that there is no question.
Typically, because this is 2007, one of the most acrimonious and polemics-riddled years in the sport's turbulent history, nothing was cut and dried after Kimi Raikkonen drove a wonderful race to win the Brazilian Grand Prix from his Ferrari team-mate, Felipe Massa, and thus become only the third Finn in history to take the championship crown. A post-race investigation revealed that, of all esoteric things, the fuel that had been used in the two Williams-Toyotas and BMW-Saubers had been too cool and thus breached regulations.
The stewards looked at the situation and decided that nothing needed to be done; McLaren then launched an appeal against that decision. It was not so much that they thought that in doing so the disqualifications of Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubicaand Nick Heidfeld would boost Hamilton from seventh to fourth, and thus the 112 points that he needed to beat Raikkonen; it was more that they genuinely want to know why cars can be found to be illegal yet receive no punishment. The basis of their appeal is to definesuch things for the future.
These semantics escaped most, not the least the defeatedworld champion, Fernando Alonso, who could not resist taking yet another swipe at the team who helped him to four wins this year, or the team-mate who pushed him into third place overall by equalling his points score but taking the runner-up slot on the basis of five second places to his four.
As has become his wont, Alonso bleated to the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: "If he [Hamilton] wins the championship due to this, it wouldn't be fair and I would be embarrassed for this sport. I'm not sure what he would think – I guess if they give you the title, you don't think it's a present but rather that you deserve it. He wouldbe delighted."
Hamilton reacted calmly to that little bit of churlishness: "To have the world title taken away is a bit cruel and probably not good for the sport," Hamilton told BBC Radio. "It would feel weird after Kimi did such a fantastic job in the last two races and won on Sunday.
"I want to win it on the track. You want to do it in style, you want to win the race or [be] battling it out for the lead. Being promoted after other people have been thrown out is not the way I want to do it."
Hamilton clearly has a long career ahead of him after an outstanding rookie season. "I'm only 22 and there's going to be plenty more opportunities for me to win the world championship," he said. "I have no doubt that we can do it in future. It has been a phenomenal year and it has just been a real pleasure to be part of the team."
Over in Italy, Ferrari's chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, continued to fuel the rumours that Alonso will end up at Ferrari by praising the Spaniard's sportsmanship – something that raised eyebrows at McLaren – while taking a swipe at Hamilton. Of the latter he observed: "I must say that in the course of the season he has not always behaved exemplarily."
McLaren's boss, Ron Dennis, however, arguably the one man who knows what really happened with his two drivers this year, defended Hamilton staunchly.
"I have total admiration for his ability to have such a positive attitude and look at the season as a whole, as has Anthony," remarked Dennis, referring to Hamilton's father as well. "But you don't need me to explain the success and achievements of Lewis. I think they speak for themselves.
"One of our statisticians worked out the most likely expected period of time for podiums, pole positions and race wins and all the other things. After three races we just tore it up because it was obviously not going to be the case, he exceededall the expectations."