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Hamilton Takes First Formula 1 Championship in Dramatic Finale

Lewis Hamilton has become F1's youngest ever World Champion. The British McLaren Mercedes driver clinched the title by the skin of his teeth, beating rival Felipe Massa. But how many more could Hamilton win?

McLaren-Mercedes' Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, of Britain, celebrates after he secured the 2008 Formula One world drivers' champion title, by finishing fifth in the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008.

Hamilton triumphs in Interlagos, after his shock defeat there last year.

Lewis Hamilton snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, the last on the F1 calendar. Finishing fifth on the day, Hamilton secured the Formula One World Championship thanks to an overtaking move less than 20 seconds before the end of the race.

Germany's Timo Glock elected to stay on the track on dry weather tires when the rain began to fall with minutes remaining in the Brazilian Grand Prix, whilst the rest of the front runners flocked to the pits. This gamble won Glock fourth position on the track, but Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, both on wet weather tires, were gaining fast.

So Very Close

"I was on dry tires at the end of the race when it was raining quite badly, and it was just impossible on the last lap," Glock told reporters.

Hamilton and Vettel both passed Glock with moments remaining, meaning Hamilton finished in fifth position, just enough to clinch the title.

"I thought, 'Do I have it? Do I have it?'" Hamilton said after the race. "And when they [the team] told me [on the in-car radio], I was ecstatic."

Ferrari's Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil pours champagne on himself after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix race but missed to secure the 2008 Formula One world drivers championship title on Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008.

Massa was just seconds away from overall victory.

Hamilton's win came at the expense of the local hero and Ferrari hopeful Felipe Massa. The Brazilian, who won the race comfortably, thought he had pulled off the unthinkable in front of a raucous crowd in Sao Paulo.

"I had completely mixed emotions because by the time I had crossed the line, I was still the champion and then suddenly my engineer was telling me everything on the radio," said Massa.

The first of many?

Speculation abounds on just how many titles Hamilton could go on to win. He's still just 23 years old, he's at a competitive team (McLaren Mercedes) and he's proved himself to be an exciting talent behind the wheel.

Germany's Michael Schumacher holds the all-time record with seven world titles. Theoretically, Hamilton could break this record, but there are many other gifted racers on the grid right now. The competition is much tougher than it was when Michael Schumacher dominated F1.

Felipe Massa nearly beat Hamilton this year, and driving for Ferrari in 2009 he will want revenge. Ferrari also have the 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikonnen in their other car, and there's two time World Champion Fernando Alonso -- currently with the Renault team -- to consider as well.

A new generation

Toro Rosso German driver Sebastian Vettel, right, celebrates on the podium with Toro Rosso team manager Gerhard Berger after winning the Formula One Grand Prix in Monza, Italy.

Was Vettel's Italy win also the first of many?


There are also young pretenders to Hamilton's new crown, not least German driver Sebastian Vettel. The 21-year-old has completed his first full season with Torro Rosso, a low-budget team which has never really known success -- at least not before it knew Sebastian Vettel. In a slower car, Vettel won the wet and wild Italian Grand Prix, becoming the youngest race winner of all time in the process.

Vettel moves up the ladder to the Red Bull team in 2009, but his performances have been so impressive that many pundits expect "Baby Schumacher" -- as German tabloids call him -- to be sitting in a top car like Ferrari, McLaren or BMW very soon.

The next big team?

BMW is the other German factor which cannot be ignored. In just its third season in the sport, BMW has cemented itself as the third best team, just behind perennial front-runners Ferrari and McLaren. The team's incremental improvements are part of a "four year plan" -- BMW has met its targets in the first three years, and next year's goal is to challenge for the championship.

Polish driver Robert Kubica -- who, like Vettel, picked up his first ever race win this year -- is likely to lead BMW's championship charge, although his German teammate Nick Heidfeld will have other ideas.

The champagne may taste sweet for Formula One's youngest ever World Champion Lewis Hamilton, but if this year's finale was nail-biting, there could be even tougher challenges still in store.

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