The 2008 Formula One World Championship had it all: four rain-soaked thrillers, controversy and penalties galore, the first ever night race, and one of the most nail-biting title conclusions in the sport’s history.
Hugh Podmore reflects on a year which will never be forgotten, not least by Lewis Hamilton who steps into the history books as the youngest ever world champion – just.
There can be no doubt that Formula One enjoyed one of its most tense and exciting seasons of recent years in 2008. It had everything off track and on track controversy, penalties, wonderful wheel-to-wheel racing, new races and, remarkably, seven different Grand Prix winners. Lewis Hamilton capped a wonderful second season in the sport by taking the World Championship at the last corner on the last lap of the last Grand Prix, a feat which will surely go down in history as one of those epic sporting events that occur all too rarely.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the world championship in Brazil
The season began with bad feeling hanging over the sport, after the McLaren â€˜Spygate affair and Fernando Alonso s acrimonious season with the same team. Lots of questions remained to be answered. Would Kimi s natural speed ruin Felipe Massa s career? Would BMW be fighting for wins? Would the hefty fine McLaren received have compromised the development of the MP4-23? How would Sebastien Bourdais fare in the cauldron of Formula One?
The season provided answers to all of the questions, bit by bit. The early part of the season saw a return to the alternating dominance of McLaren and Ferrari respectively, but it was as we reached the middle point of the campaign that certain themes became evident. One was the susceptibility of Hamilton to pressure; another was the mysterious inability of Raikkonen to wake up until halfway through a race; and another the diminishing number of mistakes made by Felipe Massa. You couldn t forget the others, thoughâ€¦Alonso single-handedly remoulding the Renault team around himself and dragging them up to winning levels by season s end; the first ever night race in Singapore; Honda s capitulation to another season of disappointment; BMW s speed resulting in a historic win for Kubica in Canada; the bizarre shenanigans surrounding Max Mosley; and of course the strange stewarding decisions (Hamilton in France, Bourdais in Japan, Hamilton in Belgium) that led many to cry foul.
Alonso steals the spotlight at Formula One’s first ever night race in Singapore
For many observers the season provided some fantastic entertainment, but often for the wrong reasons. Ferrari s F2008 failing to cope with wet-weather conditions and their traffic light system failing in Singapore were both highly amusing for McLaren fans and conversely, Hamilton s failure to see the red light in Canada probably gets a few laughs when re-shown in Maranello. Fans amusement sometimes turned to anger and bemusement when faced with the stewards assertion that Hamilton hadn t allowed Kimi to completely repass him in Spa, for example. But it s such discussion points that render our sport such an exciting one in the first place, and besides, to feel aggrieved sometimes is part of the deal when you re a sports fan.
Some suppositions were made by blunt, irascible armchair enthusiasts. Nelson Piquet Jnr is clearly not cut out to be a racing driver, so Fernando must have been involved in Renault s decision to retain him and not put a fast rookie (Di Grassi) in the car next to him for 2009. Felipe Massa is clearly a lot better than everyone thought he was, so those who thought him rubbish should eat their words. Rob Smedley is a gifted man manager as well as a race engineer. BMW should have kept developing their car. Honda and Toyota spent too much money without results. Again. Bourdais should go back to America. Vettel, meanwhile, is the best thing since sliced brot (which means Michael Schumacher).
More seriously, the sport has been rocked in recent weeks by the departure of Honda and the cost-cutting moves. It was high time, frankly. 2009 promises to be a wonderful year, with KERS and slicks arriving. If it s half as entertaining as 2008 it ll be worth watching.