I’ve been lucky enough to see a few world championship finales but I’ve never before witnessed one like this. After more than 3,400 miles of racing in 18 Grands Prix, it all came down to the last half mile. Quite incredible.
I saw Richard Cregan, the team manager of Toyota, ducking the rain and rushing through the paddock clutching a coffee. ‘I’m getting outta here!’ he joked, while jerking his thumb towards the Ferrari garage before diving into the Toyota office.
He was referring, of course, to Toyota having played a major but unwitting part in the outcome of the championship. Anyone who thinks Timo Glock deliberately backed off to drop from fourth to sixth in order to give the title to Lewis Hamilton only needs to look at the lap times.
Toyota’s gamble of leaving their cars on dry weather tyres while the leaders changed to wets with five laps to go almost paid off. But, as the rain intensified in the last lap, Glock’s lap time extended. Sebastian Vettel may have passed Hamilton and apparently put Hamilton out of the championship, but the McLaren team were trying to remain calm by telling themselves that Glock’s progress was going to decide this championship. It was going to be agonisingly close.
On the penultimate lap, Glock went round in 1m 28.041; Hamilton 25.567s. On the final lap: Glock 1m 44.731, Hamilton 1m 26.126. Did Glock slow deliberately? Not if you see that Jarno Trulli, also on dries and a couple of places further back, went round in 1m 44.800. Anyway, there’s no way Glock was going to give up fourth place just to help Hamilton.
As Hamilton started the last lap, he got the radio message: ‘You’ve got to pass Glock, you’ve got to pass Glock!’
‘I passed Glock but didn’t know if I’d won,’ said Hamilton. ‘I crossed the line saying: “Did I do it? Did I do it?” They said I had. I couldn’t believe it.’
In the end, McLaren were able to don their orange shirts and gather in the cramped garage for the traditional world champion’s photograph in front of a mob of snappers. A few doors up, Ferrari were packing up quietly. It is one thing to know you are losing the championship in the closing stages, quite another to actually think, for a few seconds, that you’ve done it and then see the timing screen showing Glock in sixth place.
Massa was extremely dignified in defeat. He’d done nothing wrong. But it all came down to events half a minute behind him in the final half mile.
Extraordinary end to a great season.