Four men quickly emerged as title contenders in 2008, one of them quite unexpectedly. All of them started from pole, all stood on the top step of the podium and all of them led the standings, but only one could be champion. So close was the competition that halfway through the season just two points covered Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, with three of the four level at the top of the table. We look back on the evolution of a gripping contest…
Round one - Australia
First blood to McLaren and Hamilton. As they win, Ferrari suffer a disastrous start to the season, with Raikkonen and Massa mustering just one point between them. Kubica starts from the front row, but retires after being hit from behind by Nakajima.
Standings: Hamilton 10, Raikkonen 1, Massa 0, Kubica 0
Round two - Malaysia
A back-on-form Ferrari dominate qualifying and look set for a one-two until Massa puts it into the gravel, leaving Raikkonen to take the win from Kubica. McLaren are hamstrung by grid penalties and Hamilton trails home fifth.
Standings: Hamilton 14, Raikkonen 11, Kubica 8, Massa 0
Round three - Bahrain
Kubica springs a surprise with a maiden pole, but it’s Massa who’s quickest off the line, the Brazilian going on to a much-needed first win of the season. Raikkonen beats Kubica to second to seize the championship lead, as Hamilton again fails to score following a fluffed start and a collision with Alonso.
Standings: Raikkonen 19, Hamilton 14, Kubica 14, Massa 10
Round four - Spain
Raikkonen wins from pole to almost double his lead over Hamilton. Massa follows him home for another Ferrari one-two, with Hamilton third and Kubica fourth.
Standings: Raikkonen 29, Hamilton 20, Kubica 19, Massa 18
Round five - Turkey
Massa takes a third successive Istanbul win to move into joint second in the table with Hamilton, who pips Raikkonen to P2 at the flag, with Kubica a distant fourth.
Standings: Raikkonen 35, Massa 28, Hamilton 28, Kubica 22
Round six - Monaco
Hamilton regains the championship lead for the first time since Malaysia with a confident performance on Monte Carlo’s slippery streets. Kubica is second and Massa third, but Raikkonen fails to score after running into the rear of Sutil.
Standings: Hamilton 38, Raikkonen 35, Massa 34, Kubica 32
Round seven - Canada
Montreal sees Kubica’s finest hour as he leads a BMW Sauber one-two for his and the team’s first victory. With it comes the championship lead, as Hamilton eliminates himself and Raikkonen in an unlikely pit-lane collision, and Massa can only manage fifth following a refuelling problem.
Standings: Kubica 42, Hamilton 38, Massa 38, Raikkonen 35
Round eight - France
Massa takes his first - and only - turn at the top of the table after exhaust problems for Raikkonen hand him victory. The Finn makes it home in second, with Kubica fifth. No points for Hamilton, who starts with a grid penalty for his Canada mishap and is then penalised again for an illegal pass on Vettel.
Standings: Massa 48, Kubica 46, Raikkonen 43, Hamilton 38
Round nine - Britain
The season reaches the halfway mark and things could not be closer. An imperious wet-weather win for Hamilton, combined with lacklustre performances from his rivals, produces a three-way tie at the top of the standings, with Kubica just two points adrift in fourth.
Standings: Hamilton 48, Massa 48, Raikkonen 48, Kubica 46
Round 10 - Germany
Another storming drive from Hamilton brings a fourth season victory and a championship lead that he will ultimately never relinquish. Massa is the only other contender to score heavily, with third place. Raikkonen and Kubica finish sixth and seventh respectively.
Standings: Hamilton 58, Massa 54, Raikkonen 51, Kubica 48
Round 11 - Hungary
An engine failure robs Massa of likely victory and a puncture helps relegate Hamilton to fifth, leaving Heikki Kovalainen free to score his maiden F1 victory, with third-placed Raikkonen joining him on the podium. Kubica takes a single point for eighth.
Standings: Hamilton 62, Raikkonen 57, Massa 54, Kubica 49
Round 12 - Europe
Raikkonen begins a sequence of four non-scoring races as his engine fails. Unfortunately for him, all three of his rivals make the podium, with Massa victorious from Hamilton and Kubica.
Standings: Hamilton 70, Massa 64, Raikkonen 57, Kubica 55
Round 13 - Belgium
Massa closes to within two points of the championship leader after a controversial ending at Spa. Hamilton is demoted from first to third for cutting a chicane whilst battling for the lead with Raikkonen, who subsequently crashes out. Massa inherits the win and Kubica takes sixth place to keep his fading title hopes alive.
Standings: Hamilton 76, Massa 74, Kubica 58, Raikkonen 57
Round 14 - Italy
Kubica is the biggest beneficiary as Vettel stuns the top guns with a maiden win for Red Bull. The Pole finishes third behind Kovalainen, while Massa’s sixth place puts him just one point shy of Hamilton, who takes seventh. Raikkonen is again out of the points in ninth.
Standings: Hamilton 78, Massa 77, Kubica 64, Raikkonen 57
Round 15 - Singapore
With third place, Hamilton is the only title contender to score in Formula One’s inaugural night race, which sees a surprise win for Renault’s Fernando Alonso. Kubica finishes 11th after a drive-through penalty for pitting under the safety car, Massa’s race is ruined after he leaves his pit with the fuel hose still attached, and Raikkonen crashes out of his own accord.
Standings: Hamilton 84, Massa 77, Kubica 64, Raikkonen 57
Round 16 - Japan
A second successive win for Alonso further tightens the championship race. Hamilton and Massa are both hit with early penalties for driving offences, helping Kubica to haul himself back into contention with a second place. Raikkonen finally rediscovers the scoring habit, but it’s too little too late and the reigning champion drops out of the title race.
Standings: Hamilton 84, Massa 79, Kubica 72, Raikkonen 63
Round 17 - China
Hamilton banishes the memory of Shanghai ’07 with a dominant victory that puts him on the brink of championship glory. Second for Massa ensures it will go down to the wire, but Kubica’s title aspirations end with a disappointing sixth place.
Standings: Hamilton 94, Massa 87, Kubica 75
Round 18 - Brazil
The season climaxes in truly dramatic fashion, with Hamilton seizing the fifth place he needs at the very last corner, as a rampant Massa cruises to the win. For a moment, Ferrari think their man has done enough, before the timing screens confirm the McLaren driver has made it by a single point, becoming Formula One’s youngest ever champion.
Final standings: Hamilton 98, Massa 97