LONDON, England (CNN) -- Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton admitted "his heart was in his mouth" during the nail-biting conclusion to the Brazilian Grand Prix.
World champion Lewis Hamilton celebrates his new number-one status after a dramatic Brazilian GP.
The Englishman snatched the title at the final corner of the most dramatic race of a dramatic season, despite Felipe Massa doing all he could by winning in front of his home fans.
Late-race rainfall had unpicked Hamilton's best-laid plans to cruise home in the fifth place he needed to deny Massa the crown and it looked like he would blow his chances of becoming champion for the second season running.
But the McLaren man came good in the end, overtaking Toyota's Timo Glock, who had stayed out on dry tires as the heavens opened, to snatch fifth with the checkered flag in sight.
"Before it started to rain I was quite comfortable. I was able to stay ahead of [Sebastian] Vettel and then it started to drizzle and I didn't want to take any risks," said Hamilton, who, at 23, becomes F1's youngest-ever champion. Watch as Hamilton makes history »
"Then he got past me and I was told that I had to get in front of him, and I couldn't believe it. There was nothing I could do, I was just trying to keep the car on the track and my heart was in my mouth. Read more about F1 at The Circuit
"Then at the last corner I managed to get past Timo Glock and I'm telling you it was just amazing. I was shouting, 'Do I have it, do I have it?' and then they [the team] came on [the radio] when I was at turn one and they told me [I was world champion] and I was ecstatic.
"It has been such a long journey and with a lot of support from people back home. My team did a fantastic job all year and all the sacrifices we made, I'm so thrilled to be able to do this for everyone."
Massa was world champion until Hamilton passed Glock and TV cameras showed his family jumping for joy in the Ferrari garage before they twigged that victory had not been enough after all.
Massa was in tears on the slow-down lap and repeatedly beat his chest in front of his adoring fans at Interlagos, but he was gracious in defeat.
He said: "We did everything to perfection and we almost managed to pull it off. Sport is like this and one has to accept that. Congratulations to Lewis, whoever gets the most points deserves the title.
"It was a season of highs and lows and we have learned a lot, from the good moments and from our mistakes. I am very proud of the whole team and how much support they have given me during this fantastic season.
"I can leave Interlagos with my head held high because once again I have won in front of my home crowd and because this is an unforgettable day."
No one could have foreseen the pivotal role Glock was to play in the denouement to a race that left viewers on the edge of their seats.
And the German dispelled any suggestions he deliberately slowed to allow Hamilton through.
"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," he explained.
"I was fighting as hard as I could but it was so difficult to just keep the car on the track and I lost positions right at the end of the lap."
Massa's second Sao Paulo win coupled with 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen's third place gave Ferrari their 16th constructors' championship. Fernando Alonso rounded off a strong end to the season with second place for Renault.