However, he passed the slowing Toyota of Timo Glock accelerating out of the final corner to create F1 history.
"My heart was in my mouth, but I never gave up and just kept pushing and pushing," he said.
"I was close to him with a couple of corners left and it would have been very hard to get past him, but fortunately it began raining and some other people took some risks and we ended up passing them.
"It's the coolest thing to be able to say you're the world champion.
"But I continuously think about the people that got me here - the sacrifices my family made, which then gets me all emotional.
"I think about my family back home, I think about my fans who have supported me all this time, I think about all the controversy and all the pressure that people here put me under and how intense the battle was right down to the wire."
With Hamilton's first victory coming so early in his career, it has been suggested he could go on to challenge Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven titles.
But Hamilton said the legendary German's record is not in his sights and he is solely looking forward to defending his crown in 2009.
"I don't plan going anywhere near Michael Schumacher's record. He did something very special," said the McLaren driver.
"I am going to be here for a while. I'm in only my second year in my Formula One career and I do have a good few years left in me, so I do have the opportunity to win that many.
"But I'm going to go back and analyse what went on this year and where we can improve for next year.
"I am going to be fitter when we get to Australia next year - that's for sure - and we're just going to keep getting better."
Hamilton is now the bookmakers' favourite to be voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December.
Hamilton's feat amazing - Andy Murray
And one of the other potential award contenders, British tennis number one Andy Murray, has tipped the driver to claim the prize.
"To achieve something like that at his age is amazing," Murray told BBC Sport, before flying out to Shanghai for the season-ending Masters Cup.
"For a year as a whole what he has achieved is amazing, he's created history in his sport which is great.
"Obviously the Olympians, Chris Hoy and Rebecca Adlington were awesome during the Olympics, but for the year as a whole I think what Hamilton did was amazing."
Off the track, Hamilton's life has changed dramatically since his first appearance in an F1 car.
As well as the multi-million pound endorsements the Stevenage driver has a pop star girlfriend in the shape of Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, but he credits his family with helping to keep his feet on the ground.
"It is crazy," he added. "We've come so far - it's not just me, people see me in the spotlight but it's really the people that are behind me like my dad.
"He's lucky because he did all the work and just gets to sit in the back and watch.
"I do have the most beautiful girlfriend and I am just very proud, very happy and very balanced in my life."
Anthony Hamilton, Lewis's father, believes his son's success is vindication of the many sacrifices they have both made over the years and hopes they can inspire a new generation of drivers.
BRITAIN'S WORLD CHAMPIONS
Mike Hawthorn (1958)
Graham Hill (1962 and '68)
Jim Clark (1963 and '65)
John Surtees (1964)
Jackie Stewart (1969, '71 and '73)
James Hunt (1976)
Nigel Mansell (1992)
Damon Hill (1996)
Lewis Hamilton (2008)
"This is the culmination of 16 years' worth of hard work and I would like to hope that this is inspirational for other families and other kids," he said
"When we started out we had no money, we were nowhere, we were nothing.
"We never dreamt of getting to Formula One but we are now here, top of the world.
"The reality is it can be done. Hard work, dedication, respect to family, respect to all people. Fantastic."
Hamilton senior also revealed that the criticism his family had received in the build-up to Sunday's race had taken its toll and made him question their involvement in the sport.
"My family has taken a lot of stick this past week; not just this week, but the past few months," he said.
"I did think that maybe this isn't the place for my family because as a parent you make sure you do right for your family and kids.
"But I never said anything to Lewis. I kept it to myself, even though I was going home and thinking 'I didn't think the world was quite like this.'
"And then you think 'It's just the way it is', and I'd send Lewis a text saying 'whatever happens, people love you.'
"The negative people are a small percentage, and even the negative ones have a heart.
"At the end of the day we came into this to do a decent job and we deserve to be here.
"If people like us, then great. If people don't like us then I am sad for them, and maybe God will forgive them.
"But we are decent people and remain decent people. I just don't understand why our message gets missed.
"But when things go against you, you rise above it and get stronger and stronger. I tell you, everything negative thrown at us is just huge positive energy.
"It's like fuel, the more you give us the more it fuels us, and it's brilliant. You can't run and hide."
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