Ferrari's Michael Schumacher swept to a sensational victory at a rain-soaked Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday to seize the Formula One championship lead by the slimmest of margins.
The seven-times world champion pulled level with Renault's Fernando Alonso on points, 116-116, but is ahead 7-6 on race victories.
With just two races remaining, Schumacher edged closer than ever to a record eighth title with a performance in difficult conditions that showed his genius shone as brightly as ever despite his decision to retire at the end of the season.
Starting sixth on the grid, he roared into the lead 15 laps from the finish to take the chequered flag 3.1 seconds clear of his Spanish rival.
Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was third, allowing Renault to retake the lead in the constructors' championship by a single point after Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa collided with American Scott Speed and failed to finish.
Briton Jenson Button was fourth for Honda, ahead of McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa, after last lap chaos behind the leaders. Honda's Rubens Barrichello was sixth and Nick Heidfeld seventh for BMW Sauber.
Australian Mark Webber ended Williams' dismal run of 10 races without a point by finishing eighth.
Alonso had led from pole position, with Fisichella acting as a roadblock behind him, and looked to be steaming to his second successive Chinese victory until tyre problems on a drying track scuppered his chances after the first pitstop.
He would have been third had Fisichella not let him through.
"The winner is Michael and he deserves the victory. Today we lost a big opportunity," said Alonso. "There were nine or 10 laps when I was completely off the pace and I think the race finished there."
Schumacher had not previously scored a point in two disappointing previous appearances in China, with last year's race one of the worst of his career, but his 91st Grand Prix victory ended any suggestions of a local jinx.
It also made it almost inevitable that the title duel will go down to the wire at the final round in Brazil on October 22.
"Now we go to the last two races," he said happily. "I believe that we will have to wait to the last before a decision can be reached.
"I really look forward to it."
Schumacher has not led the standings since 2004, when he tookhis seventh title, but he has tasted victory in Japan and Brazil before and could easily win both again.
If he needed any omens, it came when Alonso dropped his magnum of champagne over the podium balcony to a Renault mechanic below --who failed to grasp the bottle and saw it smash into smithereens.
Schumacher'swas fielded safely.
In a race full of incident, particularly in the later stages when teams wrestled with a tyre dilemma on a damp track, Schumacher was more than 20seconds behind Alonso before roaring back into contention.
"Themost critical decision was after the first pitstop, which tyres to go to, and it was obviously a gamble," said Schumacher, who swept past Fisichella as the Italian emerged ahead of him from his second pitstop.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, Schumacher's successor at Ferrari next season, retired with a throttle problem seven laps after he had overtaken Fisichella for second place on lap 13.
1. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari 1:37:32.747
2. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault +00:03.121
3. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Renault 00:44.197
4. Jenson Button (Britain) Honda 01:12.056
5. Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) McLaren 01:17.137
6. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Honda 01:19.131
7. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) BMW Sauber 01:31.979
8. Mark Webber (Australia) Williams - Cosworth 01:43.588
9. David Coulthard (Britain) RedBull - Ferrari 01:43.796
10. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Italy) Toro Rosso - Cosworth 1 lap
11. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Williams - Cosworth 1 lap
12. Robert Doornbos (Netherlands) RedBull - Ferrari 1 lap
13. Robert Kubica (Poland) BMW Sauber 1 lap
14. Takuma Sato (Japan) Super Aguri - Honda 1 lap
15. Scott Speed (U.S.) Toro Rosso - Cosworth 1 lap
16. Christijan Albers (Netherlands) MF1 - Toyota 3 laps
17. Sakon Yamamoto (Japan) Super Aguri - Honda 4 laps
r. Ralf Schumacher (Germany) Toyota 7 laps
r. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 11 laps
r. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Toyota 17 laps
r. Tiago Monteiro (Portugal) MF1 - Toyota 17 laps
r. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) McLaren 38 laps
(rank: r = retired, nc = not classified)
Fastest Lap: Fernando Alonso, 1:37.586, lap 50.