Renault's Fernando Alonso had a second successive Formula One title in his grasp on Sunday after Michael Schumacher's hopes went up in smoke at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old Spaniard cruised to a stunning victory after his Ferrari rival, leading the penultimate race of an extraordinary career, pulled over with a blown engine 17 laps from the end.
Until then it had looked as if Schumacher, winner of five of the past seven races and the most successful driver the sport has ever seen, would take a significant stride towards an unprecedented eighth title.
Instead it is Alonso who heads for the Interlagos circuit where he won his first title last year with a 10-point advantage. He has 126 points to Schumacher's 116.
Both men have seven wins each, meaning that the only way that Schumacher can walk away from Formula One on top is by winning in Brazil while Alonso fails to score a point.
"It's a complete surprise so the taste of victory is even better," said Alonso, who refused to take anything for granted after an afternoon that defied all prediction in handing him a 16th career win.
"The championship will be decided in Brazil," he added. "You never know what can happen. The same thing can happen in Brazil and you lose everything."
Schumacher, leading from the third lap after starting on the front row, had been cruising towards a 92nd career win when a plume of smoke from his engine signalled calamity.
He climbed out of his car, waved to the crowd and then waited calmly for marshals to unlock an exit gate beforewalking slowly back to the pits, where he hugged team boss Jean Todt and technical director Ross Brawn.
"It is inexplicable how Ferrari blew this race," former Ferrari champion Niki Lauda told Germany's RTL television. "Michael never had to push the car to the limits, especially the engine.
"Michael drove a perfectly planned race but then they dropped a real clanger."
Alonso, who had complained about feeling lonely and abandoned by his team earlier in the week, did a victory jig as he stepped out of the car and leaped over the barriers to embrace his mechanics.
"When I saw Michael there, I did like this," said the Spaniard, punching the air with his fist.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa finished second, 16.1 seconds behind, after starting on pole position with Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella, in tears on the podium in remembrance of a close friend who died on Thursday, in third place.
Champions Renault extended their lead in the constructors' standings to nine points.
Alonso had started the race in fifth place on the starting grid but he threw caution to the wind when the lights went out, roaring past the Toyota of Italian Jarno Trulli into turn two as the Ferraris led the field.
He then overtook Ralf Schumacher's Toyota for third place on lap 13 as Massa pitted and then came out ahead of the Brazilian after his own first stop two laps later.
Briton Jenson Button finished fourth at his Honda team's home circuit with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen fifth. Trulli was sixth, ahead of Ralf Schumacher, and Germany's Nick Heidfeld took the final point for BMW Sauber.