Michael Schumacher fans, who crowded into a sports arena before dawn on Sunday hoping to celebrate their home town hero's eighth world championship, were crushed when his engine and title hopes went up in smoke.
Schumacher was leading the Japanese Grand Prix and closing in on his eighth Formula One championship when he was suddenly forced to retire with engine failure that all but eliminated his title chances in the final year of his career.
The party atmosphere in Kerpen, a small town near Cologne where Schumacher grew up, came to an abrupt and bitter end when hundreds of fans watching TV monitors saw smoke pouring out of Schumacher's Ferrari 17 laps from the finish.
There was a collective gasp of disbelief at Schumacher's premature exit and then the tears began to flow.
"It's not his fault," said Reiner Ferling, a 54-year-old taxi driver choking back tears in the arena where thousands of Schumacher fans have traditionally gathered to celebrate his key victories in previous championships.
"He did as well as he could but now our world has collapsed. It's very emotional, I can'tdescribe it."
Schumacher, 37, left the working class town in 1994 and now lives in Switzerland. Kerpen was a coal mining town but that industry disappeared long ago.
Kerpen later reinvented itself as a centre for logistics and into a giant shrine for its most famous son and is known throughout Germany as "Schumi Town". The town has a "Michael Schumacher Kart Centre" and a "World of the Schumachers" museum.
Angelika Buar, a 51-year-old Kerpen housewife, could not fathom what happened in Japan and like most stayed until the very end of the race to see if title rival Fernando Alonso might also have to retire.
"I'm still in a state of shock," she said. "I can only hope he'll win the next race and the championship. I have to keep telling myself that otherwise I'm afraid I'll get sick and vomit. He can still win. He can still win. He can still win."
Gabi Jinktner, a 45-year-old secretary holding a Schumacher doll in her arms, was also in tears.
"I'm not going to watch Formula One anymore," she said. "It's not his fault the engine failed. He's the best driver ever. I can't bear to watch it anymore without him in it."