Poignantly, round 15 took place at the revised Nürburgrung, and marked both F1's and Lauda's first return to the scene of his infamous 1976 accident. In typically no-nonsense fashion Lauda declared himself untroubled by the sentimental weight of the past, but he delivered a subdued performance – qualifying 15th and taking fourth place for his lowest finish of the season while Prost streaked to victory, setting up a championship showdown at Estoril.
Four times Formula One had seen the title settled by a one point margin, most recently then when Nelson Piquet pipped Carlos Reutemann to the 1981 championship, but the statistical quirk of Prost's 4.5 points for his half-distance Monaco win meant that there were multiple permutations that could see the closest finish to a championship in F1 history. Both Prost and Lauda had lost out on a championship at the final round before, but Lauda held the advantage heading to Portugal: finish second, and the Austrian would be guaranteed of becoming Formula One's third three-time champion.
Despite only qualifying 11th, with Prost starting second to pole-sitter Piquet, Lauda was, as so often that season, able to climb his way through the field during the race through a combination of attrition, aggressive overtaking, wily racecraft and the outright speed of the McLaren. When Nigel Mansell spun out of second place with 18 laps to go, Lauda inherited the position he needed to take the title, irrespective of Prost's victory. The Frenchman won the battle but lost the war, beating Lauda home by 13 seconds but losing out on the title by the narrowest margin in Formula One history – just half a point.
Had the race in Monaco run to full distance and Prost finished only second, the title would still have been his. Instead he suffered the agony of last-race heartbreak for the second consecutive year, despite taking seven victories to Lauda's five. The denouement looked to confirm Prost's destiny as F1's perennial 'nearly man'. He had taken 16 wins across five seasons since his debut, more than any other driver during that period (including double World Champion Nelson Piquet), yet had been unable to clinch the title his burgeoning talents so clearly deserved.
Given that Lauda would only beat Prost on the road twice in trouble-free races all season, it was sheer consistency that hauled him back in to contention, and his third title, especially one taken by fighting the fading of the light against a rival approaching the prime of his career, secured his place among the all-time greats of F1.
So what portents from 1984 can be applied to 2014? Lauda's powers of recovery from lowly grid positions, reversal of fortunes in the luck stakes through the second half of the season and ability to capitalise whenever his team-mate suffered misfortune are attributes that Lewis Hamilton would love to carry through to the end of the year as he chases down the faster-starting Nico Rosberg.
If the 2014 season does go to the wire, it will be double points rather than half points for which the conclusion will be remembered – but the stakes will be equally high for two team-mates in a league of their own. For Mercedes, this season is already a cakewalk to team success in the Constructors' standings, but the battle between their drivers promises to be as fiercely fought to the bitter end as that between Prost and Lauda thirty years ago.