And so it was the outsider once again, as it had been last time three drivers went into the Formula 1 season finale all with a chance of lifting the title, with Kimi Raikkonen
coming out of almost nowhere to clinch his first drivers' crown, Lewis Hamilton
seeing his championship dreams crumble into dust and McLaren
– almost inconceivably – losing it all.
Raikkonen's glory was unexpected, as he had entered the weekend with only the tiniest glimmer of sealing the laurels, but having three times finished second at Interlagos the Finn was finally to enjoy his day in the sun. The 28-year-old's sixth victory of the season – the most of anyone in 2007 – would prove to be the most crucial triumph of the campaign.
With the tension mounting before the start, Hamilton appeared to be relaxation personified, chatting away with brother Nick and giving away few clues that this was quite probably the biggest day of his life. If anything, it was his father Anthony who looked more nervous, aware of the magnitude of the occasion.
There were, though, a number of variables. Aside from Interlagos' challenging nature, there were serious concerns about the durability of Bridgestone's super-soft rubber, an uphill start and the notoriously tricky first corner. Then there was Hamilton, supremely confident pole-sitter Massa who had vowed to leave the title contenders trailing in his wheeltracks, Alonso admitting to being on the same strategy as his team-mate but with an older engine in his MP4-22 and Raikkonen…well, Raikkonen not giving very much away at all.
There were precedents, too. The last time three drivers went into the final race all in with a shout of the crown, at Adelaide in 1986, the erstwhile championship leader – Nigel Mansell – suffered a tyre blow-out that shattered his title dream. It was too close to call. And then the lights went out…
…The outside line proved the place to be at the start, as Raikkonen sling-shot past Hamilton and tucked in behind team-mate Massa in perfect scarlet choreography. Raikkonen cutting in, though, forced Hamilton to momentarily lift his foot off the throttle, which allowed Alonso too to get a run down the inside of him into turn two, and the Spaniard aggressively forced his way past, the pair almost touching in the process.
Further back down the field Heikki Kovalainen
tagged the back of Ralf Schumacher's Toyota
and went off, while Giancarlo Fisichella
would make it a dreadful opening lap for reigning world champions Renault
by running off-piste a matter of corners later and rejoining the track only to be collected heavily by the unsighted Spyker of Sakon Yamamoto. Vitantonio Liuzzi
also peeled into the pits for a new nose cone, ensuring it was an incident-strewn opening lap.
Turn four, though would witness even greater drama still, as Hamilton attempted to reclaim third place from Alonso, only to run wide and slip back down to eighth. Within a lap he had regained seventh from Jarno Trulli
and set about chasing down the BMWs ahead, only to almost go off again when he got caught out behind Nick Heidfeld. Worse, though, far worse, lay just around the corner.
With Massa and Raikkonen pulling effortlessly away at the front and leaving Alonso fading in their wake, Robert Kubica
found a way past the sprightly Mark Webber
for fourth, but the major drama was Hamilton suddenly slowing as his engine cut out. With the McLaren
engineers frantically on the radio to him and all looking lost, the #2 machine suddenly kicked into life again, but the Briton had lost a whole half a minute – and twelve positions – in the process.