Juan Montoya may have won the Brazilian Grand Prix, beating McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen to the line to end the team's 1-2 drought, but the accolades at Interlagos were mainly directed at Fernando Alonso, whose third place was enough to make him the youngest-ever world champion.

Montoya led from almost from start to finish, headed initially by poleman Alonso and then only seeing Raikkonen ease ahead owing to their different strategies. Alonso, meanwhile, ran second having been passed by Montoya at an early restart, before eventually succumbing to Raikkonen's charge from fifth on the grid. Secure in third, however, the Spaniard was able to take a risk-free approach to ending his year's ambition, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari too far adrift to be in a position to steal away the podium finish required to end the title race in Brazil.

In truth, the race was largely uneventful, perhaps symbolising the anti-climactic end to the title fight itself, with action at start and finish to provide talking points, and little else of note - save Tiago Monteiro's first F1 retirement - in the middle.

The 71-lap event began with a bang - literally. Barely had the tension on the grid finished crackling as the cars set off for the first lap than the pitwall was treated to a close-up view of both Williams-BMWs heading into apparent retirement, along with David Coulthard's Red Bull-Cosworth.

The Scot had made a good start from his 15th grid slot behind the two white machines, and thought he spotted a gap between them as the field headed into turn one. Unfortunately, he had misread Antonio Pizzonia's trajectory and, as the Brazilian edged across the road, DC's front wheel caught the Brazilian's rear, turning the Williams through 90-degrees - and directly into Mark Webber's similar car.

The Australian had been largely minding his own business after what he had described as an 'okay' start, and was at least able to limp back to the pits as his assailants parked up and pulled out. On returning to pit-lane, reporting bodywork damage, however, Webber's car promptly caught light, and it was only swift work by the Williams crew that allowed work to be carried out and the Australian to return to race in the hope of salvaging a half-decent qualifying slot for Suzuka.

The widespread amount of debris coating the start-finish straight naturally prompted the arrival of the safety car, Alonso's early lead negated as the marshals did their work. The Spaniard had made a good getaway to lead Montoya into the Senna S for the first time, while Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella quelled an early uprising from Raikkonen, as the Finn attempted to use the kerb and more to steal third. The Italian's defence only held for a short while, however, as his compromised line saw him run wide a couple of corners later, with Michael Schumacher also able to take advantage and pinch fourth place.

Quick work by the track staff saw the safety car ready to withdraw by the end of lap two, and Alonso played the restart to perfection, bunching the field behind him and then flooring it past the pits to open up a handy advantage into the first corner. His pace, however, was a little too much for the left-hander and, as the Renault washed wide, Montoya was straight back on its tail. The Colombian had to wait until turn four to make the move stick, but the shape of the race was determined there and then, as Alonso ceded meekly, one eye already on the title permutations.

Further back, Raikkonen found himself too far back to also take advantage of the leader's error, but had enough in hand to keep out of the reach of the battle for fourth, which was settled in Fisichella's favour as Schumacher's Ferrari struggled to get heat back into its Bridgestones after the safety car period.

Jenson Button held an early sixth, having lost out to Raikkonen and Schumacher in the early going, and the BAR driver was already seeing the effect of his compromised straight-line speed, with Christian Klien heading a train that swarmed over the rear of the Honda-powered machine. Behind the Austrian, so impressive for sixth in qualifying, Rubens Barrichello ran in the final point-paying position, ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Felipe Massa, while Takuma Sato showed that starting from the back of the pack had not been too much of a disadvantage as he slotted into eleventh. Jacques Villeneuve and Tiago Monteiro, who had both started from the pits after unrelated problems post-qualifying, brought up the rear of the already reduced field.

As Montoya eased away on the back of successive fastest laps, Raikkonen appeared to be closing in on Alonso for second. In truth, the Renault was just going through a cautious period while its handling optimised, and the slide backwards was quickly halted. After that, the two title protagonists ran at roughly the same pace, leaving any swap of positions to be determined by their relative strategies.

As it was, Alonso blinked first, the Spaniard having to make his first call for fuel on lap 22, only five after lightest starter Felipe Massa had started the trend. The Renault crew turned its charge around with the minimum of fuss, but the stop dropped him to sixth on the road. Raikkonen now knew that he had to push to make the most of his heavier fuel load, and immediately upped his pace by nearly a couple of seconds a lap, closing in on the leader as he did so.

The Finn turned out to be one of the last to stop - only Villeneuve, Trulli and Sato, penalised all, were later - and, once again, McLaren's tactic - and the pace of its MP4-20 - worked to perfection. Raikkonen inherited the lead of the race when Montoya made his stop on lap 28, and held it for three more tours before having to make his own pit visit. The extra track time was enough, however, to return the Finn to the track in second place, and with a buffer over the championship leader.

Alonso, meanwhile, had climbed back to third spot as those ahead of him stopped, enough for him to be crowned in Brazil should the Renault make it to the end. The regie's hopes of limiting McLaren's gain on it in the constructors' series, however, took a minor blow, as Fisichella also lost out in the pits, this time allowing Schumacher back into a fourth place he would not lose.

Sato, still not having stopped, was now into sixth, ahead of team-mate Button, who found himself sandwiched by late-stoppers as Trulli moved into the final points slot. The loser in all this appeared to be Klien, the Austrian's RB1 unfortunately living up to his prediction that it would not be as impressive in the race as in qualifying as he dropped to tenth.

Robert Doornbos had joined the list of retirements by the time Villeneuve and Sato completed the first round of stops, the Dutchman a victim of an oil leak as he returned his smoking Minardi to the garage. With Webber having returned to the fray after the replacement of a right-rear wishbone and the engine cover on his FW27, the number of retirements became important to the Williams team but, sadly for the Australian, there was to be just one more - and not soon enough for him to make up enough ground to avoid another early run in Japan.

Equally sadly for all concerned in the Jordan camp, the fifth and final non-finisher turned out to be Monteiro. Another to impress in qualifying as he earned an eventual twelfth place, the Portuguese was hoping to make it 17 successive finishes - a record for rookies and close to Michael Schumacher's all-time mark - but the EJ15B was spotted slowing in the technical section, ironically where it had so excelled on Saturday.

By this stage, just over halfway through the 71 laps, the race had settled down into something of a high-speed procession, with just close battles between Button and Barrichello and Klien and Schumacher Jr to keep a smidgeon of interest alive. Of course, the unknown of possible mistakes or mechanical problems that would affect the outcome of the championship continued to bubble under, but both Renault and McLaren had prepared cars - and race plans - that ensured all four of their collective entries would make it to the flag.

With Alonso holding a comfortable third place, not threatening the two McLarens out front, but equally untroubled by Schumacher's Ferrari 16secs behind, the title appeared to be heading to Enstone and Asturias. That, however, left an intriguing dilemma out front, as McLaren undoubtedly pondered its alternatives.

If Alonso was going to retain third to the flag, as appeared likely, the Woking team was happy to see its two drivers scrap for the win, constructors' points in mind of course. But, if the Renault were to break, Raikkonen needed to be engineered into the lead, as he was at Spa two weeks previously, albeit an ethos that Ron Dennis and co countenanced with caution.

As it was, it became clear that Alonso was going to make it to the flag and, despite Raikkonen again running far longer than Montoya, assuming the lead of the race and then exiting the pits all but side-by-side with the Colombian, the Finn again appeared to have to settle for second at Interlagos. That didn't prevent him from trying to pressure Montoya into an error - well, if lesser lights had already managed it this season.... - but the Colombian, sporting a one-off helmet design for the weekend - was unbreakable, handing his raucous supporters a well-deserved win.

Alonso duly claimed third - and the world crown - fittingly coming home ahead of the man whose long reign he ended, as Schumacher took fourth. Fisichella claimed fifth for Renault, but that was not enough to prevent McLaren from seizing the lead of the constructors' championship - and keeping some interest flowing into the final two rounds.

Barrichello was sixth, the last unlapped runner, as he signed off his Ferrari career in front of his loyal home crowd, while Button and Schumacher Jr completed the scorers. Klien, to his dismay, had to settle for ninth, one spot ahead of the recovering Sato.

The scenes on the podium highlighted the mix of emotions flowing through the three men present: Montoya happy to have beaten his team-mate in a straight fight after several races of playing a subtle second fiddle; Raikkonen drained by the spectre of another lost title race, and Alonso, ecstatic at finally crossing the most distant finishing line of all, submerged in a shower of ticker tape.