Lewis Hamilton will start the first race of his championship parade from pole position after he avoided sanction for a near-miss during qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
On virtually the identical piece of Interlagos tarmac where he passed Timo Glock to sensationally win his maiden title here a decade ago, there was further drama for Hamilton on Saturday.
At first, it appeared as though the Mercedes star was at fault. In attempting to jump out of Sergey Sirotkin’s way, he inadvertently drove into the Russian’s path with the pair only inches away from a 150mph shunt.
Sirotkin turned sharply to his left, narrowly avoiding Hamilton’s Silver Arrows, before running over the grass on the exit of Turn 11.
Given the speed at which Sirotkin approached Hamilton’s Mercedes, the initial evidence suggested the Williams driver was on a flying lap, and Hamilton was caught napping.
But both parties later confirmed that the rookie Russian was, like Hamilton, only preparing for a speedy run.
As such, Hamilton was not summoned to the stewards, with the five-time world champion instead pointing the finger at Sirotkin for reckless driving.
“As far as I was aware no driver behind me was on a quick lap,” Hamilton said.
“I was making sure I had the gap to the driver in front, but then all of a sudden I saw a car coming out of Turn 11 at high speed so I was like ‘oh my God is that someone on a flying lap?’
“I moved to the left and that was where he decided to go. He wasn’t on a quick lap so I don’t know what his thinking was.
“It was quite a disrespectful move in the sense that it was dangerous. It was kind of strange and completely unnecessary.”
Hamilton’s high-speed run-in with the Williams came during the second phase of qualifying as drops of rain threatened to have an impact on the result.
In the end, the wet weather stayed away, and Hamilton did what he always seems to do, pulling a lap out of nowhere to claim his 10th pole of the season when it was Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel who seemed to hold the advantage.
Vettel qualified second, just 0.093 seconds adrift of Hamilton, and late on Saturday evening avoided a penalty for the race despite bizarrely losing his cool when he was called to the weighbridge in his Ferrari.
Keen to get back on track in the fight for pole, Vettel angrily gesticulated with the officials before he drove off at speed and broke the scales.
“They shouldn’t call us when the conditions are changing like that,” Vettel said. “It’s unfair and I wanted them to hurry up.”
The German was handed a £22,000 fine and a reprimand, but stays on the front row alongside Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas starts third for Mercedes as the Silver Arrows bid to become only the second team in history to win five consecutive constructors’ championships.
Ferrari must outscore them by 13 points on Sunday to take the team fight on to the final race in Abu Dhabi. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth.
It is 12 long years since Fernando Alonso won the last of his two titles at Interlagos, but in the penultimate race of an F1 career which has fizzled out since he re-joined McLaren in 2015, the Spaniard finished a miserable 18th.
The year started with great hope for the Woking marque after they pushed through a divorce from Honda to team up with Renault power.
But Britain’s most decorated Formula One outfit – indeed the team to have won more races in Brazil than any other – are in freefall with Alonso’s team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne, last of the 20 runners.