In the 1990 Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder, Robert Duvall's character Harry Hogge quips about being on the edge of out of control. It's pure Hollywood, but it's also the most apt description for the 95 minutes of pressure, adrenaline, anxiety, dismay and - finally - elation that clinched Lewis Hamilton's first world drivers' championship title at Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
In the two weeks following China, the Brazilian race had been billed as a mouthwatering grand finale to a thrillingly close season. In terms of exciting competition, that is often the kiss of death for a major sporting event. Football World Cup finals, in particular, invariably promise enterprising and attacking football from the two best teams in the world - only to settle into the familiar pattern of dour defence, cautious control and risk-free play when the action begins.
Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton © XPB
McLaren offered no excuse for their defensive approach in preparation for Interlagos, nor should they have. For the second year in a row, the drivers' championship was theirs to win or lose at the final race. After the disastrous failure of 2007, the Woking outfit clearly had their fill of the unexpected and would settle happily for the most uneventful and predictable of races - as long as Hamilton finished fifth or higher to clinch the title.
From replacing every part that the regulations allow on Hamilton's car, to race distance runs with duplicate engines on the test bench, to analysing every possible strategic combination of fuel load, tyres, traffic and race order, they approached the weekend with the level of thoroughness that few other teams can muster. Yet, even with such exhaustive preparation and planning, the race threatened to slip inexorably from their grasp and direct control.