An inquiry into the temperature of the petrol in the cars that finished fourth, fifth and sixth in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix briefly threw the outcome of the race and the final world championship standings into doubt late on Sunday night, opening the possibility that Lewis Hamilton might yet be handed the 2007 world championship.
A decision to exclude the Williams of Nico Rosberg and the Sauber-BMWs of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld from the results would have lifted Hamilton from seventh to fourth place, giving him the five points that would assure him of the title, by 112 points to Kimi Raikkonen's 110.
The petrol in the three cars was found to have been cooled to a temperature below the level --- 10 degrees beneath the ambient temperature --- permissible under formula one's regulations. The issue came to light during post-race scrutineering, but after five hours of deliberation it was decided that no action would be taken. Later Hamilton's McLaren team announced their intention to appeal against the decision.
Sunday was an extremely hot one in Sao Paulo, the temperature at the time of the start of the race reaching 36C. The race was won by Raikkonen, who also took his first world title as a result.
Hamilton left the track Sunday night before the news of the inquiry was made public, resigned to his failure to become the first rookie champion in formula one's history. "I am still quite happy," he said. "Who'd have thought I'd be ranked No.2 in my first season?" But he promised to come back next year, "fitter, relaxed and even stronger".
He briefly slid off the track during a hectic opening lap, dropping from fourth to eighth place, and then after recovering to sixth he lost a further 12 places on the eighth lap when his computer-controlled semi-automatic gearbox went into neutral, leaving him coasting around the back of the circuit as car after car flashed past.
In the 30 seconds it took for his team to work out how to resolve the problem --- they told him to reset the gearbox by depressing the clutch and selecting a lower gear --- his chance of glory had gone. "I haven't had time to analyse what went on," the British driver said.
"It was my mistake at the start. I locked up behind Fernando (Alonso) and I lost a couple of positions. I had the pace to get back but at turn four the car slammed into neutral and we don't know why yet."
When he got the car going again, he explained, "the team kept telling me on the radio that I could do it, and I believed that. I didn't give up until I saw the chequered flag. We've had a few tough weeks but the team did the best job we could and have done a fine job all year.”
"It's 22 weeks to the next race and I'll go into next season with my head held high," he said before disappearing into the towering embrace of the supermodel Naomi Campbell."