The 2012 world drivers' championship will go down to the wire at next weekend's season-ending formula one race in Brazil, with Lewis Hamilton spoiling Sebastian Vettel's title party by winning a thrilling United States Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Briton, who started second on the grid in Texas on Sunday in his McLaren alongside the defending champion, made the most of his superior outright speed to pass Vettel on lap 42 and claim the 21st victory of his career.
For Vettel it was a personal disappointment, but not enough to prevent his Red Bull team winning the constructors' title for the third successive season.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari finished third after starting seventh on the grid - after his team's tactical decision to break Felipe Massa's gearbox seal - and his podium finish ensured the title battle would not be decided until the Sao Paulo GP.
Vettel goes to Interlagos with a lead of 13 points - 273 points compared to Alonso's 260. The 25-year-old German would be just the third driver to win three consecutive titles, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, and become the youngest winner of three crowns.
Alonso, 31, won titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault.
Hamilton, who leaves McLaren for Mercedes next year, was intent on delivering another win for the team before his departure and seized his fourth win this year in the first F1 race on American soil since 2007.
Amazingly, it was the first time F1's best three drivers of the current crop had shared a podium and, to mark the Texan location, all three wore Stetson hats as they celebrated.
Interviewed by the 1978 world champion, American Mario Andretti, Hamilton said: ''First-time winner. I'm so happy. The fans were amazing, thank you. It was such a warm welcome and one of the best, if not the best, race of the year - especially for me and the team.
''It's been a long time since we had a win. I'm so proud of the team and grateful for the support we've had.''
Vettel said Hamilton had one chance and he took it.
''It was a tough race, but it was a great race,'' the German said.
''I did my first race, five years ago, in the United States. It's nice to come back for my 100th GP.
''I'm happy for the team - we won the constructors' championship, so thanks to all of you.
''Now we have another step to make in Brazil. In terms of the championship, it's looking a bit better after today.''
In front of a sell-out crowd of 135,000 at the new Circuit of the Americas and under a solid blue sky, Vettel made a near-perfect start to pull clear from his 36th pole position and into the lead with Red Bull teammate Webber advancing to second behind him.
Hamilton, starting second, struggled with lack of grip on the slippery side of the track and could not defend against Webber, but stayed third.
Vettel was unable to shake off his pursuers. Webber, racing in third, had the task of defending Vettel's position, but his race ended after 17 laps due to gearbox failure.
By lap 34, Hamilton had closed to within two car lengths of Vettel.
The Briton tantalised Vettel and the crowd by setting up a passing move on lap 42 when the German could not resist him and Hamilton dummied one way and then passed him on the outside.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished in 12th position. AFP-AP