At moments under the Texan sun, with his foot to the floor, Lewis Hamilton pressed his case as the greatest performer his fast-living sport has ever known.
But, when the 56 laps of a pulsating, nail-biting, strategy-impinged US Grand Prix were over, he could not join the man he called Formula One’s godfather, Juan Manuel Fangio, as a five-times world champion. Not yet.
It was instead a moment for dejection at Mercedes, where they made a rare error in bringing him in early, and then keeping him out too long, thus costing him the title on the day.
There was a wonderful last duel, two laps from the end, when he fought for the second place he needed to bag the title against Max Verstappen, side-by-side, hearts-in-mouths.
But he could not quite summon the extra pace he needed to make the brave and battling move stick. Hamilton finished third and we roll on to Mexico for the next instalment.
Kimi Raikkonen won for Ferrari, Verstappen was second and Sebastian Vettel fourth and mathematically, though nothing more, still in the title hunt. He is 70 points adrift with 75 on offer.
‘I thought we could do better, but we have to keep pushing at the next race,’ said Hamilton. ‘I had way, way too far to go to get to the front. I don’t know what happened with the strategy.’
It was an afternoon to induce heart failure among partisans in the garage and the Union Jack-clad throng who teemed into the Lone Star State from Britain.
We first feared for Hamilton’s fate when the 33-year-old lost his first place off the grid to Raikkonen. That raised the possibility, much later borne out, that Vettel could scamper up from fifth to fourth and throw an unwanted number into the equation.
Nothing simple all afternoon. Vettel, who had passed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo for fourth on lap one, then immediately lost his shape, wobbled in his mind and made contact with the Australian as he tried to retain the place he had just surrendered. Vettel plummeted to 15th.
In fact, he did not need to pass Raikkonen to take the title. He only had to pass Verstappen – and hope Bottas could play the role of adequate rear-gunner.
This was the distilled fight. And with five laps remaining, the Hamilton-Verstappen gap was less than a second. Hamilton gave it a go. Verstappen was up to the task. Moments later, Vettel passed Bottas and the drama went out of it.
A word in passing of congratulation to Verstappen, who started 18th after a gearbox problem in qualifying. The cream rose to the top in this race.
Raikkonen, victorious for the first time since Australia in 2013, became the oldest race winner since Nigel Mansell in 1994.
But still, finger by finger, Hamilton is getting his fingers around the trophy.