Lewis Hamilton will start the Brazilian GP from pole position after edging out team-mate Jenson Button by less than a tenth of a second as McLaren locked out the front-row at Interlagos.
But even the sight of Hamilton securing pole for what will be - at least for now - his final race in McLaren colours was not sufficient to divert attention for long from the anguished travails of Fernando Alonso as the title-chasing Spaniard slumped to seventh - three places behind his World Championship rival Sebastian Vettel.
Already facing an uphill challenge to wrestle the title out of the Red Bull driver's grasp, Ferrari's acute shortage of pace was laid bare as Alonso barely squeaked into the final segment of a qualifying hour which started in damp conditions but ended with Vettel as red-hot favourite to claim the title.
Painfully short of firepower, the Spaniard's only realistic hope of usurping his Red Bull rival appears to rest on the forecast rain for race day. "We need a chaotic race to mix a little bit the positions and maybe the rain can help," acknowledged the Spaniard as he reflected on yet another chastening Saturday for his team.
All season long, Ferrari have lacked single-lap pace, but at Interlagos their shortcomings have seemed even more pronounced than normal with at least five cars apparently boasting superior speed to Alonso's charger.
In a straight fight, Alonso's F2012 looks to be desperately lacking downforce and raw pace - although, perhaps mindful that the Brazilian will line up alongside Vettel, the Scuderia have ruled out repeating their desperate measure ahead of last Sunday's United States GP when Massa was deliberately demoted in order to propel Alonso up the grid.
Alonso has, however, been promoted a place closer to Vettel and the podium he requires to have any chance of winning the title after a third reprimand of the season for Pastor Maldonado triggered a ten-place grid penalty.
Nonetheless, there was no disguising Ferrari's problems and the Scuderia were fortunate that Romain Grosjean added another moment to forget to his catalogue of 2012 video nasties by tangling unnecessarily with Pedro de la Rosa.
The result was catastrophic for the Frenchman with his Lotus scattering parts across the Interlagos circuit and unable to proceed through Q1. Had he done so, one of the two Ferraris - who snuck through to the top-ten shootout in ninth and tenth position - would surely have been eliminated.
At the front, meanwhile, Hamilton was in the mood and in the groove. With his future decided, the 2008 World Champion is ending the season in resplendent fashion, and the 26th pole position of his career was a fair reward for a peerless performance through the rest of the weekend.
"It's so exciting when you come over the line and get pole," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 after his lap of 1:12.458 proved just enough to defeat Button. "Brazil is very special but this is one of those great races which I haven't won before and I would love to do so. I've put myself in the best position to do that."
Hamilton, who just gets better and better for McLaren as he moves closer and closer to their exit door, is ending the season in arguably the best form of his career and has been the dominant on-track protagonist ever since F1 took residence in the Sao Paulo suburbs.
But his duel with Button, who had belatedly found form and balance earlier in the day during Practice Three, proved to be closer than generally expected, with Jenson just 0.05 seconds slower than his team-mate as the session reached a multi-faceted conclusion which saw Vettel narrowly supplanted by team-mate Mark Webber, Massa climb to fifth and even the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg jump ahead of Alonso.
"If you were writing a script to make it as dramatic as you possibly could, you couldn't have a qualifying like that and now there's the expectation of a wet race as well," remarked Sky F1's Damon Hill. "It's going to be a seat-of-the-pants show for us but a really hairy moment for the two title contenders."
The Spaniard has it all to do, but then when hasn't he? And if the rain falls, hope will spring eternal from the Sao Paulo skies.