Sebastien Ogier was set for a seventh world rally title in eight years after championship-leading Toyota team mate Elfyn Evans crashed in the season-ending Monza Rally on Saturday.
The Frenchman, who was leading by 20 seconds after 11 of 16 stages, must still finish in the top three to overhaul Evans' 14 point lead.
Evans had hoped to become the third Briton, and first Welshman, to win the title after the late Colin McRae in 1995 and Richard Burns in 2001.
The wrc.com website reported that Evans went off on a snowy stage 11 with the crew unhurt but the Toyota Yaris unable to get back on the road.
"It was incredible, there is nothing Elfyn could do. I am very sorry for him. The championship is not over," said Ogier after negotiating the stage.
Team boss and retired four times world champion Tommi Makinen commiserated with the Welshman.
"Elfyn handled it very well and had an incredible drive. It's so difficult to understand what is the correct speed in these kinds of conditions," he said. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Ken Ferris)