Lewis Hamilton heads into the Mexican Grand Prix with an excellent chance of clinching the drivers' title with two races to spare. However, Sebastian Vettel is determined to battle to the bitter end.
The British Mercedes driver goes into the third-last race of the season on Sunday needing only to finish in fifth place or better to clinch his fourth F1 drivers' championship.
The now 32-year-old Hamilton has come a long way since 2008, when he was overjoyed at winning his first F1 title – by finishing fifth in the last race of the season. At this stage of his career, he won't be satisfied with the bare minimum.
"I plan to win. I'm not here for anything else but No. 1," Hamilton told a Wednesday press conference in Mexico City.
"I was just thinking about it as I was walking in here. It is true that I only need to finish fifth. But I thought, I think to myself, 'How would I feel if I was to finish fifth and win the world championship?' It wouldn't feel great."
However, far from being overconfident, Hamilton said that despite his 66-point advantage over his closest rival, Ferrari's German driver, Sebastian Vettel, he was prepared for a tough contest.
"It's going to be difficult, I think ... a lot closer between Red Bull and Ferrari and us," he said. "But I love that. And so I'm hoping that if I'm able to drive like I did in the last race, last week, I think it could be a good weekend."
'It's not over'
For his part, Vettel, who by finishing second in Austin stopped Hamilton from clinching the title last weekend, has not given up hope of coming from behind to claim his fifth drivers' championship.
"It's not over," Vettel said. "It's not in our hands as much as we'd like, but we want to win the last three races."
However, as Vettel and his Ferrari team are well aware, even if he were to win all three, he would still need Hamilton to stumble for him to have a chance at the title.
Assuming Hamilton does clinch it on Sunday, he will join some elite company, equaling the four career drivers' championships won by both Vettel and Alain Prost. Only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) have won more career titles.
Difficult time for host nation
Apart from the possible crowning of a new champion, this weekend's event will also provide Mexican F1 fans with a welcome distraction from the September 19 earthquake that caused much destruction and claimed the lives of more than 200 people.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez became a staging area for relief supplies in the aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude quake and Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who was in his hometown of Guadalajara when it struck, quickly donated $165,000 (€140,000) to victims.
This weekend, Rodriquez is to wear a special helmet with a map of Mexico and the earthquake zone depicted on top with the phrase "Todo Mexico Unido! (All of Mexico united!)"
"It's been a very tough couple of months for my country. What happened was horrible, but it was amazing to me not just how Mexico responded but the whole world," Perez said on Thursday.
A total of more than 300,000 spectators are expected to attend practice and qualifying, followed by Sunday's race.
pfd/mf (AP, dpa, Reuters)