The Brazilian Grand Prix will do more than crown a Formula One champion on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso will be lifting the drivers' championship trophy when the season-ending race is over, but they won't be the only ones attracting attention in Sao Paulo.
Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher is retiring again, while 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton will be driving his last race for McLaren before moving to Mercedes in 2013.
Vettel brings a 13-point lead into Brazil, meaning a fourth-place finish will be enough to give the 25-year-old Red Bull driver his third straight title. If that happens, Vettel will join Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the only drivers to win three championships in a row.
If Vettel is fourth and Alonso wins the race at the Interlagos track, both drivers will finish with 285 points, but the German will secure the title because he has more wins than Alonso — five to three. Vettel has finished fourth or better in 13 of the 19 races so far, including the last six.
Alonso and Ferrari have not been able to match the recent success of Vettel, who earned four of his victories in the second half of the season, but the Spaniard has been consistent in the last races, finishing on the podium in six of the final seven events.
"We know it will be difficult for us, but we are confident," Alonso said. "We must do our utmost, concentrating on ourselves and making no mistakes and then we can see what Vettel has done. It's been a championship of highs and lows for everyone, but now we can only be perfect."
Alonso, trying to add to his titles in 2005 and 2006, is hoping for a reversal of roles from the 2010 season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, when he was the one with a lead but came out empty-handed in the end.
"In 2010 the situation was reversed so I hope that once again the outcome goes in favor of the one who is behind at the moment," he said. "I think we can sleep more easily than our rivals. We have a lot to gain and little to lose and for them it's the opposite."
Schumacher will be putting an end to his career again after three struggling years with Mercedes following his return from retirement. He is only 15th in the drivers' championship this season.
Schumacher left F1 in 2006 after losing the title to Alonso at the finale in Interlagos, then returned to action in 2010 without managing more than a third-place finish, which was achieved at the European GP this season.
"My departure from Formula One will probably be less emotional for me this time than in 2006, when we were still fighting for the championship and everything was much more intense," Schumacher said. "I will be able to pay more attention to my farewell and hopefully savor it too. I have had fantastic years in Formula One and a lot of support from fans around the world."
Hamilton, the driver replacing Schumacher at Mercedes next season, stunned F1 with two great seasons in 2007 and '08 but was not able to stay competitive and meet expectations after that.
"As my final race behind the wheel of a McLaren, I vow to the whole team that I'll give it my all on every single lap," he said. "My win in Austin last week was one of the races of my life, and I'd love to take victory in Brazil this weekend to give the team the perfect farewell present."
Hamilton said "Brazil has been the scene of some epic races" for him during his time at McLaren, but Interlagos remains a track where he has never won.
"For many reasons, this weekend will be a very big race for me. I nearly won the title here in 2007, clinched it on the final turn in '08 and drove like crazy to finish on the podium in '09," he said. "But I've never won, and that's what I'll be aiming to do this time around."
Mexican Sergio Perez, currently with Sauber, will take over Hamilton's seat at McLaren next season.
It will be the sixth time since 2005 that the F1 season will be decided at the Brazilian GP. Alonso hopes to be the one celebrating in Sao Paulo again this time.
"There are 71 laps to go (to) decide the final outcome," Alonso said. "The efforts of several months will all come down to a very short space of time."
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