The 2012 Formula One season concludes this weekend with the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Heading into the final round of F1's record 20-grand prix schedule this year, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel holds a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Vettel is attempting to win his third consecutive world championship, which would make him just the third driver in the sport's 63-year history to accomplish the feat. Juan Manuel Fangio won four titles in a row from 1954-77, and Michael Schumacher captured five straight from 2000-04.
Vettel will clinch the championship if he finishes fourth or better in the Brazilian GP, regardless of where Alonso finishes. Vettel will also be guaranteed the title if he places either fifth, sixth or seven and Alonso does not win the race. Alonso must finish on the podium (third-place or better). If he doesn't, Vettel will win the championship no matter where he places.
Vettel has placed no worse than fourth in the last four Brazilian GPs. The 25-year-old German won the race in 2010 and finished second in it last year.
"I think the circuit seemed to suit our car in previous years," Vettel said. "I think we need to confirm it. So all eyes on Friday (practice), to start the weekend and to get into the groove. I think we can be as confident as we could in this stage. We know there is a lot ahead, but we are in a great position."
Vettel has finished on the podium in the last six grand prix. He won in Singapore, Japan, Korea and India before placing third in Abu Dhabi earlier this month and then second in last Sunday's United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Red Bull wrapped up its third straight constructors' title in Austin.
Alonso will clinch his third F1 world championship if he wins the Brazilian GP and Vettel finishes fifth or lower. Alonso will also capture the title if he places second and Vettel is eighth or worse, or if he finishes third and Vettel is 10th or lower. The Spaniard's first two titles came consecutively from 2005-06 when he drove for Renault.
"I will treat this as a normal weekend, trying to score as many points as we can," Alonso said. "It would be good to finish on the podium to score a minimum of 15 points, and then when we cross the line, we can see where Sebastian is and try to do the numbers. The podium and the chance to score more than 13 points is our first priority. What Red Bull does is not in our hands, but we don't have much to lose. We can only win, so we will try and do our best."
If both drivers were to conclude the season tied in points, Vettel would win the championship by virtue of his five wins compared to Alonso's three. Alonso has not won a grand prix since July 22 in Germany.
Two years ago, Alonso entered the season-finale, which was held in Abu Dhabi, with an eight-point lead over Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber. Vettel trailed by 14 points.
Vettel won in Abu Dhabi one week after taking the checkered flag in Brazil. Alonso finished seventh and Webber eighth, allowing Vettel to capture the championship by four points over Alonso and 14 ahead of Webber.
Could this be the year that Alonso leapfrogs Vettel to take the title.
"This is Formula One and anything can happen right to the checkered flag," Alonso said. "We will try and do the best we can and try to cross the line on the podium. If we win, we will be very happy, but we know we need some strange combination of a result. If we don't win, we will congratulate (Vettel) and try again next year."
Vettel echoed the same sentiment.
"I think anything can happen," he said. "We have been in the game long enough to know how quickly the winds can change, not only for us but also for our competitors. What we have to do is go into the race as focused and as determined as we were (last) weekend. We have to squeeze everything possible out of the race."
This weekend's Brazilian GP, contested on the 2.677-mile, 15-turn Interlagos circuit, will not only decide the drivers' title but feature the last race for seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher and the final event for Lewis Hamilton as a McLaren driver. After the season concludes, Schumacher is retiring from the sport, while Hamilton will take over his ride at Mercedes.
Schumacher has been with Mercedes since he came out of his first retirement in 2010. The 43-year-old German has struggled in his three years with the team, recording only one podium finish -- a third-place run in this year's European Grand Prix. He has finished 11th or worse in the last six races.
"Interlagos is the right place to round off my career, because so much of the fascination of Formula One is rooted there," Schumacher said. "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. This time round, I will be able to pay more attention to my farewell and hopefully savor it."
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 titleholder, has been with McLaren since his 2007 rookie season, scoring 21 victories, including four this year. The Brit is currently fourth in the point standings (-83). He won in Austin.
"It's quite a unique experience for me," Hamilton said. "I've obviously never been in the situation I'm in this weekend, where it's my last race for the team I grew up in. It's going to be a tough one. Nonetheless, we're going to push as hard as we can, as we did in the last race, and try to win. I've never won here before."
Mexico's Sergio Perez will replace Hamilton and team with Jenson Button at McLaren next year. Perez is in his second season in F1, driving for Sauber.
Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, Nov. 25. Race: Brazilian Grand Prix. Site: Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Interlagos. Track: 2.677-mile (5.470-kilometer), 15-turn road course. Start Time: 11 a.m. (et). Laps: 71. Miles: 190.067 (305.909 km). 2011 Winner: Mark Webber. Television: Speed.