Suzuka, Japan, Oct 5, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Sebastian Vettel needs just one point at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix to be confirmed the 2011 world champion and youngest back-to-back double winner in Formula One history.
But instead of playing it safe by cruising towards 10th place, the 24-year-old German, who has dominated this year's racing from the off, and his powerful Red Bull team are intending on going at full pelt.
"We always race to win," warned Red Bull boss Christian Horner.Vettel has won nine of the 14 races so far, taken 11 pole positions and amassed a staggering 309 points, a total that has left him with a lead of 124 ahead of his only remaining title rival, Briton Jenson Button of McLaren.
Only a Button victory, without Vettel scoring, can prevent the rapidly maturing German from lifting the crown again at one of F1's greatest venues and a circuit where many title battles of the past have been settled.
Button, who has made it clear he intends to make life as difficult as possible for the Red Bulls in Sunday's 53 laps at Suzuka, was boosted on Wednesday when it was announced that he had agreed a new contract with McLaren. "I've never felt more at home at a team than I do," said Button.
"I've won four of the greatest races of my life here, I'm currently lying second in the drivers' world championship and I feel that I'm driving better than ever."
He reiterated his determination to keep winning. "I've made no secret of my ambition to continue winning races and world championships and I fully believe this is the place where I can achieve those aims," he said.
And he also made clear he has no intention of allowing Vettel an easy ride. "We all want to keep him honest for as long as we can," said Button, knowing that his McLaren team-mate and fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton will be at his aggressive best, even if the title is out of reach.
"It was the best moment of my career when I won the drivers' world championship with this team," said Hamilton, reflecting on his breakthrough triumph in 2008.
"Jenson and I are as hungry and as ambitious as ever to win races and world championships in the future," Hamilton added.
Hamilton is likely to be studied carefully this weekend after his recent involvement in controversy at the Singapore Grand Prix, where he tangled twice, once in qualifying and then in the race, with Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari.
Since then all involved have tried to play down the aftermath of the incident, which saw Massa behave insultingly towards Hamilton during the post-race television interviews.
It was revealed also that Massa's race engineer Briton Rob Smedley had told his driver to "destroy Hamilton's race".
Another Massa-Hamilton tussle could make an intriguing sideshow.Suzuka, where the weather is changeable and high-speed figure-of-eight layout especially demanding, has conspired to deliver many memorable contests in the past and some unforgettable incidents.
Two of Formula One's greatest -- and perhaps most infamous -- races came at the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grand Prix and centred on the bitter rivalry of Frenchman Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna.
Both ended in huge controversy, collisions and uproar as the championships were settled.
Vettel will be hoping for a far more quiet day on the track. "I feel capable but I still have to do it," he said after Singapore.
"Yes, the statistics are on our side, but this story has to wait to be closed."