Nico Rosberg is poised to join an illustrious club this weekend if he can complete a hat-trick of wins at the Brazilian Grand Prix and secure his maiden Formula One drivers’ World Championship.
The 31-year-old German has a 19-points lead ahead of his Mercedes team-mate and rival defending champion Briton Lewis Hamilton in the title race with two races remaining.
Victory on Sunday in what is sure to be one of the most dramatic and tense races of the year will lift him beyond the reach of the three-time champion and end his dogged pursuit of the glory he prefers not to mention.
He won in Brazil in both 2014 and 2015, but missed out on the championship each time as Hamilton claimed the titles. This time, he knows it's different, even if he prefers not to talk about it – concentrating instead on treating each race the same.
Victory this time would gain him entry to the sport’s ‘hall of champions’ in which he would emulate the feat of his father Keke, the original ‘flying Finn’, who won the drivers’ title in 1982.
Hamilton, who clinched his first title by taking fifth place in a nail-biting final lap at the 4.3-kms Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in 2008, knows that he has to win – and then hope that Rosberg has an off day and misses out on a podium finish.
That would ensure the title race continued down to the wire at the final race in Abu Dhabi at the end of this month (November).
But the Englishman, who has experienced a desperate triumph and dramatic defeat at the atmospheric track cut in to a hillside in the sprawling Interlagos suburb of Sao Paulo, has won the last two races and is driving with a freedom that comes from a sense of resignation.
Hamilton, who has never won in Brazil, knows that he has to be at his best only to keep his hopes alive – and then wait and see how Rosberg performs.
“It’s great for me to be performing as I know I can perform,” he said, after his 51st career win at the Mexican Grand Prix on October 30. “But I am fighting for something now and I don’t really know if I’ll be able to make it.
“It’s definitely an unusual scenario for me to be in so I’ve just got to push all the way to the end…One way, it can be painful. Another way, it can be a great thing.
“All I know is that right to the last minute things can change and that’s why I can’t give up.”
Since 2004, the championship has been decided in Brazil six times, but only once has the race winner been champion – when Finn, Kimi Raikkonen took the title with a late-season surge to beat rookie Hamilton in 2007.
In that season, Raikkonen turned a 17-points deficit into a title triumph in the final two wins.
“It wont be as painful again as that was,” said Hamilton, when asked to reflect on his title showdowns. “I’ve lost many races and championships in my career so it’s not like I’ve never experienced it.
“Right now, I know I’m in a scenario where I know there is more of a chance I will lose it than win it. That’s hard to swallow."
“But it is what it is and life will move on. I will move on. I’ve still got three titles so I just hope that next year I don’t have reliability problems.”
The contenders’ Mercedes team has made clear that the two title challengers will have equal support, machinery and power.
“As usual, we will do our very best to treat this as a normal race,” said technical chief Paddy Lowe. “We will be approaching the weekend with the highest levels of discipline and an overriding objective to ensure we provide both drivers with the best equipment for a fair competition.”
Team boss Toto Wolff said: “For Nico, all this talk of just needing to finish second, in order to make it to the end, is over.
“He has it in his hands. If he wins the race in Brazil, he is champion. We've seen many races, particularly in the second half of this season, where he has coped well under pressure.
“But, mentally, I think this new situation is actually a bit easier in terms of tackling the situation with a little less pressure as he still has another chance in Abu Dhabi.
“Equally, Lewis knows what he must do to keep his title hopes alive. He will never back down and that's what makes him one of the great ones.”
If Rosberg wins on Sunday, he will boost the number of champions on the grid this year from five to six for the final race in Abu Dhabi on November 27.
The race will mark the 13th and final home event for popular Brazilian Felipe Massa, winner of the 2008 champion when Hamilton took the title from him with his last lap surge.