The Brazilian Grand Prix may no longer be the last race of the year, but with Jenson Button's 14 point strangle hold in the standings it could still see the crowning a new world champion.
The Interlagos circuit, officially called the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, has hosted the season finale for the previous three years, with at least the last two seeing thrilling title battle that (in the case of last year) were not decided until the final corners of the race.
And those events are surely not far from the minds of those whose own title fight for the title this weekend, and those who fought last year.
“Nobody on our team will ever forget the dramatic final laps of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix – they are memories that will live with us forever,” says McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh. Outgoing world champion Lewis Hamilton add, rather glibly “I'm really looking forward to this year's Brazilian Grand Prix – it will be the first time I've travelled to Sao Paulo without being in contention for the world championship, and I'm actually looking forward to taking in a bit more of the city and relaxing and enjoying the experience of driving on one of the world's greatest racetracks.”
But Hamilton will be the only part of last year's season climax in a car on Sunday. Felipe Massa continues to recover from his accident in Hungary, his Ferrari team now insisting his race comeback will not be until 2010, while Timo Glock – the man who Hamilton overtook in the dying embers of the race to seal the title will also be absent.
The German, and Toyota, announced earlier this week that he would sit out the race with a cracked vertebrae, suffered his Suzuka qualifying crash. Deputising once more in the car will be Japanese Kamui Kobayashi, who took part in Friday practice in Japan when Glock had a heavy fever.
“This is an incredible opportunity for me to make my Grand Prix debut,” says the 23 year old. “I have never driven at Interlagos before but I know the lay-out from computer games and television so I don’t think it will take too long to learn.”
That sentiment is I personally believe few of the established drivers would agree with. The 2.6mile Sao Paulo circuit drapes itself over a hill, Adrian Sutil describing it as a “rollercoaster”, with drivers diving down hill in the first trio of corners, before climbing back up out of the Juncao corner. The pit straight itself climbs before diving down under braking for the first left hander.
The track is also one of the handful of anti-clockwise tracks in F1 (following Turkey and Singapore), putting a different strain on a driver's neck to most of the other venues.
Of course much of the interest will be on the title contenders. Rubens Barrichello, a Paolista himself, needs to outscore Button by five points to give himself any hope of taking title in Abu Dhabi. The hometown fans will no doubt be cheering him one, but Barrichello's record at Interlagos suggests it may be a challenge. In sixteen F1 visits to his homeland he only has a best finish of third, in 2004 for Ferrari, but has retired a massive eleven times.
So if form is any indicator, prepare for Button the champion.
Then there is a chance of rain. A day-by-bay forecast for Sao Paulo showed a threat of rain on everyday of the Grand Prix weekend, with showers predicted for Sunday. Interlagos has seen it's share of wet races, from the chaos of 2003 to the tension of 2008, showing exactly how rain can deliver us unlikely winners and dramatic finishes.
Could 2009 be another?
Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix is scheduled for 2pm Saturday (local time) with the green flag for the race due 24 hours later.