Going into this weekend’s race at the historic Suzuka circuit, which has been the scene of the title decider 11 times since the current layout first featured on the calendar in 1987, the reigning world champion leads his closest title rival Fernando Alonso by 77 points with five races to go and will be world champion on Sunday provided he wins and Alonso finishes no higher than ninth.
The Spaniard, for his part, will be keen to postpone the inevitable and will most likely keep the title race going into India and Abu Dhabi as he continues to attack the remaining races in his typically tenacious style to help Ferrari stay second in the constructors’ championship ahead of Mercedes, even if the former champion has accepted the fact that the drivers’ title is realistically lost.
“Well remaining races, we will try to do our best. Try to score as many points as possible,” Alonso told journalists in Suzuka.
“...The drivers’ championship is nearly impossible so we will try to enjoy the races, try to attack all the time and fight for the constructors’ championship.”
But as much as Alonso may attack, it’s hard to see anyone challenging the Red Bull-Vettel juggernaut for the win at Suzuka, one of Vettel’s most rewarding circuits in recent years.
The German has won three out of the last four races here, his Red Bull perfectly suited to the high-speed corners and quick changes of direction that have made the 5.8 kilometer circuit such a favourite with drivers over the years, and the track, a part of Formula One folklore, remains a special one for the 26-year-old who is known have a keen interest in the history of the sport.
“I think it’s the best track in the world, to be honest,” the reigning world champion, who won his second world championship at the circuit with a third-placed finish, said following last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix.
“The fans are crazy - completely crazy in a positive way so really looking forward to Japan. I think all of us who get massive support there, big fans of motorsport, passionate about Formula One and I think they enjoy the whole weekend, so I’m very much looking forward to one of the highlights during the season.”
However, both Vettel and his team boss Christian Horner were at pains to insist that it would be extremely difficult to win the title in Japan and that as long as Alonso remained in mathematical contention their focus was on working towards the title race by race.
“The likelihood of winning in Japan is extremely low,” Horner said. “When does Fernando Alonso ever finish ninth? But so long as we do win it, I don't care where that is.”