Suzuka, Japan - At the end of a week in which he has been accused of sending Formula One fans to sleep, Sebastian Vettel can put the championship to bed on Sunday.
If the Japanese Grand Prix pans out the same as last year's race, the 26-year-old Red Bull driver will be enjoying sweet dreams as the youngest quadruple world champion - and only the third four-in-a-row winner - with four races to spare.
“I'm trying not to think about it, to be honest,” the German, who will be chasing a fifth successive race win and fourth pole in a row, told reporters in South Korea last weekend.
He will need exceptional mind control for that to happen.
Vettel stands on the brink of joining three of the all-time greats - Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher - in the record books as the only drivers to have won four or more titles in the 63-year history of the sport.
The championship leader enjoys a 77 point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and will wrap up the title if he wins at Suzuka and the Spaniard fails to finish in the top eight.
There is every chance of that happening, even if Alonso has finished eighth or higher in all but one of the 14 races so far this year.
“We are not thinking about the championship. If the moon and stars align and he (Vettel) wins the race and Fernando is ninth or below, then theoretically he can win the championship,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told reporters after last weekend's victory, showing he knew exactly what was required.
“Our approach in Suzuka will be the same as in our other races this year and we will go there to get the best out of ourselves and the championship will tend to take care of itself,” Horner added.
“So long as we win it, I don't care where we win it and I think the chances of us winning it in Suzuka are low. When does Fernando Alonso ever not finish a race?”.
The answer came back immediately: At Suzuka last year.
Vettel won that race from pole position, leading all the way and setting the fastest lap, while Alonso retired after spinning off into the gravel at the first corner only seconds after the start.
The Spaniard, whose fighting spirit is reflected by the Samurai swordsman tattooed on his back, has already recognised that it will take a comeback or slump of America's Cup proportions to deny Vettel a fourth crown.
He and his team both know that is not going to happen, even if Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber has retired from the last two races with his car's engine in flames.
“Of course we need to be realistic, we know that it is almost impossible to win the title,” Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali said after what he described as a very painful weekend in South Korea, with Alonso finishing sixth.
FERRARI AIMING FOR SECOND
Alonso agreed: “We cannot expect miracles between now and the end of the championship. Second place in the Constructors' championship is probably a more realistic target,” he said.
“But one thing's certain, we are not giving up now and we will give it our best shot right to the very end.”
Suzuka is a favourite circuit for all drivers, ranking up with Spa as a real challenge that sorts the men from the boys as they come up against the fearsome 310kph 130R corner.
It is no surprise that world champions have won 17 of the last 18 races at the fast figure-of-eight circuit and Vettel three of the last four. He did not win in 2011, when he finished third, but the title more than made up for that.
“I think it is the best track in the world, to be honest,” said the German, who has been on pole for the past four years and has a considerable local fan base.
The boos heard elsewhere when Vettel has appeared on the podium are unlikely to be repeated in Japan, where fans fill the stands even when nothing is happening on the track and stay for hours afterwards.
“The fans are crazy - completely crazy in a positive way,” said Vettel. “(We) get massive support there, big fans of motorsport, passionate about Formula One and I think they enjoy the whole weekend.” -Reuters
THE 2013 SEASON SO FAR:
Australian Grand Prix - March 17
Kimi Raikkonen upstaged the established order to claim a resounding victory for Lotus in the season-opener in Melbourne.
The Finn roared off from seventh on the grid and employed a two-stop strategy to win from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's three-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa of Brazil was fourth with Lewis Hamilton, making his Mercedes debut after his high-profile move from McLaren, fifth.
Standings: Raikkonen 25 points, Alonso 18, Vettel 15
Malaysian Grand Prix - March 24
Vettel incensed stablemate Mark Webber and ignited a team orders row as he ignored Red Bull's strict instructions and pulled off a risky overtaking move to snatch victory.
The German ace went wheel-to-wheel with Webber late in the race, earning a stern rebuke from team principal Christian Horner, before emerging in front and taking his 27th win, putting him on top of the early championship standings.
Third-placed Hamilton's first podium for Mercedes was also tainted after team orders reining in his driving partner Nico Rosberg.
Standings: Vettel 40, Raikkonen 31, Webber 26
Chinese Grand Prix - April 14
Alonso stormed back after failing to finish in Malaysia to open his 2013 account ahead of Raikkonen and pole-sitter Hamilton in a race packed with incident.
Starting from third, Alonso crossed the line first after the lead swapped hands several times and both Webber and Rosberg were among the retirements.
Vettel, who had set off from ninth, finished fourth, a whisker behind Hamilton as he maintained his lead in the overall standings.
Standings: Vettel 52, Raikkonen 49, Alonso 42
Bahrain Grand Prix - April 21
Vettel extended his lead in the title race when he claimed an impressive victory for Red Bull in an incident-filled Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old's second win in four races and the 28th of his career saw him pass Jackie Stewart into sixth in the all-time Grand Prix winning list.
Starting second, Vettel took the lead on lap three and then controlled the 57-lap race as he came home 9.1 seconds clear of Raikkonen. Frenchman Romain Grosjean finished third.
Standings: Vettel 77, Raikkonen 67, Hamilton 50
Spanish Grand Prix - May 12
Alonso thrilled his massive home crowd with a dominant victory for Ferrari in a tactical race in which management of Pirelli's quick-wearing tyres was essential.
The Spaniard's second win of the season boosted his challenge for a third world title, lifting him to third in the overall standings.
Raikkonen took second in the race with Ferrari's Massa in third, Vettel fourth and Mercedes pole-sitter Rosberg dropping to sixth.
Standings: Vettel 89, Raikkonen 85, Alonso 72
Monaco Grand Prix - May 26
Rosberg became the first son of a Monaco Grand Prix winner to triumph on the principality's famous streets when he drove his Mercedes to an accomplished victory.
In a chaotic race littered with accidents, a red flag and two safety car interventions, the 27-year-old German, son of 1983
winner Keke Rosberg, produced an impeccable race to claim the second victory of his career.
He came home ahead of the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber, with Hamilton fourth.
Standings: Vettel 107, Raikkonen 86, Alonso 78
Canadian Grand Prix - June 9
Vettel claimed the 29th victory of his career with his and Red Bull's first win at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Starting from his third consecutive pole at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the defending triple world champion came home unchallenged after a serene display of dominant front-running.
Alonso fought from sixth on the grid to take second, with Hamilton third.
Standings: Vettel 132, Alonso 96, Raikkonen 88
British Grand Prix - June 30
Rosberg won, but his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton took as many plaudits when he fought back from a tyre explosion to finish fourth in a thrilling recovery at Silverstone.
In a race marred by four tyre failures, Hamilton lost the lead before battling back from last place. Rosberg survived huge late pressure from Red Bull's retirement-bound Webber to claim his second win of the season. Alonso took third.
Standings: Vettel 132, Alonso 111, Raikkonen 98
German Grand Prix - July 6
Vettel won for the first time on home soil to extend his lead in the world championship to 34 points over Alonso.
Starting from second, Vettel was pushed all the way before easing his Red Bull home ahead of Raikkonen and the Finn's Lotus team-mate, Grosjean. It was the German's fourth win of the season and the 30th of his career.
Standings: Vettel 157, Alonso 123, Raikkonen 116
Hungarian Grand Prix - July 28
Hamilton ended weeks of frustration when he finally won his first race for Mercedes in textbook fashion.
The Briton led from pole to the chequered flag, apart from three short spells for pit-stops, as he secured his fourth victory at the Hungaroring in sweltering conditions.
More than 10 seconds behind in second came Raikkonen, with Vettel third.
Standings: Vettel 172, Raikkonen 134, Alonso 133
Belgian Grand Prix - August 25
Vettel delivered a crushing blow to his title rivals when he increased his lead in the drivers' championship with a consummate triumph for Red Bull.
The 26-year-old German took the lead from pole-sitter Hamilton on the opening lap and then pulled clear to claim his fifth win of the year and the 31st of his career.
The defending triple world champion came home a comfortable 17 seconds ahead of second-placed Alonso of Ferrari with Hamilton third for Mercedes.
Standings: Vettel 197, Alonso 151, Hamilton 139
Italian Grand Prix - September 8
Vettel earned boos of frustration from the Italian crowd as he extended his world championship lead to more than 50 points over Ferrari's Alonso with his third win in four races.
The German survived a torrid start and gearbox problems to finish five seconds clear of the chasing Alonso and Webber, while Massa took fourth.
Britain's Hamilton started 12th, lost the use of his team radio and suffered a slow puncture, as he fought back twice to finish ninth, calling the race “a nightmare”.
Standings: Vettel 222, Alonso 169, Hamilton 141
Singapore Grand Prix - September 22
Vettel took a huge step towards the world title with a superlative victory that left his rivals fighting for scraps but again prompted boos from the crowd.
The German, starting from pole, fought off Nico Rosberg on the first bend and despite a safety car intervention was untouchable as he took his third win in a row and a hat-trick of wins in Singapore.
Alonso finished second to maintain his title hopes.
Standings: Vettel 247, Alonso 187, Hamilton 151
Korean Grand Prix - October 6
Vettel stood on the brink of his fourth straight world title after he powered away from pole position to win the Korean Grand Prix.
Not even two appearances by the safety car, or the worrying sight of his team-mate Mark Webber climbing out of his burning Red Bull, was enough to stop Vettel's fourth win in a row.
He took the chequered flag four seconds ahead of Lotus pair Raikkonen and Grosjean. The victory meant Vettel will seal the title if he wins in Japan and Alonso finishes outside the top eight.
Standings: Vettel 272, Alonso 195, Raikkonen 167