In the balance in the desert
Once the euphoria of victory, in both the Brazilian Grand Prix and the constructors' championship, wears off, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel has six days to prepare for the most agonising decision of his 23 years.
On pure performance, the German must be considered the favourite to win the final race of a brilliant, marathon Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi next Sunday, but he knows that is not enough on its own for him to win the world title and become the youngest champion in history.
Vettel also needs the results of the other title contenders to go his way. The championship leader, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, remains in a very strong position despite finishing third behind Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber here at Interlagos.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, a distant fourth, is still in with a mathematical chance, but at 24 points adrift of the Spaniard with only 25 available, his chances are almost over, just as his team-mate Jenson Button's were before arriving in Brazil.
Despite an excellent drive from 11th on the grid to fifth, Button is now too far back to retain his crown.
The maths are relatively simple - if Vettel wins in Abu Dhabi, Alonso needs only to finish fourth to win the title, a relatively simple task on paper in the second fastest car; but if Webber wins, Alonso needs to be second. And that is where it starts to get interesting - and where the heartache potentially starts for Vettel.
The Red Bull is the fastest car, and Vettel tends to have the edge in qualifying over Webber, by a margin that is often less than a 10th of a second. And on paper, Alonso should be third fastest. So it is quite possible that Vettel will find himself leading in Abu Dhabi from Webber and Alonso, just as he did in Brazil.
As far as Red Bull are concerned, the correct action for Vettel in those circumstances would be to let Webber through to prevent a Ferrari driver winning the title.
But would he? I asked him exactly that after the race.
"I go to Abu Dhabi and try to do my best and then we see," he said. "What do you want to hear? I can only tell you that in the scenario you are talking about, it is something you will think of. I think it's clear."
Was that a 'yes', someone else asked?
"It is one week," Vettel replied. "As a kid, I never liked (it) when my parents teased me for something and didn't answer my questions, so now I am in a good position to tease you, so you will see."
The inference I took from that is that he will let Webber through if necessary, but one can only wonder at how hard that would be for Vettel to do.
Four times Vettel has lost major points with a retirement or other serious problem that has dropped him down the order, and without them he would be world champion already, regardless of those errors. Webber, by contrast, has basically had no serious mechanical issues at all.
For Vettel, then, letting Webber through in Abu Dhabi would be handing over a world championship that he probably - and with some justification - feels should be his.
It would be bad enough losing the title to Alonso, but to do it to a guy in the same car, with whom you have had a fractious relationship all year, and who has had less bad luck than you, would surely be excruciating for him.
But that is only if the race is straightforward and predictable - and how many times has that happened this year?
Alonso's Ferrari has beaten the Red Bulls three times in the last five races. The Spaniard is a formidable competitor, and there must be a more than decent chance that he will get in between the two Red Bulls either in qualifying or at the start.
With overtaking so difficult, then, qualifying on Saturday will take on a special significance, and the pressure on all three will be intense.
And if Alonso is third on the grid behind the two Red Bulls, he still might be second into the first corner because, being in the desert, Abu Dhabi has a dirty side to the grid, where the even numbered starting positions are, and the man who is second on the grid could easily lose a place at the start.
Imagine, too, if Alonso for whatever reason has a major problem that puts him out of contention. Then the battle for the title would be a winner-takes-all fight between the two Red Bull drivers.
There would be no team orders and if one of them had a problem - as Webber did with a lack of water pressure in his engine in Brazil - there would be no backing off this time.
In that scenario, Webber could afford to finish fifth, and therefore could afford to be more aggressive with his team-mate than Vettel could with him.
And there is another, delicious, prospect. If Vettel wins from Webber, and both McLaren drivers manage to push Alonso down to fifth place, then the race would end with Alonso, Vettel and Webber tied on points. In those circumstances, Vettel and Alonso would be tied on five race wins each and Vettel would be champion on countback by virtue of having more fourth places than Alonso.
It could hardly be better poised. The chances are the fight will go down to the last corner of the last lap of the last race, which is exactly the way it should be after one of the greatest F1 seasons there has ever been.