Stakes still high in Singapore
Sebastian Vettel may be on the verge of clinching his second world title, a feat he could achieve here this weekend, but the narrative thread of this Formula 1 season is a long way from complete.
In fact, in many ways, when the 24-year-old Red Bull driver finally clinches the title, it will change little - it has looked inevitable from very early on in the season.
But here under the spectacular night-time skyline of Singapore, plenty of issues remain to be resolved.
Although Vettel set the fastest time in Friday practice, one of those issues is whether he can take the win on Sunday that would make him the sport's youngest double world champion if Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is lower than third, and McLaren's Jenson Button or Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber do not finish second.
The German is, as Button said, clearly "very fast" again here - you would expect nothing else from a man who has won eight of the season's 13 races and taken 10 pole positions.
But on the evidence of Friday practice, he could face a stiff challenge from Alonso, the man who beat him to victory here last year.
Although Vettel was 0.2secs faster than Alonso on headline times, the Spaniard looked if anything slightly quicker on their race runs late in the session.
Alonso's fastest time on these was one minute 52.160 seconds, compared to Vettel's 1:52.374, while the Ferrari's average pace was about 0.15secs a lap quicker.
Lewis Hamilton described the Ferrari as "massively quick", but all may not be as it seems.
Red Bull believe Ferrari run with slightly less fuel than them in these race-simulations runs, and with 10kg of fuel adding 0.42secs in lap time, that can make a big difference.
On top of that, Vettel's run was slightly compromised by traffic, so he may not have exploited the initial pace of his tyres as well as Alonso.
Either way, this race looks for now as if it will be a battle between these two - just as last year's was.
McLaren looked a long way off on pace on Friday. Hamilton's long-run average appeared to be nearly a second slower than Alonso's - and on top of that McLaren seem to be struggling more severely with tyre degradation.
Still, a Vettel-Alonso battle would be heavy with significance. This is a race Vettel has never won. He is well known for his fondness for ticking statistical boxes and it will smart that he was beaten here last year by a slower car as a result of a mistake in qualifying borne of pressure exerted by Alonso at a track at which he excels.
It is, too, only two weeks since Alonso edged Vettel on to the grass as the Red Bull passed him to take the lead of the Italian Grand Prix.
Vettel has played down the significance of that incident here, but it impressed him enough to mention to race director Charlie Whiting and his deputy Herbie Blash after the race in Italy how touch-and-go it had been.
Equally, Alonso is a proud man who will not have appreciated being passed around the outside there - as he was by Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber at Eau Rouge at the preceding race in Belgium.
For many people, Alonso and Vettel are the two most complete drivers on the grid. A battle between them on Sunday would only be one of many F1 will witness in the coming years, but each one is laden with a significance of its own that adds complexity and detail to the bigger story.
It was perhaps significant that, at a race many of the drivers agree is the toughest of all, the top three places on Friday were occupied by F1's 'big three'.
Like Alonso, Lewis Hamilton excels around this place - they are the only two men to have won here - and the Englishman arrives here, the first of six long-haul races that will bring the season to a close, determined to try to replace memories of what his team admits has been a difficult season with more positive recollections.
Hamilton was strangely subdued at the last race in Monza, saying he was determined just to finish after crashing in Spa. But he says he has arrived here with "massive motivation".
That befits a schizophrenic season by Hamilton, who has veered between breathtaking excellence and ham-fisted errors, from all-out attack and too much aggression in some places to excessive conservatism at others.
After Monza, team principal Martin Whitmarsh has said he wants "the old Lewis back". Which Hamilton will be on show on Sunday?
McLaren have mirrored Hamilton's up-and-down year, with Button - their best driver in the last three races - admitting on Thursday that a series of errors had prevented them mounting any consistent challenge to Red Bull.
For them, too, a strong end to the season would provide a welcome boost ahead of a renewed challenge on Vettel in 2012.
No one is more in need of that, though, than Webber.
It is becoming an ever more glaring statistic that in a season his team-mate has dominated in the best car, the Australian has yet to win a race, and lies fourth in the championship.
Webber says he is sure a win will come before the end of the season, but the situation is clearly beginning to grate a little - on Thursday, he swore at a journalist who asked him about it.
Webber's team boss Christian Horner has had his own frustrations this weekend, with the re-emergence of murmurings that Red Bull have broken the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) that restricts the teams' spending on research and development.
Several rival teams clearly believe Red Bull have gone beyond the limitations laid out in the RRA, and Horner has found himself fending off questions about a story that we first covered on this blog back in January.
BBC Sport has seen excerpts of a report into the RRA commissioned by the F1 teams' umbrella group Fota from a Dutch auditor called Cap Gemini.
It concludes that Red Bull have "successfully implemented the processes and procedures and supporting systems of the RRA and observed the rules and regulations in their daily practices" and adds that they "have sufficient basis and inputs to answer the questions asked by Fota".
In the circumstances, it's no wonder Horner has appeared a little frustrated by this story at times this weekend.
All this intrigue and drama is occurring at what is rapidly emerging as one of the best events on the calendar.
The drivers universally praise this race, with Vettel and Button disagreeing over whether this or Monaco was a greater challenge, Hamilton describing it as a "mega fun" and Alonso and Webber agreeing it is probably the toughest race of the year.
That might sound odd to some - after all, a quick glance at the circuit map reveals an almost endless succession of slow, right-angled corners.
But go out to watch trackside here, and it becomes abundantly clear.
The cars, glistening and gleaming under the lights, buck and dance over the bumps and kerbs. The best drivers literally skim the walls. Lovely, coloured lanterns line the track. The Singapore downtown skyline provides a dramatic backdrop and the heavy heat and humidity combine with a relaxed ambience to create a heady atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the viewing for the fans trackside rivals anywhere in the world - they can wander around the circuit almost at will, and the cars are close by in all their violence and beauty.
As Button said here on Thursday, an individual grand prix victory means almost as much to a driver as a world title, so big are the emotions it unleashes.
And, for many people for many different reasons this weekend, a win in Singapore would mean more than most.
UPDATE 1900 BST, SATURDAY
After an incident-packed but somewhat inconclusive qualifying session, Vettel's chances of winning on Sunday look if anything even stronger than they did before the weekend.
Vettel is on pole, inevitably, but behind him are three drivers unsure whether they can challenge him. Webber has admitted to not being that comfortable around Singapore - although he says he feels better about the race - and the McLaren drivers in third and fourth places have deep concerns about tyre wear.
Ironically, then, the man in fifth place on the grid - Alonso - might be the man who could push Vettel closest, given the Ferrari is usually quicker comparatively in the race than it is in qualifying, and looked very pacy on Friday.
But even if that is the case he has three cars to get past before he can do so. And as Button says: "You need to have Vettel in your sights at the start of the race to have any chance of challenging him at the end."
But if a win seems locked on for Vettel, he doesn't look likely to be able to win the title on Sunday, given the make-up of the grid. But no one expects a straightforward race, at the longest event on the calendar, on one of the most demanding tracks. Even rain is a possibility.
"It's not going to be a straightforward race," Button said. "It'll be about strategy and looking after your tyres."