Going into the final race there are four drivers still in contention for the world championship - an absolute first for Formula 1.
The 2007 finale is the most recent a three-way battle at the decider, with Kimi Raikkonen winning from third place in the championship in front of McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Emerson Fittipaldi's victory in a three-way decider in 1974 is what Alonso will want to emulate © LAT
Adelaide 1986 also saw the pre-race leader overcome: Nigel Mansell led the charts, but punctured his left-rear tyre. Williams called in Nelson Piquet and changed his tyres to avoid the same drama, setting McLaren's Alain Prost free to win the race and the championship.
The other years when a three-way battle went up to the last race are: 1950, 1959, 1964, 1968, 1974, 1981 and 1983.
Maybe it's not good news for Alonso to know that only three times in all the aforementioned cases did the championship leader going into the final race actually win the title. The last time was in 1974 (Emerson Fittipaldi).
Giving up the advantage
Red Bull, with 14 poles and more than half of the total distance run in the lead, is clearly the car to beat going into the final round, but its drivers will tackle the last race from second and third in the championship.
These are the most notable cases of teams that seemed superior by the numbers ultimately losing the drivers' title.
2005: Raikkonen finished the season as the leader in laps led, but an incredible list of misfortunes gave the title to Alonso. Raikkonen retired four times when in the lead, once got stuck on the grid, got three 10-position grid penalties for engine changes... all this in the first 14 races. Raikkonen won four of them, but that was not enough.
1986: Mansell and Piquet racked up nine wins for Williams, while Prost won four for McLaren. The leaderboard speaks clearly: 2692 kilometres led for Williams and only 1092 for McLaren. The title went to Prost at the season finale in Adelaide.
James Hunt, Niki Lauda and Ronnie Peterson chat before the 1976 finale © LAT
1976: Niki Lauda was the absolute dominator of the first part of the season, with five wins and three more podiums in the first nine races, but the Nurburgring accident dashed his title hopes. Ferrari led for 1875 kilometres that year, McLaren, which James Hunt took to the title, only 191 - which makes a ratio of almost 10 to 1.
1974: Lauda and Clay Regazzoni took points off each other with Ferrari, giving the title to Emerson Fittipaldi, who was driving for McLaren. Ferrari that year led for 1974 kms and McLaren for only 374.
1967: From its debut appearance in the third round of the championship, the Lotus 49 led for 70 per cent of the laps, but it was very fragile and ultimately Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham with their underpowered but ultra-reliable Brabham-Repcos, took first and second in the drivers' championship.
Performance level going into the final round
Red Bull led practically all the laps in the last three races, bar these exceptions: 13 laps in Japan, due to late-stop strategy for Jenson Button and 10 laps in Korea, after Vettel's engine expired. Add to that two one-two finishes in the last three races and there are few doubts Red Bull is the car to beat.
Red Bull just can't shake Alonso off © LAT
Alonso is right behind, literally: he was running right after Vettel to pick up the win in Korea and duly finished third in Japan and Brazil. In all three cases the Ferrari driver was never able to challenge Red Bull's domination. A figure to explain this: Alonso spent 162 of the last 179 laps (90 per cent) right behind a Red Bull, zero in front of either of them in the last three races.
Next comes Hamilton and also in his case, figures help: discarding the Japanese Grand Prix, where he was hampered by gearbox problems, he spent 111 of the last 126 laps (88 per cent) right behind Alonso. He was in front of him during the stops in Korea (for two laps) or further behind in the remaning ones.
One last note: except for the pitstops, Webber has not spent a lap in front of Vettel since the Monza race, when the Webber passed Vettel due to brake problems for the latter, but eventually the Australian finished behind the German at the end of that race.
Reliability/retirements: Vettel broke an engine in Korea, Alonso had the same experience in Malaysia (that's 15 races ago) and Webber simply never retired for a mechanical failure in 2010. Hamilton retired four times in 2010 and no one in the last 10 years has become champion having retired four times during the season.
Tilkedromes: a Tilkedrome is a circuit designed by Herrmann Tilke.
Red Bull has recently had a special feeling but bad luck with the Tilkedromes:
* Front-row lock-out but double retirement in Korea.
* Vettel won in Valencia but Webber had a huge accident.
Vettel and Webber tangled in Turkey © LAT
* Set for a one-two in Turkey, but the two Red Bulls collided.
* Front-row lock-out in China, but rain on the race day left Vettel sixth and Webber eighth.
* Spark plug failure for polesitter and race leader Vettel in Bahrain, Webber only eighth.
The only exception was Malaysia, where Red Bull did manage a one-two.
Evaluating the rivals' chances
One round to go, four drivers in the hunt for the championship, but, given the above level of recent performances, we can work out some likely scenarios.
1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Alonso 4. Hamilton
This result in Abu Dhabi would be bad news for Red Bull © Sutton
This one simply cannot happen in the decider. With this classification (the same as Interlagos) in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull will present the title to Alonso and their drivers would be tied in second, five points behind the Spaniard, who could actually afford to finish fourth in this scenario.
With Alonso fifth the first three would be all tied for points, and Vettel would win due to a higher number of fourth places (three to two, Alonso and Vettel would count the same number of podium placings).
With Alonso lower than fifth, the Red Bull guys would finish first tied for points, the title going to Vettel via a higher number of wins, Abu Dhabi being the decisive one.
1. Webber 2. Vettel 3. Alonso 4. Hamilton
This is the only likely scenario for Red Bull if Alonso is in third. With this classification Webber would be champion with two points over Alonso. The juicy part is: how Webber would be in front of Vettel, given the level of performance and Red Bull's policy of no team orders?
With a second place, regardless of the winner, Alonso wins the title.
The scenario for Hamilton to win the championship would indeed be a crazy one: he has to win, Alonso must be out of the points, Vettel third or lower and Webber sixth or lower. It would almost be a repeat of the Belgian Grand Prix classification, but in that case Webber was second.
Massa helped Raikkonen to the 2007 crown © LAT
Ferrari managed to win a title recently using team orders in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Felipe Massa relinquished the lead during the second stops in a very discreet way, and Raikkonen won the race and the title.
It did it again in China the following year, when Raikkonen slowed to let Massa through into second, but Massa ultimately lost the championship to Hamilton at Interlagos.
Other examples of drivers letting a team-mate through include Austria 1998, 2001 and 2002, and Germany 2010 by Ferrari and Australia 1998 by McLaren. All these five cases were quite blatant and some created controversies; the Melbourne episode being the one which prompted the FIA to ban team orders.
There's more: Austria 1998, with Irvine letting Schumacher through, was the first example of a team having to cover up a switch. Irvine slowed, let Schumacher through and then picked up his pace.
After the race, the Ferrari drivers were summoned by Jean Todt and only later gave the official version, which was "brake problems" for both of the drivers. The press room burst into laughter when this was told.
Three days after the race Max Mosley told that letting one driver through if he is running for the championship is legal (Formula 1 Yearbook, page 166).
Former Benetton man turned Epsilon Euskadi boss Joan Villadelprat said after the Brazilian Grand Prix: "Had Red Bull opted for Webber a few races ago, the Australian would probably now be champion."
Let's give his theory a try.
Should Red Bull have put its weight behind Webber after Vettel's Spa disaster? © LAT
Belgium could have been the turning point, as Webber drove a solid race to second, while Vettel crashed into Button, then later into Tonio Liuzzi and was given a drivethrough penalty.
After that race Webber had a 28-point advantage over Vettel and the standings were: 1. Hamilton 182, Webber 179, Vettel 151, Button 147, Alonso 141.
Next was Monza: with Vettel fourth and Webber sixth, a change of place would have been nearly impossible, but in Singapore moving Webber up to second at Vettel's expense would have given Webber three extra points.
In Japan and Brazil, inverting the order of the one-two finishes would have given Webber 14 more points, so the standings now would look more or less like this: 1 Webber 255, 2 Alonso 246 (-9), 3 Vettel 214 (-41).
Webber would be able to become champion with a second to Alonso in the final race.
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