The 18-race 2008 FIA Formula 1 World Championship finally reaches its climax in Sao Paulo, Brazil, next weekend. And the daunting Interlagos circuit will play host to a thrilling title decider for the fourth successive season, between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes championship leader Lewis Hamilton (94 points) and local hero Felipe Massa (87).
With each driver poised to win his first world title, it's easy to overlook the fact that the constructors' championship has also to be decided; Vodafone McLaren Mercedes currently lies 11 points behind leaders Ferrari.
Sao Paulo's Interlagos circuit was born out of a 1926 suburban construction programme which aimed to regenerate an area of the huge Brazilian city located between two enormous drinking-water reservoirs [Interlagos is Portugese for ‘in between lakes'].
The venue was finally completed in the late 1930s and hosted its first (non-championship) Formula 1 race in the spring of 1972, on the original 7.96km switchback course. The inaugural event's success led to its inclusion onto the world championship calendar the following year - a position it relinquished in 1980. After a stint at Rio de Janeiro's Jacarepagua track, Interlagos returned to the Formula 1 calendar in 1990 in a more modest 4.3km configuration.
McLaren has won the Brazilian Grand Prix on 11 occasions, including seven victories at Interlagos.
How are you approaching this final, crucial weekend of the year?
Lewis Hamilton: "Fundamentally the same way I've approached the previous races. Obviously, my aim for Brazil is slightly different from the other grands prix: I don't need to win the race, but that won't stop me from going into the weekend looking to be as strong as possible. Shanghai was a good example of that: we hit the ground running on Friday morning and never looked back. Our aim wasn't to push too hard, but we found ourselves in a position at the front and took it comfortably from there. That's what I am hoping to achieve in Brazil - a straightforward weekend that allows me to just focus on my car and my driving."
What do you think of the Interlagos circuit?
LH: "I love the circuit: it's in this incredible natural arena that is just amazing to race on. And it's anti-clockwise too - so it presents an additional challenge to the drivers. The track always seems to provide good, close racing: one of the reasons for that is because there's a long straight leading up to the first corner and you can slipstream other cars and overtake into Turn One. It's also a place where there seems to be a lot of grip so you can dice with other cars and have fun."
What do you remember of last year's nail-biting finale in Brazil?
LH: "I went to Interlagos with the title battle still up in the air and all my emotions just bubbling up and down. It was a very emotional time because I knew it would end with either great success or huge disappointment. In 2007, things didn't end up too well for me - but I still had a great first year. Everybody's always happy to finish the season in Brazil - there's a real party atmosphere in Sao Paulo on the Sunday night and it's a perfect place to end such a great season."
Sao Paulo and Interlagos have long been intertwined with the legacy of Ayrton Senna - how does that make you feel?
LH: "Ayrton has always been my favourite driver. I think he's the best driver there ever was and, still, to this day, I don't believe anyone would beat him. If I could achieve just a small part of what he achieved, it would be a dream for me."
How has your knowledge of the car and the team developed over the 2007 season?
Heikki Kovalainen: "It didn't take too long to find where I wanted to be with the team, but it's taken longer to get used to the MP4-23. Sometimes I've pushed the set-up in the wrong direction but, over the year, I've found a better direction. I've been particularly pleased with my qualifying pace; even from the first race, I was competitive. Now I'm working hard to improve my knowledge of the tyres and everything is headed in the right direction."
With the 2008 season almost finished, how are you approaching the winter?
HK: "It's been a good season overall. I've done a lot of learning throughout the year and I already feel much better prepared for next year. I now understand how to make the car fast and what I need to do to get the most out of it. I thought this year would be more difficult, but I feel I've done a good job."
What are your aims for the last race of the year?
HK: "To win it, obviously! With the championship as it is, things are a little different going to Brazil. Clearly, I want to be able to help the team and Lewis wherever necessary - but the easiest way to do that is to be running at the front. The team knows I will play my part, but we are also targeting the constructors' championship. We may be 11 points behind Ferrari, but there are 18 points available in Brazil and we go into the final race still looking at securing both world titles - that has to be our aim."