So it has come to this...
RBR wrapped up the Constructor's crown in Austin, but the Driver's title is still open, thanks to a pesky Fernando Alonso that just won't give up. Fernando and Sebastian Vettel have shared the last few podiums and have pulled well clear of the field in points, with Sebastian holding a 13-tally advantage heading into the final race at Interlagos. He's no stranger to success at this track, having taken a critical win here in 2010 en route to his first world title. Furthermore, the track is well-suited to the RB8, as Mark Webber captured last year's checkered flag, his only time on the top step of the podium in 2011.
The math entering the race is simple: If Sebastian finishes fourth or higher, he wins the title, no matter what Fernando does. In case of a tie in points, the first tie-breaker is total wins, and Sebastian owns that as well. Obviously, this is a must-win for Ferrari, and you can bet they're going to throw everything at this race in that pursuit. They'll need the same luck (and tactics?) they used in 2007 to push Kimi Raikkonen to his only Driver's title--win the race and hope your opponents (then-teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren) struggle to no better than 5th.
But, this is an RBR track. Their success here in the past two years has not been by accident. The RB8 possesses exceptional downforce, great low-speed traction, and mighty acceleration. Its 1-lap pace is nearly unmatched (except perhaps by the McLaren). Give Seb his likely pole position and watch him race off into the sunset while his antagonists fight for the scraps. Advantage: Red Bull.
The Ferrari is no slouch, though. Magnificent race pace and virtually bulletproof reliability are its hallmarks. Give Fernando a gap of less than a second in a DRS zone and watch him hustle the driver ahead. He's gained places each of the last few races en route to podiums after disappointing qualifying performances. Better yet, the Ferrari just doesn't break.
Contrast that with Red Bull... Both cars sustained water leaks in Austin during practice, and you only had to see the expression on Adrian Newey's face as he examined the car to know it was a serious matter. Webber's KERS failed in India, then again in Austin, before his car finally ground to a halt with an alternator failure (RBR's third this year, and the fifth for Renault-engined cars).** Can Seb's good graces with the gods of mechanical reliability just hold on? Advantage: Ferrari.
Formula 1 finishes the 2012 season in style!
**Vettel experienced one alternator failure during the race in Valencia, one in P3 in Monza, and another in the Monza race. Romain Grosjean's failed in Valencia as well, and Lotus replaced another as a precaution after Monza qualifying. Add Webber's and that's 4 for RBR and six total for Renault.