SINGAPORE (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel looks set to extend his mastery of Formula One this week but neutrals and his rivals will be hoping for a different winner at the spectacular Singapore Grand Prix.
Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will compete the first time since being confirmed as a driving pair for Ferrari next year, a partnership which has set tongues wagging.
But all signs point to the likelihood that Vettel will be the man spraying champagne on Sunday night after taking another decisive step towards an astonishing fourth straight title.
The amiable German, 26, has won the last two night races around Singapore's spotlit street circuit and three of the last four this season, opening up a 53-point lead over Alonso.
"My wins in 2011 and 2012 were the best because I think it's one of the toughest races of the year to be honest, so to win is an amazing moment and you feel you deserve the champagne," he said.
"It's a very long race, the full two hours, so the race just seems to go on forever. The circuit itself is a killer because there are so many bumps, there's no room for mistakes." History continues to be the biggest target for Vettel, backed by the sport's best team in Red Bull, who has already been crowned Formula One's youngest single, double and triple world champion.
Vettel could now conceivably claim his fourth world title in a row as early as next month's Japanese Grand Prix, and move just one away from fellow German Michael Schumacher's five-year run from 2000-2004.
Vettel, who has won six of the 12 races this season, is poised to move past the likes of Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda on the all-time list and become one of only four drivers with four titles or more.
However, Vettel's steady march towards another world title, after overcoming a helter-skelter start to the season dominated by debate over disintegrating tyres, has not been universally popular.
Boos rang out from the tifosi at this month's Italian Grand Prix, where the young German held off Ferrari's Alonso at the famous team's home race.
And "Anyone but Vettel" now has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, in a sign that sections of the viewing public are not enthralled by another era of one-driver dominance.
"The loud click that might have drowned out the scream of engines... was the sound of thousands of viewers, tired of the domination of a serial winner, switching off their televisions," wrote the London Times' Kevin Eason after the Italian race.
Vettel's surge has led Britain's Lewis Hamilton to all but give up hope of a world title in his debut season with Mercedes, while elsewhere, teams are already looking ahead to next year.
Ferrari have significantly strengthened by re-signing Raikkonen, their 2007 world champion, although anticipation is mixed with trepidation about how he will bond with Alonso.
Both drivers are strong-willed and Alonso's pairing with Hamilton at McLaren was notoriously difficult. Ex-Ferrari ace Schumacher called the new partnership "explosive".
Raikkonen's move and the accompanying departure from Ferrari of Felipe Massa has prompted a mini merry-go-round as drivers secure their teams for next year.
Massa and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg are both tipped for Raikkonen's spot at Lotus, while Williams driver Pastor Maldonado has also been linked with the vacant seat.
Lotus, who look set to hang on to crash-prone Frenchman Romain Grosjean, face a rebuilding exercise after also losing their technical director James Allinson and aerodynamics chief Dirk de Beer to Ferrari.
Drivers are set for a demanding weekend on the 23-corner Marina Bay layout, where manhole covers and street markings make for a bone-shaking ride and high heat and humidity will drain them of litres of sweat.
Formula One's only night race, snaking through the skyscrapers and landmarks of central Singapore, is the first of a four-race swing through Asia also taking in South Korea, Japan and India.
The season then culminates in Abu Dhabi, the United States and Brazil. Many fans, and the sport's organisers and sponsors, will be hoping the championship can stay alive until then.