SAO PAULO • There was a time when the idea of Nico Rosberg beating Lewis Hamilton to the Formula One world championship would have been considered unlikely.
Hamilton is a three-time world champion. He is not only faster but also more skilful.
However, with two races of the season remaining and a lead of 19 points, Rosberg is the overwhelming favourite to win his first crown, if not in Sao Paulo on Sunday then in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month.
Victory in what is sure to be one of the most dramatic and tense races of the year will lift him beyond the reach of Hamilton and end his dogged pursuit of the glory he prefers not to mention.
Rosberg won in Brazil in 2014 and last year, but missed out on the championship each time as Hamilton claimed the world title.
Victory this time would gain him entry to the sport's "hall of champions" in which he would emulate the feat of his father Keke, who won the world title in 1982.
The German is nearly there, but he would rather not talk about winning the championship even at this stage.
"I'm not thinking too much about the mathematics because that will get me nowhere," the 31-year-old said.
"I prefer to concentrate on what is happening now and my focus is on winning the next race."
Hamilton, who clinched his first world title by taking fifth place in a nail-biting final lap at the 4.3km Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in 2008, knows that he has to win.
The 31-year-old Briton also needs to hope that Rosberg has an off day and misses out on a podium finish.
That would ensure the title race goes down to the wire at the final race in Abu Dhabi.
Since 2004, the championship has been decided in Brazil six times, but only once has the race winner been world champion - when Kimi Raikkonen took the title with a late-season surge to beat Hamilton in 2007.
In that season, Ferrari's Raikkonen turned a 17-point deficit into a title triumph by winning the last two races.
"It won't be as painful again as that was," said Hamilton, when asked to reflect on his title showdowns.
"I've lost many races and championships in my career so it's not like I've never experienced it.
"Right now, I know I'm in a scenario where I know there is more of a chance I will lose it than win it. That's hard to swallow."
The Mercedes team have made clear that the two title challengers will have equal support, machinery and power.
"As usual, we will do our very best to treat this as a normal race," said technical chief Paddy Lowe.
"We will be approaching the weekend with the highest levels of discipline and an overriding objective to ensure we provide both drivers with the best equipment for a fair competition."
If Rosberg wins on Sunday, he will boost the number of champions on the grid this year from five to six for the race in Abu Dhabi on Nov 27.
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