Jenson Button arrived at this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix knowing that a bad result could spell the end of his dream of taking back-to-back F1 world championships, but remains determined to enjoy the final three rounds of his defence.
The Briton was second in the standings after the European Grand Prix in Valencia, but has gradually slipped away from top spot, with just a single podium - at Monza - and a damaging DNF in Belgium showing the extremes of his fortune. Heading to the all-new circuit in Yeongam, Button is fully 31 points adrift of championship leader Mark Webber with only 75 to play for, and knows that he cannot afford another retirement, or even a poorly-rewarded points finish, if he is to remain in contention when the circus touches down in Brazil early next month.
"Every time we go to a race, it seems this is the critical race," he admitted, having filled the role of title outsider for several rounds, "It is obviously a lot more difficult for us to win the world championship this year, but we have seen in past seasons that anything is possible. We have all had failures this year, we have all had issues, so it is definitely still possible - even after this event, if it is mathematically possible."
Along with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who struggled to fifth place after a trying weekend at Suzuka, Button will be hoping that the Woking team's latest developments are more suited to Yeongam than they were able to show in Japan, where persistent rain hampered evaluation.
"It has been a very interesting season and, for all of us, it has been quite up and down," he said, referring to his four title rivals, "We have all had some pretty poor events and some good events, and it has made the championship very exciting.
"It is good to still be involved in the championship hunt with three races to go but, obviously, it's most difficult for me as I am 31 points behind. But there is always a possibility. We are still very hopeful and I am looking forward to the next three races - I am sure it is going to be pretty mixed up as we go through them. If you look at the last two races, the Ferraris and Red Bulls sort of had the legs on us a little bit, but hopefully, in these next three, we will be a bit closer. That will make an exciting fight for the end of the season."
Although Red Bull has largely dominated qualifying - with only Hamilton and Fernando Alonso able to deprive the Milton Keynes team of pole position in 16 rounds - Button is optimistic that McLaren can be in the hunt over the final three rounds - in Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi - after extensive work on new ideas between races.
"Yeah, they have had the advantage this season in qualifying but, if you look at the last few races, we have got closer," he insisted, "That's an area where we struggled a little bit at the start of the year but, over the last few races, we've been a lot closer, which is good. I know everyone's bringing new packages to the circuit, but I've got to say a big thanks to the [McLaren] guys for bringing the parts that we have here, which should hopefully make a difference, although we have to wait and see if that is correct.
"There is still more to come. I'm enjoying my life right now and I've enjoyed this season very much. I've had some really fun races, a couple of victories. I'd like to have won more races, but there are still three more to go, so we will give it a go."