It is perhaps entirely appropriate that the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship title showdown should take place at Interlagos, since the circuit lends itself perfectly to drama and - whatever happens - the outcome of this weekend will make grand prix history.

Lewis Hamilton stands on the precipice of being crowned the sport's youngest-ever world champion should he come out on top - and if he doesn't, then Felipe Massa will prevail, to become the first Brazilian to lift the drivers' laurels since the late, great Ayrton Senna last did so 17 years back. And he would do it in Brazil.

Either way, it will be a momentous occasion, and in a city as vibrant as is S?o Paulo and a setting as spectacular as is Interlagos - literally 'between the lakes' - whoever wins there is sure to be a fiesta atmosphere after the race.

Hamilton undoubtedly enters the weekend as hot favourite to seal the deal, carrying as he does a seven-point advantage over his Ferrari rival and needing to finish just fifth, regardless of where Massa takes the chequered flag. Lest we forget, however, the British star had the exact same comfort margin over Massa's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen heading into the same race this time last year - and ended up crossing the line just seventh, thereby conceding the title to the Finn by a single point.

Whether that memory will be playing on the 23-year-old's mind no one can say, but he has vowed to play it safe rather than risk going all-out for glory as he did at Fuji earlier this month - with disastrous consequences. The Lewis Hamilton in Shanghai just a week later appeared to be a very different, far more composed driver, but nerves can sometimes be telling and it will be fascinating to see what lessons have truly been learned.

That's not to say, of course, that the pressure will all be on Hamilton, as Massa has not only a seven-point deficit to overturn - a sizeable enough task in itself - but also the weight of expectation of an entire home nation upon his shoulders, willing him on to return the crown to Brazil for the first time since 1991.

The S?o Paulo native has insisted all the focus and pressure will be on his rival, but he would dearly love to clinch the championship at a circuit on which his hero Senna triumphed twice and where he himself prevailed two years ago. Massa would likely have won there last season too, but for having had to support Raikkonen's title bid and settle for second place.

At least this time around the 27-year-old knows he has the full backing of the Finn in his own championship challenge, and with the 2007 world champion having seemingly returned to form in recent weeks - even out-pacing Massa weekend-long in Shanghai last time out - that arguably hands Ferrari an advantage over McLaren, for whom Heikki Kovalainen has been inconsistent to say the least. The battle of the 'second drivers' in Brazil could ultimately transpire to be just as significant as that of their 'team leaders' in determining who emerges on top.

BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica, meanwhile, is aiming to defend his third place in the drivers' standings from the resurgent Raikkonen, and will need to extract every last ounce of performance out of his F1.08 if he to succeed in doing so, as the Munich and Hinwil-conceived challenger has fallen increasingly shy of the leading pace of late. There is also still a slim chance that BMW can overhaul McLaren for the runner-up spot in the final constructors' rankings, should Kubica and team-mate Nick Heidfeld rack up the points and the Silver Arrows endure a weekend to forget.

More likely as a podium contender, though, is Renault's Fernando Alonso, who has incredibly notched up comfortably more points than any other driver on the grid over the past five grands prix to manoeuvre himself past McLaren replacement Kovalainen into sixth spot in the drivers' chase. The former double F1 World Champion has been supreme in recent weeks, making full use of the R?gie's late-season resurgence, and his Singapore and Japanese successes were a just and richly-merited reward.

Whether the Spaniard can again mix it for the top step of the rostrum at Interlagos - the circuit where he claimed both of his drivers' crowns in 2005 and 2006 - remains to be seen, but he is sure to make his presence felt and will doubtless be giving it his all, as will team-mate and home fans' favourite Nelsinho Piquet. The Brazilian rookie has improved considerably over the second half of the campaign following a distinctly shaky start to his career in the top flight, and he needs just one more strong performance in front of his adoring supporters in S?o Paulo to prove that he deserves to stick around for a while longer yet.

Having been forced to surrender the coveted fourth position in the constructors' standings - one that the team had so long occupied in 2008 - to Renault in China, Toyota approach the finale with nothing to gain, but equally nothing to lose. Both Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are keen to end the year on a high and are more than capable of delivering, so it will be interesting to see whether the big-budget Japanese manufacturer - whose continued presence in F1 has been the subject of some speculation of late - goes all-out in a bid to sign off the season in style.

Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing and Williams, meanwhile, are all still fiercely battling for sixth spot in the constructors' chase, with the advantage very much to the former, but nothing yet set in stone. Sebastian Vettel will be making his final start for STR before graduating to the 'parent' Red Bull outfit in 2009 and so will be eager to leave with a flourish, whilst team-mate S?bastien Bourdais will similarly be aiming to return to the points as he conversely stakes his claim to stay at the Faenza-based squad next year.

Mark Webber and David Coulthard will be doing battle for RBR as the energy drinks-backed concern endeavours to avoid the embarrassment of being beaten by its 'junior' team, with the popular Scot bringing down the curtain on a long and successful career in F1 this weekend, and no doubt desperately hoping to conclude with what would be the 122nd points-scoring finish of a remarkable 15-year stint.

Williams, too, are hoping for points, as Nico Rosberg battles to retain his career momentum in the top flight and Kazuki Nakajima prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of his grand prix debut, whilst the weekend also offers Force India the Silverstone-based squad's very last chance to break its points duck in 2008 - a tall order, to say the least.

Honda's Rubens Barrichello, finally, may, like Coulthard, be making his F1 swansong in Brazil, even if he is hoping that will not be the case. With still no confirmation regarding drivers for next year from his employer Honda, the future of the 36-year-old - with no fewer than 269 grand prix starts under his belt, the most experienced competitor in the long history of the sport - remains unclear.

Whilst Massa may yet be crowned 2008 world champion, the most enthusiastic support at Interlagos, you can't help but feel, might just be reserved for a man who has captured the passion and inspiration of millions of his countryman like no driver since Senna - braveheart 'Rubinho'.

by Russell Atkins