Max Verstappen says he needs a “perfect weekend” if he is to clinch his second world title at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver will become champion if he wins Sunday’s race and takes the point for fastest lap.
In other circumstances, it depends on where Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finish.
“It would be very nice if it happens here but if it doesn’t, it will be even more in favour at the next race,” Verstappen said.
“It doesn’t really change anything – you just try to maximise everything you can.
“I need a perfect weekend to clinch the title here but to be honest I am not really thinking about it too much.”
Japan returns to the F1 calendar for the first time since 2019 after a break caused by the pandemic and Verstappen said that Red Bull’s relationship with engine supplier Honda meant that the race at Suzuka was “extra special” for the team.
The Japanese company officially pulled out of F1 at the end of last season but has continued to build and supply engines to Red Bull under a relationship dubbed “technical support”.
This weekend, the Honda logo returns to the Red Bull cars and those of sister team Alpha Tauri for the first time since the final race of last season in what Red Bull and Honda said was a “strengthening of the partnership”.
The move underlines the feeling within F1 that Honda was still involved in F1 this year, despite saying it was quitting to focus on zero-emission mobility.
Verstappen said: “Honda never really left and it is extra special they are back on the car for their home grand prix.”
To clinch the title on Sunday, Verstappen needs to gain eight points on Leclerc and 10 on Perez, the only two other drivers still in with a mathematical chance of the title. He holds a 104-point lead over Leclerc and 106 over Perez.
The last time the title was clinched with four races remaining was in 2011, when Sebastian Vettel won the second of his four consecutive championships.
There are many different scenarios. But for example, if Verstappen wins but does not take fastest lap, he needs Leclerc to finish lower than second place to be sure of the title.
If Verstappen is second, he needs Leclerc to be lower than fourth and Perez to be lower than fifth.
Leclerc was 46 points clear of Verstappen after the first three races of the season but has seen Ferrari’s season implode after a series of operational and strategic errors by the team in addition to reliability problems.
Leclerc said: “Realistically, Max is going to be champion. If it’s not this weekend, it is going to be very soon.
“We need to focus on ourselves and try to exercise well the Sunday. We have always been strong and the performance has always been good enough to fight for wins apart from some off-weekends, and there weren’t many.
“But it is about putting everything together – strategy and tyre management – and this is what we are fighting for at the moment and it is the step we will need to do next year in order to fight for the championship.”
Mercedes driver George Russell said he believed he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton could also feature in the battle at the front this weekend in Japan.
Russell said the team regretted their difficult grand prix in Singapore last weekend, where Hamilton was ninth and Russell out of the points in a race they felt they had the potential to win.
But Russell said he had reason to believe they could be competitive in Japan on the demanding and high-speed Suzuka track.
“We have a clear trend of where the car is working well and where not,” Russell said. “It is a shame for us as a team not to capitalise on that race weekend; we all felt that. But there are still a lot of positive signs to take away. We struggled on streets circuits earlier in the year and that was probably our fastest race weekend.
“Ferrari have been very fast in medium- and high-speed corners this year and the Red Bulls have been really slippery down the straights.
“It’s not going to be straightforward but we show reasonable pace on Sunday so there is no reason why we can’t be in the fight.”