With Jenson Button now the last man standing as a hazard to Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 title, morning practice at Suzuka seemed to follow the script.
For the championship battle to move on to Korea in a week’s time, McLaren’s Button needs to win on Sunday with Vettel failing to score a single point.
The young German was third quickest early on Friday but he also ended the session as a spectator by crashing his Red Bull at Degner.
With Button fastest of all, Vettel, 24, also seemed to be feeling the pressure as he anxiously ran back to the crash scene after watching the Japanese marshals grapple with his damaged RB7.
However, any hopes that he might not wrap up the championship this weekend remain a very long shot.
“Sebastian has the title in his pocket, even if he decides to watch this race on television,” Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is quoted by La Stampa newspaper.
The Spaniard said he is not overly interested in his close battle with Button and Mark Webber for the honours behind Vettel’s championship.
“Nobody remembers who finishes second or third,” said Alonso.
That might explain the obvious shortage of journalists at Suzuka this weekend, as Button raised his eyebrows when told he is still a true title contender.
“Sebastian is probably the only person here that’s saying so,” smiled the Briton on Thursday. “It’s all but over.
“This is a circuit I’d love to win on, it’s all about the challenge and to come away with a victory here would be very special.
“I’m sure it would be overshadowed by a certain person winning the championship but it would still be very enjoyable for myself,” added Button.
And then F1’s full focus can openly turn to 2012.
“We have to be optimistic and push bloody hard to make sure there is no repeat of how straightforward it’s been for him (this year),” Vettel’s teammate Webber insisted.