This weekend's British Grand Prix, the ninth race of the Formula One season, arrives with Fernando Alonso, Ferrari's Spanish driver, the only man to have won more than once.
He won at Silverstone last year and after triumphing in Malaysia in March and Valencia last week, he will be intent on increasing his lead at the top of the drivers' standings come Sunday evening.
No one is under any illusions, however. Alonso's victory in Valencia, while a typical display of determination was largely down to the unexpected retirements of cars faster than his own. Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver leading the race comfortably, stopped on track courtesy of a faulty alternator. As did Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver who had started the weekend at Valencia Street Circuit leading the title chase by two points, crashed out on the penultimate lap after a collision with Pastor Maldonado, who was given a 20-second time penalty.
Alonso said last month that Hamilton was his biggest threat, yet it is Red Bull who appear the fastest team in the field, having claimed pole position at four of the past five races. Vettel's performance in Spain last week was as convincing as anything he managed during the previous two seasons, both of which he finished as champion.
"Be careful because Vettel could dominate for the rest of the year," Hamilton said. "The pace he had at the last race was ridiculous; he made a 20-second lead in something like 10 laps,"
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, is not getting ahead of himself and knows that, as the man in the lead, Alonso is the driver who poses most trouble to his marque. The Milton Keynes-based team will be keen to avoid the kind of problems that gifted their rival advantage in the past.
Alonso's victory at Silverstone last year was also fortuitous, after Vettel suffered a rare delay during a pitstop, and the Spaniard will be aware he may have to rely on lady luck smiling down upon him again this weekend.
The two-time world champion has never had the fastest car on track this season, yet is proving consistency is key in what has become undoubtedly the most unpredictable season in the sport's six-decade history. Were it not for some poor strategic calls from his Ferrari team, he could have twice as many victories as he has and yet he still holds a 20-point lead at the top of the championship.
Hamilton, who won at Silverstone in 2008, is eager to close that gap with a strong showing in front of his home support, but he knows it is no easy task, considering the number of competitive drivers this year.
"It is not a worry for me because it is what it is," he said. "It is going to be Red Bull, Ferrari and us, but maybe some other people at Silverstone.
"I'd love to win the race, but I have no idea how the cars and tyres will behave. I love winning the British Grand Prix and getting that trophy. It's the best trophy I have ever seen."
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& Gary Meenaghan
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