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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 06:00 GMT 07:00 UK
The men who would be F1 king
Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has become F1's new poster boy with a stunning debut
The Formula One world championship reaches its climax in Brazil this weekend with three drivers still in with a chance of taking the crown.

Englishman Lewis Hamilton is a narrow favourite, as he heads to Interlagos with a four-point lead over McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

BBC Sport profiles the three men on the verge of glory.

LEWIS HAMILTON

The superlatives keep on flowing for the 22-year-old Englishman, who is on the verge of becoming the first man in history to win the title in his first season in Formula One.

Expected to spend the season learning from his team-mate, who joined the team this year on the back of two consecutive world titles, Hamilton has challenged Alonso from the start.

606: DEBATE
It is an incredible achievement for someone in their first season, with all the disadvantages that his lack of experience brings, to compete in this way with a man who will go down in history as one of the greatest drivers of all time.

Hamilton has demonstrated a consistency, pace, skill, ruthlessness and overtaking ability that will guarantee he takes his own place in the pantheon regardless of whether he prevails on Sunday or not.

But Hamilton has done even more than prove he will be a - if not the - major force in F1 over the next decade. He has also taken F1 to a whole new audience.

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has driven like a veteran despite being in his first season
Part of that is down to the fact that he is fresh, young, good looking, perceived to be cool, talks eloquently and apparently straight and is not shy of voicing his opinions.

But equally there is no doubt that his mixed race has had a lot to do with extending his appeal - and that of F1 - into a whole new demographic.

FERNANDO ALONSO

This has been a difficult year for the 26-year-old Spaniard, and for him to be going into the last race still in with a real shot at the title says a great deal for his single-mindedness and strength of character.

Fernando Alonso
Alonso is hoping to win his third title in a row
Alonso arrived at McLaren on the back of winning two consecutive titles with Renault, and expected that success to grant him a certain status within the team.

But he has not felt comfortable at McLaren from the start.

Initially, that was because he felt the team were concentrating too much on Lewis Hamilton - which was understandable given that he was new to the sport, and had been nurtured by the team for the last decade.

But Alonso's discomfort took on a whole new dimension when he realised just how much of a threat Hamilton was going to be on the track.

A proud man, and one who is well aware of just how good he is, Alonso has never found it easy to be beaten by a team-mate.

So when that began to happen with regularity - and the man who was doing it was a rookie - he did not respond well.

He faced other obstacles, too, such as having to adapt to a completely different tyre from the one he was used to at Renault - a significant problem that also afflicted Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, but not Hamilton, who, as he was new to F1, had nothing to "unlearn".

Fernando Alonso in his McLaren
Alonso is still in the running despite being at odds with his team
And as Alonso was battling to re-model his driving style to cope with that, his relationship with the team cooled as he sought an elevated status that they were not prepared to grant.

It reached rock bottom during a row with team boss Ron Dennis at the Hungarian Grand Prix in August.

There, Alonso threatened to reveal potentially damaging information he had about McLaren to the sport's governing body, the FIA.

And although he later withdrew the threat, Dennis had already told FIA president Max Mosley - an action that led to the team being fined 49.2m and being thrown out of the constructors' championship.

Ironically, that row seems to have had a cathartic effect on Alonso, for he entered a phase of the season when he repeatedly beat Hamilton and dragged himself right back into the championship fight.

The relationship between him and the team has broken down to such an extent that it seems impossible he could see out the remaining two years of his contract.

Yet it is a tribute to Alonso's forcefulness, and McLaren's determination to treat their drivers equally, that he could yet emerge from Brazil with a third consecutive title.

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Ferrari's "Iceman" is a late entry into the title reckoning, but no less a formidable one for that.

Raikkonen started the season as favourite for the championship having replaced Michael Schumacher at Ferrari.

Kmi Raikkonen
Raikkonen is arguably the fastest driver in F1
But although the 28-year-old Finn won the first race, his season then stalled - which was surprising for a man regarded as probably the out-and-out fastest man in F1, if not the most complete driver.

Struggling with the same tyre-adaptation problems that afflicted Alonso, Raikkonen was initially - and surprisingly - briefly overshadowed by team-mate Felipe Massa.

And when he did begin to get on top of Massa, problems intervened - some out of his control; others errors he made himself.

But even with his slightly unconvincing start to the season, Raikkonen has always been in the background of the title chase, and his recent form has proved just how formidable a contender he is.

He has taken two wins, two second places and two thirds in the last six races, and on balance is probably favourite to win the race in Brazil on Sunday.

Kmi Raikkonen in his Ferrari
Raikkonen has had two more car failures than his rivals
Whether that would be enough to make him champion remains to be seen, because he is hostage to the results of the McLaren drivers.

It is worth bearing in mind the following fact, though.

Neither Hamilton nor Alonso has suffered a single car failure in a race this season. Raikkonen has suffered two, and they have cost him a total of 14 points.

With them, he would be heading into Brazil leading the points table - and he, not Hamilton, would be the favourite to win the title.



SEE ALSO
F1 rivals ready for Brazil battle
17 Oct 07 |  Formula One
The ways the F1 title can be won
17 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Has Hamilton blown his chance?
07 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Comment: Hamilton feels the heat
08 Oct 07 |  Formula One
McLaren face scrutiny over Alonso
11 Oct 07 |  Formula One
I can handle pressure - Hamilton
09 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton planning Senna tribute
11 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Alonso 'sure' of McLaren equality
08 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton still favourite - Alonso
07 Oct 07 |  Formula One
Hamilton exit our fault - McLaren
07 Oct 07 |  Formula One


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