LONDON, March 9, 2013 (AFP) - All eyes will be on the usual suspects when the 2013 Formula One season erupts into ear-shattering life in Melbourne on March 17, with nobody quite sure which team or driver will set the early season pace.
But even if one team dominates and produces a dazzling run of early-season success, it will not necessarily indicate that the rest should consider packing up and planning long-term for 2014.
More than ever, modern-day F1 has become a long-term, non-stop development war. That means the teams that can improve their cars consistently throughout the year to maintain a level of speed and competitiveness on different circuits and in all conditions will be the ones fighting it out for glory.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel proved that last year when after a dodgy early spell of poor results, he bounced back to reel off a late season run that saw him triumph in Singapore, Japan, Korea and India.
The German driver's run of wins lifted him back to the forefront of the title race and put him back on course for an unprecedented third consecutive title triumph.
But it was a success story that owed as much to the Red Bull team's technical boffins at their base in Milton Keynes, central England, as it did to the 25-year-old amazing talent and fighting spirit behind the wheel.
Pre-season testing ended in Barcelona with a flurry of speed from the Mercedes team in which new arrival Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, pushed his old friend and new team-mate Nico Rosberg, of Germany, to the quickest lap of the final test.
That may indicate that the former Brawn team's cars have the basic pace to compete but means little beyond the opening four "flyaway" races in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain.
That "mini-season" will separate the contenders from the also-rans but little more -- unless one team has a hidden technical advantage that has yet to be unveiled and will leave the field chasing hard to copy the clever new trick.
This is unlikely this season with a mature set of rules and it is more likely that, as the teams become used to their new machines in the early races, champions Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes will fight it out.
Many eyes will be focussed on Hamilton as he attempts to succeed where seven-time champion Michael Schumacher failed in leading the Silver Arrows back to Formula One success.
The team, however, appear to be heading into a stormy transitional period with questions raised over technical director Ross Brawn's future following the team's recruitment of fellow-Briton Paddy Lowe from McLaren.
Lowe's move was engineered by Austrian former world champion Niki Lauda, who has been given the job of overseeing all operations at Mercedes. Given that Hamilton's genius is for racing, not politics, he could again find himself in stormy waters and struggle to lift the team to the level of consistency needed to match their rivals.
That would leave Lotus again fighting for the ongoing budget to match the might of McLaren and Ferrari in pursuit of Red Bull as a sport built round speed is decided by the brains and timely investments.