There may be a fly in the ointment if the first practice session of the new Formula One season is anything to go by.
All the talk in the pre-season build-up has centred around ’the big four’ of McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes.
One team, though, has quietly been beavering away in the background and they came to the fore after the opening 90 minutes ahead of the curtain-raising grand prix in Bahrain this weekend.
The name of Force India’s Adrian Sutil topped the timesheets for the recently-lengthened Sakhir circuit that sits in the middle of the Bahraini desert, stretched from 5.412km to 6.299km, perhaps underlining the suggestion by a few they are dark horses.
The additional eight corners has significantly increased the lap time as Sutil’s best of one minute 56.583 seconds was 22 seconds slower than Jarno Trulli’s fastest of a year ago, a 1:34.556.
The fact Sutil was out in front was certainly a surprise, however, this was only first practice, and like the 15 days of pre-season testing before today, it has hard to judge the exact positions.
Nevertheless, the Silverstone-based team will be heartened by such a strong start, finishing 0.183secs ahead of Fernando Alonso on his Ferrari debut.
There was a further shock with the sight of Renault’s Robert Kubica in third, the Pole significantly overshadowing his Russian rookie team-mate Vitaly Petrov who was down in 16th, with just under two seconds separating the duo.
Kubica headed a gaggle of drivers hovering around half a second off German Sutil, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa next up, followed by the McLaren pairing of reigning world champion Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Although their cars have been declared legal by motor sport’s world governing body, the FIA, it is clear other teams are far from happy and there may yet be a protest regarding their rear wing.
A seething Bob Bell, Renault’s managing director, said: “It is fundamentally clear the McLaren wing design is totally illegal.
“They have driven a cart horse through the sprit of the rules and regulations. They have opened up another arms race.
“It’s going to cost everybody a lot of money. The governing bodies need to be a lot stronger with these things.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has insisted one clever person within his organisation has simply managed to find a way to circumvent those rules.
Behind the top six, Vitantonio Liuzzi was at least in close attendance to team-mate Sutil as he finished 0.6secs down.
Completing the top 10 was an intriguing trio as Red Bull’s Mark Webber sandwiched the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, with the former pipping the seven-times world champion.
It was 41-year-old Schumacher’s first official practice session for three and a half years on his comeback outing, and he finished a full second behind Sutil, and 0.4secs adrift of Rosberg.
Last year’s championship runner-up Sebastian Vettel was 13th behind the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and Nico Hulkenberg on his debut for Williams, with their team-mates Sebastien Buemi and veteran Rubens Barrichello 14th and 15th.
Behind Petrov came the Sauber duo of Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi, followed by Timo Glock as Virgin Racing made its first foray into a grand prix weekend.
The German edged out the Lotus pairing of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, but in a clear indicator of how far the newcomers are off the pace at this early stage in the season, all three were seven seconds behind Sutil.
Lucas di Grassi completed just two installation laps in the other Virgin, whilst it was no surprise to see Hispania Racing suffer a series of problems as they took their first tentative steps into F1.
Without a single test kilometre behind them following a troubled winter, Bruno Senna managed just three installation laps, the first of those not until 21 minutes from the end of the session.
As for team-mate Karun Chandhok, he frustratingly sat on the sidelines for the entire run due to a hydraulics issue.