The standard PR talk coming from team bosses and drivers alike after the opening race of any Formula One season is that a clear picture of how the season will develop will not emerge until the European races.
Despite the apparent dominance of Mercedes in Australia, with Nico Rosberg winning by a whopping 26.777 seconds from Kevin Magnusson, team boss Toto Wolff remained cautious when quoted on Autosport.com.
An advantage can quickly turn into a disadvantage within a couple of races. We had the first race weekend, we won the race and pace-wise it looked OK, but speaking about us being favourites after the first race would be a bit over the top.
And yet if we look back over the race winners from the opening grands prix from the last 10 seasons or so and how the subsequent season developed, a clear pattern of dominance emerges pretty quickly.
|Year||Aus GP winner||World Champion|
|2013||Kimi Raikkonen||Sebastian Vettel|
|2012||Jenson Button||Sebastian Vettel|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Sebastian Vettel|
|2010||Jenson Button||Sebastian Vettel|
|2009||Jenson Button||Jenson Button|
From 2000-2013, seven drivers who have won in Australia have gone on to take the title. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that going on those statistics, there’s a 50 percent chance that the winner in Australia will go on to be champion. So why all the Mercedes caution?
Well, for starters, 50 percent of the time it doesn’t happen. Kimi Raikkonen won in Australia last year and enjoyed a competitive half dozen races, and there were an unprecedented seven different winners in the opening seven races in 2012 before Sebastian Vettel eventually clinched a hard-fought title.
Wolff will also be wary that at the start of a season which has seen the most radical regulation changes in a generation, things could turn around very quickly. No teams stand still waiting for their rivals to disappear into the distance, and Mercedes’ rivals will have looked very closely at what they are doing right and adjust accordingly.
Will a Mercedes driver lift the title on the basis of their showing in Australia?
After an abject display in pre-season testing, who could have predicted that Red Bull, petty fuel-flow sensor readings notwithstanding, could have finished second in Australia?
And McLaren team boss Eric Boullier has already targeted the Spanish Grand Prix as the race in which his team gains parity with Mercedes.
"Our target is to catch up by Barcelona, and then build up over the first few races in Europe," he is quoted on Autosport.com.
The fact that it is also difficult to develop cars over the opening fly-away races may mask Mercedes’ early advantage, but McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis still thinks they will have made significant progress by Malaysia.
"We are confident that we will be half a second quicker at the next grand prix, for a variety of reasons,” he told Autosport.com. “That will not be enough to achieve our goal but it will keep the pressure on those teams that are chasing us."
Then, of course, there’s the Lewis Hamilton factor. Despite the fact that Rosberg has opened up a 25-point advantage on his major rival, many bookmakers still have the Briton as a fairly strong favourite for the title.
Even when Brawn GP so utterly dominated the opening half of the season in 2009 with the advantage of their double diffuser, the biggest winning margin was 22.722 seconds in Malaysia. Mercedes have already eclipsed that.
So while the opening race of the season doesn't always show who will win the title, there are strong reasons to believe that this year, more than ever before, the driver will be wearing Mercedes overalls.