Never discount Lewis Hamilton and the Silver Arrows
JOHANNESBURG - If a snapshot could tell a thousand words and predict the future, then the Silver Arrows' dominance of Formula One might be under threat.
That was the picture which developed after the only pre-season testing event for the 2021 calendar this past weekend at the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain.
Red Bull were the big winners, topping the overall timesheet by the end of day three, while Mercedes battled with numerous woes from the first day onwards. Max Verstappen also set the fastest time on day three, adding to the Mercedes' concerns.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, finished fifth overall, with the team completing the fewest amount of laps during the event - 118 rotations less than the 422 by AlphaTauri.
The major concern for team principle Toto Wolff and Co seems to be focussed on the wily rear end of the W12. Hamilton, especially, did not look comfortable with the car's setup, spinning out a couple of times over the course of the weekend.
Very little has changed, development wise, since last year with the innovations this season mostly concerned with the undercarriage of the car, and various aerodynamic changes improving the airflow around the sidepods of the vehicles.
If the Polaroid of this instant is to be believed, then Red Bull - as driven by Verstappen and the newly-acquired Sergio Perez - are arguably the pre-season favourites heading into the first race next weekend, also at Sakhir.
It is a big call to make. Mercedes are relentless, they have been for several years, and to decree that they are not the team to watch again, is premature. They are, after all the pacesetters of the sport.
Even so, F1 needs that competitive edge, it needs a second, and hopefully from next year onwards multiple teams, to challenge the supremacy of the Silver Arrows. It needs more drama.
As witnessed last year, F1 was at its best when the unscripted and unexpected happened, and if pretesting is anything to go by, F1's fans can hopefully expect more of that. The midfield also looks as strong as it has in quite some time.
McLaren were impressive, as well as the Honda-backed AlphaTauri. Their new driver, 20-year-old Yuki Tsunoda of Japan was outstanding, especially considering his limited time on track in the car. It might not be a stretch of the imagination to declare that on the right day, with the right conditions, and with a bit of luck, both will be pushing hard for podiums.
Ferrari fans, meanwhile, best strap in for another underwhelming season. They didn't have the worst of times in testing, but it wasn't great either, placing them squarely in the middle of the field again this year.
For now, here is hoping the Hamilton and Mercedes won't have it as easy this year, and that we get to see some breath-taking, heart-pounding stuff on the tracks around the world.