Formula 1 team launches are all well and good, but it isn't until the cars hit the track for the first time that pre-season really feels like it is underway.
At Jerez on Tuesday, 10 of 2013's challengers (along with last year's Williams with the latest-specification tyres and some aero parts destined for the new FW35, which will be launched in two weeks), had their first serious test run.
Drawing anything other than the vaguest and most provisional of conclusions based on the first day of running is idiotic. But just as it was a chance for the teams to get to know their new machines, so it was for the watching world to catch their first glimpses of the equipment in which what is likely to be an ultra-competitive season will be played out.
First impressions mean very little, but they aren't entirely meaningless and already there have been some glimpses of the characteristics of these new steeds.
Ricciardo looked like he was having fun in the Toro Rosso © LAT
Surprisingly, the most eye-catching car of the day was the Toro Rosso. The team has set a pretty lofty target of rising to sixth in the constructors' championship, but the new STR8 looked wonderfully driveable. That's not to say that it looked spectacularly quick, merely that it seemed to be one of the more responsive cars out there.
Daniel Ricciardo spends most of his time grinning anyway, so there's no mileage in reading anything into his smiles in the evening. But the fact that he was actively trying to keep a lid on his enthusiasm for the new car told you everything you needed to know.
At this stage of last year, the Toro Rosso was a tricky machine to drive with a back end that, at times, looked pretty vicious. But at Jerez on Tuesday, it was a completely different beast.
The rear responded wonderfully to the throttle, and when Ricciardo asked too much of the front end into the rapid Turn 9 and went too deep into the corner, he was able to recover it beautifully by rotating the rear without losing too much momentum.
There were plenty of other times when the ability to drive the car using the very responsive rear was in evidence, which suggests that, at the very least, Toro Rosso has the user-friendly platform it needs to build on. Whether it has the downforce to climb the midfield, however, is another matter.
The Lotus, in the hands of Romain Grosjean, was very reminiscent of the same stage last year. Driveable, relatively settled over the kerbs and allowing the driver to commit to the maximum almost immediately. Granted, Grosjean is a pretty confident driver, but there's nothing to suggest that Lotus can't continue its progress.
Ferrari is already having a better winter than in 2012 © XPB
Perhaps the biggest difference between day one at Jerez between last year and this was with Ferrari.
Felipe Massa has already talked up the car and the evidence on track supports him. In 2012, getting the car from turn in to the apex was a pretty frustrating and inconsistent experience, but on Tuesday the Brazilian had a car under him that showed none of the more troublesome vices of its predecessor in the early running.
Mark Webber admitted that Red Bull was struggling with understeer and again that was visible on track, although as his testing programme meant that he completed very few laps while I was watching trackside. Our technical correspondent Gary Anderson had the chance for a far better look at it.
"Whenever the car was running out of grip on entry, it was difficult to sort out and the front end tended to wash out," says Gary. "But it's very much dependent on fuel load and it looked like the car was running fairly heavy.
Red Bull looks like a work in progress © XPB
"I'd expect to see some significant changes to the car between now and Melbourne anyway so there's nothing to get particularly worried about at this stage."
The Sauber looked wonderfully nimble in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg, although it appeared to be running a relatively light fuel load. There were a few lock-ups into the slower corners, suggesting that the preference that the Swiss team's machines have often had for the quicker stuff continues this year.
Plenty of Force India's running appeared to be on heavy fuel loads, which made the car look a little cumbersome at times, but despite a number of lock-ups during a long run, Paul di Resta looked relatively comfortable even though there was nothing to suggest that the team had made a giant stride forward.
Among all of these provisional conclusions, the one for which there is the most compelling visual evidence is that none of these teams has had a disaster with their baseline car concept. Most have a lot of parts still to come, so there is a long way to go yet.
Not that any of this is a surprise. With no major rule changes and 'evolution' by far the most popular word used during launch season, this year was never likely to be about massive strides forward or game-changing concepts.
With the gaps in 2013 likely to be so tight, chances are the differences between the good and the bad, certainly among the top nine teams, are going to be too small to show up within the huge error bars of the first day of testing.
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.