BEWARE THE QUIET TESTERS
Red Bull has always taken a low-key approach to pre-season testing, this year more than ever.
During the 12 days in Spain, the RB9 didn't run in anger with much less than half a tank of fuel, and in the all-important second half of the final Barcelona test did a surprisingly small amount of running.
The either indicates problems, or supreme confidence. Recent history would suggest the latter.
The car is categorically not more than two seconds off the pace, as a glance at the headline times would suggest.
Extrapolating from the laps the car did do, it's possible to conclude that Red Bull is a couple of tenths faster than the chasing pack, but this is based on too many assumptions and too small a margin to be confident this is a predictor for the season to come.
Melbourne is far from the most representative circuit on the calendar, but this weekend Red Bull will finally show its hand. But, whether or not it's at the front, beware of jumping to conclusions.
HAMILTON AT MERCEDES
Lewis Hamilton's switch to Mercedes is the story of 2013. Testing suggests the new car is, at the very least, a step forward over its predecessor and its strong showing at Barcelona has led some to predict a debut win for the Hamilton/Mercedes combination.
This is definitely not out of the question, although it's perhaps a little too much to ask for a team to make a big enough leap forward to go from struggling to match the Saubers and Force Indias at the end of last season to setting the pace, without the help of a major rule change.
But there's no reason why Hamilton - not to mention team-mate Nico Rosberg - can't be in the mix this weekend.
Given where Mercedes was in the second half of 2012, if the team can run strongly in the top six and fight for a podium, it would represent a superb start to the season.
And with Albert Park being a circuit that won't punish a slight downforce deficit, or a rear-tyre degradation problem, as much as some, the cards might just fall in Mercedes' favour and allow an even better result.
Track temperatures will be higher during the Australian Grand Prix weekend than they were during testing - albeit not by as much as the recent Melbourne heatwave initially promised. So it won't be until Friday practice that teams are able to get a proper handle on the 2013 rubber in more 'natural' conditions.
As is now traditional, there were predictions of 100-stop races and tyres that last only two corners during testing. This is, of course, nonsense. Pirelli is aiming for two/three-stop races and with high temperatures expected in Melbourne, it will be fascinating to see how the tyres degrade and wear.
Plenty of teams have forecast an unpredictable start to the season, so any squad able to get on top of the rubber before the rest could find itself very well- placed indeed.
McLAREN'S CAUTIOUS START
Despite showing very well early in pre-season testing, McLaren became more underwhelming as time went on. The drivers talked of the car being difficult to understand and, on track, it appeared to suffer from an understeer problem.
The team has talked up the long-term potential of its aggressive MP4-28 design, but has warned it might take a few races to hit form. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has set his sights for Melbourne relatively low, talking simply of points as the target.
Rest assured, internal expectations will be higher. Not only are there question marks over whether the car will be transformed by running at higher track temperatures, but there's also doubt about the potency of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez in qualifying trim.
If McLaren does struggle, expect there to be plenty of scrutiny of a team that's found it hard to turn regular wins into titles over the past decade.
FERRARI'S STRONGER START
The Ferrari F138 didn't look like the best car during pre-season testing, but it wasn't far off. In 2012, Fernando Alonso had a fight on his hands even to get his car into Q3, but this year the red machine at least looks capable of being near the front.
There is a suspicion that the car isn't quite there in terms of rear-end downforce. Certainly, at Barcelona there were signs of the rear running out of grip a little earlier than some of its rivals did.
But with Ferrari promising to run more new parts than most during Friday practice, that picture could change.
Also, keep an eye on Felipe Massa. The Brazilian finished last season very strongly, having looked dead-in-the-water as a grand prix driver in the first part of the year.
If he can keep up that form, he could prove to be a key ally to Alonso in the Spaniard's quest for a third world title.
RAIKKONEN THE DARK HORSE
last year didn't quite go as planned. He started way down the grid after a timing problem in qualifying - triggered by a delay to change a visor - meant that he didn't get the final lap he was anticipating.
But things are very different this year. Raikkonen is now race-sharp and has proved himself capable of winning. The new Lotus, too, looks to be a competitive machine and is expected to be in the thick of the five-team scrap at the front.
A strong start for Lotus is critical. It doesn't pack the same financial punch as the four teams that it aspires to mix it with and good results early on will make a big difference.
WILL THE WILD MEN DELIVER?
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado both proved they had the speed last season, but also became embroiled in far too many incidents.
The pair clashed on the second lap of the Australian Grand Prix, putting third- place starter Grosjean out of the race, while Maldonado crashed out of sixth place on the final lap. A repeat will not go down well.
Both need a confidence-boosting start to the season, for their own performances and to avoid getting drawn back into the maelstrom of controversy that engulfed them at times last season.
After all, if they can cut out the errors, both can be formidable competitors.
THE BATTLE AT THE BACK
Caterham and Marussia showed in testing that the gulf between them and the midfield remains, but there does appear to have been a shift in the competitive balance between the pair.
While Marussia came within a few laps of beating Caterham to 10th in the championship last year, the green team was the stronger over the course of the season.
In 2013, it looks like Marussia is well-placed to start as the dominant force in the battle at the back.
With the addition of KERS, supplied by Williams, Marussia showed in testing that it had the legs of Caterham. If that pattern continues in Melbourne, it will set the stage for a fascinating, if low-profile, confrontation.
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