The competitive hierarchy of the Formula 1 teams has rarely been so transparent. After the first three grands prix it's very clear that Ferrari and McLaren are out front, with BMW some way adrift in third but a long way out of reach of the rest.
It is in the group behind BMW where the intrigue currently lies: there are five teams - Red Bull, Renault, Super Aguri, Toyota and Williams - that really cannot be split, and for much of the first stint of the Bahrain Grand Prix we saw them pretty much in one long line.
When you do the fuel-weight calculations of the Bahrain grid it shows that less than 0.1sec would separate seventh from 16th place on a straightforward, low-fuel grid. The figures for an ideal theoretical lap for each of those cars are in the table.
Bahrain GP 'low fuel'
Team Time Toyota 1m 32.082s Red Bull 1m 32.161s Super Aguri 1m 32.163s Renault 1m 32.168s Williams 1m 32.168s
As you can see, it's a dogfight! These teams are currently forming a 10-car mid-grid, about 1sec/lap adrift of BMW and around 0.5sec/lap ahead of Honda, but with next to nothing separating them from each other. In fact, in the cases of Renault and Williams at Bahrain, not even a timing beam measuring down to one-thousandth of a second could have split them!
If we accept that it is highly unlikely we are going to see any of these teams find the 1.5-1.7sec needed to get to the front this year, and that even asking them to find the 1sec to BMW is a very tall order, then seeing how they each develop within this group is going to be fascinating. As is looking at how they have each found themselves here.
For example, if I had predicted at the end of last year that world champion Renault would be slogging it out for pace with back-of-the-gridder Super Aguri in '07, you might quite reasonably have suspected I'd lost the plot.
Yet although the pace of the five teams is near-identical, their points tally after three races gives a pretty good assessment of the quality of those teams in a racing situation. Here Renault is way ahead on nine points, with Toyota following on five, Williams on two, and Red Bull and Aguri yet to score.
Williams, and in particular Red Bull, are under-represented because of unreliability, but it is clear that all the savvy and understanding seen from Renault in its world title campaigns is still much in evidence.
In a similar vein, the inexperience of the little Aguri team is at least partly responsible for its position. For example, in Bahrain Anthony Davidson was on a very long opening stint that just might have paid off spectacularly had the team dared to convert from two pitstops to one.
The concern was that the harder tyre Super Aguri was obliged Hughesto fit would have cost Davidson too much time if he had run it for half the race. But the track was rubbering in and Anthony wasn't going to get in the points doing the same as the others, so it was definitely worth a punt.
Separating car pace and team performance is just one of the interesting deconstructions. Another is driver performance.
Those closely matched lap times are a combination of the car and the driver, and just as surely as they show that Renault would still be in trouble even if it had retained Fernando Alonso - because there's no way even he could have found 1.5sec per lap - so we can ponder if Jarno Trulli's excellent qualifying laps are the only thing that's putting Toyota at the head of that pack. Might Mark Webber be similarly flattering the Red Bull's level?
If Webber were still at Williams, would that team be leading that pack comfortably? Trulli recently said that winning this sub-group was like winning a race, and you can sort of see what he means, with nine other drivers in cars with pretty much the same performance snapping at your tail.
Looking at how it's likely to develop, the Red Bull is at a much earlier stage of its development than the other cars in that group. Work began on the RB3 six weeks late because the team wanted to develop it from scratch in its new windtunnel - which wasn't ready in time. Some of the systems on that car are still relatively agricultural, but will soon be upgraded to bring them parity with the others.
As such, the Red Bull might just be the car with the potential to transcend that group - and maybe even to get in among the BMWs before the season is out. But it will need much better reliability and some slicker of-the-moment calls from the team if it's to make use of that.
Super Aguri probably has the best-sorted, most-developed car of that group, in that it's essentially last year's Honda, and so probably has the least development potential, especially so considering the tiny size of the team. For that reason you'd suspect it will be at the back of the sub-group before too much longer.
And what of Renault? Given that the title-winning R26 was clearly a faster car than last year's Honda (ie this year's Aguri), then it looks like the R27 may actually be slower than its predecessor. Worryingly for Renault, in Bahrain it still didn't have a proper handle on why. "I suspect it is something to do with the change from Michelin to Bridgestone tyres," said the ever-logical Pat Symonds.
"Because there was no doubt that the '06 car was faster last year than the '06 McLaren. Yet as soon as we went to the test in Jerez with those two cars on Bridgestones, the McLaren suddenly became a faster car than the Renault - and that was with nothing else having changed. We have been trying to catch back up ever since that test."
Now, if we could only get the front of the pack to be a five-team, 10-car scrap...