With just four races ticked off the Formula 1 calendar in 2013, it already looks like Red Bull Racing are once again the team to beat.
Reigning drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel has won two of the opening four rounds of the season, and the Tilbrook team are well in control in the constructors’ standings at this early stage too.
Vettel’s performance in Bahrain just confirmed what many have feared since the closing stages of the Chinese Grand Prix – given clean air, there’s just no stopping the German racing to a fourth consecutive title.
His determination and his ultimate victory in battle with Fernando Alonso – arguably the strongest challenger to a fourth title – also dispelled myths that the 25-year-old can only win from the front, or when his team-mate isn’t expected to be overtaken.
His crucial middle stint in the Bahrain desert was key to his victory on Sunday. On the last of his medium compound tyres, Vettel made a bolt for it and simply maintained a pace the rest couldn’t keep up with.
As the rest of the pack just battled amongst themselves – and used up precious tyre life – Vettel kept edging away in front, keeping on top of the wear issues the 2013 Pirelli tyres have already become synonymous with.
While the win in Bahrain won’t be remembered by the fans quite as vividly as Vettel’s controversial win in Malaysia will, it will send bigger shock waves through the paddock.
It should also be a concern for team-mate Mark Webber. The Australian, who started his 200th F1 Grand Prix last Sunday, has so far struggled to make the Pirelli rubber last in race conditions.
On the last lap in Bahrain, he dropped two places from fifth to seventh as his tyres ‘fell off the cliff’ while battling Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Webber’s form has been very hard to judge since the now infamous Malaysian GP.
His outing in China was fraught with problems and bad luck – the consequences of a rash overtaking attempt on Jean-Eric Vergne felt on the grid in Bahrain with his three place grid drop.
Placed in the centre of the pack, Webber, 36, was always going to have a tough fight on his hands. And with so many potential race winners in the field this season, he was not only fighting, but defending his position, wearing out his tyres much faster than Vettel was in the same machinery.
As the teams head to the first European race of the year in Spain in two weeks, many will be expected to bring huge updates to their cars.
In that sense, Red Bull will be no different to the others, and with the most consistent car on the grid in their hands already, a successful upgrades package could spell the end to the season as a spectacle – not that anyone in Tilbrook will be too disappointed about it.