A guessing game as F1 roars into action
The Formula 1 season officially gets underway at Albert Park in Melbourne this coming weekend and for the first time in many years, it's impossible to predict who'll claim victory at the season opener.
Pre-season testing has shown us that the Mercedes-powered cars, the works Mercedes and Williams in particular, look strong contenders for the win. They've been the most reliable through the four pre-season tests, while the Renault-powered cars have faltered. The duel for fastest lap between Merc's Lewis Hamilton and the Williams of Valteri Bottas at the end of the final day's testing was exciting to watch. So clearly they have some pace as well.
Pundits also believe the likes of Sauber and Force India could make a giant leap forward towards the front of the pack, but where does that leave the likes of Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and McLaren?
Well, for Ferrari, it looks like much of the same as last season where the car was quick but not as quick as the frontrunners. They've also had some reliability issues, but we can't read too much into that because there were issues in some form or another up and down the paddock. The Prancing Horse is, at this stage of the season, certainly a dark horse for victory in Melbourne.
McLaren is yet to acquire a title sponsor and the longer that continues, the more critical the situation will get. This season is expected to be as much about the development race as it is about the race for the championship, and funds could become vital if they fail to secure a cash-injection. On the track, McLaren's MP4-29 car hasn't set the track alight with lead driver, Jenson Button, conceding that Mercedes and Williams are strong going into the opening few races. Of course, Jenson could be pulling the wool over everyone's eyes, much like he did when he drove for the championship-winning Braun team in 2009.
Lotus is in all sorts of trouble. They missed the opening test and the tests they did manage to attend were marred by reliability issues. They go into the season underdone and under-prepared. I'd be very surprised if they find themselves near the front in Australia.
Finally, we come to Red Bull Racing - the four-time constructor's champion with four-time drivers' champion Sebastian Vettel at the helm. The defending champions have not had it all their way during pre-season. In fact, nothing has gone right for them so far and they too are undercooked in terms of the number of laps under their belt going into the Melbourne race. Issue after issue, mostly the result of an ultra-tight design at the back of the car and Renault's well-documented woes, has plagued Red Bull and many feel it'll be an achievement for them just to finish in the points. The team's issues are actually a blessing in disguise for Formula 1 watchers because it would mean the end of the monotonous Vettel and Red Bull dominance we saw last season.
New teams will emerge at the front and the traditional powerhouses may fall behind, which makes this the most exciting and unpredictable build up to a F1 season for many years.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg to set the tone for the 2014 season.
Morne Esben is an EWN sports reporter.