The prospect of seeing Sebastian Vettel beaten for the first time since last July is just one of the many novelties Sunday’s season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix promises to deliver.
Just how much trouble Vettel’s Red Bull team might be in is one of the questions waiting for an answer as the sport’s unpredictable new turbo era whooshes into action at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
The quadruple world champion won the last nine races of 2013 but the 26-year-old German spent much of his time during the pre-season tests in Spain and Bahrain watching the car being worked on in the garage.
Red Bull are braced for a reality check as they and partners Renault work against the clock to fix the troublesome 1.6 litre V6 hybrid turbo engine and its complicated new energy recovery systems.
Rivals Mercedes, under new leadership following the departure of Ross Brawn, have been racking up the laps with far less hassle.
“Mercedes have got a bit of a march on people. They invested more, they invested earlier. They’ve got themselves into a good position,” Red Bull team Principal Christian Horner told reporters.
“If Mercedes were to finish two laps ahead of the opposition in Melbourne, that wouldn’t be a surprise, based on what we’ve seen in pre-season testing. It’s massive.
“From what we can see at the moment, all the Mercedes powered teams are in pretty decent shape and we’re not.
“We’re on the back foot, and have a lot of ground to catch up,” added the Briton, who now has Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the lineup following compatriot Mark Webber’s retirement.