Barely a fifth of the way into the 2014 F1 season there is already a sense fans are set for a two-horse race for the title.
Everyone knew Mercedes would likely be the team to beat heading into the new V6 hybrid era and so it has proven as they have dominated all four races without breaking into a sweat.
Now the sport has headed into its first three-week break of the year ahead of what is traditionally one of the most important races on the schedule.
The first race of the European season, nowadays the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, can often be seen as a reset button as teams bring their lavish motorhomes from their various bases and the first major upgrades are brought to the cars.
In a year of change such as this that concept does remain true and is perhaps enhanced given the level of performance teams can often find in such short periods of time.
With technology as young as the new V6 power units much larger chunks of power or efficiency can be found while the cars themselves can always be a little more aerodynamic.
The issue this year is that with Mercedes so dominant the gap between themselves and the rest is already huge.
Sure Lewis Hamilton recovered from his retirement in Australia, with three straight wins, to close the gap to team-mate Nico Rosberg to just four points but the pair have a 34-point advantage over Fernando Alonso in third.
The same applies to the Constructor’s standings where the Silver Arrows hold a near 100-point lead on Red Bull, who are second despite a double no-score in the opening round.
Looking to the remainder of the season it appears likely only two teams could realistically close what is a large gap to the Mercedes with those being Red Bull and Ferrari.
Certainly Red Bull are already seen by most as a team with a car that can battle with Mercedes, however, its underpowered Renault unit means in reality they can’t.
Ferrari too have their own troubles with the recent departure of Stefano Domenicali as Team Principal and the appointment of a F1 newbie in Marco Mattiacci.
The Prancing Horse too appears quite limp in contrast to the galloping three-pointed star with the F14-T seemingly very track dependant when it comes to just how competitive it can be.
For sure the team will be just as competitive in Barcelona as they were in Shanghai at the last race as national hero Fernando Alonso always gives just that little bit more than he already does at a track the Scuderia historically go well at.
Other teams that could have the potential to develop do have one significant problem; they all have Mercedes engines.
‘Surely this should be a positive?’ I hear you say, well yes it is in their current bid to keep up with Red Bull and Ferrari but the issue is they will always be one step behind the works team simply because Brackley will ensure it stays that way.
Then there comes another question, with the current gap to Mercedes in the championship should a chasing team put all its eggs into one basket?
Usually, particularly at Red Bull and Ferrari, this would have been less of an issue as Fernando Alonso was the clear ‘number one’ at Maranello and Sebastian Vettel the same in Milton Keynes.
But this year not only has the team pecking order changed but battles within the teams have changed also. This is certainly applicable to Red Bull where, after four years of Vettel domination, the German finds himself being shown up by a smiling assassin from Perth, Australia.
Daniel Ricciardo has been a revelation in 2014 and has brought a much-needed fresh face into the battle at the front. The 24-year-old has beaten his illustrious team-mate in three of the four qualifying sessions and the same in races (excluding various penalties).
Indeed if he hadn’t been excluded from second in Melbourne, Ricciardo would be third in the championship behind the two Merc’s.
So with a big internal battle brewing between Seb and Dan, how can Red Bull, for now, justify telling one, likely Ricciardo, to support Vettel’s championship bid?
The same applies but in a different way at Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen coming in alongside the stalwart Alonso.
The Finn has come in and has admittedly had a difficult second coming at the team so far with just 11 points from four races and being clearly outclassed by the Spaniard.
The issue is a man with the stature of Raikkonen is among the last people you would ever expect to want to play second fiddle to anyone let alone Alonso, so even if his current woes continue don’t expect any favours from the ‘Iceman’ at any point.
Of course all this talk could be largely irrelevant as it would take either a huge improvement in performance or a drop in development from Mercedes to knock them off their current perch.
But when considering the plight of those behind in their attempts to catch up there are and will be unexpected, out of the blue hurdles that will get in their way and only benefit the Silver Arrows even more.
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