There is no real beginning to the Formula One season. Over the course of car launches, media days, and winter testing, F1 personalities come out of hibernation, moan about how short the winter break was, and get on with the business of knuckling down to another nine months of work.

But Thursday in Albert Park is like the first day back at school, with everyone in attendance for the first time. As drivers and journalists and team members all get together to swap war stories, the biggest currency is gossip. What have the Brazilians heard that the Brits weren't privy to? Do the French know more about the Renault engine than the rest of us?

The chaos of the 2014 pre-season still lingers, and the main topic of discussion is best guesses on form. We all know Mercedes were the best of the bunch in winter testing, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered, particularly where the Ferrari engine is concerned.

In Jerez, the Ferrari looked good but not spectacular. The engine logged a respectable number of laps between works and customer outfits, and while it didn't look to be on a par with the Mercedes power unit, it was streets ahead of the Renault.

In Bahrain, there were mutterings - particularly from the Italian press corps - that there was some serious sand-bagging at play. Team employees past and present were remarkably coy when asked outright, refraining from committing themselves to an on-the-record statement they might later come to regret, but smiling and winking in all the right places.

Before the end of Sunday's grand prix there is little we can do but estimate form based on a combination of sector times and reliability shown in twelve scant days of winter testing. And it is in the sector times that Ferrari proved to be particularly intriguing, with little consistency from lap to lap. On occasion lightning quick and in other instances rather less so, the Ferrari engine does appear to have reliability on its side.

Well - as much as anyone can be said to be reliable as we wait with bated breath to see just how the biggest regulatory change in F1 history will pan out when 22 cars leave the grid on Sunday afternoon.

But whatever we know or think we know after the winter tests, there are still ongoing battles about the legality of Ferrari's turbo-housing, and it is entirely possible that the result of the Australian Grand Prix will be subject to protest by the Mercedes- and Renault-powered teams.

The FIA have said that they are satisfied with the Scuderia's solution, but as previous pre-season technical battles have shown, if the teams can use their ingenuity to pick out flaws that have eluded the FIA's experts, satisfaction can always be revoked.

Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.

 

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