Today's Chinese Grand Prix gave further evidence of the capricious nature of modern Formula 1. A comfortable victory in the end for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, and much to muse on elsewhere in the field.
The extent of Alonso's superiority came as quite a surprise, and must be seen as persuasive evidence that the Italian team will be genuine contenders for the ultimate prizes this season. In stark contrast to early 2012, they have hit the ground running this time around, with the reassurance that the Spaniard's talent and tactical resourcefulness remain undimmed. Team and driver are both up to speed, and this two-pronged challenge looks quite formidable. At the same time Alonso, canny as ever, was quick to acknowledge that the current state of affairs cannot be taken for granted, and that the next race may present new variables to shake things up.
Mercedes continue to press, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that there are couple of small, but significant, pieces missing from their jigsaw. That extra iota of race-pace, and total mechanical reliability, spring to mind. Lewis Hamilton's cautionary pronouncements appear to have been borne out. The team has moved more centre-stage, but there are still areas of weakness to rectify.
Whatever the flaws in the Mercedes situation, their position looks quite enviable in comparison to that of McLaren, who continue to look anaemic. Today's strategy, although permitting some deceptive prominence at times, seemed tailored to getting a solid points finish on the board. Jenson Button was philosophical after the Grand Prix, and he must also be conscious of having to shoulder the burden of leadership in the team, with Sergio Perez continuing to struggle.
A few other things are worthy of mention. Kimi Raikkonen's pace was excellent after a stuttering beginning to the race, and it is this fleet form and relentless consistency which may ensure that the Finn remains in contention in the standings right until the end of the season.
Daniel Ricciardo was once again impressive in the Toro Rosso, and it may be that people will begin to cross-reference his assertive and confident performances with the difficulties afflicting a driver with a not totally unconnected team; a more senior Antipodean, whose future plans are the subject of renewed speculation.
A glance at the drivers' standings could be construed as quite revealing. The four leading competitors - Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton are threatening to detach themselves from the pack. By most measures, this quartet constitutes the cream of the current Formula 1 driving talent. The respective team-mates of these drivers are enduring various struggles and miseries. Does this mean that more than in the recent past, F1 today places a premium on out-and-out driving skill? I know that some observers see things in less straightforward terms, and the end of the season may be the time to formulate a more definitive assessment.
Three different victors in the opening three races. Heartening, although this year will be hard pushed to match the statistics of 2012!