Formula 1 fans have been advised by the sport's team managers to brace themselves for an unpredictable start to the season, with the competitiveness of the grid likely to throw up some big surprises in the early part of the campaign.
Preseason testing suggested little separates the teams this year, with some squads appearing quicker in single-lap trim while others excel over race distances, plus Pirelli's aggressive tires making strategy difficult. Team principals reckon the start of the year will be thrilling.
"Yes, it is going to be a freaky one!," Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said of the start to the year. "Qualifying in Melbourne and the first races are going to be unpredictable.
"The tires are going to make things very interesting. If you push too hard in qualifying then you are going to be screwed for the first part of the race, and if you pit too early it may mean you need to make an extra stop.
"It is going to be interesting, but we like the challenge. We would always love to have a car that is two seconds faster than the other ones, which would be very comfortable for us, but in the end we like the fight as well."
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said that as well as the field looking so competitive, the prospect of six World Champions on the grid was something to get excited about.
"It is great for Formula 1 to have so many champions," he said. "It is the quality of the field and the fact that the cars look like they are going to be close this year, it is going to be a really exciting season and it could be one of the best seasons we have seen for a number of years, so I am quite looking forward to a very challenging season. I am expecting the tightest start to a season that we have seen for a number of years."
Lotus trackside operations director Alan Permane reckoned the competitive picture in F1 was much less clear than it had been for several years.
"I would say it is very difficult to predict," he said. "Normally by this stage we have got kind of an idea, but I don't think we know where we are."
Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery predicts that engineers will get on top of understanding the tyres pretty quickly, but thinks the first few races could throw up some shocks.
"[McLaren boss] Martin Whitmarsh said we needed to give the teams a challenge, and if that happens then we will get some excitement, at least in the early season," he said. "I think you have to remember the engineers in these teams are the best in the world and, while at the start of the year that may create, like we had at the start of the year, some challenges, as the year progresses they will work out the best way to manage the situation and it will equalize a little bit."