Few races in recent history have been as keenly anticipated by participants and fans alike as this weekend's Australian Grand Prix, in Melbourne.
It's not only the opening round of the 2014 F1 season, it's the beginning of a whole new era.
Everything about the cars has changed, from their basic appearance and appendages to their powerplants – and not just in an evolutionary way, as has been the custom. The changes are huge, as explained in a video overview released by Infiniti.
The power unit specifications represent the biggest change. Rather than just an engine it comprises six separate components, all integrated into one complex, interactive system. It's a full hybrid now, with two separate mans of both harvesting and releasing energy.
They six components of the power unit are:
> Engine - 1.6-liter V-6
> Turbocharger with high centrally mounted exhaust
> Motor Generator Unit - Heat (MGU-H)
> Motor Generator Unit - Kinetic (MGU-K)
> Energy Store (ES)
> Control Electronics (CE)
Dramatic as those changes are, F1 insiders suggest that aerodynamic tweaks, including a lower nose, a narrower front wing and elimination of a secondary rear wing, as well as forcing the exhaust exit away from the bodywork, will be equally challenging to overcome.
In preliminary testing at Jerez, in Spain, and in Bahrain, reliability has been a major issue for all teams, but especially those using Renault powerplants – including the World Champion Red Bull squad.
In terms of both reliability and speed, Mercedes-powered cars have been the most consistent, with the factory team leading the way, but Ferrari has not been far behind.
To complicate things further, the cars now have a maximum allowance of 100 kg of fuel, one-third less than previously, and a maximum fuel flow rate restriction of 100 kg/ h, meaning fuel consumption will also play a big part in how the races resolve.
Consequently, the big questions surrounding the Australian Grand Prrix are not just who will be fast and who will win, but who will even finish the race?
Friday's practice put the Mercedes team of Hamilton and Rosberg on top followed by Alonso's Ferrari and Vettel's Red Bull – a surprising improvement on that team's testing form.
Rain played a role in Saturday's qualifying results, with Ricciardo's Red Bull slotting between Hamilton and Rosberg up front, followed by rookie Kevin Magnussen's McLaren, then Alonso. World Champion Vettel was mired back in 13th, alongside new/old Ferrari driver Kimi Raikonen.
That's how they'll start but almost certainly not how they'll finish Sunday's race, when we'll finally get to see how the speed, reliability, fuel consumption, strategy and sheer driving skills all mesh together for a full race length.
It promises to be an interesting race – and season.