Amidst the scrambling and the rumour-mill going into overdrive as usual during the Formula One off-season, a whisper has turned into a widely held belief amongst the paddock and media entourage; Ferrari means business this year.
Drivers, team bosses and pundits alike are all united in their belief that the Scuderia look to have nailed the regulation changes coming into force this year. They're quick, they look reliable and the car looks fierce. And there is more to come. The Italian outfit have been accused of 'sandbagging'. In other words, there are suspicions that they have intentionally underperformed during testing so as not to reveal their true potential.
It is important not to get too carried away from pre-season testing performances; too often we've seen a car look spectacular during pressure-less tests only to flop when the competition gets underway in Melbourne. However, there are instances where one can assume a team looks in good shape, and so we can at least expect an improved Ferrari this term, just as we can expect a strong Mercedes and a struggling McLaren.
On the face of it, Ferrari look in good shape regardless of testing compared to their rivals. As much as Mercedes have dominated the past three years and look likely to do the same this year, they have still undergone drastic change both within the garage and amongst their drivers. We do not know yet, for instance, just how Mercedes will move on without their World Champion and favoured driver Nico Rsoberg. We don't know how well Valteri Bottas will settle into his beast of a Silver Arrow. Likewise with Red Bull, the pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen looks like a rivalry waiting to boil over. Ferrari, for once, look the most stable team out of the three title challengers.
Never underestimate, too, the quality of Sebastian Vettel. The German is a four-time World Champion and one of the greats. His spell for Ferrari has been underwhelming to say the least, but this year he could be a major force to be reckoned with. When the car is developed for Vettel, by Vettel, the man is unstoppable. This year's challenger looks like its been hand built for the German; watch this space