Feb.9 (GMM) Forecasts based on early test results are usually unreliable, but a picture of the 2012 pecking order may already be emerging.
On Wednesday at Jerez, Michael Schumacher moved to the top of the times in last year's Mercedes, followed by Mark Webber in Red Bull's new title-defending RB8.
"The car was pretty competitive in winter testing last year and it's the same again this year," said the Australian driver.
Much more than a second off the pace, meanwhile, was the radical new Ferrari, whose Felipe Massa could not conceal his negative body-language when speaking with the press.
While he said the F2012 has "enormous potential", expert observers report that he was fighting notably with the handling of the car around the southern Spanish venue.
"There is a lot of work to be done, perhaps more than we expected," acknowledged the Brazilian.
"It is a very, very, very different car," Spain's El Mundo newspaper quotes him as saying.
Italian veteran Jarno Trulli, however - a permanent fixture on the grid since the mid 90s - scoffed at those who are already picking winners and losers.
"Are you kidding?" he said in La Repubblica newspaper. "Only a fool would look at the times in the first days of testing."
Nevertheless, the paddock rumour mill is buzzing, including with suggestions Schumacher's best time was boosted by highly competitive components destined for his so-far unrevealed 2012 Mercedes.
Another rumour is that the W03, to also be raced by Nico Rosberg, is ready to test but Mercedes is holding back a radical secret weapon at the front of the car.
Webber, however, dismissed Schumacher's quick time.
"With the Brazil version of our previous car I would have done a time in the 1.16s," he laughed, apparently scoffing at Schumacher's mid-1.18 best.
Even the seven time world champion admitted Wednesday's result is not a sign of things to come.
"I don't think we can realistically achieve a championship car from where we started last year," said the 43-year-old German.