Back to the future
Truth is, Formula 1's finest never really went away.
As one ex-team principal, newly returned to F1, opined many seasons ago, there are no prizes for the winter championship! Ron Dennis's prophetic words were as true then as they are now.
Red Bull's well-documented pre-season troubles lulled many, bored with the complete and utter domination of the sport by the Milton Keynes-based crew, into a false sense of optimism, grinning with delight in anticipation of the four-times World Champions’ seemingly inevitable slide down the rankings.
Well, ye of little faith, grin no more. Those reporting their demise, it seems, were misinformed.
There has surely never been a Formula 1 team so utterly professional, driven and determined to get to the top and stay there as Dietrich Mateschitz's energy drink-fueled race team. Look at how they're constantly pushing the envelope and the authorities in pursuit of speed and success. Flexi-wings and off-throttle exhaust blowing are just two of their better-known rule-testers, and now the FIA's officially homologated fuel-flow meter is good enough for all teams except, of course, Red Bull.
Post-Jerez and the subsequent Bahrain testing debacle I, like many both within and without the paddock, wondered, wondered how the Red Bull crew would deal with such a setback to the defence of their crown in the technology-driven 21st century F1 world.
Sure there are many wise and experienced heads wearing the blue, red and silver apparel; men who've won, lost and won again. But it's also true that a lot of the guys working on the two RB10s have only ever known - until January 2014 - an ever-climbing upward curve and ultimately unrivalled success.
Relaxed. Calm. Cool. Collected. That's how the men in the Sepang International Circuit's garage No.1 and 2 looked to me during Free Practice 1 last Friday morning. No dramas. No panic. No sweat. Every one of them getting on with their duties, focused and busy, all pulling for the greater good. No tense, bitter and divisive intra-team-mate rivalry - for Red Bull - this season, either. Ever-smiling Australian Daniel Ricciardo isn't about to upset his new team or four-times champion Sebastian Vettel any time soon. A buoyant and upbeat mood abounds as a result.
Out on track there's a similar scene.
"Darren, I've always said if a racing car looks good, it'll be good," said 1976 world champion James Hunt to me way back in 1990. James of course was spot-on with his opinion, and would I'm sure approve of Adrian Newey's latest design aesthetic.
It not only looks good it appears to drive good, too. The way the RB10 smoothed out the bumps of the Malaysian track, magic carpet-like, was a sight Red Bull's rivals will not have liked to behold. Appearing to be very drivable, compliant to the drivers' inputs, high in rear-end downforce points and responsive to development, the RB10 has only one real shortcoming and it’s not within the team's control.
A whisker off pole position, Vettel's stunning Sepang Q3 lap stunned many but surprised no one. The German maestro really is proving just how good we all - even the doubters - know he is...
Renault's Energy F1-2014 is not quite where it should be on power right now, but rest assured the French company's Viry-Chatillon base is working flat-out to deliver a powertrain worthy of the RB10.
When – not if – they do, be afraid, be very afraid because we'll be back to the future all over again...