And so it begins
We can only imagine what Fernando Alonso, recuperating in Dubai and watching qualifying from Albert Park, must have been thinking as Jenson Button pipped Kevin Magnussen to take 17th place on the grid and complete an inglorious back-row lockout for McLaren.
The most printable version would surely be: "What have I got myself into this time?" But in darker moments, perhaps he has reflected on how, as one of the world's top-two F1 drivers, he has ended up (Manor aside) in the least competitive car on the grid.
For that's the unsavoury reality, and one that's deeply unfortunate for the sport. What could be more satisfying than to see McLaren and Fernando back where they belong, fighting at the front, challenging for wins and championships and performing at their respective peaks? As things stand, the 2015 McLaren-Honda partnership has produced what is (depending on statistical debate) the least competitive McLaren ever, and we take no glee in noting that the Australian GP qualifying pace of the MP4-30 was some four seconds off that of the standard-setting Mercedes F1 W06.
A little lap-time analysis suggests that the Honda power unit may be as much as 200bhp down on its rivals, prompting a stoic Jenson Button to smile wryly
in response to an observation that his car's speed trap figures 'weren't too bad'. "I don't know which figures you're looking at," he answered, at a post-qualifying press briefing that felt more like a wake. There's a very long road ahead for McLaren this year, and we await developments there with interest, for no amount of retrospective justification can sugar the pill of painfully poor performance.
How different things were for McLaren-Honda in their late-80s pomp, when the Honda-powered MP4/4, driven by Prost and Senna, so very nearly swept all before it. We celebrate this magnificent machine among many others in our 'Greatest F1 cars ever' feature, on page 55. If nothing else, it should offer some comfort to McLaren fans and remind them of the greatness this team attained so majestically in years gone by.
If McLaren started the season with a down-on-the-power whimper, then Ferrari, F1 yin to McLaren's yang, have entered 2015 with... well, not quite a bang, but they're certainly in far better shape than they were in 2014. Struggling fourth-best last year, they look to be right up there in the fight for 'best of the rest' with Williams. And, even more encouragingly, one Kimi Raikkonen appears to have regained his smile. Okay, it's not the megawatt beam of Daniel Ricciardo, but we've noticed a slight upturn around the far extremities of Kimi's mouth. By Raikkonen standards, this constitutes a remarkable display of emotion, and it's down to the pleasure he's taking in driving a car that's responsive to the particular demands he has of the front end. As you can read in our exclusive Kimi interview and analysis on page 40, he's finding a newly re-invigorated Scuderia a happy place to be and that's parlaying into Vettel-matching lap times. Which rather begs the question: what might Alonso have achieved in the SF15-T...?