Impressive Alonso throws down the gauntlet
In the wake of Jenson Button's world championship victory last season, I asked an engineer at his Brawn team, which morphed into Mercedes over the winter, what he thought about the prospect of Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari.
"Worrying," was his reply.
It was a view shared by many in Formula 1, whose participants are well aware of what a formidable competitor the Spaniard is, and of the power and potential of Ferrari.
After the Spaniard's impressive victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, it is easy to see why everyone was so concerned.
The Ferrari might not have been the out-and-out fastest car in Bahrain and Alonso might not have won the race had Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel not suffered a loss of power that left him defenceless against Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa, but there is no mistaking the message written in that Ferrari one-two.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner insisted after the race that Vettel had been "managing his tyres" in the period after the pit stops when Alonso and Massa inexorably closed what at one stage was a gap of more than five seconds to the German.
But the fact is that so were the Ferrari drivers, and the ease with which they hunted down the Red Bull, before his problem occurred, was ominous.
That is not to say that Alonso would have won the race easily, though. Such was the way the Bahrain Grand Prix played out that it is impossible to be sure who had the quickest car.
In fact, the top four teams, as predicted, do indeed seem to be very closely matched.
But while Vettel's pole lap certainly impressed all Red Bull's rivals - to the point that one leading figure from another team told me he was sure the team had been disguising their true pace in testing - so it is difficult to argue with Lewis Hamilton's post-race observation that the "Ferrari is definitely the car to beat".
In fact, despite all the teams' usual insistence that winter testing is hard to read, it is remarkable how closely the race matched the pre-season predictions.
Just as predicted, the Red Bull was quick over one lap. And, just as predicted, while Vettel eased out a gap in the first stint, the Ferrari appeared marginally the strongest car in the race - at least once everyone switched to the harder of the two tyre options at their pit stops.
The other important factor that appears to have been confirmed is that the Red Bull, while fast, is also fragile. The team were afflicted by reliability problems in practice, and they cost Vettel what would have been a race victory, assuming he had been able to fend off Alonso and Massa for the remaining 17 laps of the race.
Ferrari, by contrast, despite having to change the engines of both cars before the race, got both to the finish, and they were at the head of the field when they got there. And, as many had predicted, the man who crossed the line first was Alonso.
The Spaniard did not have a perfect weekend - he was out-qualified by Massa, an eventuality that may or may not have happened had Alonso not made a mistake on his final qualifying lap. But, like all true champions, he pounced mercilessly on the Brazilian's sluggish start, and was in a position to benefit, right behind Vettel, when the leader hit trouble.
This is what worries Ferrari's rivals about Alonso. He is remorseless, and when an opportunity presents itself, he usually takes it. Many think Massa will beat him from time to time - particularly at his favoured circuits, of which Bahrain is one - but it is Alonso's ability to be on the limit every lap of every race that makes him so formidable.
Not for nothing did Hamilton describe him in a BBC interview before the race as the toughest team-mate he has ever had.
Although the race itself was pretty turgid - and the lack of overtaking was worrying on a track where normally drivers can pass each other - Bahrain did suggest that F1 is set for a very close fight this season.
The Red Bull and Ferrari are closely matched, McLaren are not far behind, and Mercedes are nearly there, too. And the best drivers really are in the best teams, with the exception of Robert Kubica in the Renault.
There are, too, so many fascinating questions still to answer. Hamilton beat Button here, but the reigning champion spent nearly all his race stuck behind slower cars, so it is still far too early to call that one.
One of those slower cars was driven by Michael Schumacher, who was unable to keep up with team-mate Nico Rosberg in the first stint of the race. He held the gap to the younger man in the second stint, but was still a long way from the Schumacher of old.
Michael Schumacher finished sixth in the season's first grand prix in Bahrain: Photo: Getty
As Martin Brundle put it on Sunday, Schumacher was driving as if he was still a 10th of a second or two behind his car, and it is strange, to say the least, to see this man who in the past could drive any car on the limit straight away struggling.
Schumacher says he just needs to find his rhythm again, but the uncomfortable question hanging over him after Bahrain is how long it will take before he does - and will he ever?
With the pace of the Force Indias somewhat wasted by choosing an unconventional strategy and a first-lap incident for Adrian Sutil and the fascinating spectacle provided by the three new teams as they struggle to close the chasm between them and the rest of the field, it promises to be an intriguing season.
After all, not all the races can be as bad as Bahrain.
For now, though, it is worth pondering these two facts.
The winner of the first race of the season has gone on to win the championship every year since 2006.
And the victor in Bahrain has become the world champion four times in the last six years.
A long, hard, fascinating battle lies ahead over the remaining 18 races of the season, but Alonso and Ferrari will certainly take some beating.