F1 boring? You must be joking
Has the 2010 season disappointed that much ahead of the last of the opening four intercontinental races this weekend in China? You'd think so from some of the criticism that has been levelled at Formula 1 so far this year.
Yet the reality is that there have been three different winners, eight different drivers on the podium and the leading five championship contenders are covered by just four points.
Expectations were set so high for the year for all sorts of reasons that criticism was perhaps inevitable unless there was a series of hi-tech Wacky Races.
Yet at the same stage last year one driver, Jenson Button had won two of the first three races from pole position and was already six points clear at the top of the table.
In fact, Button was about to make it three wins out of four and double his lead, which was only trimmed seven months later in the final race of the 2009 season in Abu Dhabi.
Under the new points system adopted for this season, Button's advantage would have been even greater before the first race in Europe.
For all the interest generated by Michael Schumacher's return after three years in retirement, how much of a field day would the critics have had if he had simply picked up winning like he had never been away?
Schumacher needs time just like the teams need the time to get properly up to speed to make the most of the regulations in 2010.
After the conservative opening in Bahrain, where F1 was feeling its way into the season, we have yet to have a weekend where conditions remain constant and there's a chance in China this weekend for a more precise assessment of the progress teams are making in catching Red Bull. And exactly how Red Bull compare with Ferrari, the season's other pace-setting team.
How much more of a threat would McLaren have been in Malaysia, for example, if they had not made such a hash of qualifying?
The team's 'F-duct' aerodynamic system, which gives them extra top speed by reducing the effectiveness of the rear wing on the straights, should be just as effective in Shanghai as it was in Sepang, where Lewis Hamilton and Button impressed so much in Friday practice and progressed so strongly through the field on race day.
The kilometre-long straight into the penultimate corner - with a perfect overtaking opportunity at the end - should play to McLaren's strengths.
There's also the pit straight down to the first corner for another passing chance.
These and the fast, flowing mid-circuit turns should help offset McLaren's aerodynamic weakness through the twisting, slower corners, where Red Bull tend to excel.
The Red Bull performance is likely to be scrutinised this weekend even more closely by their rivals, following the FIA clarification over ride heights.
Despite the team's repeated insistence that that they have no trick system to adjust the car to suit the fuel load, some of their closest competitors still believe that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will be found out in qualifying on Saturday. One engineer said their advantage could be cut by 0.2 seconds per lap because the FIA ruling has forced them to make modifications.
That may have been expressed more in hope than expectation because that same ruling put paid to research into a rival system by his design team.
When I put this projected time loss to Red Bull's team principal, Christian Horner, he just laughed. "They can think what they like, we have no ride-height control system, and never have done," he said.
And he could be laughing all the way to another pole position - the team's fourth in a row - if his team continue their majestic form into Shanghai's Saturday session - Red Bull only gear up their charge towards the front in the latter stages of the pre-qualifying practice when true performance really starts to count.
McLaren's pace was again evident. Mercedes power claimed the top four positions in both practice sessions, worth around 6km/h down the long straights - although their top speed was matched by Ferrari on their longer runs.
Ferrari and Mercedes were the latest teams to try out a version of the McLaren F-duct.
"Experimental, to test the parts" was how Fernando Alonso put it. Just as well, too. Any meaningful running was cut short because his car completed just six laps before another engine failure in the morning session.
However much he and Ferrari tried to downplay the problem, it has raised further questions about their reliability which the team will want to answer swiftly.
The two-time champion had already used three of his season's allocation of eight engines. Now, after two failures, he's left with six engines for the remaining sixteen races of the season, including such throttle-heavy circuits as Montreal, Spa and Monza.
This could limit his mileage in practice during a championship run-in nearer the end of the season. He can ill afford another failure early in the European season - especially if Ferrari are to make the most of what has started the season as at least the second fastest car on the grid.
Certainly, the Spaniard's pace on heavy fuel and the harder tyres at the end of the session suggested Ferrari will be a major force this weekend.
Mercedes's work on their 'F-duct' system is focused on being ready for the next race in Barcelona.
So far this weekend, it has been noticeable how much closer Michael Schumacher was to matching Nico Rosberg with heavy fuel on board, although the younger German still had the edge on lighter more qualifying-friendly loads.
So there is much to savour - even if, within F1, energy is still being devoted to some of the wider problems exposed by the first three races of the season.
On the subject of qualifying, I understand one suggestion being considered by the teams to improve the racing spectacle this season is changing the format of the final session.
Under this new idea, the cars in the top 10 run-off would run in championship order, each completing just one flying lap. So the lowest-ranked contender would get the theoretical best conditions at the end of the session, in an effort to try to mix up the grid.
The concern remains that unless the weather intervenes, as happened in Australia and Malaysia, there aren't enough variables over strategy without refuelling, never mind the potential for overtaking.
That said, Shanghai's mid-week rain is currently forecast to return on Sunday. F1's critics, still smarting from the letdown in Bahrain, may find China grabs and holds the attention as much as last year's epic in the wet.
POST-QUALIFYING UPDATE AT 1340 BST ON SATURDAY 17 APRIL:
Vettel shocked his Red Bull team-mate, Mark Webber, as much McLaren and Ferrari, with his pole-position performance. Those rivals hoping to be closer in qualifying because of the FIA ride-height clarification have more work to do.
For those of us looking for a clearer comparison of the race pace of the leading drivers - Vettel v Alonso v Hamilton, for example - it would need to be dry and that's not what the current forecast has in store.
Most teams are expecting rain from mid-morning for the rest of the day so the race has the potential to be as dramatic as last year. Red Bull still look favourites to repeat their Shanghai success of 2009 but some clever strategy calls and some hard charging from their pursuers could yet keep us all guessing.