The competition in Formula One has been extremely tight so far this year — but just how much has the field closed up from last year and what trends can be read from the three opening races?
With two different pole-sitters, three different race winners and three different drivers setting fastest race laps this year, F1 2012 is a far cry from the Vettel domination that the sport saw in 2011.
Last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix may have been won in style by Nico Rosberg and Mercedes, but behind him the frantic battle for the other points places showed just how close the field has come together.
The out-and-out pace of the cars is shown most clearly in qualifying, in particular the Q2 session in which everyone is gunning for a place in the top-ten shoot-out (tyre tactics come into play after that, and that can affect the spread of times in that final session).
In Australia last season the top 15 in Q2 (with two drivers failing to set times) was covered by 2.678s, while this year that same spread was 1.617s — a closing of the field by a full second.
In Malaysia last year the top 17 Q2 spread was 2.024s while this year it was 1.354s — a 0.7s difference - and in China 2011 it was 2.470 for the top 17 while the spread was down to just 1.256s this year.
That gap closure is almost certainly down to the ban on the blown diffusers — as that was a rule that benefitted those with the budget and resources to exploit it. Basically, the likes of Renault, Sauber and Toro Rosso could not afford to get into the fight.
This year, the areas of real innovation (aside from the unique Mercedes 'f-duct' system) are the positioning of the exhausts — which so far appears to offer far less significant gains than the blown diffuser — and the more traditional aerodynamic devices — all of which are far less complex to develop.
The fight for pole has also tightened up this year.
Lewis Hamilton secured the top spot for McLaren in the first two Grands Prix of 2012, but in both cases his advantage was just 0.15s; when Nico Rosberg took pole in China thanks to his Mercedes f-duct, his advantage was a healthy 0.57s — but that was still not in the league of Vettel's advantage last year, which saw him take pole by more than seven tenths in two of the first three events.
The spread of fastest race laps also makes interesting reading.
In Australia Button's table-topping fastest race lap was 0.2s slower than the fastest lap last year but the difference between the fastest and tenth fastest race laps was around 1.5s on both occasions.
In Malaysia, once the track had dried, the fastest lap was again 0.2s slower than last year's, but the spread to 10th place was covered by 1s compared to 1.5s last year.
In China the spread was just over 1.1s compared 2.685s last year — but the fastest lap this year, set by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, was a full second slower than last year's best.
Unsurprisingly, then, the stats back up the on-track action and the race results, with such minor margins meaning that smaller mistakes — like some of the pit stop errors seen this year — can have bigger consequences.