Lewis Hamilton is talking down his chances of kick-starting his world title defence with a win in Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix while newcomers Brawn GP are surprise contenders.
Hamilton, who became the youngest world champion in the history of Formula One with his one-point triumph over Ferrari's Felipe Massa for the 2008 title, believes his McLaren-Mercedes car does not have the same chance as it had in the last two visits to Melbourne.
The first Briton to take the F1 title for 12 years concedes his car is not at its best after pre-season testing.
"I've driven for McLaren for two years and in both those seasons the team have developed a fantastic car," said Hamilton, who won last year's Australian GP.
"This year's car is a little behind the rest in terms of development but I'm absolutely confident we will get stronger and grow as the year progresses."
McLaren's team principal Martin Whitmarsh has also admitted that the British team's cars will not be competitive from the start of the season.
Hamilton and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen were significantly off the pace in testing earlier this month.
But if the 24-year-old Hamilton is not confident about his chances around the Albert Park street circuit this weekend, the new Brawn GP team, rescued from the demise of Honda, is favourite with local bookmakers on the strength of sensational test times.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello and British teammate Jenson Button topped the time charts in winter testing and most of their rivals, along with the bookies, believe the Brawn GP car is the one to beat in Melbourne.
"I've been waiting for this car for such a long time," Barrichello said.
"So Melbourne could spring a surprise. We are the team that has shone most in testing, and I've come here with great confidence."
Should Brawn GP prove successful this weekend, it will cause a significant redrafting of expectations for the season.
Brawn GP carries the name of Ross Brawn, the former Ferrari engineer who put together a management buy-out of the Honda team when it pulled out of F1 because of the global economic crisis.
Ferrari, who generally do well in the opening race in Australia, are confident of their chances of a podium finish.
"The car is competitive, it's quick and it's constant," Massa said. "We were able to make a few race simulations and there were no problems with the car.
"We are ready to start the championship and I hope we will be as competitive as in the previous years."
Finland's Kimi Raikkonen was the last Ferrari driver to win in Melbourne, two years ago.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said he expected a comeback from Raikkonen, who had a lacklustre season last year with just two wins and a third championship placing.
"I see him motivated and thinner -- three kilos they tell me," Domenicali said.
"He knows that for him, as a Ferrari driver and as a man, it will be an important season. He is intelligent enough to understand it."
Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who won the 2006 Australian race on the way to the world title, is confident his Renault will be competitive from the start.
"In the past Albert Park has been a good track for Renault and so I hope we can have a strong weekend," he said.
"We finished in a strong position last year and this year our goal is to fight for the championship.
"But we have lots of new regulations this year and nobody really knows what will happen.... From what we have seen in testing it seems all the teams are very close and so we will certainly have a fight on our hands."