The Malaysian Grand Prix may have produced a fascinating race thanks to rain, but there is no doubt that the opening races of the 2012 season have demonstrated a remarkable change of fortune among the leading teams.

The dominance of Red Bull Racing has gone, a resurgent McLaren looks set to challenge for both titles, Lotus and Mercedes are competitive, Williams has produced a good car, Ferrari has not, and even Sauber has giant-killing potential.

The ban on blown diffuser technology allied to the arrival of new, softer, Pirelli tyres with a larger contact patch, has changed everything.  The management of tyres and the ability of teams and drivers to get the most out of them has created headaches for some and opportunity for others.

Red Bull, powered by the Renault RS27 engine, benefitted significantly from a highly effective, fully integrated ‘hot’ blown diffuser strategy during 2010 and ’11.  Renault’s ingenuity and Adrian Newey’s aero genius made for an unbeatable combination. The removal of blown diffusers has had a disproportionate impact on RBR, therefore, since they can no longer compensate for horsepower by relying on corner speeds.

It seems clear to me that the removal of this competitive edge is one reason they have dropped behind the Mercedes-powered cars, in qualifying at least.  The reason is simple enough; Mercedes produces the most powerful engine in F1, perhaps 30bhp more than the 750bhp Renault.

Horsepower has always been important in F1 and, now that the engines are no longer allowed to act as a diffuser ‘air-pump’, their primary purpose of transmitting as much power as possible to the rear wheels has been re-established.  As the season progresses, therefore, I’d expect the Mercedes-powered teams to edge ahead of the opposition, especially as Mercedes Benz GP and McLaren fine tune their understanding of the tyres.

The shame of all this is that the Cosworth engine, the 2nd most powerful engine in F1 today, is not in the back of a competitive car.  Williams switched to Renault for a number of reasons, but top end power was not one of them, and it is a source frustration to me that ‘Cosworth’ is now associated only with the two slowest cars.

Engines are not normally a significant source of discussion these days, but with the competition in F1 so close in 2012 every performance advantage will be critical.  This leads me to believe that – even in the middle of so much uncertainty in F1 – the 2012 World Champion will be powered by Mercedes.

[ This article first appeared on Greek Automotive & Motor Sport web site www.gocar.gr ]