March 12th (GMM).- It's no secret that the middle of the pack teams will make the most out of the little changes in rules this year. Yet, the teams with the upward trend such as Sauber and Williams might make more noise from the get go. In this sense, one name has been mentioned more often to lead this hungry pack: Nico Hulkenberg.
Hans-Joachim Stuck, the motor racing boss for the German federation as well as Volkswagen, has picked a curious favourite for this weekend's 2013 season opener.
"I think Nico Hulkenberg will win the first race in Melbourne," he said on Austrian television Servus TV.
"In my eyes, Sauber is the dark horse. It's a nice car and many in the paddock have said the same after the tests.
"And Nico has what it takes," added Stuck.
Team founder Peter Sauber, however, is not so sure, writing in his column for Sonntagsblick that he sees his Hinwil based team "in the midfield" this year.
"As in 2012, it will be extremely close," he wrote.
Patrick Head, the co-founder and former technical boss of the modern Williams team, agrees.
"The one thing you can say is that Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber have all taken steps forward," he wrote in a column for the Guardian.
"It looks to me as though all of these four teams have produced a very sound car."
Flavio Briatore, the former Renault chief, says the fact the midfield teams are now starting to push the frontrunners is evidence that budgets should be drastically slashed.
"Often now you see a Lotus or a Sauber, with more or less the same budget - EUR 90 to 100 million - really compete and maybe even beat McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull (and) Mercedes who have budgets three times higher," he told Sky Italia.
"You could make a formula one with very different numbers and have cars closer together and a better show," the controversial Italian added.
Indeed, Head points out that with the status quo, it will be difficult for the likes of struggling backmackers Caterham and Marussia to ever catch up, even to the midfield.
"It is not easy," he said.
"Williams have got about 480 people in their team and they do a lot of manufacturing in-house. It is quite difficult for Caterham and Marussia to come in and be a team with that sort of set-up."