Whether it is Renault or Haas that finishes 'best of the rest' this season, the fact is that making that next step - in joining the best - is almost an impossible dream.
Despite being the driving force behind the introduction of the hybrid formula, Renault has not made the best job of it, and after just a couple of seasons back as a constructor is already complaining about costs and warning that a manufacturer will leave the sport unless spending is addressed.
Though it continues to tinker with various aspects of the sport, F1's powers-that-be have yet to address the issue of levelling the field by means of a budget cap, a fight that will prove far harder than anything the likes of Hamilton, Vettel or Verstappen are likely to endure.
Such is the gap between the leading three teams and the rest that, speaking to reporters in Austin, Haas owner, Gene Haas, referred to the 'best of the rest' battle as a separate championship, Formula 1.5.
"I kind of feel like we're not really racing in Formula 1, we're racing in Formula 1.5," he said, when asked about the prospect of finishing fourth after just three season, "so if we were to finish fourth then that would be a win in our series."
Asked to expand on his comment, he said: "When I watch some of the races and I see how fast the top three teams just blow by us on the racetrack, you're just somewhat aghast: wow, how do you we miss that?
"I don't know how those cars are so much faster but if I talk to Ayao (Komatsu – the team's chief race engineer) and he'll tell you 'you've got a couple of tenths on your tyres, you've got a couple of tenths on your aero, your chassis is off a couple of tenths and there's your second or two'.
"I know that we've put a huge effort into trying to address all those parameters but I just don't see how we're ever going to make up a second and a half, two seconds off of these guys. They are just so much faster than we are and it's evident in the race.
"Will a budget cap help? Probably if it reduces the size of their R&D department," he added. "I guess for every person we have they have five people. Personally, I would think that five people would make it more confusing but it does seem to work.
"If there's anything that can reduce that gap between the technology they have and what we don't have, that would probably be very helpful. How you go about doing that without the bigger teams somehow have workarounds I don't know. There's something wrong that… I don't think we can ever make up that gap."
"I would tend to echo what Gene has said," said Claire Williams, who, though ecstatic earlier in the year when the budget cap appeared to be progressing, subsequently admitted to feeling down as talks stalled, "that there's unfortunately no way that teams like mine, anyway, that are operating on a budget of around 120m could even consider competing to win races or World Championships against the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, that are spend at least two if not three or four times the budget that we are.
"For me, that's not a level playing field and for me, at any rate, that's not how competitive sport should be. It shouldn't be about the money that you have, it should be about the talent but talent only takes you so far when teams are outspending you three-to-one.
"So I am very much looking to the budget cap coming in but I also believe that there's a whole lot of other work that we need to do in order to make sure that this sport has a sustainable future and one that probably matches the DNA that this sport has grown up with over the past fifty years, that we tend to be veering from at the moment, in my opinion."
"I pretty much echo the same thoughts," said Zak Brown, like Williams, heading a team that once was at the forefront but is no seemingly in free-fall. "I don't think there's a silver bullet in anything but I do think the budget cap can play a significant role in balancing the playing field.
"You also need to do that by having the right regulations moving forward which is something that we're all very active on but if you do look at the sports, most of them have some sort of budget cap, salary cap and probably one of the most successful being the NFL where everyone's pretty much on a level playing field and that's where you see the upsets and the surprise champions and I think that would be healthy for the sport.
"I still think, at the end of the day, the best teams will rise to the top but it would be good to have some more unpredictability in the sport and have a chance to get back on the top step of the podium."
"I think from the financial point of view, of course reducing the cost is always more than welcome," agreed Maurizio Arrivabene. "It's not related to the what, it's related to the how.
"If reducing costs means equalisation it's not for us," he warned. "Standardisation is one thing, equalisation is another so equalisation is not in the DNA of car manufacturers."
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