Along with the expected drama that is the 2021 title fight between Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen, more battle lines are being drawn off-track, as the two teams have started squabbling over key members of Mercedes' staff.
Following the announcement that Red Bull have set up their own engine department, Red Bull Powertrains, in order to take on Honda's intellectual property and begin manufacturing their own engines from 2022 onwards, it was always a possibility that the team would immediately start sniffing around Mercedes.
Unusually for a World Championship battle, the two big rival teams in Formula 1 are located just 25 miles apart. This means that staff wanting to leave one to join the other have, at worst, about an extra 35 minute commute to worry about.
With Mercedes High Performance Powertrains slowly but surely facing downsizing as the engine division is brought in line with the budget cap restrictions, existing staff at Brixworth faced a no-brainer decision when Red Bull came sniffing around.
Having already snaffled Ben Hodgkinson, the senior engineer at Mercedes who originally joined up when they were called Ilmor, Red Bull have announced the signing of five more senior management staff for their power unit division - all of whom are leaving Mercedes for their new jobs.
That isn't a trickle of senior staff, that's a haemhorrage. And, even more concerningly for Mercedes, they all leave within sight of the introduction of the development freeze for 2022. This means that they leave with almost all of the development knowledge for the performance side of the engine.
Together with Red Bull taking on staff from Honda's engine department in the UK, it's a serious statement of intent as they build this new venture, which is a long-term plan to develop a new in-house engine for the new regulations in 2025.
"We'll certainly be able to protect some of the jobs with Honda UK, their operations base, just up the road, we'll be inheriting some great people from HRD, UK," Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports.
"And of course, we are on a recruitment drive to bring in some of the best talent into this exciting project, which is probably the most exciting new engineering venture in the engine side of the business in the last 50 years."
Understandably, this haemorrhage is a huge concern for Mercedes. Toto Wolff spent the Portuguese GP weekend going around trying to be as blasé as possible about the situation, talking about the 'sportsmanship' of the battle, but Helmut Marko's reveal that Mercedes are offering double salaries to departing staff shows their level of desperation.
It's the first time since Toto Wolff's arrival that the team are facing an uncontrolled high-level personnel departure, with most other senior staff leaving in a controlled manner with clear lines of succession already established. Think Paddy Lowe, think Aldo Costa, think Andy Cowell.. all had established successors waiting to replace.
Obviously, Mercedes aren't taking the situation lying down. They have forced Hodgkinson into extended gardening leave, with the engineer unable to take over his new role as Red Bull's engine Technical Director until the end of 2022. Gardening leave is also expected for the other new signings, while Red Bull have also revealed another senior staff member, unnamed, will also be announced soon. Of course, this person may not be from Mercedes..
Well, obviously, Mercedes have done such a wonderful job the last six or seven years with the hybrid era, but even before that, with the V8 era, of course, you do your due diligence.
"You look around it, what is the talent, and we have so much of that here based in the UK and Ben's name absolutely came to the fore, and he was an obvious candidate for us. And I was absolutely delighted when he
agreed to join the team for this exciting new chapter in Red Bulls history in Formula One."
At the moment, this battle can only really go one way. It's the biggest investment Red Bull have made since their original purchase of the Jaguar F1 team in 2004, and it turns the team into something more akin to Ferrari. Chassis and engine development will all happen on the one campus, with the engine department manned by senior members of staff who are responsible for the most dominant engines ever built in Formula 1.
Speaking on Thursday in Barcelona, Red Bull's Max Verstappen struggled to keep the smile from his face. With a long-term deal in place to stay on at Milton Keynes, the Dutch driver is in prime position to benefit from this aggressive recruitment drive. He reckons it's only logical that Mercedes staff might want a new challenge in light of the upcoming regulations changes, as well as more job security at a company that is currently in the growing phase.
"It's interesting, but it's quite normal," Verstappen said.
"I think as well, when a team has been so dominant for such a long time that people will try to get those kinds of people. But also, I think it's an interesting new project to be part of from our side.
"So, you know, when people are in in the same place for a long time, I think sometimes they want to seek new challenges. And I think that's understandable."