Throughout the 12 days of testing in Jerez and Barcelona, not once did Vettel top the timesheet, raising questions as to whether the team were sandbagging or, as suggested by some, potentially facing difficulties.
But come the start of the season proper with first practice Friday for the opening race of the campaign in Australia on Sunday, there were no prizes for guessing who was out in front.
The 25-year-old German, only the third driver to win three successive championships after legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, posted a time of one minute 27.211secs around Melbourne's Albert Park and under clear blue skies.
In the grand scheme of things these are early days and no-one will have shown their full hand just yet.
But as indicators go, Vettel and Red Bull will undoubtedly be in the mix come qualifying Saturday and for the race victory on Sunday.
Behind Vettel were the Ferrari pairing of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in a car light years removed from the one that so abysmally started last year's campaign.
Massa finished 0.078s adrift of Vettel, with Alonso, who has twice in the last three years agonisingly come runner-up, 0.336s off the pace.
As for Mercedes and their new boy in Lewis Hamilton, as true first impressions go the Brackley-based marque and the Briton fared well.
Like Red Bull, doubts were raised about their pace as the car appeared quick in testing, with some suggesting they were showboating.
Hamilton responded by finishing just five thousandths of a second behind Alonso, with team-mate Nico Rosberg down in seventh, 0.802s adrift.
Sandwiched in between were Mark Webber in his Red Bull and on home soil, with Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen sixth quickest as the Enstone team seek to prove last season was no flash in the pan when the Finn was third overall.
McLaren, meanwhile, for now appear to have plenty in the tank, with Jenson Button, winner here three times in the last four years, and Sergio Perez ninth and 11th quickest.
Both the Briton and the Mexican, though, were over a second adrift in a bunch led by Force India's Adrian Sutil on his return to the sport after a year on the sidelines.
Sutil was an excellent eighth overall, finishing five places and nearly half a second faster than team-mate Paul Di Resta who spun into the gravel late on, but with the Scot able to power his way back on track.
Lotus' Romain Grosjean separated the McLaren duo, with Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg also ahead of Di Resta in 12th.
Further down the field were Williams' duo Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, one of five rookies on the grid this year, with both over two seconds back.
Of the other new boys Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez was 16th, followed by Marussia pairing Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton in 19th and 20th, split by just under a second, whilst Caterham's Giedo van der Garde brought up the rear, over five seconds down.