When darkness began to encroach on Albert Park shortly after the Australian Grand Prix, the folk at McLaren may have found it profoundly symbolic.
The lights have been going out on them all year. In Australia, they have presented an attitude of dogged positivity, especially the splendidly chipper Jenson Button.
However, on a day when Kimi Raikkonen won a tense season-opener in his Lotus, the awful truth for McLaren was inescapable. Button delivered the brutal assessment when he said: "The way the car is at the moment, this package that is sat in the garage right now is not going to win a race."
It was a painful reality check for the senior driver in a leading team, one that is second only to Ferrari in terms of achievement in Formula One. But, for a while at least, McLaren may have to get used to life as an ordinary player; their role in this year's championship may be more voyeuristic than participatory following their wretched performanceon Sunday when Button finished ninth and his team-mate Sergio Pérez 11th.
Lewis Hamilton has recently acquired a dog and so, it seems, has Button; only Button is driving his. McLaren did not rule out going back to last year's car. Button, remember, won the last race of 2012 in Brazil with the fastest car on the grid.
If they do dispense with this year's model they might sell it to a circus clown. The faults are plentiful, like a devil's cornucopia, and not easily corrected, even for a team with McLaren's very deep engineering resources. "They could always use it to deliver milk," someone suggested.
McLaren, deep down, knew the dark truth during testing in Spain in recent weeks, when their only fast times were when their cars were running low fuel levels.
Button saidon Sunday: "In the last day of testing, I was seeing what the car could do. But seeing the times that other people were doing was a surprise for us. We understood it would be difficult, but you arrive excited about the start of the season."
Earlier in the week, during practice, as Button left his car and wandered back to the McLaren motorhome, there was an expression on his face that reminded some observers of his Honda days, when he knew his car was a jalopy.
Button's result on Sunday was about as much as he could have hoped for after he finished 10th in qualifying. He added: "There are many reasons and it makes it tricky. It is not down to changing the suspension.
"We need to bring updates and move this car forward. That is the only way we will see good results and wins. We have been in bad positions before and come back strong. It is just a pity that we have lost out so much at the start of the year.
"In these difficult days, it is important that we make the best of it. We got points and we did not expect that. We have to make the best of what we have got again in Malaysia. Then there is a reasonable gap and we will see what happens then.
"There have been nonstop meetings and discussions. We all know the way things are and there is an understanding that it is not okay. We know there are fundamental things that we have to change. It is not going to be easy but it can happen."
McLaren were not the only people taken aback by the car's performance. Button said: "Everybody is a bit down today. A team like this is so used to winning. I went to the Paddock Club to say hello and everyone was saying, 'What is going on? You are 10th on the grid.' I was saying we were happy with that because we know it was the best we could do. There was shock around the place. But we haven't given up."
What makes the disappointment especially keen for Button is that he could scarcely believe his good fortune when Hamilton left the team for Mercedes. He had, he believed, a very real chance of adding to the world championship he won with Brawn in 2009. Instead, Hamilton's move looks sweetly timed.
Paddy Lowe, McLaren's technical director who is now on gardening leave as he prepares to join Mercedes, had overall responsibility for the design of the new MP4-28 (although it is also covered in his replacement, Tim Goss's, fingerprints). If this is Lowe's idea of a leaving present for his team then he has a macabre sense of humour.
As well as the loss of Hamilton and Lowe, McLaren will also lose Vodafone, their title sponsor, at the end of the year and are likely to split with their engine supplier, Mercedes, in 2015. Their team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, said: "We weren't coming here with masses of confidence but, frankly, it was a little bit worse than we expected."
The car's problems, which include the suspension, balance, understeer and tyres, are so fundamental that Whitmarsh hinted that he does not even know what they are. He said: "Winter testing was very strange this year, so we didn't have a full understanding. You've got to know what the problems are, know how to fix it and then work hard to do so."
If Whitmarsh needed one final kick in the teeth, he received it from his Red Bull opposite number, Christian Horner, who was critical of the ECU, the engine's computerised management system which McLaren supplies to the other teams.
Horner, referring to a disappointing race from Mark Webber, said: "Mark's problems were hugely frustrating because it was an ECU issue. You need to ask McLaren why the ECU didn't work and why it messed up his preparation because he was blind and had no telemetry.
"It is something they need to get on top of because it caused a lot of issues during testing."
Twilight for McLaren had become the darkest and deepest of nights.
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image: © McLaren