With winter testing over and the teams on the way to Melbourne for the start of the 2009 Formula One World Championship, we're going to get some answers to those pre-season questions, though some won't be answered until the seasons end.
McLaren's “Performance Shortfall”, genuine or sandbagging?
Initially winter testing was looking promising for McLaren when they were running their 2009 spec car, albeit with the 2008 rear wing. However when they took their completed 2009 car, the MP4-24 to the test in Barcelona, they not only found themselves at the bottom of the time sheets, but with some reliability issues as well.
Bernie has suggested that McLaren might have been sandbagging, as he was quoted as saying to one news paper: "Let's put it this way, there's been no need for them (McLaren) to show that they're quick." Though McLaren's new team principal Martin Whitmarsh has stated that there is a "performance shortfall" with the MP4-24.
The final test at Jerez showed some progress had been made on their lack of pace, but we won't really know how bad it is for McLaren until the chequered flag comes out on Sunday at Melbourne.
If Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton are really part of the midfield battle, it could take awhile before they're challenging for race wins again, and as there is a ban on in season testing it will make it hard to catch the front runners. They will have to sacrifice some of Fridays practice time to car development, rather than car set-up for the race weekend.
Diffuser row, legal or illegal?
The season hasn't even started yet and already there has been a lot of controversial issues. But one of the most serious and one that threatens to over shadow the season opener, is the row of the legality of the rear diffusers used by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota.
The other seven teams are set to lodge an appeal with the FIA over the design of the rear diffuser used by the three named rival teams. The complaint is that they believe their diffusers are larger than allowed under regulation 2.4 in the rule book.
Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner confirmed that they would make a formal protest once he has held talks with the race stewards, if he did not get clarification on the matter.
If the stewards allow Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams to race with their current diffusers, then a protest will be lodged against one or more of the three diffuser designs by the other seven teams. Any points collected by those three teams would effectively be provisional, until a definitive ruling is decided.
Overtaking, will the raft of new technical changes make a difference?
After 10 seasons on grooved tyres, F1 returns to slicks in 2009, as part of moves to increase the emphasis on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip. The overall effect should be reduced performance through high-speed corners.
Aerodynamic changes will reduce the ability to generate downforce and hopefully increase overtaking, as the car following should now be less susceptible to turbulence.
Drivers will be allowed to make two adjustments to the front wing per lap, altering the wing angle over a six-degree range. They will also be able to push a boost button, giving them an extra 80bhp, for about seven seconds per lap if they are using KERS.
Sounds good in theory, but in practice will it mean more overtaking? We will have a better idea in Australia if the changes have had the desired effect and by the end of the season we will be able to say without doubt that whether they worked.
But if the stewards start handing out penalties like last year after every overtaking move, will drivers take the risk?
KERS, to use or not use?
Teams have the option of using a Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), this will recover and store kinetic energy generated by the car during braking. Drivers will then be able to push a 'boost button', giving them an extra 80bhp, for about seven seconds per lap.
This sounds great, but you have to take into account the weight of the system will impact on the car’s weight distribution. Winter test showed KERS can be unreliable and there is are safety issues. Track marshals are apparently going to be issued with special gloves for handling the cars after an accident, and we all know about mechanics receiving electrical shocks.
We know that Renault, Ferrari, BMW and McLaren have the intention to use KERS in Australia, and that Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams won't be.
Red Bull and Torro Rosso haven't said, but seeing as Red Bull are using Renault engines they might be using their KERS, while Torro Rosso could use Ferrari's. Force India haven't stated whether they will be using KERS or not.
Some teams have said they will make a decision on using KERS on a circuit-by-circuit and driver-by-driver basis. It will be interesting to see how the teams who aren't using it compare to those who are. It's also going to be interesting to see how the use of KERS is portrayed to television viewers.
Is this Rakkionens last season?
In an interview with Gazzetta Dello Sport, Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali has suggested that Kimi Raikkonen's future with the team depends on his performance this year, despite Kimi having a contract until the end of 2010.
2008 was a lacklustre year for Kimi, the 2007 F1 Champion, he was out performed by Massa for the best part of the season and looked uninterested and lacking in motivation at most races. With Spanish bank Santander starting their sponsorship of Ferrari next year, there is no doubt who they would want to see driving in his place.
Kimi has allegedly lost 3kg in weight in preparation for this season, so will we see a more focused and determined Rakkionen now he is under no illusion that he could be facing the chop?
Can Brawn GP convert testing pace, into race wins?
After a couple of months in the shop window Ross Brawn managed to save the Honda team at the last minute, but that doesn't appear to be the only miracle. The BGP-001 is quick, not only does it have one lap pace, but has been putting in consistently quick times over long runs. Could they be doing a Prost and running under weight during winter testing to attract sponsors? I personally don't think so, I think their pace is genuine, but I don't expect they will be a second a lap quicker come Australia.
Jenson Button could add to his win from Hungary 2006 in Melbourne this weekend, as long as he has no reliability issues and that not using KERS doesn't cost him over the race distance compared with Ferrari. There is also the legality of the diffuser to take into account and if he or Rubens Barrichello do win they might later be disqualified.
Heidfelds make or break year?
No doubt about it last year that Robert Kubica was the better of the two BMW drivers, but Nick Heidfeld needs to show that Mario Theissens decision to keep him on was not missed placed. Heidfelds F1 stock has slowly been falling and he was one of the drivers that people use to say 'give him a race winning car and he will deliver', much like Fisichella (until he went to Renault).
BMW have quietly been getting on with it over the winter testing period, and seem to have produced a great car, one that should be challenging for wins. Nick has to be pushing Kubica at the very least, if not bettering his results, otherwise he could be shown the exit.
If Toyota don't win a race this year, will they pull out?
With a global economic crisis causing car manufactures to cut their workforce and close production lines, could this be the last year for Toyota if they don't start showing success for all the millions that have been put in? You would have a hard time justifying it to shareholders, on one hand your cutting jobs and on the other your funding a multi-million pound F1 team that is bumbling around in the midfield, getting little media attention.
Honda have already pulled out, and Renault have been making noises about cost cuts, so it's not an inconceivable thought that we could lose another team come the end of the season. They only thing that might save them is results on the track, and it looks like they might have a car capable of doing just that.
Max can't get re-elected, can he?
Max Mosley is going to be standing for re-election as president of the FIA, he desperately wants to wrap up an agreement on budget caps and leave some kind of legacy as the sports saviour.
I do however hope that the latest mess about the winner takes all system having to be deferred has some kind of affect on those voting. Max says he was told by Bernie that the teams had agreed, considering The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) had tried to implement their own new points scoring system, which the FIA considered and rejected. How could he possibly think that FOTA were in agreement, seems a very strange system for creating new rules. 'Bernie told me it was OK' doesn't cut it, especially as it was his idea in the first place!
However I didn't think he could possibly get a vote of confidence, after the revelations in press about his sex life, but he did, so we could end up having Mad Max around a little longer.