With the mighty Mercedes at the wheel after buying a controlling stake in the Brawn GP team, all eyes will be on what the road ahead holds for the newly rebranded Mercedes Grand Prix outfit. In particular, attention will focus on developments leading up to the first race of the 2010 season, in Bahrain. Here, The National outlines some of the issues the new kid on the F1 block may have to deal with - long before it burns any rubber in anger.
@Body-SubheadNew:This month Arguably the first thing that the team boss, Ross Brawn, will do is set up a meeting with the man who led the Brawn GP team on the track to both the drivers' world championship and the constructors' title this year, Jenson Button. The Briton won six races on his way to claiming the F1 crown at the Brazilian Grand Prix in October, and came to the following and final race, the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with the No 1 logo already guaranteed to be on his car for the 2010 season.
But the big question still seems to be: whose car will he be driving for his title defence? After a visit to the McLaren F1 base in England last week, speculation grew that he was about to join his countryman Lewis Hamilton there next season. Brawn and Button had publicly said in the summer that no discussions would begin on next year's deal until the season was over. However, it became clear there was going to be some margin between what the old Brawn GP outfit could afford to pay Button and what he and his advisers wanted.
Button had already taken a drop in salary from £8 million (Dh49m) to £3m to help the team survive, back in February, but as the new world champion he is reported to be keen to have his salary level reinstated. Just last week, Brawn himself acknowledged the team could not afford the salary Button had requested and that to make up the shortfall they were willing to allow him to find his own sponsors.
But the new funds Mercedes should bring to the table mean that finding the extra millions ought not to be a problem. If so, then it is simply a case of persuading him to stay. McLaren and the 2008 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, already look likely to be at the front of the grid next season. It will be up to Brawn and Mercedes to persuade Button not to jump ship. The team will also look to announce their second driver for 2010 now that Rubens Barrichello has confirmed he is to join Williams. The German driver Nico Rosberg, who was with Williams this year, is favourite to take the vacant seat and his nationality would certainly please the Mercedes chiefs, with Rosberg's compatriot, Nick Heidfeld, also rumoured to be in with a chance of driving for the team.
With no on-track testing allowed under the current Formula One regulations, the team will be working on the 2010 car at its factory in Brackley, England.
Brawn recently said the team had started developing the new car back in the summer when it looked likely that it would wrap up both titles in comfortable fashion. That did not quite turn out to be the case; after the Turkish Grand Prix Button failed to win another race all season. As it turned out, he had already done enough and Brawn was satisfied with how far the team had gone in development. Much of the factory work will be spent in the wind tunnel on testing various aerodynamic aspects of the chassis in a bid to find the invaluable extra tenths of a second. Mercedes can add more money, theoretically, to improve facilities. But because of regulations limiting the teams to using a wind tunnel for a maximum of 40 hours, there will not be much scope for major technological gain. Design work on the car should have been completed earlier in the year, so it will be largely a matter of fine-tuning things. The Mercedes takeover has probably come too late to change much regarding the plans for 2010, and the increased financial resources will probably not be of real benefit until design begins on the 2011 season's cars. Drivers will be mainly resting, but they will do some light training to maintain their general fitness levels.
Again, there is no testing because of the rules, imposed as a cost-cutting plan after the global financial crisis. As a result, most of the work in the factory will be done by engineers using simulators and the wind tunnel to fine-tune the chassis. Traditionally, either in January or early February, each Formula One team launches its new car for the coming season. With the extra funding from Mercedes, a hugely spectacular event can be expected - although whether it is in Germany or at the team factory in Brackley will be open to question.
Finally, there is some action on the track as the teams are allowed to test and further develop their cars ahead of the start of the season.
Last year, Brawn GP chose to test at the Barcelona and Jerez tracks to put the final touches to the cars' chassis before beginning the championship challenge. The two venues are usually the most popular choice for F1 teams because they provide tough aerodynamics tests, which will give the likes of Mercedes a clearer idea of just how competitive their cars are likely to be.
There may be time for a final test session but then the cars and team personnel will fly to Sakhir for the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 14, which starts the 2010 season. The Mercedes marque will be present in its own right in the F1 paddock. And, depending on who Button finally decides to drive for, the famous old name will be above the doors of either the first or second pit-lane garage. email@example.com
1968 Ken Tyrrell, an experienced motor-racing team owner, enters Formula One as the team principal for Matra International, his joint venture with the French car manufacturer Matra. 1969 The Scottish Formula One driver Jackie Stewart wins the F1 world title in the Matra MS80. 1970 Tyrrell begins to run his own cars in F1 after developing the designs in secret. 1971 Stewart wins a second world title and Tyrrell-Ford wins its first and only constructors' title. 1973 Stewart wins his third and final drivers' title, with Tyrrell-Ford, before retiring from the sport. 1970s and 1980s Tyrrell secures more race wins, but no world titles as his team's fortunes gradually decline. 1999 Now owned by British American Tobacco, the team enters F1 as British American Racing with the former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve as a driver. 2000 Honda begins supplying BAR with engines, but still the team fails to win races, despite a huge budget. 2003 Jenson Button joins BAR. 2006 The team enters F1 as Honda, with the Japanese car company taking overall control. Rubens Barrichello joins, but it is Jenson Button who takes the team's first win, in Hungary. 2007 and 2008 The hoped-for improvements in performance after the win in Hungary fail to materialise, and both Button and Barrichello struggle to make an impact. At the end of the year Honda announces it is pulling out in the wake of the global financial crisis. 2009 Ross Brawn, the team principal, leads a management buyout and changes the team name to Brawn GP. Button wins the F1 drivers' championship after victories in six of the season's first seven races, and Brawn GP wins the constructors' championship. The team's other driver, Barrichello, is placed third overall. * Daniel Bardsley