Spotlight shines on F1 issues ahead of Australian GP
AS always there are more questions than answers ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
The first race of the 2019 season should at least provide solid pointers to the season ahead, but there is lots more to come.
The opening races of the world championship are flyaways, not just to Melbourne but also Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan, which limits development of the cars and the bank of spare parts for crash damage.
So the full picture for 2019 will not become clear until the first event of the European leg in Spain in May, as most teams have a major technical update with parts which have been developed and tested after watching the efforts of their rivals through the first three Grand Prix.
The biggest battle of 2019 will still pitch Ferrari against Mercedes-Benz, and defending champion Lewis Hamilton against Sebastian Vettel from Team Red, but there are plenty of other burning questions.
Some of the hot topics at Albert Park this weekend are:
Did he make the right move when he switched from Red Bull to Renault?
In the short term, including the AGP, Ricciardo is unlikely to be racing for anything better than fifth place.
He cannot remotely hope to get among the fast four from Ferrari and Mercedes, and knows that Max Verstappen should have a Red Bull with plenty of speed, which means he's looking to beat the second of the Bulls driven by Pierre Gasly and become 'best of the rest' in the midfield.
Still, Ricciardo's move is about the long game, and avoiding more drama Verstappen conflict at The Bulls, and Renault is spending big as one of the world's major makers ratchets-up the spending and the pressure on the other brands.
Ricciardo is also rumoured to be rewarded with $49 million for his switch from Red Bull to Renault, and he has the added incentive of getting on top of his experienced and highly-rated teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
THE PECKING ORDER
How will the teams line up for the new season?
Ferrari ahead of Mercedes-Benz is the best bet for 2019. It's possible to fudge and sandbag, but pre-season testing in Spain has shown The Reds have a slight edge on speed over the Silver Arrows.
Red Bull has been third in recent years, handicapped by its Renault engines, so a switch to Honda power should make a difference. How that difference plays out, after Honda's miserable record with McLaren, will be key. The Japanese maker showed vast improvement with Toro Rosso last year and The Bulls have been quick in testing, with mercurial youngster Mad Max Verstappen to provide extra commitment.
BEST OF THE REST
The real battle, and the closest contest, is the fight behind the Big Three - Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull. Who will win?
Renault has manufacturer muscle and money, as well as Aussie Dan, and that should give it the edge. The French carmaker is also playing a long game as it tries to get back to its title-winning efforts as an engine supplier in the past with Williams.
But more money will also boost Racing Point - formerly Force India - after moneybags dad Lawrence Stroll switched his cash and support for his son Lance from Williams to his own team.
Haas has also shown solid gains partly thanks to its close technical ties to Ferrari, while Alfa Romeo - with Kimi Raikkonen as lead driver following his exit from Ferrari - is looking likely to make big gains after moving from the back to the midfield in 2018.
THE WOODEN SPOON
Two of the oldest teams in F1 are in a race to the bottom, but which one is worst?
McLaren and Williams, both former champion teams and long-term powerhouses, looked woeful last year with all sorts of dramas that usually put them at the back.
McLaren had blamed Honda but was no better with Renault engines, while Williams just did a lousy job on its car design and never got any better.
Based on pre-season results, where Williams was two days late for the first run-out, it's the one (not) to watch.
All teams says every year they will do better, but which one can deliver?
Ferrari only needs better organisation and tactics, as well as more support for Sebastian Vettel, to really take the fight to Mercedes. If it can move from second to first it will be as significant as any other move up the leaderboard.
Renault is likely to improve, and McLaren can hardly do worse, but the biggest mover is expected to be Alfa Romeo.
The former Sauber squad, now renamed as Alfa in recognition of the Italian company's bigger commitment, is now closely tied to Ferrari and has former world champion Kimi Raikkonen on-board. It is the team most likely to land in the heart of the midfield scrap.
Can the former race winner reignite his F1 career?
A highly-rated race winner in his first career, who looked like a world champion during his time with BMW, who was nearly killed while rallying for fun during downtime for F1.
The gritty Pole has done everything and more to get himself back into Grand Prix racing, with incredible physical rehab for disastrous arm injuries and also the sponsor hunting needed to buy a second shot at F1.
On grit alone, Kubica deserves success but his Williams team has been plain awful in recent season and that will be his real handicap.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
There are some highly-credentialed newcomers for 2019, but which will be best?
Charles Leclerc is not really a rookie, but is a Ferrari newbie and should be best of the youngsters and some are already tipping his as a genuine threat to Sebastian Vettel and a future world champion.
The genuine interest is in two British youngsters, Llando Norris and George Russell.
Both have raced through the junior categories and won a spot in F1, unlike so many of the drivers who are paying their way, but Norris is in a McLaren and Russell is in a Williams so...