Team by team prospects for the F1 season starting in Australia on March 29 (listed in 2008 championship order, numbers are those on drivers' cars):
3-Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), 4-Felipe Massa (Brazil)
Raikkonen will want to reassert himself after failing to defend his 2007 title in disappointing fashion. He has already looked more comfortable in a car that should be challenging for wins at every track. Massa has moved on from the disappointment of losing out by a single point to Lewis Hamilton last year. He may well turn out to be the man to beat in 2009, a year that could crown him Brazil's first champion since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991. The driver pairing means Ferrari will start as favorites to defend their constructors' title.
1-Lewis Hamilton (Britain), 2-Heikki Kovalainen (Finland)
No British driver has won back-to-back titles and, with the McLaren struggling for pace in testing, Hamilton has his work cut out to defend his crown. On the plus side, the 24-year-old has the talent to wring the most out of the car and the championship success has taken a burden off his back. He says he is also hungrier than ever. Kovalainen, with just one win last year, needs to raise his game. His problem is that, even if the car is good enough, he has Hamilton as a teammate.
5-Robert Kubica (Poland), 6-Nick Heidfeld (Germany)
BMW-Sauber drew up a four-year plan when they started out with Sauber in 2006 and have so far met every target. This year's is to fight for the championship and that looks realistic, given encouraging pre-season tests. Heidfeld, smaller and lighter than Kubica, has a weight advantage and should feel more at home on slick tires after struggling last year. The German looks a good bet to take his first victory after a decade of trying while Poland's Kubica, uncompromising and hard as nails, should have his best chance yet of a tilt at the title.
7-Fernando Alonso (Spain), 8-Nelson Piquet (Brazil)
Alonso said in January he was aiming for both titles, with a target of at least finishing on the podium in Melbourne. He has since played down some of the optimism, rating at least three other teams ahead of Renault, but the team remain confident. "We feel reasonably comfortable that we have the foundations to have a good season, challenging for podiums and wins and ultimately ... challenging for championships," technical director Bob Bell said this month. A major concern is the team's funding, with title sponsor ING pulling out at the end of the season and leaving a big hole in the budget at a time when the French manufacturer is struggling in the global recession.
9-Jarno Trulli (Italy), 10-Timo Glock (Germany)
Toyota desperately need a first win to show some return for the billions spent since 2002. The Japanese carmaker has said it is committed to the sport but the credit crunch is putting pressure on them to perform and another empty season could prove the final straw. Their future probably depends on a good season. Trulli believes they can fight at the front and testing would appear to back that up, with the team holding up well against Ferrari in Bahrain last month.
11-Sebastien Buemi (Switzerland), 12-Sebastien Bourdais (France)
Buemi, 20, is F1's only rookie and youngest entrant and has the toughest task of any driver on the grid, getting his hands on the new Ferrari-powered car only this month and with all testing banned during the season. Former Champ Car champion Bourdais has a season's experience but his form last year was nothing spectacular. He needs to do significantly better if he is to have a future beyond 2009. With race-winner Sebastian Vettel departing for Red Bull, the team will struggle to match last year's heroics. Occasional points may have to suffice.
14-Mark Webber (Australia), 15-Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
The sleek Adrian Newey-designed Renault-powered RB5 looks the business and the team has a race winner in Vettel. Rival team boss Frank Williams clearly sees them as a threat. Webber is one of the quickest drivers over a single lap but also one of the unluckiest and has yet to translate his qualifying speed into wins. Vettel, Germany's brightest prospect since Michael Schumacher retired, will be Webber's toughest team mate. The Australian needs to measure up well against him if his contract is to be renewed beyond this year.
16-Nico Rosberg (Germany), 17-Kazuki Nakajima (Japan)
Pre-season testing suggests the Toyota-engined car can lift the former champions up the grid after a disappointing 2008. The team are big fans of the KERS system but will not be using theirs in the early races. They can expect the highly-rated Rosberg, eyed previously by McLaren, to be on his way at the end of the season if the car is not competitive. Nakajima is now the only Japanese racer and with a year's experience under his belt should be aiming for solid points.
18-Jenson Button (Britain), 19-Rubens Barrichello (Brazil)
The former Honda team, now under new management, could be the shock of the season if their astonishing pace in testing is carried through. Honda started work on the 2009 regulation car ahead of most others and Brawn could reap the rewards. One of three teams powered by Mercedes, they have two highly experienced drivers who can be expected to seize their chances. Both have been given a new lease of life after the team's late rescue. Brawn's long-term future remains in doubt, and reliability could be an issue given the lack of testing.
20-Adrian Sutil (Germany), 21-Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy)
Another candidate to cause an upset, with the help of Mercedes and McLaren. Sutil showed his potential in Monaco last year but needs to get some solid results if he is to be sure of a future in F1. Fisichella is nearing the end of his career but still looks the most likely to score the team's first points after an empty 2008.
(Reuters via China Daily March 18, 2009)