It's all change in Formula One as the new season gets underway amid great intrigue and excitement. A raft of rule changes mean the cars will be sporting a totally different look and be fitted with slick tyres. The F1 engines now have to last twice as long as before and those who want (or are able) to will put their faith in a Kinetic Energy Recovery System. The pre-season testing - which the new rules stipulate will be the last of the year - threw up more questions than it answered. Favourites were riddled with worries, despair turned to encouragement for others whose survival in the sport had been in doubt. Preparations may have gone smoothly for the BMW Sauber F1 Team, but putting a finger on its progress remains a tricky business. The crystal-ball gazing will come to an end, however, on Saturday 28th March 2009. At 17.00 hrs local time (07:00 hrs in Central Europe) qualifying will finally get underway for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Robert Kubica: "I'm really looking forward to the Australian Grand Prix. I'm happy that the race season will finally get started and all the speculation of the pre-season testing will stop. It will be very interesting to see how competitive the teams really are.
"I like street circuits in general, so Albert Park is one of my favourite race tracks. You have to be very precise. That applies to the whole circuit; you need to stay on the clean line. But this year precision will be especially important for the first corner after the start, when we will have our very first fight for position with the bigger 2009 front wings. I'm pretty sure it will be an interesting race. In addition, Melbourne is a very nice city and the people create a truly special atmosphere for all of us in Formula One."
Nick Heidfeld: "I'm looking forward immensely to the start of the season in Australia. This time around I'm particularly keen to see how the teams and drivers stack up against each other. It's time for the speculation to stop; from now on it's only facts that matter. A whole number of things have changed since last year and that means there are a lot of unanswered questions: What effect will the KERS and adjustable front wings have in the races? What will happen at the start when we are side-by-side with the larger front wings for the first time? Will overtaking really be easier, as our experiences in testing have led us to believe?
"Last year winter testing did not go as well as it might have done for us, and we surprised everybody with our strong performance in Australia. This winter all of our testing went pretty well, and I hope this impression is confirmed in Melbourne. We had to contend with some difficult weather conditions in testing, and I'm also curious to see what happens in Albert Park in this respect, as it can get very autumnal in my favourite travel destination in March."
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "The start of a Formula One season with perhaps the most sweeping rule changes we've ever seen is now in sight. We are pleased that Australia is again the first GP of the year in 2009. There is always a very special atmosphere in Melbourne. The Australians certainly love their sport and they've been well and truly bitten by the Formula One bug.
"Last year Nick took second for us in the first race of the season, and we're hoping that we get off to a good start in Albert Park once again this year. We are heading in the right direction with the BMW Sauber F1.09; both the drivers and the engineers came back with positive feedback during testing. Plus, Nick and Robert carried out full race simulations without suffering any technical problems.
"As far as KERS is concerned, our system will be race-ready in Melbourne. We sent the cars out regularly with KERS during testing and the results were very good. Now it's just a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. On the positive side, the drivers would have an extra 82 hp at their disposal for 6.6 seconds per lap. However, the system adds weight to the car and this has an impact on the car's weight distribution and tyre wear. We will make a decision on a driver-by-driver, circuit-by-circuit basis."
Willy Rampf, Head of Engineering: "There's always a lot of anticipation ahead of the first race of the season, but this time it's even more exciting than usual. Winter testing gave us some initial indications of where we stand in relation to our rivals, but there are still a lot of question marks. The reason for the uncertainty is the radical changes made to the technical regulations. Totally new aerodynamics with significantly lower downforce compared to last year, the introduction of KERS, the return of slicks and the double mileage requirement for the engines mean we're starting from a totally different basis. Using the potential of the tyres to optimum effect will be particularly important.
"Melbourne is a stop-start kind of circuit, which places heavy loads on the brakes and, at the same time, demands good traction. Grip levels are very low, especially at the start of the weekend, but you cannot let that deflect you from getting the car set-up right."