We give you the rundown on all the runners and riders who will be taking to the Formula 1 starting grid in 2009 - and what to expect when the lights go out in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this coming weekend...

McLAREN-MERCEDES

The multiple world championship-winning outfit appears to have got off on the wrong footing with F1's new 2009 regulations, but if anyone possesses the necessary skills and facilities to rapidly get back into the groove, it is McLaren. Will be fascinating to see if the departure of long-time team principal Ron Dennis in favour of deputy Martin Whitmarsh rocks the boat in any way.

Lewis Hamilton: Age 24; 35 GP Starts; 9 Wins; 207 Points

The reigning world champion has a fight on his hands to become the first British driver ever to claim back-to-back drivers' titles in the top flight. His nail-biting 2008 triumph in the final race in Brazil will have eased the pressure on him somewhat, but his performance fighting in mid-pack has come in for criticism - so if McLaren really are in trouble with the new MP4-24, they will need to rectify the problems fast.

Heikki Kovalainen: Age 27; 35 GP Starts; 1 Win; 83 Points

The likeable Finn needs to reveal a more steely and selfish edge this season, after being largely blown away by Hamilton in 2008. A run of ill-fortune didn't help, but Kovalainen needs to step out of his team-mate's shadow rather more regularly if he is not to be consigned to the F1 history books as merely a very capable number two. He certainly has the speed to get the job done.

FERRARI

The Scuderia claimed constructors' glory in 2008, but missing out on the drivers' crown too clearly hurt the team to its core. In the F2009 it seems to have a fast - if not yet entirely reliable - machine with which to try and make amends this year, and it will doubtless be keen to disprove the paddock myth that any scarlet success comes with the letters FIA stamped right through it.

Felipe Massa: Age 27; 105 GP Starts; 11 Wins; 298 Points

Burned by agonisingly missing out on the drivers' title by just a single point in front of his adoring home supporters at Interlagos back in November, the Brazilian is desperate to prove that last year was not his only shot at glory. Fired-up by the disappointment and, he contends, stronger for it too, Massa is many people's tip for the top in 2009.

Kimi Raikkonen: Age 29; 139 GP Starts; 17 Wins; 531 Points

As 2007 world champion, the Finn entered 2008 in most observers' eyes as the favourite to defend those laurels, but he did not so much concede the trophy as practically throw it away with a strong of lacklustre showings that prompted an unimpressed Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo to quip that it was not the 'real' Raikkonen in the car. It will be fascinating to see if the real Kimi returns in 2009 - or whether he has left the building for good.

BMW-SAUBER

Over its three seasons in the top flight as a manufacturer in its own right, BMW has achieved each and every one of its objectives - points in season one, podiums in season two and victory in season three. In season four, the stated target is the world championship - and if the Bavarian concern is not capable of pulling it off on out-and-out pace, then on consistency it may just seal the deal.

Robert Kubica: Age 24; 40 GP Starts; 1 Win; 120 Points

The 'nearly' man of 2008, taking the fight to the championship favourites in less-fancied machinery and at one point looking like he may just make the impossible possible. Kubica proved himself as one of the very finest drivers in the sport last season, and you get the feeling that nothing less than a title push will satisfy the demanding and dedicated Pole in 2009.

Nick Heidfeld: Age 31; 150 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 2nd); 200 Points

'Quick Nick' found his status as one of F1's leading contenders severely threatened by an even quicker team-mate last year, as his qualifying struggles enabled Kubica to gain an early upper hand. The experienced German's racecraft, though, remains as good as anybody's, and his overtaking prowess second-to-none. If the new regulations enable him to banish his Saturday afternoon blues, the man from M?nchengladbach is capable of fighting for the title - let alone his maiden race victory - in 2009.

RENAULT

The first half of 2008 looked like turning into a carbon copy repeat of 2007 for the former world champions, but thanks largely to talisman driver Fernando Alonso's unstinting work ethic and commitment, over the second half of the season the R?gie's star performer out-scored every one of his rivals. Should they pick up again where they left off, a return to glory may not be beyond the French concern in 2009...

Fernando Alonso: Age 27; 122 GP Starts; 21 Wins; 551 Points

After a gruelling and damaging year at McLaren in 2007, Alonso did much to rebuild his reputation within the F1 world in 2008 by drawing upon all of his speed, experience and expertise to drag Renault's underperforming R28 from being only 'the eighth-best car' in the top flight early on to a brace of late-season victories and more points than any other driver during the second half of the campaign. The man from Oviedo remains a class act, and if the R29 is a step forward enough on its predecessor, he will be there.

Nelsinho Piquet: Age 23; 18 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 2nd); 19 Points

In many people's eyes, Piquet was extremely lucky to keep hold of his seat at Renault this year, following a generally poor rookie campaign with the Enstone-based outfit in 2008 during which he frequently looked all-at-sea. Coming in with an illustrious name to live up to and a double world champion in the sister car did not make life easy for the Brazilian, however, and he steadily picked up his form as the season wore on. In 2009 he will need to step it up again if he is to earn an extended stay of execution at the pinnacle of the sport.

TOYOTA

Formula 1's perennial under-achievers are confident they can finally get real in 2009, by registering their breakthrough victory in the top flight after no fewer than 123 starts. Some - the Cologne-based concern's motorsport president John Howett amongst them - have suggested that such a result is vital to the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's continued presence in the sport, and with the dramatic new regulations having thrown the form book out of the window, Toyota has never had a better chance to at last break its grand prix duck.

Jarno Trulli: Age 34; 199 GP Starts; 1 Win; 214 Points

He may now be entering his 13th season in the top flight, but in 2008 Trulli arguably drove the best he has ever done. Often underrated, the affable Italian maintained his traditionally sublime qualifying form last season, and complemented it with a succession of excellent race day performances too. The Italian's talent has long merited more than just the single grand prix victory he has so far accrued; 2009 may just deliver him another one.

Timo Glock: Age 27; 22 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 2nd); 27 Points

The young German thoroughly banished the memories of an indifferent F1 debut with Jordan Grand Prix four years earlier last season with a mature, composed and extremely promising first full campaign in the sport - the highlight of which was his second place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix mid-summer. Should Toyota's TF109 perform to the team's hopes and expectations in 2009, there could be plenty more of where that came from over the coming months.

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

Red Bull's 'baby' outfit showed its big brother the way for much of the second half of 2008, with Sebastian Vettel's sensational Italian Grand Prix triumph at Monza the undoubted crowning glory. Though the new STR5 has got off to a slow start - apparently struggling for both outright speed and reliability in testing - hopes are high that once the issues are resolved, consistent points finishes will again be the name of the game.

S?bastien Bourdais: Age 30; 18 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 7th); 4 Points

The record-breaking multiple former Champ Car king endured a winter of waiting before finally being re-confirmed for a second consecutive season at STR in 2009 in early February - and it is an opportunity he will surely grab with both hands. Rarely far away from Vettel in the latter stages of 2008 and occasionally ahead of F1's newest superstar, the new regulations could just hand Bourdais the chance to show the watching world exactly what he is capable of.

S?bastien Buemi: Age 20; 0 GP Starts; 0 Wins; 0 Points

The youngest driver in the field and also the most inexperienced, Buemi has a sizeable task on his hands in 2009, having to prove that Red Bull's faith in him over these past years has all been justified. In Bourdais, the GP2 Series graduate has an excellent mentor - but also a very quick team-mate. The jury is still out as to whether or not the young Swiss ace has the necessary credentials to establish himself in the top flight.

RED BULL RACING

After several years of flattering only to deceive, Red Bull knows it has to deliver in 2009, and with the sport's new regulations playing into the hands of great innovators such as Adrian Newey, the energy drinks-backed squad has a golden opportunity to do just that. The Renault-powered RB5 has shown well in pre-season testing, and confidence in Milton Keynes is high. Time to deliver indeed.

Mark Webber: Age 32; 121 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 3rd); 100 Points

The perennially luckless Aussie appeared to turn a corner in 2008, with an early run of points-scoring finishes seeming to give the lie to his habitual ill-fortune...until after the season had finished. The broken leg he sustained during his annual charity adventure Pure Tasmania Challenge may have disrupted his 2009 preparations, but Webber is determined to recover quickly - to take advantage of what looks likely to be the most competitive Red Bull in the team's short history...and prove he is up to the challenge of taking on Sebastian Vettel to boot.

Sebastian Vettel: Age 21; 26 GP Starts; 1 Win; 41 Points

In triumphing for Toro Rosso in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, Vettel became an overnight sensation, being compared to his legendary, seven-time world champion compatriot Michael Schumacher and tipped for multiple F1 titles. Though he has sought to shrug off any such references, the 21-year-old is clearly, as RBR team principal Christian Horner contends, 'a prodigious talent' - and 2009 could just provide him with the springboard to kick what looks like being a hugely successful career into gear.

WILLIAMS

Over the past few seasons, Williams - a team with no less than 16 world titles to its credit in a bygone age - has frequently begun proceedings impressively only to slide increasingly down the pecking order as the year wears on and its budget does not allow for development pace to match that of its rivals. Both Sir Frank Williams and Nico Rosberg are viewing the regulation changes in 2009 as a significant opportunity to regain ground - and both are equally well aware that if the Grove-based concern does not do so now, it may never manage it.

Nico Rosberg: Age 23; 53 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 2nd); 41 Points

Having entered F1 back in 2006 as the inaugural GP2 Series Champion, great things were expected of the son of 1982 title-winner Keke Rosberg - but so far, flashes of genuine promise aside, little has materialised. Much of the blame for that can be attributed to having been forced to race with uncompetitive machinery at his disposal, but the young German needs to be careful his impressive loyalty to Williams does not end up costing him. One of the most naturally talented drivers on the grid, now is the time for Nico to stake his claim to a future at the front of the field - or else risk slipping quietly out of view.

Kazuki Nakajima: Age 24; 19 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 6th); 9 Points

The Japanese ace made solid progress during his rookie campaign in the top flight in 2008, confounding his critics by generally keeping his car on the track and even giving team-mate Rosberg the odd scare with his raw speed on occasion. Whether he has a long-term future in F1 is difficult to discern, but Nakajima certainly proved that he deserves a second crack of the whip this year, when he will need to step things up another notch and take the challenge to the sister Williams on a more regular basis.

FORCE INDIA

The perennial back-of-the-grid minnows were supposed to take a step up the order in 2008 following the arrival at the helm of Kingfisher Airlines billionaire Vijay Mallya, but that improvement never really came. A technical and engine supply tie-up with McLaren-Mercedes from this season onwards should do the trick - and respectability and points finishes are very much on the Silverstone-based squad's radar.

Adrian Sutil: Age 26; 35 GP Starts; 0 Wins (Best Finish 8th); 1 Point

The defining moment of Adrian Sutil's 2008 season arguably came less than ten laps from home in the Monaco Grand Prix, when he was unceremoniously separated from fifth place - what would have been comfortably the finest finish of his fledgling F1 career - by the out-of-control Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Whether the pleasant young German will ever scale such heights again remains to be seen, but in the Force India VJM02 he should certainly be much more of a regular midfield contender in 2009.

Giancarlo Fisichella: Age 36; 212 GP Starts; 3 Wins; 267 Points

The veteran Italian returns for his 14th season of competition in the top flight in 2009, and buoyed by the McLaren-Mercedes link, he has even evoked the possibility of podiums over the coming months. Whilst those ambitions may prove to be a little too lofty, the Roman remains extremely quick on his day and capable of bringing the car home, so if points are there to be had, he will likely not be found wanting.

BRAWN GP

Honda may yet come to regret putting its F1 operation up for sale back in December as a - some would say - knee-jerk reaction to the current global credit crunch and poor on-track return for its considerable financial investment. On testing form, the new, Mercedes-powered BGP 001 looks set to be the surprise of the upcoming season and - dare it be said - even a possible championship contender...

Jenson Button: Age 29; 153 GP Starts; 1 Win; 232 Points

Having at one point looked like he would be watching the 2009 campaign from the sidelines, Button now has arguably his best chance ever of staking his claim in F1 as a regular race-winner. If Brawn's testing pace turns out to be real, the British star will doubtless be re-invigorated - and a very different driver to the lacklustre midfield runner who all-too often seemed ready to throw in the towel in 2008. Written off in some quarters as a has-been, the former Hungarian Grand Prix winner could just be set to make his critics eat their words.

Rubens Barrichello: Age 36; 267 GP Starts; 9 Wins; 530 Points

The evergreen Brazilian may now be F1's elder statesman, but his appetite and desire for success remain undimmed, even all these years on from the day that he made his grand prix debut as a fresh-faced youngster back in 1993. Reborn over the winter and full of enthusiasm for the potential of a team that was at one stage quite literally on its last legs, at 36 years of age 'Rubinho' has the greatest opportunity of his career to write his name in the sport's history books...

 

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