Formula 1 looks set to be rather different in 2009 and with a host of rule changes it is one of the most eagerly anticipated for a number of years.

The cars themselves are going to look very usual - what with bigger front wings, smaller and taller rear wings, no flip-ups, chimneys and bargeboards, and then there is also the return to slick tyres and KERS to consider. How this will shake up the pack no one will really know until the Australian Grand Prix at the end of March.

Here columnist Mark Blundell grabs his crystal ball and gives us his thoughts on just what might happen in the coming year. In 2008 he almost got it spot on by tipping Felipe Massa and Ferrari to take the laurels and this year he is going for...

Well read on to find out.
Mark, how do you see things developing in 2009?

Mark Blundell:
It is going to be incredibly exciting because we have got new technologies coming in with the KERS system. That means the drivers will have extra power available to them at certain points.

Slick tyres are back, which is fantastic, because the ultimate level of motorsport is F1. It was a crying shame to see them driving around on grooved tyres and it just didn't look right - especially when everything else underneath F1 in the lower formulas is on slicks.

The cars will look a bit different too in their present guise. But I think that will change slightly when we get towards the first race and people have streamlined their '09 aerodynamic packages a bit more.

I think some new guys will emerge too and we have a couple of teams with new partnerships as well and they should get some strong results. Ultimately it may be a more level playing field when we kick the season off. We should definitely see some exciting racing.
Do you think the rule changes will affect the peaking order and improve the spectacle?

There will be some changes in performance and that will definitely change the outright result for the first few grand's prix. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a few people up there that we didn't expect. It is such a big change and there is so much to do in a short space of time. There are a lot of areas that can get missed and a lot of things that can get overlooked. One of the key factors will be reliability. When you have new technologies coming in reliability is one of the biggest issues and if a couple of the guys get it wrong, it could be very costly come the end of the season.
How much difference will it make for the drivers' being on slicks as opposed to grooved tyres?

It will give them a bit more feel for the car and there should be a bit more grip available to them - although, saying that, the bit more tyre grip will be off set with a lack of downforce [due to the aero changes]. Generally though they will just get more feedback and that should make it more enjoyable. Overall it is a good way to go. I was never impressed with grooved tyres and watching them go down to pretty much a slick looking tyre. It was confusing for a lot of people in the outside world. I am sure this is a step forward.
What is your take on KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems)?

It is new technology and F1 has always been at the forefront of that. It will be interesting to see how people are going to go about it. There are a couple of variations. The biggest problem will be distribution of weight. There is quite a bit of weight entailed in the KERS package and where they can place it and how they can distribute it and the ballast could influence the handling of the car. As I said earlier, until we actually see everybody up on the grid, we won't really know who is quickest. There is always a lot of sand-bagging in testing and a lot of testing takes place with only bits and pieces put on the car. We won't see the full packages until the first race. Fingers crossed we have a great start to the year. But it will be really tough to try and beat the one just gone.
The calendar next year is a bit different and instead of 18 races we have 17 - there is no French GP, no Canadian GP and a new race in Abu Dhabi. What do you think of the schedule for '09?

It is a great shame we are losing the French and Canadian Grand's Prix because both have a lot of history. However, that is just a sign of the times at the moment and things move on. Abu Dhabi is now coming in and the Middle East is a very strong market place. It is right to go out there with another race on top of what we have in Bahrain. The circuit looks very interesting and it will maybe be one of the most interesting we have seen in a long, long time - even more so than Singapore because of the way they have set it up. It is new basically and new in infrastructure as is the city in many ways. It is exciting times for F1 - as ever it evolves and as one grand prix drops off another one comes in. I am sure as the course of the 09 season progresses you might see another venue tacked on the end too.
Do you think Lewis Hamilton will be even stronger now he has got that first title under his belt?

He will be stronger as a person and stronger as a driver. He is coming in with a big title sitting above his name and everybody knows who Lewis Hamilton is in the world. But it will all depend on what he is driving, and if McLaren deliver a grand prix winning car. If they do then Lewis will make sure he extracts everything he can from it and he could win the title again. It will however be tough. It is never easy to put everything in place and next year will be interesting. As we have already said there are lots of changes and sometimes they create excitement, sometimes they create problems and sometimes it creates situations other people can take opportunities from. We will have to wait and see. But Hamilton is definitely going to be the main man.
Will the usual suspects be his closest rivals?

I don't think there will be any changes there. But there will be some other people putting their noses in and upsetting the applecart. For example, Robert Kubica and BMW Sauber again, as well as Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull and Renault. There is a lot to come out of those guys and there is a lot of determination and enthusiasm. There is certainly a lot of confidence that has been built with several different parties and that will show.
Mark Webber is likely to miss most of the winter tests after breaking his leg. How big a blow is that for him and for Red Bull Racing?

It is a massive blow for Mark. It is not easy to go into a situation in the off-season and not do any training or understand what the car is up to in terms of its development and its progress. It is going to put him on his back-foot and it is not going to be an easy process for him to jump in and catch up. But he is a professional driver and I don't think it will be a massive issue.

At the end of the day the biggest set of pressures will apply to Sebastian Vettel. He is now going to have to develop that car and have the main input. With his lack of experience, as he is still in his younger years, that is going to be tough. That is where somebody like David Coulthard [who is staying on at RBR as an adviser] may be able to come back in and help. He should at least provide a good baseline.
Who do you think will win the 2009 drivers' and constructors' titles?

I might be completely wrong here - but for some reason I think Kimi Raikkonen might turn things around and come back stronger than ever. I am going to put my money back on him again [like I did for 2007]. Let's see. I might change that when it comes to the first race and when we see what goes on in winter testing!
Finally Mark, what are you plans for 2009 now that F1 has moved back to the BBC?

I will be watching it in my chair on Sunday afternoons! [laughs] I don't know yet. I am still under contract with ITV for another year and we need to sort that out. We are looking to see if there is the possibility of doing something a little bit different, but hopefully still involved in motorsport. As ever I will still be trying to promote British talent on the management side too. We have got some young guys that are doing a great job. I will still be busy.


by Rob Wilkins