Two races in the book and nobody has come up with an answer to Brawn's pre-season testing pace. Jenson Button looked comfortable again as he made it two wins in a row at Sepang, and there's no reason to suggest that he wouldn't have had things all his own way had the race run its full course.
Brawn has its challengers, though. Nico Rosberg demonstrated the competitiveness of the Williams by leading the first stint in Malaysia, albeit on a slightly lighter fuel load. Toyota once again looked strong and it seems as though Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are going to be in the hunt for podiums more often than not. And Red Bull continues to shine as the fastest of the non-'diffuser gang' teams. Though none of the three teams have yet shown signs of bridging the gap to the pace-setting Brawn cars.
Regular points of interest throughout the season will include the progress of the re-design of the diffusers on the cars of the 'other' seven teams, but that race won't really get going until the European rounds. Another favourite talking point this year is KERS, and how much of an advantage it will offer at each track. The consensus is that it won't make too much difference to the laptime around Shanghai, but the tactical advantage it offers in the race is worth the extra weight. Robert Kubica seems to think so anyway, and will run the system for the first time at a GP on Friday.
The diffuser of the Toyota TF109 © XPB
The final decision has been made, but diffusers are still going to be a talking point throughout the season. Who can complete an effective re-design the quickest, and will it even make the difference to close the gap to the front runners? As far as Shanghai goes, the cars won't be much different from the opening two races so it will only show which teams react best in the face of their failed protest.
2. Will off-track problems distract McLaren from the task at hand?
If the first couple of races have confirmed your suspicions that your car is not up to the job, then the ideal scenario would be to have a couple of quiet weeks in the factory to find some useful tweaks for the next two flyaways ahead of your first proper updates in Spain.
Instead, McLaren is again fighting to defend its integrity, preparing to face the World Council, and figuring out how to fill the hole left by the departure of one of its most senior and long-serving team members.
Even the silver lining to this is bittersweet - what is happening in Woking at the moment is like a decaffeinated version of the events of 2007. But as bad as things were then, let's not forget that the team still managed to go within a point of winning the championship. McLaren will have few fond memories from 18 months ago, but if nothing else then at least it proved that it can operate under difficult circumstances.
3. Can Renault make any progress?
It has been a subdued start for the former champions. Melbourne served as unwelcome confirmation that the R29 is not yet good enough to run at the front on merit, and while the team expected better things in Malaysia, the weather denied them a chance to find out. Fernando Alonso is already calling for improvement, so pressure is building for some sort of breakthrough. The good news is that Renault's KERS system seems strong - it just needs a better car to wrap around it.
4. Will Ferrari sort its strategy out?
The F60 might not have the pace of the frontrunners at the moment, but even if it did, Ferrari would have thrown a lot of points away cheaply in Malaysia. Felipe Massa's race was shot when the tem decided that they'd done a good enough job in Q1 to park the Brazilian early, only for everyone else to go faster as the track improved and leave him 16th on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen's grid position of ninth was more representative of the car's pace, but his chances of salvaging something from the afternoon were skittled by an incomprehensibly early switch to wets.
It's not the first time in the past 12 months that Ferrari has gotten this sort of thing wrong - see Silverstone last year, for example. But at a time when the team is scrapping it out in the midfield, the penalty for such miscues becomes all the greater. Former team manager Luca Baldisserri has already taken the fall, having been shuffled into a factory-based role after Malaysia, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes under replacement Chris Dyer.
Heikki Kovalainen © LAT
The problems on Lewis Hamilton's side of the McLaren garage have been extensively documented since Australia, but from Heikki Kovalainen's point of view the controversy has at least served to deflect attention from his own plight.
The Finn is the only driver not to have completed a racing lap so far in 2009, which is not an ideal situation for someone under pressure to justify his seat this year. The good news is that his fundamental pace has been quite strong; he just needs to last longer than three corners in order to use it.
1. The back straight
Shanghai requires a bit of a balancing act from the engineers, as they need to find a sweet spot in the set-up that will provide the car with the balance and grip needed for the many slow and mediums-speed corners without sacrificing too much on the two main straights.
The long back straight is one of the most important sections of the track and can make a huge difference to the final lap time - the drivers need a good exit out of Turn 13, which can be tough if they are in traffic. Not only will getting it wrong show up on the stopwatch but it could also be costly in terms of track position, as the Turn 14 hairpin at the end of the straight is one of the circuit's top overtaking spots.
Bridgestone's super-soft Option compound that made life so tricky for many of the teams in Australia returns this weekend, and there's every reason to expect it to pose a similar challenge. If anything, the long, fast corners in the middle part of the Shanghai circuit could cause the tyres to degrade even faster than they did in Australia, meaning that their use will have to be carefully managed.
When you're reading through the drivers' explanations for why they didn't win at the end of the weekend, don't be surprised if a lot of them complain about graining.
Showers are expected on both Saturday and Sunday, and if they happen coincide with qualifying or the race then things could get interesting. Changing conditions have left their stamp at Shanghai in the past - take Lewis Hamilton in 2007, for example - so if it starts to cloud over, all bets are off.
A few drivers (such a Nico Rosberg last year) have tried one-stopping at Shanghai in the past, but on the whole it has generally been a two-stop race. This year, the teams won't give one-stopping a moment's thought, as the useful lifespan of the super-soft tyres is expected to be so short. As was the case in Melbourne, the main strategic decision will revolve around when the option tyre can be most effectively deployed. Do you take the hit early in the race to be strong at the end, or make a strong start and hope to have enough to hold on in the final stint.
FIA GT racing at Zhuhai © LAT
Had things gone to plan, F1 would have been making its 12th visit to China this year. The first Chinese Grand Prix was originally earmarked for Zuhai in 1998, but when the circuit failed to gain FIA certification the plans were scrapped.
There was no danger of the problems repeating next time around. The organisers forged a link with the 50-year-old Macau GP to learn the fundamentals of planning and running a race circuit, and Hermann Tilke was called in to design it. In 2004, it all came together when the grid formed up in Shanghai for China's debut on the world championship calendar.
Rubens Barrichello made history by becoming the first Chinese GP winner on a weekend when Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher made some history of his own by failing to score points for the first time in five years. The multiple world champion's relationship with the circuit deteriorated further the following year when he crashed into the Minardi of Christijan Albers on the warm up lap and later spun into retirement behind the safety car, leaving new world champion Fernando Alonso to win ahead of main rival Kimi Raikkonen.
Schumacher finally got on terms with Shanghai in 2006, ironically on a weekend where all the signs had pointed to another struggle. The Bridgestone-shod Ferrari was struggling in the wet weather that affected the start of the weekend compared with Fernando Alonso's Michelin-equipped Renault, but as the race start drew nearer the clouds cleared. Alonso still had the quicker car - by as much as two seconds a lap late in the race - but after the Spaniard lost 10 seconds to a stray wheel nut during a stop, and another 50s to poor tyre choice, Schumacher was able to edge him out by just 4s.
The 2007 race will forever be remembered for Lewis Hamilton spinning into the gravel at the pit entry after asking too much of his intermediate tyres on a drying track, leaving Raikkonen and lonso to finish first and second, and set-up a three-way championship decider in Brazil.
There were no such problems last year, with Hamilton producing one of his strongest drives of the season to take a commanding win over title rival Felipe Massa.
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