We begin the Formula 1 season with Australia and Malaysia, two places that historically have had their share of wet races. This could, therefore, be where we get to see whether the drivers' fears about racing in heavy rain without traction control are justified.
The natural reaction of most fans when they hear an F1 driver expressing his concerns about this is to tell him to stop being such a jessy, and to do what he's paid to do. David Coulthard has taken some stick along these lines recently, but he was simply expressing what almost all of them had agreed upon when they talked together about it.
DC and his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, as leading lights in the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, were simply more willing to put their heads above the parapet in voicing the concern.
In fact, the problem of racing in the wet without traction control isn't just a case of returning to what drivers did before the technology came along to rescue them. The problem is that this generation of F1 cars has been developed over the years to be optimised around having traction control. This has given them general characteristics that, without that technology, will make them fairly evil in conditions of standing water.
"I guarantee you," said Webber, "that if we'd had '08- spec cars in Fuji last year we would not have had any finishers. There were several corners there where we were being rescued massively by the TC, every lap."
Some of the kinks around the back of the circuit were diabolically treacherous, and without TC it would have been a case of deciding how much throttle you could get away with using to get through without breaking traction too suddenly and spinning. Is it possible, as Webber implies, that the answer was none?
If so, it's because the engine characteristics, as defined by the fuelling and ignition software, the cam profiles and the throttle mapping, are very aggressive. Although electronic control has allowed a modern F1 engine to be a remarkably civilised thing - in that it can produce 750bhp from 2.4 litres yet still tick over easily and be well mannered at low revs - their power curves are still savage.
Their peak power comes all of a rush, because they were developed in the knowledge the traction control would tame the worst excesses of that. Had they been developed without traction control, they would have evolved in a rather different way. So, why can't they simply be redeveloped to be friendlier? Because we now have an engine freeze. What's more, we have an engine freeze that specifically bans variable-inlet trumpets - precisely the technology that would make the engines more tuneable to conditions.
And it's not just the engines either. The aerodynamic characteristics, the suspension kinematics and the tyre- sidewall stiffness have all been developed around cars with traction control. Making them more driveable in low grip conditions is feasible using any of these tools, but it will take time and research to work out how to do it without surrendering dry-weather performance. In the meantime we can assume that, in the wet, the cars will be trickier to handle than a cat in a bath.
A lot of fine-tuning is going on with throttle mapping - where there is no freeze restriction. In the old days this was done with different pivot points for the throttle cable. Now, of course, the pivot point and the cable are both electronic, but the principle is the same. Throughout the winter, drivers have been returning to the garages, even in the dry, asking for ever-softer initial response, just to keep those rear wheels from breaking traction. The trick is to keep throttle response just behind traction loss - most of the time.
As yet Bridgestone plans simply to continue with the same control tyres as last year but, with input from the teams, it will in time probably be willing to tweak the sidewall stiffness. The wet-weather rubber will, of course, already be configured with relatively flexible sidewalls, but it may be desirable to come down on that of the dry-weather tyres too - particularly as there is no competition to lose performance to. Suspension designers will doubtless learn more about how to make the geometry work the tyre in such a way that it makes its transition in yaw, and how suddenly it breaks traction, more manageable.
In the meantime, the drivers will just have to get on with it. But it's a mistake to accuse them of being afraid of driving the sort of cars their pre-traction-control predecessors did. For one thing, these guys have all driven without traction control either in F1 or in the junior categories. More importantly, it really wouldn't be a case of going back to those cars - these really will be trickier to control. Initially, at any rate.
All this is a separate issue from that of the cars grounding their underbody regulation planks on the standing water and effectively having the plank - rather than the tyres - aquaplane the whole car. Once that happens the driver is a passenger, regardless of his talent. He can only control the car through the steering and the pedals, none of which have the slightest effect once the car is floating. That was the case before the traction-control ban and simply remains one of the hazards implicit in getting in the car in the first place.
The TC ban has added another, and it's easy to mock the drivers when it's not us sitting in a ball of spray at 180mph wondering if there is a stationary car in front of you. It's also easy for other drivers less vocal to sit back and allow the likes of Coulthard and Webber to take the criticism, all the while benefitting from their efforts at improving the safety.
In a different era, Jacky Ickx used to treat Jackie Stewart's F1 safety crusade with contempt. Now, having survived a lethally dangerous period of racing, Ickx is mature enough to reflect that actually he probably owes his life to Stewart. The conditions are less extreme now, but the principle remains.