Here we are again, as the Formula One season gets underway this weekend in Melbourne.
World champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany will be hoping to get his title defense off to a good start. If he ends 2012 as champion, he’ll become only the third driver to pick up three titles on the trot, following Argentinean legend Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57) and fellow German Michael Schumacher at the beginning of this century.
There’s a healthy Asia-Pacific presence all through the season. As well as Australia, the event will take in Malaysia, China, Bahrain (controversially back on the calendar as the 2011 version was cancelled due to the ongoing civil unrest in the country), Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
All drivers will be keen to start the season in top gear as, since 2002, only three times has the winner of the Australian Grand Prix not ended the year as world champion.
Vettel has obviously done well down under of late, but even the Red Bull driver knows that repeating 2011 is going to be a big ask. Out of 19 races, he won 11 races, finishing well ahead of Jensen Button in second. Only twice did he miss a top three finish.
“We had a fantastic year,” Vettel says. “You don't have this kind of season very often. Even if you look at the seasons Michael [Schumacher] had, when dominating, we did something special. Statistics are not important but it's great when people remind you of this or that. But that's not why we are racing.”
Even if the car and driver can be anywhere near as consistent as last year, there’s sure to be a tough challenge from his rivals. There are five fellow world champions all aiming to get back to the top. Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, who returns after taking a two-year break from the high-octane sport.
“This season looks like a stellar year for Formula One with six world champions. It’s unprecedented,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said.
“The quality of the field is phenomenal. I think it's going to be a really exciting season…We're obviously determined to try and carry the momentum we've gathered over the last couple of years into this season, but we certainly don't take anything for granted.”