Vettel still the man to catch
Champions Red Bull hold the aces as the new F1 season begins, says David Kennedy
The 2012 Formula One season kicks off today at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The grid is wall to wall with world champions with no fewer than six of the best doing battle.
Between them, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen have won 14 titles or the equivalent of five seasons of Grand Prix races. They represent consecutive winners from the year 2000 to present day. This is the first time in the history of the sport that six world champions have shared a grid.
Some of them still have what it takes to win another title but for others every race brings them closer to the truth: that their best days are behind them. But for all, the spark that first lit the fuse of their determination to be world champion continues to glow. Watching them in action will be a privilege.
Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari will be vying for supremacy while Mercedes and Force India will fight to usurp one of the big three. The interlopers, Lotus and Sauber, are determined to be stronger and make more of an impression in 2012.
There are a few new names on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will be slogging it out at Toro Rosso as they pitch hard to for Webber's plum drive in 2013. Toro Rosso is the auditioning platform for the coveted Red Bull role.
Meanwhile, Charles Pic joins Marussia with a little help from the family firm's finances but having said that he is no slouch.
It's goodbye to former Jordan driver Jarno Trulli, which means that in Australia there will have be no Italian driver racing since the 1973 German Grand Prix. Mama mia! Trulli is probably quite happily surveying the race from his vineyard in Italy sipping his beloved Montepulciano.
Rubens Barrichello has gone to the US and a new career in IndyCar -- now there's a brave soul who isn't afraid of change.
Adrian Sutil was dropped by Force India having been given an 18-month suspended prison sentence in February for GBH against the CEO of Genii Capital (Lotus investor) in a nightclub brawl last year. He was with Lewis Hamilton when the incident occurred but his former friend refused to testify on his behalf. Daggers, back and protecting one's ass are words that spring to mind. Kimi Raikkonen returns from an unsuccessful stint at rallying interspersed with a spot of Nascar racing. His team-mate Romain Grosjean also enjoyed a sojourn away from F1. In GP2, he was very productive and actually won the title. Nico Hulkenberg also returns to the main arena after being sidelined as the reserve driver for Force India.
There are 20 races on the 2012 calendar, which is stretching the teams to the limit of their capacity. Austin in Texas had question marks over its readiness but so far it appears to be on. Bahrain is once again back on the agenda as Bernie ignores the Arab Spring in favour of the dollar. Whether it actually happens is another story.
As Sky and BBC carve F1 between them, closer to home Setanta will once again cover the races. And what a season we have in store. Even if Vettel romps home to another title, what happens below that radar will be riveting. Six world champions dicing together? The mind boggles. Whoever you're cheering, enjoy the spectacle.
Sunday Indo Sport