For the first time in F1's 62-year history, six world champions will line up for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Which of these men is the best bet to have a championship season and who'll find the going tough? Read on...
Rev it up
The fast men & their mean machines are back. HT helps you get back up to speed for the 2012 F1 season.
Team: Red Bull
World champion: 2010, 2011
Outlook for 2012: Vettel's controlled aggression behind the wheel meant that he got the most out of the Pirelli tyres that were introduced in 2011 and this resulted in him winning 11 of the season's 19 races. A lot of those wins, however, were hard-fought and with Pirelli yet again changing their tyre compounds for 2012, Vettel could face a challenge from his own teammate.
World champion: 2009
Outlook for 2012: F1's former playboy-in-chief gave his more fancied teammate Lewis Hamilton a rude shock by just about keeping up with him in 2010, and went one step further in 2011 when he won as many races as Hamilton and got more points. Seasoned F1 observers put this down to Button's smoother driving style that favoured the fast-degrading Pirellis and a mature attitude as compared to Hamilton who would often make the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Expect Button to go all out to improve on his runner-up position from last year.
World champion: 2008
Outlook for 2012: After spending what seemed like the majority of 2011 crashing into Felipe Massa and being drawn to off-track distractions, Hamilton has been been bullish about getting back on track this year.
He has broken up with his pop star girlfriend and appointed a new manager in Didier Coton, who has previously managed (amongst others) Mika Hakkinen. No doubt Hamilton believes that this will lead to the sort of no-nonsense attitude in taking on the challenges of F1 that was displayed by the former flying Finn.
World champion: 2007
Outlook for 2012: Just as many fans remember the 'Iceman' for his natural speed as they do for the way he seemed utterly bored with F1 by the end of 2009. Having snatched a world title from Hamilton and Alonso in 2007 for Ferrari, the Finn seemed to be content with his achievements. So off he went to entertain fans of the World Rally Championship in 2010 and 2011. The lure of racing wheel-to-wheel has proved too strong for the Finn and he is now back to at least entertain. Although given his pace in pre-season testing, he could do much better than that.
World champion: 1994, 1995, 2000-04
Outlook for 2012: His mere presence in an F1 car in 2010 brought with it the collective expectations of the German legend's fan base, which were ultimately left unfulfilled as Schumacher struggled to shake off the rust of nearly three years of inactivity at a time when testing in F1 was severely restricted. His visible improvement in 2011 (at Montreal, Spa and India in particular) has given those same fans hope that 2012 will not only see further improvement but a extension of his contract to race beyond this year.
World champion: 2005, 2006
Outlook for 2012: After nearly winning the title in his first year at Maranello, 2011 came as a season to forget for the man who many rate as the most complete driver in F1 today.
With Ferrari's recent trend of following technical regulations to the letter and not being as creative as Red Bull or McLaren in their interpretation, Alonso has struggled to keep pace with drivers from those teams. However, his dominance of teammate Massa and his win at Silverstone last year were proof of the Spaniard's unwillingness to take his car's technical disadvantage lying down.