Paris: Yesterday was history, tomorrow's a mystery... Red Bull Racing and the other title contender teams would be reminding themselves of this adage ahead of this weekend's season-opening Australian GP. Though Red Bull have won consecutive championships in the last two years, it would be wrong to presume they will be runaway winners (they are certainly the hot favourites). In fact, in 2010, they barely managed to scrape through to a title win. In 2011, Sebastian Vettel was in sublime form. Yet Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso managed to outperform the German driver in some races. The challenge that McLaren and Ferrari will pose to Red Bull Racing isn't a matter about their drivers. Both Button and Alonso are the best in the business - In the last two seasons they performed remarkably well despite having an inferior car when compared to Red Bull. It is the performance of the cars they drive in 2012 that will determine the outcome of the championship.
Vettel, Button and Alonso are two of the six world champions who are in the reckoning this season. The other three are Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen. Considering that the Mclaren car has always been the best among the rest during the last two years, Hamilton is a strong favourite for the title as well. However, he is prone to committing errors, as was seen last season. A calmer and more focused approach could help Hamilton add to his 2008 crown.
Michael Schumacher's comeback continues to be an enigma. His decision to return to Formula One after having won everything in his previous stint was baffling. His comeback has been a disaster so far. The seven-time world champion hasn't been on the podium for the past two years. Worse, he has committed driving errors that have left his fans aghast. Will 2012 turn out differently for the 43-year-old or will his agony continue? And while a lot of it depends on the competitiveness of the Mercedes F1 car, Schumacher will have to perform a herculean task to bring himself into contention, especially considering the high quality of opposition.
The surprise element this season could be Kimi Raikkonen. A natural racer, the 2007 world champion could have easily won more titles earlier had his cars been a bit more mechanically reliable. He quit Formula One after 2009 and joined the World Rally Championship. His WRC experiment didn't turn out the way he wanted, and thankfully he returned to F1 after two years . He will be driving for the rejuvenated Lotus F1 team, who needed a strong driver to emerge as serious contenders. Last season, they were unfortunate to have lost the services of Robert Kubica at the last moment. Lotus F1 have shown lot of potential and this potential can be converted into impressive results at the hands of a driver like Kimi, who will have enough motivation to do well in his comeback season and make up for his absence of the two previous seasons.
The two drivers to watch out for are Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg. Webber was completely overshadowed by his teammate Vettel last year. In fact, he was even beaten by Button in the drivers' championship for the runners-up spot. However, considering that he had come close to winning the title in 2010 and the fact that Red Bull would be his best bet to win the title with, the Australian should have enough motivation this season.
Rosberg has been one of the most impressive drivers. It can be daunting to have a seven-time world champion as a teammate. However, not only has Rosberg remained unfazed but he has also outperformed Schumacher during the last two seasons. Though it would be a bit exaggerated to count him as a favourite, you can never rule him out. Give him a good car and he could possibly do what Vettel has been doing at Red Bull recently.
As far as statistics go, since 2006 (with the exception of 2010), those who won the Australian GP have gone on to clinch the title in the respective seasons (2006 - Fernando Alonso; 2007 - Kimi Raikkonen, 2008 - Lewis Hamilton, 2009 - Jenson Button, 2011 - Sebastian Vettel). Well begun is half done, but going by the current trend at the Australian GP, well begun seems to be job done as far the championship is concerned!