Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The 2012 Formula 1 season is almost upon us, and kicks off in just under two weeks. And what a season it will be!

As with every season, we see the exit of some drivers, the return of a few and even a couple of new faces. Both Toro Rosso drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi was sacked from the team. Toro Rosso is Red Bull’s rookie team and they tend to renew their driving pool every now and then. Alguersuari and Buemi both did OK in 2011, but far from good enough. Mark Webber is getting old, his Red Bull contract ends after the 2013 season (if I’m not mistaken) and Toro Rosse should have some young blood that can take his space by then. Rubens Barrichello, Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli all left Formula 1, Barrichello long overdue. In terms of driver changes, Kimi Räikkönen’s return to Formula 1 after a failed attempt at a WRC career is what has generated the most buzz this year. The 2007 world champion’s comeback is not as spectacular as Michael Schumacher’s back in 2010 but for Räikkönen’s sake let’s hope he is more successful.

There are no new teams this season, but there has been a few name changes. Lotus is now known as Caterham, Virgin has become Marussia, while Renault has changed its name to… Lotus! Confusing? Yes. That we are not seeing any new teams this year is a good thing, because it means that the traditional back markers have got some experience and might be able to hang on to the rest of the pack for a while longer than than did last year. That there is a need for a 107% rule is a shame, if you ask me. Even though it was only enforced once last season, all teams should be competitive enough not become a security risk for the rest of the cars.

For the 2012 season there have been some changes to the ever so complicated F1 technical and sporting regulations. Of the more interesting ones is a clarification on defensive driving:

More than one change of direction to defend a position is not permitted. Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off‐line, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track on the approach to the corner.

This has been enforced in earlier seasons, but as far as I understand not as an official rule; more of a gentleman’s agreement between the drivers. Michael Schumacher, in particular, has a tendency of driving very defensively with his car all over the place when his position on track is threatened and driving like that might lead to some pretty nasty situations. With the gentleman’s agreement now part of the official sporting regulations, it might get easier to enforce it, we’ll see.

But the most radical rule change this year is part of the technical regulations and concerns the so-called “off-throttle blown diffusers”. They created downforce by forcing fuel through the engine to produce exhaust gasses and directing it over the diffuser when the driver was not applying the throttle. Blown diffusers are now banned. Some has attributed much of Red Bull’s dominance in 2011 to their use of blown diffusers, and it will be interesting to see how the ban will affect the team.

My predictions for 2012 (not taking the pre-season testing results into consideration since a lot of things might happen between the final lap of pre-season testing and the first race)? Thanks to the new blown diffusers ban, Red Bull will not be as dominant as last season and Sebastian Vettel will fail to secure his third championship in a row. Instead, the two McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will fight for the championship. The battle for third will stand between Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Mark Webber will find himself and his Red Bull midfield most of the season. Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen will, as Michael Schumacher, fail to make a mark in his F1 comeback. 2012 will be Ferrari’s Felipe Massa’s last season with Scuderia. Force India, with Paul di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg will occasionally be in the same league as the big boys, but will struggle with consistency throughout the season.

Will I be right in any of this? Probably not. We’ll see how well I did when the final checkered has been waved in Brazil in November. But good predictions or not, I’m really looking forward to the start of the season.