Who will win it all in 2012? I have no idea. It all depends on the cars that drivers are given. However, two drivers are given the same car. Who will triumph in the same car in 2012?
I've got a pretty good idea of who will win these battles this year. I'll go from the back of the pack right up to the front and let you know who will be securing their drive for 2013.
Timo Glock will once again line up for Marussia, alongside French newcomer Charles Pic. Glock has years of experience and a few slightly memorable drives in F1, but he hasn't really set the track alight. He is dependable, and you can be sure he'll try his best to keep his seat.
Pic has won some races in lower classes, but this will be his first year in F1. He isn't stepping into a car that will allow him to fight for anything besides finishes, so he will be looking to show that he can compete against Glock. If he does win, he can at least hope for a better drive next year.
My feeling: Glock, but not by much. He has the experience with the machinery and pressure of F1. Maybe next year, Pic will show us what he's got.
This year's lineup for HRT will be Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa. Karthikeyan has a fairly terrible record in F1. He seems to only be getting the drive because of the sponsorship money he brings to the team. Hispania Racing has even admitted it isn't sure if he will always have the seat. If Ferrari wants to give a driver a test, maybe it can buy Karthikeyan's seat in the HRT. Instead of practicing during in-season testing, new drivers will take Karthikeyan's seat for a few races.
Pedro de la Rosa was a longtime tester for McLaren, and I'm sure he thought the seat would be his until Hamilton came along. So he ditched the testing role for a racing seat. He's never had a decent car of his own, but he put in some good drives when deputizing in the McLaren. This HRT is never going to win him a race, but maybe it will give him some recognition.
My call: de la Rosa, by a landslide.
Heikki Kovalainen comes into this season looking to maintain his status as the best driver in the team. He comfortably took that position in direct competition with Jarno Trulli. In the past, Kovalainen was dominated by Hamilton but held his own with Fisichella at Renault. Catreham has been steadily improving, and it's certain Kovalainen wants that first points finish for his team.
Vitaly Petrov needs to prove himself. He was nowhere near Robert Kubica at Renault his first year and probably had as hard a first year there as Heikki did. However, he did well enough last year, and I'm still a little puzzled as to why Lotus (formerly Renault) dropped him. The Caterham has done nothing but improve, but it was still beat by the worst Williams ever last year. If Vitaly can get a string of results against Heikki, he'll find himself on his way up to a better car next year.
My call: Petrov will squeak his way in front this year. He matured a lot last year and definitely improved his race-form. He'll give Kovalainen a run and come out ahead.
Pastor Maldonado won the GP2 championship the year before entering F1, just like Lewis Hamilton. However, he has not had nearly the impact on F1. His performances have been nothing worth mentioning so far, and I don't see that changing. Granted that so far he has been given a dog of a car, he has never beat his teammate.
Bruno Senna has an even more illustrious background than Maldonado that he has also never lived up to. I don't see a chance in the world that he will ever live up to his uncle's famous recommendation, no matter the car that Williams deliver. He hasn't shown the speed in qualifying or the skills on the track to make me think things will change.
My call: Aside from sponsorship money, what is Williams thinking? I guess Senna will probably come out on top, but I don't see either of them doing much.
Will the guys in the photo be working for Toro Rosso next year? Probably. Will the drivers still be there? Probably not. This isn't to say anything bad about either of them. It's just that drivers don't tend to last long there.
Daniel Ricciardo did a good job in the HRT last year, and the uptick in performance of the machine will lead to an equal uptick in his performance. However, I don't see him pulling a Vettel with a miracle win in a Toro Rosso.
Jean-Eric Vergne has an equally good, if not better, pedigree. I can almost see the dream of taking Webber's seat in his eyes. I think he'll definitely need a year's worth of driving before he starts to do well. Will Toro Rosso give him that long? No idea.
My call: Ricciardo will take the higher position this year, but Vergne will catch up and overtake him next.
Kamui Kobayashi has long been one of my favorites. Watching him battle with Nakajima in his first race won me over. His greatest weakness seems to be qualifying, although it's hard to say whether that's down to him or the car. However, he has almost always managed to compensate for this in the race. He consistently delivers exciting racing.
Sergio Perez did a decent job last year, considering his wreck in Monaco. He has proven himself so far, and as he was in the Ferrari Driver Academy I can easily see him taking Massa's place after this year. However, that will hinge upon him beating Kamui, which might not be so easy.
My call: I'd love to be wrong, but I think Perez will come out ahead this year. Perez will be trying to prove himself as ready for Ferrari, and I think he'll succeed.
Paul Di Resta is a talented driver who finished last year well. I think he'll be even hungrier to get ahead this year. However, he was beaten quite handily by Adrian Sutil. There are many reasons Sutil lost his seat at Force India, but I don't think Di Resta was a big part of it.
Nico Hulkenberg spent one year at Williams, where he had a spectacular last race, putting the Williams on pole for the first time since 2005, and also the last time. Following the race, he was sacked for Maldonado. His pole position was a bit of a freak occurrence; he didn't exactly burn up the track for Williams. After sitting out last year, he's back in the seat this year in place of Sutil.
My call: Di Resta will take Hulkenberg quite comfortably this year. Although Hulkenberg is a former GP2 champion, I think Di Resta is the more talented driver. He has shown more race-craft, and will continue to do so.
Kimi Raikkonen is back from the wilds and into a Lotus. Raikkonen has always been one of my favorite drivers. So many people complain about his lack of personality, but I find his deadpan delivery humorous. My feeling is that he wants to show he's still got it; he has to show Red Bull he can still compete if he wants Webber's seat. And we all know exactly what Kimi wants to do: win.
Romain Grosjean is also coming back to F1 after a break. However, not nearly as much is expected of his return. He got his first drive with this team, when they were known as Renault, at the expense of poor Nelson Piquet Jr. He didn't do much, but he wasn't given much, either. He has won plenty of races outside of F1, and maybe he'll get the chance to prove he can compete.
My call: Raikkonen will dominate Grosjean.
It seems strange to put Michael Schumacher in front of Nico Rosberg at this point because Rosberg has comprehensively beat him. However, Schumacher's career is testament to what he can do if given a good car. Ross Brawn has worked on many of those race winning cars, so it could still all turn around for him. The question is, will it?
Rosberg has proven himself to an extent but hasn't shown that he can make the leap to a race-winning driver, let alone a champion. We know that he is competent and quite quick, so can he make the most of it?
My call: If Mercedes comes out with a dominant car, it will be Schumacher on the top step. If they have a mediocre car, Rosberg will be in front. I don't see it happening this year, so I'll go with Rosberg.
Felipe Massa hasn't been the same since losing out on the world championship to Lewis Hamilton. I know many others point to his horrific crash as being the start of the decline, but I put it much earlier. He was still fighting in 2010, but not with as much success. I don't see him turning it around with Ferrari. He's become disillusioned, and he can't afford to wait out Alonso.
Fernando Alonso has moved into Maranello. He has fortified himself into the factory and isn't leaving Ferrari without a championship. As a person, I've never been a fan of Alonso. As a driver, I'm in awe of him. Undoubtedly one of the best drivers on the grid, he can deliver.
My call: Alonso. No need to explain. Hopefully Massa will be able to finish the year out at Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton was bested by Jenson Button last year. No one saw it coming, least of all Hamilton. This year Hamilton needs to show us all what he can do. It's impossible to doubt his quality. Last year, he made too many costly mistakes. This year, he'll be focused and cut out the mistakes.
Even Jenson Button most likely didn't see it coming. He showed the benefits of a cool head and a methodical approach. He completely deserves his place in the team and will only improve there.
My call: My head tells me Button, but I can't do it. Hamilton will not let it happen again and will come out of this battle ahead. (I really want to be wrong here.)
Mark Webber put up a good fight in 2010, but 2011 was a different story. He was completely outclassed by Sebastian Vettel. Webber points to qualifying as being the difference, but I think Vettel's improvement is the problem. Vettel stepped up a level in 2011; Webber stood still. I think he has reached his maximum, and now he is just holding on.
Vettel had a great 2011. He became the youngest double-world champion and answered many of his critics with some good driving. However there is still plenty of room for him to improve. When he is in front, he is uncatchable. When he is in the pack, he's definitely passable. He got better at this in 2011, and if his race-craft makes the upgrade in 2012 Webber doesn't have a chance.
My call: Webber will lose by a decent margin. I think he'll become disillusioned with Red Bull at the end of the year and move on.
Will Vettel once again be on the top step in Melbourne this year? I don't have a clue. The first race is about two weeks away, and I can't wait to see these rivalries play out.