The 2011 Formula One season is one race away from its conclusion.
Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel have already wrapped up the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships heading into the final race in Brazil.
So for the 12 teams, it's time to start devoting attention to the 2012 season that is fast approaching.
This season, we had some of the most intense and close-fought racing the sport has ever had. Next year is an unknown entity, but I've got five predictions heading into the new year.
Don't kid yourself. This was an off year for two of the fastest drivers in Formula One. Alonso's Ferrari has been poor all year, struggling to give the driver grip in the laps after a pit-stop.
Hamilton's McLaren exhibited a more complicated set of problems, performing well in practice or qualifying, then underperforming badly in the race (e.g. Italy) or vice versa. The McLaren has been inconsistent this year.
Vettel was pushed hard in the curtain-raising Australian GP, and the British team were a class apart in Germany, yet in Hungary, the Red Bull was light years ahead once more.
The two marquee names in F1 will know they have to raise their game in 2012 after two lackluster years. They have the resources, they have the knowledge, and in Hamilton and Alonso (Button too on occasion), they have a clutch of incredibly talented drivers.
Probably the greatest racing driver of all time, Michael Schumacher's record list is quite impressive, including seven world titles, five of which came consecutively during a period of utter domination by Ferrari.
He returned at the beginning of the 2010 campaign and failed to recapture the ability he had to drive his Mercedes car to the limit and beyond.
In 2011, however, he has shown consistent flashes of the skill he used to have, notably in the rain-affected Canadian Grand Prix, where only the significantly superior Red Bull and McLaren cars of Mark Webber and Jenson Button overtook him to rob him of a deserved second place.
Still searching for that elusive first podium since his return, Schumacher will be given a better car again in 2012 and should push on for a top-three finish or more.
Young Scottish star Paul Di Resta has had a fantastic 2011, delivering numerous impressive races in a Force India car that is distinctly average.
His teammate, Adrian Sutil, began the year as the No. 1 driver on the Northampton-based team, but having been outraced by Di Resta, he is the one worrying whether he will have a race seat with the team next year.
Heading into 2012, Di Resta will be wanting to target higher-placed finishes and should do so even more regularly. A good 2012 could well set him up for a move to a bigger-name team should one of the older talents in Webber (Red Bull) or Schumacher (Mercedes) retire.
The Iceman has been out in the cold since late 2009—MIA in the world of rallying and NASCAR for the past 24 months.
Kimi Raikkonen needs to come back to Formula One, and he will in 2012. The rumors have already begun circulating about a potential drive for Williams. Whatever the case, Formula One needs Kimi.
He brought an air of the unknown to the track, not letting anything be known in interviews, but leaving everything out on the track.
Should he return to Williams, his situation will be much different than his time at Ferrari. Williams have gone into an extended tailspin, and the team needs a serious rethink.
A driver and management reshuffle could be the key, and the Finn can bring the necessary experience into the team if he replaces F1 stalwart Rubens Barrichello.
Kimi never got the chance to race against the Sebastian Vettel we have today in a competitive car. Let's see how Formula One's most calculated racers would fare in a duel.
Since returning to Formula One in 2010, Lotus have been the standout performer of the group of three new teams to arrive on the scene in March last year.
While the Virgin Racing team have lacked consistency and Hispania have been bordering on farcical, Lotus have calmly and professionally built and upgraded their car to a stage that it is now in its own class, between the midfield pack comprising Renault, Force India, Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso and the back-marker teams, Virgin and Hispania.
In 2012, the development of the car will continue and will allow the team to regularly challenge the established midfield in qualifying, finally allowing the team to break into the second session.
Jarno Trulli's time in Formula One is surely running out, but his input has been vital. Heikki Kovalainen is the clear focal point of the future of this team, and he will lead them into a more successful 2012 in which a maiden points finish is not off the cards, given the right mix of luck and circumstance.
Their job could be made that bit easier, considering Williams' current slide towards the rear of the field.
That's it. Hopefully you'll be even more stoked up for the new season of Formula One.
This is one of the most exciting times to be watching the sport. With multiple drivers and teams capable of winning the world championship at the end of a year full of races, the outcome hinges on single, career-defining moments of genius and madness.
That's the beauty of Formula One.
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