The 2012 Formula 1 season is finally about to get under way when the 24 cars hit the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne for the first time this Friday. There has already been three official testing sessions, so who is likely to walk away from Australia with serious points in the bag?Who’s hot?

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:Last year McLaren led the pack in the chase for Red Bull with Briton Jenson Button. He’s all set again and the car has been promising in testing. There’s no reason to believe he will be anything but competitive in 2012. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton suffered a patchy year last year mainly due to personal problems. But the 2008 World Champion is back on track now and eager to regain the number one spot at McLaren and the number one spot in the Championship.

Kimi Raikkonen:After two years spent rallying for Citroen in the WRC, Finn Kimi Raikkonen is back. He won the 2007 World Championship in a Ferrari and has virtually always run at the front when the car under him has been fast. Two years away has increased his passion and hunger for the sport and the Lotus Renault he will be driving looks dangerously quick. Raikkonen is the dark horse for the 2012 season. A win is certainly possible, a Championship? Stranger things have happened.

Caterham Renault: Don’t for a second think that the newly named Caterham Renault team (formerly Team Lotus) will challenge for serious points. They won’t. But consider that three seasons ago they didn’t exist and the fact that they now look like mid-fielders is impressive. Having the talent of former McLaren driver and race winner Heikki Kovalainen is a big boost while his team-mate Vitaly Petrov will be solid but nothing special. Expect a few points here and there – the first of the new regulation teams to score.

Nico Rosberg: The German son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke is due. He’s always shown immense speed but has never had the car underneath him. In joining Petronas AMG Mercedes he has humiliated seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher two years in a row. If AMG Mercedes can provide Rosberg with a car even semi-capable of winning, he will win and win well. Another dark horse for the Championship.

Red Bull Racing: Nothing has changed at Red Bull Racing so you can expect some serious speed this year, just like the last two years. Vettel is young, strong and will take a hell of a lot to beat. If he wins the first few races again this year look for him to romp away. Mark Webber, on the other hand, is staring down the barrel of his final season of F1. But he’s strong and capable and has almost knocked off Vettel before. He can do it again, but it will take a strong start to the season.

Who’s not

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro: They’ve probably produced the worst looking car of the 2012 season and it seems to be as fast as it is good looking. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have been caught on the backfoot and have admitted that the car doesn’t have the pace they thought it would. Could it be mind games or is Ferrari in genuine trouble? It’s more likely the latter after a poor showing last year by comparison to 2010. The start of the season is crucial for the Italian team if they are to gain momentum after a troubled 2011 campaign.

Marussia F1 Team: Formerly Virgin Racing, then Marussia Virgin Racing, the team seems to spend more time changing names than it does building F1 cars. So far all they have to show for themselves is last place in 2010 and 2011 and not much else. This year’s car was late, unreliable and failed the crash test. They will arrive in Melbourne having barely any track time. Look for them at the back of the grid… again. At least number one driver Timo Glock is fast and capable.

Narain Karthikeyan:He deserves praise as the first Indian to make it into F1 back in 2006. Now he should forget about the sport. Karthikeyan has rarely ever been on the pace and consistently finds himself in hard situations thanks to slow cars. After a half season in 2010 with cellar-dwellers HRT, he’s back with the team. Pedro de la Rosa, his team-mate, is not particularly fast, but he will still get beaten consistently. India’s fastest driver, Karun Chandok, is sadly without a drive.

Sahara Force India Mercedes: It’s going to be a big year for Force India. New personnel, new drivers and an owner who is in a bit of financial trouble if the tabloids are correct. They have the ingredients to be a big force but need to get on top of things quickly and cement the future of the team. If 2012 proves to start slowly for them, it is hard to see them turning it around and the fortunes of Vijay Mallya as well. A good thing though is the driver line up. Di Resta and Hulkenberg are two very bright stars.