A brief look at the drivers who will compete in the Formula One season: (with age, nationality, manufacturer, number of championships, race wins and pole positions)
Sebastian Vettel, 25, Germany, Red Bull Three-time defending F1 champion Race Wins: 26 Pole Positions: 36 Having already joined F1 greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by winning three consecutive Formula One titles and becoming the youngest triple champion in the sport's history, Vettel will try and match Fangio and Schumacher's feat of four straight titles. The Red Bull driver's third F1 crown was hard-earned as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso pushed him all the way, even forcing the German to claw back a mid-season deficit before a late-season surge saw him take four straight wins and overtake the Spaniard. Despite his steely determination, Vettel's fun, down-to-earth personality also sets him apart from the calculating and businesslike approach that Schumacher had in his prime.
Mark Webber, 36, Australia, Red Bull Third in 2010 and 2011. Sixth last year. Race Wins: 9 Pole Positions: 11 Webber's chances of winning the F1 title are getting thinner and last season saw him finish sixth, a massive 102 points behind teammate Vettel. He won two races in the first half of the season at the Monaco and British GPs but then tailed off with only two podiums in the second half and retiring in two of the last three races. Webber's age and role within Red Bull are again likely to be talking points and the Australian will likely have to make a strong start to the campaign to improve his prospects of keeping his seat next year.
Fernando Alonso, 31, Spain, Ferrari Two-time F1 champion in 2005 and '06. Second last year. Race wins: 30 Pole Positions: 22 Alonso put a miserable 2011 season for Ferrari behind him as he came very close to winning his third F1 title and first since 2006 last season, finishing just three points behind Vettel as a thrilling championship duel went down to the last race in Brazil. After winning three of the first 10 races, he opened up a 44-point lead over Vettel but then failed to win another race in the next 10. Speed, rather than driving ability, ultimately cost Alonso the title as he secured only two pole positions compared to six for Vettel. The 31-year-old Spanish driver will be confident of mounting another challenge this year.
Felipe Massa, 31, Brazil, Ferrari Second in 2008. Seventh last year. Race wins: 11 Pole Positions: 15 Massa recovered some form last season, finishing all but one race and earning two podium finishes — compared to none in 2011 when he failed to finish higher than fifth and tangles with Lewis Hamilton overshadowed his driving skills. The Brazilian driver seems a long way from the one who finished second to Hamilton by just one point in the 2008 championship. Still, Ferrari has stuck by Massa since his breakthrough season in 2006, where he finished third, and clings to the idea that he can rediscover his previous flair and daring even though he has not finished in the top five overall since '08.
Jenson Button, 33, Britain, McLaren 2009 Champion. Fifth last year. Race Wins: 15 Pole Positions: 8 Button remains one of the slickest drivers around, whatever the conditions on the circuit, and again proved that last season with three GP wins. Now that Lewis Hamilton has left to join Mercedes, the 33-year old Button will be McLaren's undisputed No. 1 and benefit from having the fastest car, which wasn't always the case when Hamilton was around. Tensions between the two crept into the McLaren camp last year and that proved a distraction to both drivers. With 230 GPs to his name, he should also provide his new teammate Sergio Perez with plenty of advice and guidance.
Sergio Perez, 23, Mexico, McLaren 10th last year. Race Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 4 The fire to Button's ice, the lightning-fast Mexican driver has already made his mark on F1 with two second-place finishes at the Malaysian and Italian GPs and third place in Canada last season. Although he failed to finish higher than 10th after Monza, retiring from three of the last six races, the 23-year-old has massive potential and should have little trouble making the step up from Sauber to an elite team like McLaren. With veteran Button — 10 years his senior — around to guide him, Perez will be confident of grabbing the first F1 race win of his promising career and becoming a national hero back home.
Kimi Raikkonen, 33, Finland, Lotus 2007 Champion. Third last year Race Wins: 19 Pole Positions: 16 Raikkonen picked up where he left off when he returned to Formula One last season after three years away from the grid, winning the 19th GP of his career at Abu Dhabi, collecting six more podiums, and finishing third overall. His success helped justify Lotus' decision to sign the mercurial star. The 33-year-old Finnish driver totals 177 races and has lost none of his single-mindedness, as he proved last year when he told team officials over the race radio: "Leave me alone. I know what I'm doing" — as they tried to guide him home to victory at Abu Dhabi.
Romain Grosjean, 26, France, Lotus Eighth last year Race Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Grosjean made a name for himself for differing reasons last season. First, there was his excellent driving skills with podium spots in Bahrain, Canada and Hungary. But there also was his erratic, sometimes dangerous driving, with the Frenchman causing numerous firs lap crashes and sometimes infuriating his rivals. Grosjean was banned for one race after causing a spectacular crash at the Belgian Grand Prix that sent Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez off the track at the first corner. Thanks to his talent, he retained his seat, but the Frenchman now has to channel his aggression.
Nico Rosberg, 27, Germany, Mercedes Ninth last year Race Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 1 Although Rosberg finished higher than his illustrious Mercedes teammate Michael Schumacher in 2011, his real breakthrough came last year when he secured his first pole position and first win as he led from the front to win the Chinese GP. But the German driver's erratic streak resurfaced. After a second place in Monaco he only once managed to finish in the top five for the remainder of the season, slipping down to ninth overall — having finished seventh in the previous three seasons. It promises to be a crucial season in determining the rest of his F1 career, as he searches for the consistency needed to be a complete driver.
Lewis Hamilton, 28, Britain, Mercedes 2008 Champion Race Wins: 21 Pole Positions: 26 Hamilton is used to the spotlight but it will be on the British driver more than ever after his switch from McLaren to Mercedes — a risky move that will give him more freedom but at the expense of a more reliable car. Hamilton showed glimpses of his brilliance last season, clinching seven pole positions and winning four races, but he also retired five times and finished a disappointing fourth overall behind Raikkonen. At the age of 28, Hamilton is approaching his peak years and the question remains whether he will be able to clinch a second F1 title in a Mercedes. Still, at least he will be the team's No. 1, rather than sharing that status with Button.
Nico Hulkenberg, 25, Germany, Sauber 11th last year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 1 Hulkenberg drove consistently for Force India last season with his 10 top-10 finishes — a fifth-place finish in Valencia and fourth at Spa suggesting he deserves a faster car. He will get the chance this year with Sauber in what is shaping up to be a crucial season for the German. He made a promising start to his career three years ago, securing a spectacular pole position in the driving rain at the Brazilian GP. But he soon faced disappointment after failing to secure a seat in 2011 and having to make do as a test and reserve driver for Force India.
Esteban Gutierrez, 21, Mexican, Sauber 1st year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Gutierrez is among a host of rookies that will line up in Australia this year. Following in the footsteps of Perez, Gutierrez will be the second Mexican on the grid this season. He first showed his potential by winning the GP3 Championship in 2010 and then moved onto GP2 where he finished third last year. The 21-year-old knows Sauber well, having joined the team in 2010 as an affiliated driver and working as a reserve driver the past two seasons. The youngest of six, Guiterrez remains close to his family and his parents Roberto Manuel Gutiérrez Muguerza Clara can often be found trackside.
Paul Di Resta, 26, Scottish, Force India Third year 14th last year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Di Resta hails from a famous Scottish racing family and is the cousin of Indycar star Dario Franchitti, and sportscar racer Marino Franchitti. But he has yet establish himself as a force in F1, having never won a race in his first two seasons and finishing 14th in the driver standings in 2012. But he showed potential last season, grabbing six top 10 finishes including a sixth placed in Bahrain and a career-best fourth place in Singapore. He also showed that he has the quickness which may have been lacking in his rookie season, qualifying fourth in Monza.
Adrian Sutil, 30, Germany, Force India Sixth year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Sutil has been given a second chance with Force India, after he was replaced following the 2011 season by fellow German Hulkenberg. Sutil was with the team from 2007-11 but lost his seat following an 18-month suspended sentence for assaulting Renault owner Eric Lux in a nightclub. During his first stint with Force India, the 30-year-old showed gradual improvement after claiming only six points his first two seasons. He has never had a podium finish in 90 races but did finish 9th in the drivers' standings in 2011 and 10th in 2010, a year where he finished fifth in Italy and Malaysia. Sutil beat out Jules Bianchi for the job.
Pastor Maldonado, 27, Venezuelan, Williams Third year 15th last year Race wins: 1 Pole Positions: 1 Maldonado showed signs of brilliance early last season, winning the Spanish Grand Prix for the team's first victory since 2004. But after that, the Venezuelan struggled, finishing no better than fifth in Abu Dhabi and retiring four times. He ended a disappointing 15th in the drivers standing. But the victory in Spain ensured he would remain with Williams and the team stands firmly behind a driver who won eight straight carting championships from the age of 7 in Venezuela and won both best rookie and the drivers titles in GP2. He also was a supporter of the late Hugo Chavez, with the team sending condolences after the president died this week following a long battle with cancer.
Daniel Ricciardo, 23, Australian, Toro Rosso 2nd year Race wins: 0 Pole Position: 0 Ricciardo is entering his second season with Toro Rosso after making his debut with the now-defunct HRT. His first season with the Red Bull-funded team was marked by plenty of setbacks, as he finishing no higher than ninth four times and ended the season 18th in the drivers' standings. Ricciardo has said he "feels more confident" going into his second season and the team is expecting a better performance now that he is familiar with the car and has a "season under his belt."
Jean-Eric Vergne, 22, French, Toro Rosso 2nd year Race wins: 0 Pole Position: 0 Much like his teammate, Vergne struggled in his rookie season as he got his first look at many of the F1 circuits. He did show his skills at times, finishing as high as 8th four times including early in the season in Malaysia. The Frenchman, whose father introduced him to karting at the age of 4, said he now feels he has gotten the basics of F1 down and senses "a new philosophy within Toro Rosso: I wouldn't say people are working harder, but maybe they are going in a better direction."
Charles Pic, 23, French, Caterham 2nd year Race wins: 0 Pole Position: 0 Pic is hoping a change of teams can improve his fortunes in 2013. His rookie season was forgettable, as the soft-spoken Frenchman finished 23rd in the drivers' standings with the Russian-owned Marussia team. It's unlikely he will do dramatically better this season, since the Tony Fernandes-founded team has struggled to prove it can challenge the mid-level teams and decided not to introduce a newly-designed car. Pic comes from a family with a rich racing history, including ex-Formula 1 driver Eric Bernard who is his godfather and gave Pic his first kart as a birthday gift.
Giedo van der Garde, 27, Dutch, Caterham 1st year Race wins: 0 Pole Position: 0 Van der Garde is making his F1 debut with Caterham, after a season as a reserve driver and a driver for its GP2 team where he won twice. The Dutchman is one of the older rookies on the grid, having tested in 2007 for Spyker and Force India. Along with GP2, van der Garde won the World Karting Championship in 2002 and raced in Asia with the GP2 Asia series.
Max Chilton, 21, British, Marussia 1st year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Chilton is one of two rookies driving for Marussia this year. The Brit has starred on the GP2 circuit, winning two races last year while plying his trade as a reserve driver for the Russian team. The Russian-owned team is one of three which finished out of the points in 2012 and is hoping the infusion of fresh talent will help it improve this year. Chilton got his start in racing at the age of 9, when his brother launched a karting series called T-Cart. He has been racing ever since, with his career-highlight so far being a F3 win in 2009 at Brands Hatch which is his home circuit.
Jules Bianchi, 23, French, Marussia 1st year Race wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0 Bianchi is probably just happy to be racing for anyone. He had a dramatic pre-season testing where he missed out on a spot with Force India only to be picked up by Marussia when it rescinded an offer with Brazilian Luiz Razia over sponsorship problems. The former French pilot, who has long had the backing of the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile, has gradually moved up the ranks from winning the French karting title in 2006. He caught the eyes of many F1 teams during two years driving in the GP2 Asia series and raced for Lotus ART team last year in GP2, finishing third.