Technical and rule changes
The off-throttle blown diffuser has been outlawed. As a corollary the sophisticated exhaust systems teams used to employ are replaced by traditional 'periscope' exhausts.
The maximum car nose height has been lowered from 62.5 cm to 55 cm. A byproduct of this will be really ugly, platypus-type noses.
Cars must now pass the mandatory crash tests before being allowed to run in pre-season testing.
In-season testing makes a return, with a session planned for May 1st at Mugello - before the start of the European leg of the championship.
New rule about defending your position and leaving the track. From Wikipedia:
Drivers will not be permitted to leave the confines of the circuit without a justifiable reason, following a spate of incidents in 2011 when drivers were sighted using access roads around the circuit to shorten their reconnaissance and in-laps in order to preserve their fuel and tyres. Similarly, drivers will not be allowed to return to the normal racing line should they choose a defensive line going into a corner.
During a safety car period lapped drivers will be allowed to unlap themselves before the safety car returns to the pits.
Driver and team changes
Three teams changed their names: Lotus Renault GP became the Lotus F1 Team; last year's Team Lotus is now known as Caterham F1 Team; lastly, Virgin Racing now races under the Marussia F1 Team banner.
The driver market saw more changes than most had anticipated for 2012, particularly in the lower ranked teams. The return of Kimi Räikkönen to Formula 1 is the biggest news of the year, making 2012 the first season with six current or former WDCs on the grid: Fernando Alonso (2005/2006), Jenson Button (2009), Lewis Hamilton (2008), Kimi Räikkönen (2007), Michael Schumacher (1994/1995, 2000 - 2004), Sebastian Vettel (2010/2011).
Favourites for 2012?
Red Bull Racing are likely to be the favourites for this year as well. The big question this year will be which of the competing teams is able to close the gap to RBR - or perhaps leapfrog them. Time will tell.
2012 Race Calendar:
18.03.2012 Australian GP, Melbourne
25.03.2012 Malaysian GP, Sepang
15.04.2012 Chinese GP, Shanghai
22.04.2012 Bahrain GP, Sakhir
13.05.2012 Spanish GP, Barcelona
27.05.2012 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo
10.06.2012 Canadian GP, Montreal
24.06.2012 European GP, Valencia
08.07.2012 British GP, Silverstone
22.07.2012 German GP, Hockenheim
29.07.2012 Hungarian GP, Budapest
02.09.2012 Belgian GP, Spa
09.09.2012 Italian GP, Monza
23.09.2012 Singapore GP, Singapore
07.10.2012 Japanese GP, Suzuka
14.10.2012 Korean GP, Yeongam
28.10.2012 Indian GP, Greater Noida
04.11.2012 Abu Dhabi GP, Abu Dhabi
18.11.2012 United States GP, Austin
25.11.2012 Brazilian GP, São Paulo
May the 2012 season be as thrilling as the 2011 season was.