The 2012 Formula 1 season begins Friday, March 16, with practice rounds of the 2012 Formula 1 Quantas Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. Practice continues Saturday and the actual race is on Sunday, March 18.

For U.S. viewers, it might be a hard slog to see it; the race begins at 2 am EDT, Sunday. But for dedicated F1 fans with a sufficient supply of coffee, the race should be an exciting start to the 2012 F1 season.

The big news going into the first race of the F1 season is the return of the understated Finn, Kimi Raikkonen, this time around driving for Lotus. Raikkonen famously left Formula 1 after a difficult 2009 season with Ferrari and embarked on an unimpressive two-year stint racing in the World Rally Championship. Before that detour, though, Raikkonen was dominant, winning a drivers' title in 2007 following six wins for Ferrari. All eyes are watching to see how Raikkonen's comeback turns out.

Australia is a nice place even though it's a long way from Europe. The circuit itself is not the most difficult on the calendar. It was good to score a point on my first time at Albert Park, and the podiums and race win in 2007 obviously made me happy. The circuit hasn't changed at all so I'm confident I know where it goes, Raikkonen said, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek.

Raikkonen will be joined in the field of 24 drivers by other F1 greats like Sebastian Vettel, the youngest double world champion ever, racing again for Red Bull, Jenson Button, racing for McLaren, who placed second behind Vettel in last year's championship, and the indomitable Fernando Alonso will be supporting Ferrari once again.

After so many kilometres of testing and retesting, finally there's a whiff of sport in the air, said an apparently impatient Alonso.

This year's race could be an interesting one: the lap record at Albert Park is held by Michael Schumacher, who has struggled in recent seasons, while Sebastian Vettel won the race last year.

As the first race of the 2012 Formula 1 season, the Qantas Australian Grand Prix will be a scramble with teams racing to see how they measure up against the competition. Formula 1 has put together a cockpit-view video from Sebastian Vettel's 2011 qualifying lap, which provides a fantastic overview of how a lap at Albert Park plays out.

SpeedTV will be broadcasting the race in the U.S. No word yet on whether the actual race will be available live online, although SpeedTV is streaming the first and third practice rounds.