Vettel comes to the fore
Having come from the brink of existence to win the constructors' championship, Brawn were taken over by Mercedes, and the German marque managed to tempt a certain seven-time world champion out of retirement - Michael Schumacher joining three other title winners on the grid.
Schumacher replaced the 2009 winner Jenson Button, who switched to McLaren in search of a new challenge alongside Lewis Hamilton in a British dream team. Fernando Alonso finally made his switch to Ferrari in search of a championship winning car after two seasons at Renault, and at the back of the grid the Lotus name returned, as did fellow new teams Virgin and HRT. Off the track, the points system changed with 25 awarded for a win, and places down to tenth scoring.
For HRT it was a tougher winter than most, as they first rolled out one of their cars in qualifying at Bahrain. Despite Bernie Ecclestone's doubts as to their future, they would see out the season. At the front, Red Bull looked the class of the field as the Adrian Newey-effect really kicked in, with Ferrari close behind.
So it proved, as Sebastian Vettel looked all set to take a dominant win at the season opener until an exhaust problem relegated him to third behind Alonso and Felipe Massa. Button's decision to join McLaren had drawn him plenty of criticism, but he silenced his doubters with a masterful drive in drying conditions in Melbourne to take victory, and then did the same to lead Hamilton home in China to take the championship lead.
Vettel's first win had come in Malaysia, but then his team-mate Mark Webber stepped to the fore with brilliant back-to-back victories in Spain and Monaco; a race where Michael Schumacher passed Fernando Alonso under the safety car at the last corner, only to be penalised by the race's ex-driver steward: Damon Hill.
The first signs of Red Bull tension appeared in Turkey, where Webber was leading Vettel until the German tried to pass and then cut across too early, colliding with his team-mate and ending his own race, allowing Hamilton and Button to score a one-two. The British pair repeated the trick - Hamilton again ahead of Button - at Montreal, and suddenly they topped the championship.
Having had five different race winners, it was these five who stayed in serious contention for the title - Alonso helped by team orders in Germany that saw Felipe Massa move over and allow him to win; a manoeuvre that subsequently saw Ferrari fined. Vettel self-imploded with a costly error behind the safety car when comfortably quickest in Hungary, and then by wiping out Button in Spa as Hamilton and Webber appeared to make it a two-horse race.
Alonso then won three of the next four races though, as McLaren faded and Vettel's engine blew when leading in Korea, leaving the Spaniard with an eleven point lead and just two races to go. A solid third in Brazil behind a dominant Vettel and Webber saw the gap cut to eight, as Button finally dropped out of the running, meaning four men went in to the last round in Abu Dhabi all in contention for the title.
Alonso was the clear favourite, ahead of Webber, with Vettel and Hamilton the rank outsiders. Starting one place ahead of Webber, Ferrari covered the Australian's move by pitting Alonso early. It cost them the title, as the Spaniard was subsequently stuck in seventh behind Vitaly Petrov's Renault when he only needed to finish fifth with Webber behind him. Vettel drove a near-perfect lights to flag race to snatch the crown in dramatic fashion, and become Formula One's youngest world champion in the process.