F2 2012 - Photo Credit: FIA Formula Two Championship

Last-year's runner-up Zanella (right) returns for a title assault, but drivers like Bacheta (left) could give him a run for his money - Photo Credit: FIA Formula Two Championship

The FIA Formula Two Championship gets underway for 2012 at Silverstone this weekend, with another bunch of young hopefuls aiming to get their hands on a Williams F1 test prize.

This year sees an improved car that includes new carbon brakes as well as Yokohama tyres, which together should see two seconds shaved off an average lap time. Silverstone is the first of eight rounds, seven of which take place on current or former Formula 1 circuits including the Nurburgring, Spa, the Hungaroring and Monza.

17 drivers take to the grid this weekend, with a number of potential frontrunners.

Christopher Zanella begins as the default title-favourite after finishing as the runner-up last year, and the Swiss driver will be looking for an immediate return to form this weekend after failing to make the podium at all during the second half of 2011.

A driver who did have better form at the end of last season was Mihai Marinescu. The Romanian claimed four podium finishes from the last six races, including a pole position and victory at Monza. Now entering his third season, the pressure's on for him to turn his experience into results.

Luciano Bacheta returns for a full campaign after contesting two rounds towards the end of last season, and is one of four drivers racing on home soil this weekend. Daniel McKenzie is hoping to bounce back after a tough year in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2011, while Dino Zamparelli and Hector Hurst are aiming to make good impressions after stepping up from Formula Renault BARC, where Zamparelli is the reigning champion.

Despite no prior racing experience in F2 and a modest record of no victories from three seasons in German F3, Markus Pommer begins as a definite title contender after topping the timesheets during testing over the winter. Another graduate from F3 expected to be in contention is Swiss-Greek racer Alex Fontana, who last year won the European F3 Open title and scored points on a one-off debut weekend in GP3.

Markus Pommer - Photo Credit: FIA Formula Two Championship

Pommer has been the pacesetter in testing - Photo Credit: FIA Formula Two Championship

Samuele Buttarelli and Kevin Mirocha have both joined the grid at the last minute, and with Buttarelli having won twice in Auto GP last year and Mirocha having raced in GP2, both should be amongst the frontrunners once they get up to speed.

Matheo Tuscher steps up to Formula Two after winning last year's Formula Pilota China series, and the Swiss driver will be the youngest driver on the grid at just 15 years of age. Iran's Kourosh Khani is the third and final graduate from Formula Renault BARC, where he finished fourth overall last year.

Mauro Calamia completes a quartet of Swiss drivers after moving up from Formula Renault Alps, while David Zhu becomes the first Chinese F2 driver after racing in a multitude of single-seater series on the Asian continent.

Three more returning drivers complete the grid, in the shape of Jose Luis Abadin, Plamen Kralev and Parthiva Sureshwaren, all aiming to add to the four points accumulated between them in a combined total of 70 starts.

TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk will be covering the FIA Formula Two Championship this weekend and throughout the season.