Amy Eustace examines the early performances and off the track storylines in the young Formula One season.

We’re only two races into to the 2012 Formula 1 season and already tensions are riding high. While the opening day in Melbourne didn’t throw up too many surprises, unhealthy heavy rain in Sepang on the second week made for an intense race. With the early favourite – Sebastian Vettel – already falling behind the leaders, sovaldi conditions look promising for an exciting year.

Dual champion Vettel hasn’t had the best of starts, with McLaren streaming ahead of Red Bull in terms of pace and performance. Nonetheless, Mark Webber has been able to keep in touch with Alonso, Hamilton and Button in the top spots, and if it weren’t for Vettel’s collision with HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan in Sepang he may have beaten Hamilton to the final podium place.

The German has shown some frustration with his difficult first two races, reportedly calling Karthikeyan a ‘cucumber’ over the incident in Malaysia. The Indian responded by calling Vettel a ‘cry-baby’, but has since moved to cool their spat.

Vettel is not coping very well with his lowly position on the table after two races, but there are plenty more weekends in which to close to gap.

Questions may hang over Ferrari’s capacity to keep the pace with their competitors, but there can be no doubts about Fernando Alonso’s ability to drag his slightly disadvantaged car ahead of the pack. Despite the tricky Sepang rain, he dominated the race and demonstrated something of his old, ruthless Renault incarnation.

He has all the skill and power to get past McLaren and Red Bull, but perhaps not the tool. His teammate, Felipe Massa, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to compensate for the car’s failings and has yet to put a single point on the board. With Alonso roaring to the top of the table, how long can Massa rely on the car as an excuse for his lack of success with Ferrari?

Sauber’s Sergio Perez has emerged as an unexpected star, achieving second place in the Malaysian Grand Prix – just behind Fernando Alonso. Perez is fast, fearless, smart and his car is well balanced too. If anyone can spring a surprise this year, it’s likely to be the Mexican and his rising Sauber team.

Alonso may be leading the driver’s championship, but McLaren are topping the constructor’s championship. With what looks to be by far the best car on the circuit under their belt, and two experienced drivers to boot, there’s no doubt that they’ll push their rivals to the very limit. With Button and Hamilton nipping at Alonso’s heels, they’re set to capitalise on any slips by the Spaniard and his less competitive vehicle.

Aside from the battle on the track, this year sees the first real ratings battle in the television studios. The BBC, long time British monopolists of live Formula 1 coverage, are now sharing the task with Sky’s new dedicated Formula 1 channel.

The BBC are set to broadcast half of the season’s races live and the other half via an edited one hour highlights package, while Sky will have live coverage of almost every aspect of each Grand Prix.

A controversial concession on BBC’s part, perhaps, but so far that – and the defection of pundit Martin Brundle to the other side – hasn’t affected them greatly in the ratings. Their highlights for the Australian Grand Prix reeled in even more viewers than their live broadcast of the same race last season, although that could be down to the early morning start time.

The race in China in two weeks time will no doubt provide plenty of talking points, but it’s the fourth race in Bahrain that has inspired the most discussion. The corresponding Grand Prix was cancelled last season as a result of political unrest, but organisers have been keen to stress that the country is peaceful and that the race will be held this year.

Whatever the next few months have in store, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty of action packed races on the calendar, both on and off the track.