Sports Betting Weekly

Formula 1: Australian Grand Prix

When: Sunday, 15 March 2015 (FINISHED)
Where: Australian Grand Prix
After four months of individual recovery and preparation, car and engine modifications and new rules, the 2015 Formula One season is all revved up and ready to go again following Britain’s Lewis Hamilton winning his second driver’s title last November.

The 30-year old pipped second-placed driver – and racing teammate – Nico Rosberg by 67 points in the end and will be looking to kick on from his brilliant performance last year by retaining the title.

He has the possibility of doing so at a track that has proved to be a brilliant springboard for competing drivers – Albert Park in Melbourne – which will be hosting its 18th F1 curtain raiser.

The Australian Grand Prix has traditionally been the opening race of the season since 1995 (barring two exceptions in 2006 and 2010 when it went to Bahrain), and out of those 17 opening day races, the winner has gone on to lift the drivers’ championship 10 times.

That said, the last time a driver won this race and went on to claim the title was as far back as 2011, when Sebastian Vettel, then at Red Bull, took the glory. Now with the German at Ferrari, incoming team principal Maurizio Arrivabene – who replaced Marco Mattiacci after last season – will be hoping Vettel can live up to his tag as the new Michael Schumacher.

Indeed, Schumacher certainly enjoyed a drive at Albert Park inside that iconic red car, winning there four times out of five as he dominated the sport in the early 2000s – and all four of those wins were superb foundations for his season too, as he subsequently won the title in each of them.

Ferrari will also be hoping Vettel can restore the team as the dominant force of F1 by winning his fifth title, which would leave him two behind Schumacher’s record of seven. The German’s inclusion at Ferrari came at a cost, however, as maverick racer, Fernando Alonso, departed to re-join McLaren.

Alonso is frequently regarded as the best man to get the most out of a car – no matter how poor it is – and this was certainly the case at Ferrari. Despite being a million miles away from Red Bull technically, against all odds Alonso dragged his Ferrari to second place behind Vettel in 2013, and finished some six places ahead of then teammate, Felipe Massa.

However, following the Spaniard’s controversial crash in pre-season testing at Barcelona, he won’t be starting the Australian Grand Prix for McLaren. Instead, Kevin Magnussen – who drove for McLaren last year but was then demoted to test driver at the end of the season – will fill in until Alonso is fit to race again.

The circumstances surrounding Alonso’s crash continue to mystify, as do some of the incredible rumours coming out as a result of it. Stories that the Spaniard was electrocuted continue to be investigated, while former Renault manager, Flavio Briatore, quashed rumours that Alonso thought he was a 14-year old in a race kart when he came round.

Either way, the Spaniard will not be lining up on the grid come Sunday – and that is a huge blow for McLaren’s chances this weekend. However, hopes are high following a disappointing season in 2014, where they came 5th in the constructors’ championship and only Jenson Button made the top 10 in the driving standards, finishing 8th.

Having talked Button out of retirement and re-recruited Alonso, however, McLaren could well be a force again. With an impressive new chassis and a return to using Honda engines, McLaren are being tipped as dark horses going into Melbourne and the new season.

The impetus is with Mercedes, however. Many accused Hamilton of taking the money and running when he left McLaren for the German brand, but last year put an end to that cry. The team swept up last season, with both drivers – Hamilton and Rosberg – finishing first and second in the drivers’ table, while they also won the constructors’ championship as they steamrolled all in front of them.

Such was their dominance, there were only three drivers that won a race last year – Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo came third in the overall standings, but was 79 points behind 2nd placed Rosberg, and 146 behind Hamilton.

Defending champion Vettel was even further back and finished 217 points behind Hamilton, as Mercedes took a whopping 701 points between both Hamilton and Rosberg. Only Williams’ Massa broke their duopoly of starting a race in pole position, and this only happened once, in Austria.

With this in mind, it is perhaps understandable that Mercedes are tipped to dominate again in a similar fashion to the way Red Bull did a few years ago. The betting market represents this too, as a Mercedes car to win the race is priced at 1/4. As well as this, Mercedes are available at 1/3 to be the top-scoring team.

Vettel’s move to Ferrari will boost their chances significantly, and with former world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, alongside him in that famous red vehicle, they are the outside bet at 7/1 to get off to a flyer and for one of them to cross the chequered flag first. They are also 6/1 to be the highest-scoring side.

In last year’s race, no less than seven cars retired from either car malfunctions or collisions. One man who did crash out was Massa, and he is priced at 22/1 to repeat that feat and ultimately retire from the race first.

Hamilton and Vettel didn’t have the best of times either, with both retiring with engine trouble. This incident happening again seems incredibly unlikely, however, with the market having both at 25/1 to retire first.

What does seem more likely is one of those two clocking the fastest lap. Rosberg did it last year and is at 5/2 to do it again, while his Mercedes teammate Hamilton is priced at 9/4. Vettel however, is seen as a long shot – possibly due to the fact Ferrari aren’t realistically expected to go toe-to-toe with Mercedes just yet. He is available at 14/1.

Williams romping ahead of Ferrari into third place in the constructors’ championship last season hasn’t gone unnoticed either, with Massa at 12/1 to score the fastest lap, while his teammate and rising star, Valtteri Bottas, is also available at the same odds.

It’s fairly obvious that the market has realised Mercedes look likely to dominate and, as a result, are offering odds on the race as if the Mercedes duo wouldn’t be on the grid. Bottas is probably the most appealing option here, and can be backed at 11/4.

Button has enjoyed races at Albert Park in the past, and won the Australian Grand Prix in 2009, 2010 and 2012. He also found his way onto the podium in third place last year following Ricciardo’s disqualification, but ultimately the question lies with whether his car is good enough at McLaren.

At 50/1, however, it may be worth having a cheap bet on Button as he does have serious pedigree on this track, so at those odds it would be foolish to immediately dismiss him. If you feel it isn’t worth the risk, however, maybe 3/1 on Vettel to ‘win’ minus Mercedes is more appealing.