Sports Betting Weekly

Formula 1: Chinese Grand Prix

When: Sunday, 12 April 2015 (FINISHED)
Where: Chinese Grand Prix
The motoring world was stunned in Malaysia a fortnight ago when Sebastian Vettel – a driver representing someone other than Mercedes – steered his Ferrari ahead of both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to claim a maiden victory for the Italian team; their first race win since Fernando Alonso took the Spanish Grand Prix in May 2013

After suffering what was their worst ever season in Formula 1 last year, where the Ferrari team claimed just two podium appearances, the victory was met with widespread celebration – not only from inside the Ferrari camp, but from fans of the sport in general as it now seems that Mercedes’ previously unstoppable dominance may be under threat.

The post-race reaction spoke volumes as to how much people wanted a change, as Vettel himself was accused of sucking the life out of the sport when he was winning more or less every race with the Red Bull team in the early part of the decade. Indeed this was the German’s 40th win, taking him one behind Ayrton Senna’s record of 41 as the third highest total in F1.

Whether this proves to be a flash in the pan performance or something sustainable remains to be seen, but there is now optimism that we may have a two-horse race between rival teams, whereas before it seemed that we merely had a two-horse race between two drivers on the same side.

The result even caused some tension inside the Mercedes camp, with world champion Lewis Hamilton clashing with his team members over what type of tyre to use for the final stint. Ferrari had Vettel using the faster medium tyres, while Hamilton was given hard tyres with his only other alternative being well-worn medium tyres.

The reason for those tyres being so worn was because they were the same ones used in qualifying – allowing for only one set of mediums to be included in the race itself – with the Mercedes team believing the hard tyre would be more beneficial in a proper Grand Prix situation.

Ultimately, however, that proved to be a poor decision; and Mercedes will be keen to make a point of amending their mistake this weekend in China on a track that they have flourished on in the last three years – Rosberg won there in 2012 and Hamilton won the last race in Shanghai in 2014.

Last year’s race was a Mercedes one-two, such was the level of authority the Germans stamped on the track, with Alonso coming third in his Ferrari – and as such, the chances of the podium consisting of two Mercedes drivers and one Ferrari member this time around is likely to be incredibly high.

That is the opinion of the market too, as Hamilton is favourite to win the race at 8/11, Rosberg is second favourite and is backed at 3/1 and Vettel is the third most popular choice and can be had at 5/1. Vettel is also 8/15 to finish on the podium and 4/9 to ‘win’ minus the two Mercedes drivers.

Another boost for Ferrari in Malaysia came in the shape of former world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, who, after qualifying 11th on the grid and then suffering a puncture on lap two, was given a blessing by the safety car and took full advantage, turning on the style that saw him win the world championship back in 2000 as he stormed back to finish fourth.

The question Ferrari will be asking themselves is whether Raikkonen could even have gatecrashed the podium places – indeed, had he not performed so poorly in qualifying and then subsequently had a stroke of bad luck with his puncture, it may well have happened. 41 seconds behind third place may seem a large margin, but given the circumstances, it perhaps wasn’t so bad.

As for this race, Raikkonen is listed at 12/1 to win, though this is unlikely. With all the early indications pointing to the power trio of Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel running riot, it will be interesting to see whether Raikkonen can repeat his race form from a solid qualifying position. With this in mind, he is 6/4 to ‘win’ minus Mercedes drivers in Shanghai and 5/2 to finish on the podium.

Having said all that, this is a circuit that Hamilton utterly adores, and since 2004 – when the Chinese Grand Prix first became a listing on the calendar – he is the track’s most successful driver with three wins in 2008, 2011 and 2014. It is therefore going to be pretty difficult to ignore the fact that Hamilton could again run riot in China and it is for good reason that his odds are so short here.

Elsewhere, one team who will almost certainly be out of the reckoning in Shanghai is McLaren, who had a truly abysmal weekend in Malaysia where both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button failed to finish the race – with Button incredibly claiming he still thinks the team showed signs of progress.

In fairness, Alonso was performing reasonably well in ninth position before his hybrid system overheated and he had to retire, but Button went very close to being at the back of the grid around two-thirds of the race in after his turbo failure.

All McLaren really proved in Malaysia, therefore, was that Alonso’s ability to perform in an uncompetitive car is second to none – and there would have been very few people doubting the Spaniard’s ability to keep hold of that top ten position had he actually managed to finish the race. In fact, in light of that performance, Alonso to finish among the points in Shanghai is available at 15/4.

As for Button, how he can genuinely claim there were signs of improvement in Malaysia is baffling. Alonso went out after 21 laps, but Button was nowhere to be seen when he eventually retired and had double the time of his teammate – indeed, the only improvements visible to the outside world lay with the Spaniard rather than the Briton.

There was one other notable story from that weekend and that was Max Verstappen’s performance with Toro Rosso as he finished seventh. That may not sound too remarkable, but when you consider Verstappen is only 17 and it was his second ever race in the sport, it’s quite some achievement.

Being the son of former F1 driver, Jos Verstappen, and ex-racing driver Sophie Kumpen, it was perhaps no surprise that Max might be quite good behind the wheel of a car himself – and so it has proved, with the teenager gaining plaudits from members high up in the sport after becoming the youngest ever points-scorer in the history of F1.

Jos went on record after the race to say that his son is already a better driver than he ever was, while Eddie Jordan took it one step further when it came to comparing the two family members by claiming that the younger Verstappen had the potential to be better than Michael Schumacher.

Driving under a Dutch flag due to his father, but with a Belgian mother, it is still uncertain as to what nation he will go on to represent, but there will certainly be more than a few eyes on Verstappen’s progress in China and he is 11/17 to repeat the trick and finish in the points this weekend.