The Formula One curtain raiser gets underway this weekend, with Melbourne once again playing host as the razzmatazz rolls back into town.
Australia welcomes the glitz and glamour, to open a season which sees Lewis Hamilton aim to become back to back World Champion for the second time in his career.
The enigmatic Englishman, Britain’s most successful driver, is favourite to take the crown once again, with his Mercedes team also tipped for yet another constructors title.
An odds compiler for the Sky Betting and Gaming Formula One team, discussed what makes Hamilton so highly fancied, and which of his rivals could potentially spoil the party: “Hamilton’s Mercedes team have proven themselves the benchmark in the ‘hybrid’ era of F1, winning each of the last four drivers’ and constructors’ titles, and it will take an almighty effort to knock them off their pedestal.
“Nico Rosberg was able to edge out Hamilton over a season but his replacement Valtteri Bottas has yet to do so consistently, so the Englishman remains the man to beat. Hamilton is embarking upon his 12th season at the pinnacle of motorsport and has figured in the title fight in all bar a couple of those years so knows what it takes to handle the pressure of a championship campaign.
“Of his rivals, only Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso have won the F1 title – all three remain strong competitors but the pace and reliability of the Mercedes gives him the edge over the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen and Alonso’s McLaren. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo might yet prove more realistic challengers to the crown than those three as Red Bull gradually work their way back to the front of the grid.”
Before adding who has been popular with bettors thus far: “Alonso is always popular with the punters, who are keen to see him fight for the title he last won in 2006.
“McLaren have finally ditched the underpowered and unreliable Honda engine for a Renault supply, and while teething troubles are inevitable Alonso and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne are hopeful to be battling for podium finishes at the very least.
“Elsewhere we’ve had to cut Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen to score podium finishes this year after they impressed in testing earlier this month. The works Renault team also look well-set to give their more illustrious customer teams, Red Bull and McLaren, a run for their money.”
With plenty of excitement around for race fans, much will be said and written following the conclusion of this weekend’s race, set to take place Sunday March 25.
However, with a season that now spans some 21 races, how much can be made can be made of this weekends conclusion, and should bettors look at it as the standard for the season ahead: “Car development will continue relentlessly throughout the year but past seasons have shown how difficult it is for a team to vault themselves back into contention if they’re off the pace in the opening race.
“Red Bull were thereabouts by the end of last season but it was irrelevant in terms of the championship as their title hopes had disappeared after a tough first half-dozen races. History suggests that around half of all winners of the opening race go on to take the drivers’ title so the result in Melbourne will be a valuable pointer for the rest of the season.”
Concluding, a brief analysis of the UK’s F1 market was offered, with an insight as to what potentially needs to happen to elevate it into the realm of a major betting market player: “F1 currently accounts for just under 1% of total sports stakes for Sky Bet. It’s outside the top 10 alongside sports such as athletics and baseball. We offer over 30 separate markets every weekend, from free practice through to fastest lap of the race and whether the safety car will be deployed.
“And we have a full range of ante-post markets including 85 (and counting!) RequestABet season specials individually priced to order.
“Hamilton’s profile as a four-time champion and a household name who transcends his sport is a blessing but another British driver at the sharp end of the field would be a big boost.
“The period when he and Jenson Button went head-to-head at McLaren generated plenty of interest, especially as it coincided with Michael Schumacher’s comeback and the Vettel/Mark Webber rivalry.
“Hopefully George Russell or Lando Norris can recreate those circumstances in future years but for this year we’ll settle for punters’ favourite Verstappen providing Hamilton and Vettel with some serious competition.”