Why Australia's home hero is the best bet to win the first F1 race of 2017


The eagerly-anticipated new Formula One season is almost upon us. A very different-looking grid of cars will assemble at the starting line in Melbourne on Sunday. But the question everyone is longing to know the answer to is whether we will see a different winner when the chequered flag falls after 58 laps of Albert Park.

Testing has raised high hopes that Ferrari finally has a car to challenge the might of Mercedes. But the silver team is notorious for keeping its cards close to its chest until the real action begins.

And lurking not far behind is Red Bull, who dominated the world championship until Mercedes' ascendancy in 2014. Are they about to reassert their supremacy over F1?

 

Mercedes: The team to beat

With 51 wins from the past 59 races, Mercedes head into the season knowing their rivals will be desperate to take advantage of the off-season rules change to knock them off their perch.

Their new W08 effortlessly completed more mileage than any other car in testing. But behind the scenes the team has had to cope with the loss of two top figures: world champion Nico Rosberg and star designer Paddy Lowe. The only consolation is that neither has joined one of their major rivals.

Odds of 4.25 on Hamilton to lead Bottas in a traditional season-opening Mercedes one-two are reasonable. But you'll get 7.50 on Bottas to stun his new team-mate by leading him to the flag. Bottas should be a threat in qualifying and Hamilton's starts were poor at times last year, so this isn't as unlikely as you might think.


 

Ferrari: Firing on all cylinders

Ferrari conspicuously headed the timing sheets at the end of pre-season testing. We've seen them do this before and then endure a winless season, but there seems to be a bit more swagger about the Scuderia this year. 

Sebastian Vettel is on 4.50 to win but could this be the year his team-mate finally rediscovers his title-winning form? Kimi Raikkonen offers more rewarding odds of 7.00 for victory.

 

Red Bull: Stealth threat

Perhaps even more so than Mercedes, Red Bull are the masters of disguising their pre-season pace and unleashing it when the serious business begins. Their engine supplier Renault is convinced they will be title contenders.

Given that, 10.00 on Daniel Ricciardo to take pole and the same for a victory is a tempting bet. 

 

 

The rest: Keep an eye on Haas

Haas stunned F1 by taking sixth on their debut in this race last year. Twelve months on, they are the only team besides Ferrari to have the team's current engines, and it looks like serious progress has been made.

Enough to justify backing Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen at 201.0 for a podium? Only with a very small stake. But stranger things have happened in Melbourne's often unpredictable curtain-raiser.

Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic