The first race weekend of the new F1 season showed we are in for an exciting and close year’s racing.
Much more so than last year, when Sebastian Vettel racked up 15 pole positions in 19 races, and ran away with the championship. In qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix last year, Vettel took pole position by 0.778 seconds. Whereas last weekend the top seven cars were covered by less than that.
This is good news. Not just because we are going to see more exciting races, but because it makes F1 a more attractive option for betting.
Best bets for qualifying
With McLaren locking out the front row of the grid last weekend, it’s no surprise that the rates for a repeat performance this weekend are low. A far more promising option is the Mercedes drivers, with Nico Rosberg available at 12.0 and Michael Schumacher at 15.0.
Mercedes are running a clever rear wing design which is believed to allow them to hit higher top speeds. Rival teams are up in arms about the innovation and some are trying to get it banned. The usefulness of Mercedes’ cunning wing was limited in Melbourne due to the track layout. But the W03s should fly along Sepang’s two long straights.
Rosberg has never started from pole position. But he beat Schumacher 15-2 in like-for-like qualifying sessions last year, which is why I’d make him my pick of the two to claim pole this weekend. He started behind Schumacher in Australia, only after making an uncharacteristic error on his flying lap.
The Lotus drivers are definitely worth a look as well. Romain Grosjean put his car third on the grid in Melbourne and yet is priced at 40.0 to take pole position this weekend. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen (with 16 career poles to his name) is at 25.0.
A long shot on Alonso
Looking beyond qualifying, it's worth considering some of the long-term betting options available for this year. One interesting pick is Fernando Alonso who is currently priced at 15.00 to win the championship.
Anyone who saw how dreadful his Ferrari F2012 looked on the track in Melbourne might think it barmy to tip that car to win anything other than a wooden spoon, but Ferrari don't stay down for long: they have too much talent, experience and money not to.
The season is long, and although it was a shock to see Ferrari qualify outside the top ten last weekend, they’re not as far off the pace as it looks. As Alonso himself said: “Here, at the end of qualifying last year, we were 1.4 seconds off the pace, while today, in Q2 it was one second, therefore hypothetically one could say we are more competitive than we were back then.
“Sure, there are other teams that have made progress, but I think we have plenty of room for improvement.”
In Alonso, Ferrari have one the best drivers in Formula 1 - perhaps the best. Two years ago the team lagged in the first half of the season but came on strong in the second half. Alonso went into the final round leading the championship, and only lost because of a bad strategy call.
If anyone is going to turn around a bad car it’s Ferrari. And it’s anyone’s going to grab the championship in an unfavourable car, it's Alonso. So if you like taking a punt on a long shot, this is the one to pick.