This weekend the Bahrain course is the venue and there’s a chance for someone to break clear of the pack before the three week holiday prior to the European races beginning.
Before the season started there were two big questions on everyone’s mind. These were whether the poor winter testing that the Red Bull team had endured would be forgotten, and whether Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes would enhance his chances of winning another title.
The second question is easier to answer. There seems to be an imbalance between the Mercedes car in qualifying and in race trim. To put it bluntly, the car is very fast when it has almost no fuel in it for qualifying, and not fast enough when fully laden during the race. Hamilton has been well placed in all the qualifying sessions so far, but has yet to win a race and was easily overtaken once the cars got going in China last weekend. He’s still good value in the race for pole position this weekend (7/2 at Sportingbet) but compare that to the 10/1 he is to win the race and you’ll see that the discrepancy in the car’s performance is a glaring one.
On the first question, the simple answer is that yes, the problems with the car haven’t been as great or noticeable. The problems in the team itself, however, are far more obvious. Current champion Sebastian Vettel leads the points table despite only winning in Malaysia, but even there he was forced to apologise to teammate Mark Webber after overtaking him to win, in direct contradiction to the team’s orders. Things for Webber then got even worse in China, as he was penalised for finishing qualifying with too little fuel, collided with a car from Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso in the race (earning himself a three place grid penalty for this week), then had his race ended when the team failed to attach the left rear wheel properly after a pit stop. It is no wonder that his odds for the overall title have gone out to 40/1!
The race in China was won by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who dominated the race. The Ferrari car was something of a dog for the first half of last season, but things have really come together for them in the past nine months or so and the title race already looks like a ding-dong battle between Alonso (15/8 with Totesport) and Vettel (6/4 in most markets).
Where things could be more interesting is in the constructors’ championship, where the points scored by each of a team’s two cars are added together throughout the season. The way that the points system in Formula One works, the constructors’ competition is not just about winning the race, but reliability, as you’ll score more points from finishing second and third than you will for winning and having the other car not make it to the end. This means that for teams with a significant imbalance in the talents of their two drivers, this becomes a problem. For example, Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus won the opening Grand Prix in Australia and have been placed in the other two, but because second driver Romain Grosjean has been off the pace all season they are lagging behind Ferrari and Red Bull in the competition. At the moment Ferrari, who have had none of the car or personnel problems that Red Bull have endured, look the safer bet at 7/4.
Reliability has been one of the big things across the board this season, with more cars dropping out through driver error than vehicle failure. This means that there is some value to be had in the market for the first car to retire in Bahrain, especially as there have only been six accident-related retirements in the eight races on that track. Prices start from 12/1, which gives you scope to dabble in several drivers and still stand a good chance of getting your money back. You can even, unusually, look at higher betting odds because the shortest prices are on the Caterham and Marussia drivers, who would normally be relied upon for at least one early breakdown but all of whom have finished every race this year. The cars might be up to a lap and more slower than the big names, but they get round. You might therefore consider a punt on Grosjean, who has the worst accident record of any of the drivers (and who has had such an anonymous season that, as one wag put it, he had better start crashing again just to remind people he is there), at 18/1 with William Hill.
Finally, the all important question of who is going to end up spraying the fizzy rosewater that they use instead of champagne in Bahrain. Alonso is 5/2 at Ladbrokes and Vettel 13/5 with Paddy Power, but my feeling is that this could just be Webber’s race. He has had such bad luck so far, plus the three place grid penalty for that crash that means he can at best start on the second row, that he is going to be seriously fired up for this race and with Sportingbet quoting him at 19/1 it would be foolish to overlook such generous odds for our F1 Sports Picks.