Formula 1 returns next week after a three week vacation, during which the teams have shifted from the ‘new world’ of the Far and Middle East to an old and familiar stamping ground in Spain.
Red Bull have been the dominant team in the competition so far, but not by much. The unseemly spat between drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber still threatens to overshadow their season and if the three week break hasn’t served to defuse the evident animosity between the two of them then sparks could fly at the Circuit de Catalunya. It is the tightest track that the teams have raced upon so far and offers plenty of opportunities for barging an annoying team mate off the track (and if you think that doesn’t happen, take a look at footage of Force India’s famously volatile Adrian Sutil running Paul di Resta off the Chinese track). Team principal Christian Horner might look like the 1980s incarnation of Ford Prefect, but he seems to lack the necessary Betegeusian mind control necessary to keep his drivers from each others’ throats.
Having won the last three championships, Vettel will be short betting odds for any race, so it will always make sense to back him early and at 9/4 with William Hill he looks good value at the moment. Webber gets 12/1 in several places, including Ladbrokes, and he certainly has an outside chance here, especially as the Red Bull has shown itself to be among the more durable of cars and he knows that if he can get his nose in front Vettel is unlikely to risk trying to pass him again.
There’s a surprise at second place in the drivers’ championship, with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen sitting there ahead of more fancied names such as Fernando Alonso of Ferrari or Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Leaving aside on little shunt in China which cost him a damaged nose cone, Raikkonen has managed to get the best out of his car, somehow managing to get impressive race speed out of a vehicle which struggles in qualifying. Bet365 make him a 9/2 second favourite to win this race, but the fact that the Lotus doesn’t seem to have the tyre wear issues that the likes of Red Bull do could stand him in good stead and this represents a very good price indeed.
Ferrari have had a mixed season, at times brilliant and at others foolhardy. They were fantasic in China and Australia, where Alonso secured first and second places, but in Malaysia and Bahrain pit crew errors scuppered his chances. He’ll be desperate to avoid that in his home grand prix, but the 3/1 best price that you can get on him from the likes of BetFred look too short to me given that history and Vettel’s very short odds.
Hamilton, by contrast, is quoted as a 16/1 shot in most markets and with good reason. Although he has finished on the podium twice and also taken a pole position, he’s hampered by the car’s design, which destroys rear tyres seemingly irrespective of the nature of the track. Whilst his decision to quit McLaren was without doubt a good one, he might find that his new team struggles as much as his old one on this occasion.
Of course, you don’t have to limit your sports picks to picking the winner, as there are always around about 40 options on any race. A good each way market is the podium finish, where you can bet on the drivers to come home in the top three. The odds, obviously, are not as generous, but the upside of this is that you can spread your cash across a number of drivers and, if you do the maths correctly, expect to see a return. For all of their battles in China, the Force India cars have been running well without much success and if they can stay out of trouble both di Resta at 11/1 and Sutil at 13/1 look good value here. Also look out for Hamilton’s team mate Nico Rosberg, who has a podium spot and a pole position to his name as well and at 9/2 is a better price than his British colleague.
My favourite market of all, though, is the ‘first retirement’ one. Not only do you get to make money out of the first car to leave the race, but you sometimes get crashes, too! Hitherto, this has been a tricky market to predict, with the usual suspects such as the inexperienced drivers managing to get their cars around quite safely. Catalunya, being a more traditional, tight, track, is a different prospect and I’d be looking at one of the rookie drivers such as Geido van der Garde or Max Chilton as a likely suspect this time around.