It's early days, but even after retiring from the Australian GP, the bookies seem to have decided that Lewis Hamilton is destined for glory this season.
Most have him at slightly under 2/1 before Malaysia, while teammate Nico Rosberg is priced at around 11/4 following his victory down under. It's clear anyway that Mercedes are expected to wipe the floor with the opposition, with Sebastian Vettel's chances rated at half those of either Mercedes driver, and Fernando Alonso a relatively long shot at 10/1.
David Coulthard has agreed with the predictions, saying: "I have to believe Lewis's speed and outright instinctive racing ability will put him ahead of Nico at the end of the day. He's my favourite for the championship, absolutely, although he's been playing it down."
Coulthard went on to highlight Hamilton's "spark", which he compared to that of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, though others have emphasised Rosberg's superb grasp of engineering issues. This could prove vital in a season where pretty much everything has changed.
It should become clear very quickly whether the communication between Hamilton and his crew is working in terms of fuel management, tyre management and so on. Coulthard pointed out, however that the new Pirellis may work in Hamilton's favour: "If the tyres are more robust, which they appear to be, and Lewis can unleash his performance, it will be all about his interaction with the engineers."
Hamilton himself appeared relaxed about having to retire in Australia due to a cylinder problem: "I did everything I could and did everything right. I couldn't have been any more focused. The car is fantastic and we've still got a long way to go." Of course, this early in the season there's plenty of room for error, with DNF's expected for everyone at some point, but the picture should start coming into focus after the Chinese GP on 20th April.
It'll be interesting to see what happens to the drivers' odds if Sebastian Vettel's engine gets sorted out. Red Bull's Christian Horner explained after Melbourne that Vettel's car was set up no differently to Daniel Ricciardo, who - for a while at least - managed to finish second. It's all about sorting the technical issues at the moment, and though the Mercedes are certainly quicker than the Red Bull cars, if Red Bull can come good quickly, you can expect 4/1 on Vettel to start looking fairly generous.
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