It is almost time for the first grand prix of the season and all eyes will be on Australia as Formula 1 fans finally get a glimpse of the new cars in competitive action. The first race of the season is always the most exciting as it is an opportunity to see the effects of the rule changes and gauge who will be battling it out for the Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship.
Mercedes have dominated in recent years and have been made favourites to do so again: they are odds-on 4/11 favourites to win the Constructors’ Championship, with Ferrari out at 4/1 and Red Bull on 11/2. Mercedes star driver Lewis Hamilton is favourite to win the Drivers’ Championship for the third time in four years after narrowly losing out to now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg last season.
What is really interesting is the huge swings in the odds on Ferrari and Red Bull and there respective drivers. Last season Ferrari were supposed to be Mercedes’ main challengers but it did not bear out and Red Bull finished comfortably second (although well behind Mercedes). Red Bull were duly made second favourites for this season’s Constructors’ Championship and drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were discussed as the main threats to Hamilton, even more so than his new teammate Valtteri Bottas.
But since testing started, Ferrari have been hugely impressive. They topped the leaderboard on four of eight days of testing, ahead of Mercedes on three, and the cars’ reliability has been excellent. It could be mind games, but Hamilton has made the remarkable claim that Ferrari should now be considered the favourites going into the season.
“Ferrari are possibly the favourites,” he said. We can’t take our eyes off them they are doing such a great job. “And Red Bull look like they’re going quite quick. It is going to be close at the first race for sure.” His views were echoed by Mercedes director Niki Lauda, who said: “The Ferrari looks the fastest. It is like on rails. Our Mercedes is a little tighter in the corners. Ferrari is at the top of my list.”
Ferrari have been keen to downplay the favourite tag, insisting that honour still belongs to Mercedes, but F1 fans will be hoping they finally have an interesting battle on their hands. Years of Mercedes dominance have become a bit tiresome and the sport needs a shake up. Ferrari, and possibly Red Bull, could well provide it.
We will know a lot more once the dust has settled on the Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton heads the betting and is best priced at 5/4, while Bottas is the 6/1 third favourite. But Ferrari have really gatecrashed the party. Before Verstappen and Ricciardo were in the top four for this race, but they have been replaced by Ferrari drivers Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel, who won the Drivers’ Championship for four years in a row at Red Bull before they were overtaken by Mercedes and he left for the Italian team, is second favourite now at 15/4, while Raikkonen is 8/1. Both are former champions but Vettel is expected to have the edge over his teammate this season and certainly has the pedigree to give Hamilton a run for his money. Ricciardo and Verstappen are back at 10/1.
It is looking really interesting and fans will be eagerly anticipating this race. “We are in a much stronger position,” said Raikkonen. “The car is very reliable, you expect small things to be happening when you are pushing the car to the limit. The guys have done an amazing job.” Suddenly the odds on Ferrari winning the title and Vettel and Raikkonen making a splash Down Under are looking very intriguing.