It’s probably not very good to start an article for a betting website with ‘all bets are off’, but as far as the opening round of the new Formula One season is concerned, it is genuinely impossible to predict. This is one of the most open races in the history of the sport, the result of a raft of rule changes which have left some of the top teams on the back foot.
Lewis Hamilton – 3.15
Nico Rosberg – 4.70
Fernando Alonso – 7.40
Felipe Massa – 8.20
(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The most high-profile team affected is Red Bull Racing. They have been the dominant team of the last four and a half years, winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in the last four seasons, and in part this has been due to the generous support of engine supplier Renault, who have produced powerful, reliable engines for many years.
But the V8 engines which have been used since 2006 have been consigned to the scrap heap, to be replaced by smaller turbocharged V6 engines, meant to replicate the shift towards smaller engines in the automotive industry as a whole. By all accounts, it seems Renault have made a monstrous error somewhere along the line. At the first test at Jerez in Spain, the Renault-powered teams were barely on the circuit, and when they were their engines were falling apart.
Red Bull in particular have been affected by these problems due to designer Adrian Newey’s aggressive design, which has led to the engines overheating. This isn’t the first time that Newey, by far and away the most successful designer in the last 25 years of F1, has had these issues: in 2004, his McLaren design suffered from serious issues, leading to the team being uncompetitive for half a season and only winning one race.
Unreliability largely leaves the drivers in the back seat. Sebastian Vettel, bidding to become only the second driver to win five F1 championships in a row, can only hope that Red Bull and Renault can fix their issues; at the moment, the car is so far off the pace, there’s a (slim) chance they may not even reach the 107% needed to qualify for the first race. New team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who replaces Mark Webber this year, seems to have joined at the wrong time.
The momentum seems to lie with the Mercedes-powered teams: Mercedes GP, McLaren, Force India and Williams. Mercedes GP seem to be the favourites, with their new car consistently setting good times in all of the tests and a fast driver line-up of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who between them won three races last year. If I was to choose the driver I think will win the championship right now, it’s Hamilton: he has the experience of having won it before and is still arguably the fastest driver in the sport on his day.
McLaren may not quite have had the pace of Mercedes, and are coming off one of their worst seasons in F1, but they are still one of the best teams around, with a large budget, a former world champion leading the team in Jenson Button, and a highly-rated rookie in Kevin Magnussen. Race wins seem likely at this stage, and with Button having won in Australia three times before, you would think this would be one of their best opportunities.
Williams are the dark horses. Fresh from switching to Mercedes engines this year and announcing a new sponsorship deal with Martini, their car has shown good pace in the hands of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, suggesting their gamble to write off 2013 in favour of concentrating on this year may have paid off. Questions remain over the drivers – Massa hasn’t won a race since 2008, while Bottas is still inexperienced – and the team has only won one race in the last nine seasons, but with unreliability being more of a decisive factor this year, it may not matter. With Mercedes suffering a number of issues during the final test, Williams may be the surprise front-runners.
Force India are an unknown quantity. They have two quick young drivers in Nico Hulkenberg, returning after a year at Sauber, and Sergio Perez, who has joined after being ditched by McLaren. Their car was not the fastest in testing but seemed potentially fast enough to keep them in contention. They do have a small budget, though, so will be looking to make the most of this situation early on. They have never won a race in their current form, coming closest at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix when Giancarlo Fisichella finished second, but did win four races in their previous guise as Jordan, the last coming in 2003.
Sitting between the Mercedes- and Renault-powered cars is Ferrari, who didn’t seem to be too slow, but didn’t seem to be too fast either. Their engine does seem to be down on power compared to the Mercedes, but they have arguably the best line-up on the grid in the shape of former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, with the Finn having rejoined the team with which he won the championship in 2007. You would expect the ability of the drivers alone will help them to a couple of wins at the very least.
Lotus seem unlikely to repeat their win of a year ago. They are of course hamstrung by their Renault engine, but are also in financial trouble and have lost key personnel. Romain Grosjean, who ended 2013 strongly, is joined by one-time race winner Pastor Maldonado, bringing his Venezuelan backing which will hopefully stem the tide, but it’s looking pretty bleak for the team that won world championships as Benetton in the 1990s and Renault in the 2000s.
However it’s difficult to count anyone out. The Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park has always had a reputation of producing chaotic races, and this year is likely to be no exception. It may prove that the pace of the car and drivers may go out of the window with the last man standing taking the honours. Hamilton and Mercedes are a good bet for pole position, but finishing the race may prove more challenging.
Betting Instinct Tip – Lewis Hamilton to start the race from pole position is 2.30 with Intertops.eu
JAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.