Watch out for a Raikkonen renaissance at the Belgian Grand Prix

It has been a difficult season for him, but the Hungarian Grand Prix showed some light at the end of the tunnel for Kimi Raikkonen. Since rejoining Ferrari at the start of the season, he has finished inside the points seven times, but the race at the Hungaroring was the first time he had finished inside the top six. He is also yet to finish ahead of team mate Fernando Alonso in a race.

He currently sits 12th in the championship which, if the season finished today, would be his worst drivers’ championship finish ever. This includes his maiden Formula One season back in 2001 for Sauber which he ended tenth, before which he had only a season of car racing experience (Max Verstappen, take note).

The crash at Silverstone might have grabbed the headlines but it is Raikkonen’s consistent lack of performance which is notable. It is as if old habits have returned. Kimi’s F1 career is of course split into two distinct parts, before and after his two-year break to try his hand at rallying. But even within those two sections, it is almost as if there have been two drivers taking his place.

 

Belgian Grand Prix betting odds:

Lewis Hamilton -143

Nico Rosberg +160

Daniel Ricciardo +1600

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

At McLaren between 2002 and 2006, Raikkonen was regarded as one of the fastest drivers ever, and was only robbed of the 2005 championship by an incredibly unreliable car. But after moving to Ferrari, his performances became erratic. Even in winning the championship in 2007, he was unconvincing, with team mate Felipe Massa, previously (and since) regarded as an unremarkable driver, proving a match over their two-and-a-half years as team mates.

Throughout his time at Ferrari, speculation was rampant that he had lost motivation, perhaps encouraged by his typically Finnish approach to dealing with the media (i.e. barely) and alcohol (i.e. drinking lots of it). When it was announced he was being replaced by Fernando Alonso at the team, it was widely believed that he was being paid to leave and do something else, such as flinging Citroens between and into trees.

Which leads to one theory doing the rounds this year – that Raikkonen’s return to F1 in 2012 with Lotus was primarily motivated by money. This shouldn’t really be a shock, but there’s more to it: basically that after Kimi’s Ferrari pay-off finished, he needed to replace that source of income, so he needed to return to F1 with the purpose of getting back into Ferrari, after which he could go back to not caring. Thus, it would explain his exceptional first two seasons at Lotus and his sudden drop-off in performance this year.

But to be honest, this all seems a bit too cynical. To assume that Raikkonen had the next three years mapped out when he returned ignores the reality of the situation. Lotus ran out of money last year, to the point where Kimi wasn’t even being paid on time, and if you’re a former world champion who has finished third and fifth in the last two championships, you have enough market value to avoid this. The fact that Lotus have continued to tail off dramatically this season suggests he made the correct call to leave.

 

However, rejoining Ferrari might not have been the most sensible move, even if it made sense at the time. Yes, he was rejoining the team with whom he won the championship, but he was never entirely comfortable there, and he was to be driving alongside Fernando Alonso, probably the fastest and most consistent driver in F1 who has outperformed his team mates and machinery year in year out for a decade.

Before the start of the 2014 season, there were forecasts of tension and bust-ups as the two former champions battled for victory. There has been none of this, mainly because Kimi hasn’t got close enough to create any tension – not only has he been way behind his team mate, but Ferrari have had their worst season for over twenty years, with Alonso doing a remarkable job in putting himself fourth in the standings.

But the Belgian Grand Prix provides a massive opportunity for Raikkonen to kick on, as it is with Spa-Francorchamps that he has his best relationship within the sport. He won here for McLaren in 2004 and 2005, Ferrari in 2007 and 2009, and came close to a win in 2008 but for a mistake while battling Lewis Hamilton on a damp track. He also finished third here in 2012.

If there are races missing here, it’s because they either weren’t held (2003, 2006) or because he retired due to mechanical problems (2001, 2002, 2013). In short: the guy’s quick here.

 

Spa is one of the most unorthodox circuits on the calendar, with its high-speed sweeping corners that would never be allowed today and its erratic, unpredictable climate. The races here are often amongst the most exciting of the season, although it’s going to have to be a special one this year to compete with Bahrain and Hungary.

Theoretically Mercedes should once again have the advantage in pace, and 2010 Spa winner Lewis Hamilton will begin as favourite, but the teams behind are closing, and as we saw in Hungary, they will be on the defensive if it starts to rain.

Raikkonen’s expertise here will be an enormous help to Ferrari, who sit third in the constructors’ championship (albeit mostly due to Alonso’s contributions) but are rapidly being caught by Williams, who have emerged as Mercedes’ closest challengers in the dry. Ferrari haven’t gone a season without a win since 1993, when Jean Todt arrived to kick-start the transformation of the team into world-beaters once again.

 

There are rumours of driver changes for next season or beyond, including the possible arrival of Sebastian Vettel, but in the medium-term, it seems as if the team’s decline could only be stemmed by the arrival of another Todt to transform the way the team is run into a more efficient unit.

However, that won’t happen overnight. In the short-term, this may be their best opportunity for a victory for the rest of the season, and it’s certainly Raikkonen’s best shot of some silverware.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Kimi Raikkonen to finish on the podium this weekend is +1400 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Sports blogger JamesJAMES BENNETT 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+.

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Rosberg and Mercedes look to make history at Hockenheim

After retiring from the British Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg needs a strong result at his home race

Not since 1954 has a German car won a Formula One World Championship German Grand Prix. German drivers have won it – Michael and Ralf Schumacher, and last year’s winner Sebastian Vettel – and cars with German-badged engines have also won, but you have to look back to Juan Manuel Fangio’s win for Mercedes at the old Nurburgring Nordschliefe, once the most feared circuit in the world, to see a German car take the chequered flag. A German driver in a German car? You have to look back to the pre-war era, when German manufacturers Mercedes and Auto Union (the forerunner of Audi) were the dominant forces and employed drivers like Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer and Hans Stuck Sr.

So no pressure on Nico Rosberg then. He might not necessarily be the most authentic German ever – his father is Finnish and he was brought up in Monaco – but he drives with the German flag on the side of his car, and that is all the records will show if he wins the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim this weekend.

And boy how he needs it. At the British Grand Prix, he looked all set to tighten his grip on the championship. After qualifying on pole with Lewis Hamilton losing out on a drying track, he led the race ahead of his team mate, only to suffer his first mechanical failure of the season. With Hamilton winning the race, Rosberg’s lead in the standings was slashed from 29 points to just four – had his car held out, it would probably have been 36.

 

German Grand Prix Betting Odds:

Lewis Hamilton -167

Nico Rosberg +180

Valtteri Bottas +1600

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Rosberg has now lost the momentum he had been building. In the previous three races, he had finished ahead of Hamilton and looked to be getting the better of his team mate, who was known to be faster but also more likely to make errors. Rosberg was always likely to have to rely on reliability and consistency to win the championship, so to lose 25 points to Hamilton at this stage was an enormous blow, as it puts the 2008 champion within striking distance once again – a win for the Brit here will see him take the championship lead.

 

Adding to the pressure, Rosberg’s record at the German Grand Prix is underwhelming. Since joining Mercedes in 2010, his best finish at the race, which is rotated between Hockenheim and the truncated Nurburgring, is seventh in 2011. In the last race at Hockenheim in 2012, he finished tenth, and last year at the Nurburgring he finished ninth.

It is a surprisingly poor record considering he spent the bulk of his junior career racing in Germany – he won the German Formula BMW series in 2002, followed by two years in the German-centric Formula Three Euro Series, during which time he won two races at Hockenheim. He even won at the circuit during his GP2 championship-winning season. So is it all just down to bad luck or poor machinery?

 

Hamilton, on the other hand, is a former winner at the circuit in F1, having taken a dramatic victory in 2008, carving his way through after a late safety car jumbled the field. However, this is the only time he has even finished on the podium at Hockenheim. In 2012, he retired after his 100th grand prix was ruined by an early puncture. However, he did also win the 2011 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring for McLaren.

The last two German Grands Prix at Hockenheim have been won by Fernando Alonso for Ferrari. The 2010 race was particularly memorable for the use of team orders, with the infamous “Fernando is faster than you” hint to his team mate Felipe Massa. But while Ferrari are off the pace and Alonso is unlikely to extend his winning run at the circuit, Massa may be a dark horse. Williams have shown improved pace in recent races, with Massa taking pole ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas at the Spielberg circuit in Austria, a similar Hermann Tilke-designed circuit to Hockenheim, while Bottas charged through the field at Silverstone to finish second.

How sweet would it be if four years after being asked to concede a victory to his team mate, Massa ended his victory drought, which stretches back to the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. Williams too have not tasted success much in recent years, with just one win since the end of 2004, and Bottas is yet to win, so any win for one of the team’s drivers would be popular and emotional. And yet they may be the nearest challengers to the dominant Silver Arrows.

 

As for home favourite Sebastian Vettel, it seems unlikely that he will mount a challenge. Instead, he will just be hoping for a change of luck – and to beat his team mate for once. Amazingly, Vettel is yet to beat his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in a race where both drivers finish, and only picked up a better result than the Australia in Malaysia, where Ricciardo failed to finish. Part of this is down to unreliability, but Vettel also simply hasn’t been as consistent as the youngster, and few would deny that the 28-point lead he has isn’t representative.

Vettel, like Rosberg, has a very patchy record on home soil, his win at the Nurburgring last year ending a poor run of results. The last time he came to Hockenheim, he was penalised by driving off the track while overtaking Jenson Button, dropping him from second to fifth, leaving his best result at the circuit as the third place finish in 2010. Surely it is unlikely that he will finish any higher than that on Sunday.

Instead, the attention at home will be focusing on Rosberg. His father Keke won the world championship via stealth in 1982, winning only one race all season. Nico has employed similar tactics this season, but he has to win races too if he is going to defeat his team mate. Hockenheim is as good a place as any to start.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Nico Rosberg to win the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship is +130 with AllYouBet.ag, and a win this weekend would put him in a great spot to do so.

Unfamiliar with American-style betting odds? Learn how to convert them to decimal or fractional odds with our handy guide

 

Sports blogger JamesJAMES 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+.

Hamilton hoping for a champagne shower, not a rain shower

 

Monaco is probably the most recognisable Grand Prix circuit in the world

Monaco is probably the most recognisable Grand Prix circuit in the world

The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the most clichéd sporting event in the world. If I was given £1 for every time the words ‘glitz’ and ‘glamour’ were mentioned over the course of the week of the race, I’d probably be able to afford a trip to the principality next year…well, providing I don’t try and buy any loaves of bread there.

What is the Monaco Grand Prix, though? To be honest, it’s the second-biggest pain in the arse of the F1 season (the biggest being the annual Bernie Ecclestone Offensive-Comment-a-Thon). It’s that one time a year when the rich and famous crawl from under their rocks and turn up at an F1 race, claiming they have always loved the sport and that they want the red car to win. The races are generally tedious processions, as it’s virtually impossible to overtake around the circuit; believe it or not, what Herbie did in the tunnel in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is actually impossible.

And it’s also incredibly dangerous – there’s not much stopping a car leaving the circuit and flying into a building or the harbour. Even the various safety improvements, taking the barriers back and thus making crashing far less likely (and the races more predictable), have not changed that.

And yet…the place has an aura. Nothing in F1 beats the feeling when watching the first moment of qualifying, where a car comes out of the pits and accelerates up the hill to Casino Square for the first time. As a circuit that’s only active for two weekends per year (the other being the Historic Grand Prix weekend, which clashed with the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend and proved to be much more interesting than the ‘real’ thing), it has still retained its special feel.

 

Monaco Grand Prix Betting Odds:

Lewis Hamilton – 1.60

Nico Rosberg – 2.60

Sebastian Vettel – 15.00

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Only the relatively minor events in Pau and Macau can compare for racing around such a dramatic city. Only the Indianapolis 500 (which incidentally takes place on the same day as Monaco) and the Le Mans 24 Hours have the history and status to match it. Ask any lay person about motorsport and Monaco is probably one of the things they will mention. Ask any lay person about Monaco and the grand prix is probably the first thing they will mention.

 

But the bigger picture entering Monaco week is that this may be another two-horse race. Lewis Hamilton arrives at the principality having won the last four races, and his team having won all five of this season’s grands prix. Lewis has only won the race once, but the way in which he won it suggests more are to come: in 2008, he recovered to win a dramatic wet races after an early puncture. He has always performed well and the circuit suits his driving style. Once again, he enters this race as the favourite for victory.

Team mate Nico Rosberg is also at home on the streets of Monte Carlo – quite literally, in this case, as he lives here. He won last year’s race convincingly, having finished second in 2012. After four second-place finishes in a row, he is undoubtedly keen to pick up his second win of the season; a fifth consecutive finish behind Hamilton will only increase the Englishman’s momentum and make it much more difficult for him to keep pace.

 

But while Mercedes’ dominance this year has been crushing thus far, there are some who doubt they can maintain it on the Monegasque streets, including Fernando Alonso. However, a Ferrari challenge seems unlikely judging by recent form, despite Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen having a combined total of three wins here themselves. Amazingly it’s now 13 years since Ferrari last won in Monaco, making it one of the team’s longest barren runs. The last win came courtesy of Michael Schumacher, who somehow managed to contrive not to win here during his most dominant seasons, a lesson Hamilton and Rosberg should heed.

The most likely challengers to Mercedes should be Red Bull, who have emerged as best-of-the-rest despite a rocky winter testing period and the disappointing Renault engine. Before Rosberg’s win last year, they had won three consecutive Monaco Grands Prix, with two wins for Mark Webber and one for Sebastian Vettel, who benefited from a late race stoppage in 2011. The champion’s record around Monaco has been inconsistent, which may again play into the hands of young team mate Daniel Ricciardo, fresh off the back of his first career podium in Spain.

 

You can probably also count on a challenge from Williams. Felipe Massa is a former pole sitter at Monaco, while Valtteri Bottas is performing well up against the experienced Brazilian, having qualified fourth in Barcelona. But like Ferrari, the team also don’t have a great record here, with their last win coming in 2003 with Juan Pablo Montoya at the wheel; their previous victory came courtesy of Nico’s father Keke Rosberg in 1983. A podium here this year would be a very good result for them.

As for McLaren, they are slowly slipping back into the midfield despite a positive start, with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen struggling to live up to the high expectations. They are no longer even the third-best Mercedes-powered team, with Force India now more likely to score points; they picked up a fifth place finish at Monaco last year thanks to Adrian Sutil, and a similar result would provide them with a major points boost.

But once again, this is Mercedes’ race to lose. They have the pace, the reliability and the drivers to secure another win. However, the Monaco Grand Prix is rarely that simple, especially factoring in the weather conditions. Rain is forecast for Sunday, and wet streets can make this race unpredictable, because while Monaco may have changed a lot since 1929, it’s still a street circuit, with bumps and slippery white lines. All of the great drivers have made mistakes here. If there’s one race Mercedes could lose this season, it is this one.

 

Betting Instinct tip – with Mercedes so dominant this season, there may be some value in more niche markets. Nico Rosberg to record the fastest lap, as he has done in three of the five grands prix so far, is 2.90 with Intertops.eu

 

Sports blogger JamesJAMES 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+.

Bahrain Grand Prix – Mercedes set to continue dominance in the desert

As Formula One approaches its 900th world championship grand prix in Bahrain this weekend, it’s worth remembering that some of its previous milestone races have thrown up some big surprises. The 800th race was the infamous 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, won by Renault’s Fernando Alonso after Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed early in the race to bring out the safety car. The 700th was the even more dramatic 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, a modern classic in the wet won by Giancarlo Fisichella for minnows Jordan.

The 600th, the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix, was narrowly won by Jacques Villeneuve of Williams ahead of Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine, while the 500th, the 1990 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, saw Benetton’s Nelson Piquet fend off a charging Nigel Mansell in his Ferrari.

 

Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix Betting Odds:

Lewis Hamilton – 2.00

Nico Rosberg – 3.00

Sebastian Vettel – 8.00

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

It is also the tenth anniversary of the first Bahrain Grand Prix, and to add to the spectacle this weekend, the race will be held under the lights at night, a move which may make little difference to the race but does at least make the cars look nice. The Bahrain authorities is no stranger to attention-grabbing moves such as this: in 2010, for the season opener, they used a longer circuit layout, which ultimately led to a terrible race, while in 2011, they decided to brutally clamp down on anti-government protests, which led to the race being cancelled altogether.

But with memories of the violent repression now conveniently forgotten by the F1 paddock (if not by the rest of us), everything is carrying on as before. The only difference is that there is a new team at the front. As expected, Mercedes are the team to beat, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton taking a win each from the first two rounds.

Hamilton has been on pole in both races, and has looked the faster driver of the pair. But he has never won in Bahrain; the most notable thing he has ever done here is driving into the back of former team mate Alonso on the second lap in 2008, ruining his race. Rosberg hasn’t won here either, but he did make his debut at the Sakhir Circuit in 2006, with an impressive charge from the back in his Williams.

 

The Mercedes team has won here before, albeit under the Brawn GP name in 2009, with Jenson Button at the wheel. Judging by their dominance in the first two weekends, they are comfortable favourites for this race.

But the last two Bahrain Grands Prix have been won by Sebastian Vettel, and you’d not count him out this time. Reports of Red Bull’s demise were greatly exaggerated, with Vettel finishing 3rd in Malaysia after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from 2nd place in Australia. Vettel even managed to make the front row of the grid at Sepang, but that was in the wet; rain on the Arabian desert island is highly unlikely.

 

So too is a win for anyone else. McLaren are strongly suggesting they expect to struggle in the next few races, with their car proving something of a disappointment so far. Ferrari have been equally underwhelming, though Alonso has picked up two 4th places to lie 3rd in the championship, a point behind Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen’s race in Malaysia was ruined by Kevin Magnussen’s front wing on the opening lap, and so desperately needs some points from Bahrain.

But above all else, the eyes of the F1 paddock will be on Williams this weekend. In Malaysia, Felipe Massa ignored team orders requesting he let team mate Valtteri Bottas through. But this wasn’t just any old team order; Bottas was on (slightly) fresher tyres, and the team believed he was fast enough to pass Button ahead. Massa disagreed.

 

The added complication was revealed afterwards by the team; they revealed that if Bottas hadn’t found a way around Button, they would ask him to allow Massa back ahead, given that he was ahead fair and square in the first place. The implication of this is that Massa thought Bottas would probably fail to pass Button but then not give the place back.

Overruling team orders in F1 is not going to make you popular, especially at Williams, the team that always puts the interests of the team above that of the driver. But there is further context: Massa has just endured seven years of being told to move over for his team mate at Ferrari, where he played second fiddle to Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen and Alonso.

Asking him to move over after just two races at his new team was always going to be a sensitive issue, especially as they used the words ‘Valtteri is faster than you’, an echo of the message he received at Hockenheim in 2010, when the team asked him to yield the race lead to Alonso.

 

For a man that has been through a lot over the last few years, it is understandable that Massa ould be reluctant to agree to something that was likely going to lead to him getting criticism after, whether it be that he has disobeyed the team or that he’s ‘losing his competitive edge’. The lack of serious consequences for disobeying the team was the clinching point.

Williams have handled the situation poorly: they sacrificed driver and team morale for the sake of trying to get two more points. In the current climate (Multi-21 et al), it is perhaps naive to assume drivers will agree to every team order. Massa is not blameless, but the revelations after the race suggest he doesn’t trust Bottas, and that he didn’t want to be left exposed to another sucker punch. Williams might believe that drivers are expendable parts just the same as any nut and bolt, but they are human beings who make human decisions.

 

Massa and Williams (free of Martini logos for this weekend in the Middle East) now head to a circuit where the Brazilian won in 2007 and 2008 for Ferrari. After the furore of Malaysia, he has to deliver; Williams have had a disappointing start to the year after the promise of success, and he has already upset his team and his team mate. He needs at least a solid points finish, or it could already be the beginning of the end of his long career.

Betting Instinct Tip – Felipe Massa to silence the doubters with a podium finish is 5.50 with Intertops.eu

 

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Sports blogger JamesJAMES 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+.

Hamilton the man to beat in Australian GP

2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton will look to start strongly as he chases a second title

2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton will look to start strongly as he chases a second title

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.

Australian Grand Prix Betting Odds

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

 

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Sports blogger JamesJAMES 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+.