Lewis Hamilton begins the defence of his Formula One Drivers’ Championship when the new season gets underway at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix (Race: 1.10am ET on Sunday).
Mercedes have dominated Formula One since the switch to new regulations in 2014, winning four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Hamilton won three of those four drivers’ crowns and is the favorite with the USA online sports betting sites to again do so in 2018.
The impression left by pre-season testing was that Hamilton and Mercedes may not necessarily have things all their own way this time around. Ferrari and Red Bull both showed good pace in Barcelona, with the Red Bull chassis looking particularly strong.
The quality of Mercedes’ overall package, including their high-performing and ever-reliable power unit, probably still makes them the favorites for the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, but Ferrari and Red Bull will certainly hope to make the battle a closer one.
One area where Mercedes are likely to maintain their advantage is in qualifying. The team took pole position in 15 of the 20 races last season. They have a special qualifying engine setting, dubbed “party mode” by Hamilton, that other teams have, for one reason for another, failed to match.
Hamilton secured 11 pole positions last season and has a very strong record in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. He has qualified at the head of the field for each of the last four races at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne and six times in total. He has, though, only been able to convert that into two victories, in 2008 and 2015.
Sebastian Vettel took the win for Ferrari at last year’s Australian Grand Prix, and while Mercedes and Hamilton are the most likely victors this time out, there are too many uncertainties involved to make it a good wager. Hamilton for pole position therefore appears the better prediction.
They have a special qualifying engine setting, dubbed ‘party mode’ by Hamilton
Renault looked to be solidly the fourth fastest team during pre-season testing, although the reliability issues suffered by the newly Renault-powered McLaren made it hard to judge where they stand in comparison. After improving from 9th in the constructors’ championship in 2016 to sixth last year, Renault are seeking to take another step forward.
In Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg, they certainly have one of the strongest driver pairings outside of the top three teams. Hulkenberg easily outclassed Jolyon Palmer during the first three quarters of last season, but Sainz showed that he was capable of matching the German driver after moving over from Toro Rosso for the final four races of the year.
Both drivers have very solid records in Australia. Hulkenberg came home just outside the points for Renault last year after securing finishes of seventh, seventh and sixth with Force India over the course of the preceding three years. Sainz has qualified and finished in the top 10 at Albert Park in each of his three races there to date.
Renault achieved four top-six finishes last year and will hope to get the new season off to a good start with a similarly strong result on Sunday. Backing Sainz to do just that looks a solid bet.
Haas were one of the surprise packages of pre-season testing. The team finished eighth in the constructors’ standings last year but the pace they showed in Barcelona suggested they will begin the new season as the sixth quickest team. Force India are a slicker overall operation, while Williams will surely improve as the year goes on, but in the early races, at least, Haas will have an opportunity to secure some good points.
Romain Grosjean has produced a couple of strong performances in Australia since joining the team. He finished sixth in 2016 and then qualified in the same position last year before a water leak saw him retire from the race. His teammate Kevin Magnussen secured a highly impressive second in Australia on his Formula One debut for McLaren back in 2014 but hasn’t shown quite as well there since.
Grosjean therefore looks the best option if Haas are to begin the season with a solid haul of points on Sunday.
Our Preview’s F1 Australian Grand Prix Tips, Picks & Betting Predictions
These are our advised wagers and predictions with the US-friendly bookies for the F1 Australian Grand Prix: