Tuesday 19 February 2019

F1 2019 Betting Preview - Time to strike?

With Formula 1 pre-season testing, annually the tropes are aired. Don't read much at all into the lap times; it won't be until qualifying in the opening round that we really know what's going on.

The story remains the same as it has for a while -
how is Mercedes to be toppled?
Photo: Octane Photography
But it's true also what they say also about risk and reward. With the risks of making calls at a time such as now when testing is going on, there also are opportunities for the F1 gambler to make hay.

I've heard stories about windfalls from 2009's pre-season, which indicated the new Brawn team would have the year to itself and betting odds hadn't yet caught up with the point. Same goes for McLaren creaming the season in 1988. In other words if there's serious money to be made in F1 betting, now is the time to lay your stake.

Sadly it often feels that grand shifts between seasons such as the two I've cited are something left firmly in F1's past. Particularly with Mercedes having won every world championship since the hybrid formula started in 2014, plus with the 'big three' teams of Merc, Ferrari and Red Bull notoriously on a different pace and resource planet to the rest.

But... there is actually a change for this year. Front wings and bargeboards have been simplified. And while it's done ostensibly to aid overtaking chances, the main manifestation for Mercedes - and by extension for everyone else - is that there is not now a direct 'lead-in' between its champion car from last year and what it races with in this one.

Then again a previous - much bigger - technical overhaul for the start of the 2017 season didn't cause much hesitation in Mercedes' ongoing victory march. Plus some reckon the changes make an aggressive high-rake car less feasible. And that would favour Merc.

So right now Mercedes seems to be the top contender - and reflecting the fact both it and its lead driver Lewis Hamilton have swingeing odds to win their respective championships in 2019.

Pre-season testing again has got underway
Photo: Octane Photography
But what of Ferrari, which has been knocking - often heavily - on the Mercedes door for the last two seasons? Certainly the evidence is that if anyone is to topple Mercedes it will be the Scuderia. Plenty reckon it's had the better car than Mercedes in either of those campaigns, and was let down mainly organisationally and strategically. Ferrari's sought to resolve this by replacing its team boss Maurizio Arrivabene with its highly-rated technical chief Mattia Binotto - the one largely responsible for those good cars mentioned.

And while Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel got plenty of criticism last season it's worth reflecting that history suggests he doesn't do two bad seasons in a row. Plus while his new precocious team-mate Charles Leclerc rightly has plenty of admirers, his most noticeable weakness last year was not always stringing together his ultimate lap at the last of qualifying. Here Seb tends to excel. Therefore the odds for Vettel to win this year's title at 10/3 look pretty generous, as does 12/5 for Ferrari to top the constructors' table. Particularly given how Ferrari has started pre-season testing.

Red Bull in the same time period has been forever threatening to put together a proper title assault without actually ever doing it. It's sought for 2019 to nip its major weakness in the bud by ditching its Renault engines for the Honda, but there remain doubts about whether the latter is an improvement in power or reliability. At the very least 2019 may come too soon for the partnership. Still Max Verstappen to win the title at 6/1 and Red Bull to take the constructors' title at 5/1 have some worth as a Hail Mary punt.

Thanks to the bookies we can also fantasise about an alternate universe where the ubiquitous 'big three' teams don't exist, and have a bet on who'll top the drivers' table having ignored their six 'class A' drivers. The most obvious candidate for this is the incumbent Renault, which ended 2018 topping 'class B' on points and pace. On certain levels the status wasn't all that secure - Haas might have got ahead in the final table without disqualifications and wheels falling off, while Force India/Racing Point might have sneaked ahead without its financial implosion. Yet equally there's also reason to think that's as close as that pair will get, as Renault continues to re-arm itself as a works squad on the up.

Lando Norris and George Russell make their F1 debuts
Photo: Octane Photography
Not least by recruiting the highly-regarded Daniel Ricciardo to its driver line-up, and he is the favourite to be best of the rest in this year's table and at a still decent looking 10/3. But what of his stable-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who has lacked results in his F1 career but has plenty of rave reviewers nevertheless? At the very least Ricciardo getting on top at Renault should not be taken as a given. You can back Hulkenberg to finish as 'best of the rest' in the 2019 table at 7/2.

This forthcoming F1 season also is the year of the young gun, with plenty of budding driver talent getting its big break. Leclerc we've mentioned at Ferrari, while among others Lando Norris at McLaren and George Russell at Williams make their F1 race debuts. And a range of odds are available for how all three will get on, not just this season but also - more intriguingly - further ahead. For example you can back Leclerc to win one of the next two drivers titles at 3/1; while backing him at 11/8 to finish in the top three of this year's drivers' table - as indeed his predecessor in the Ferrari seat Raikkonen did last year - may be tempting.

Given everything though it may be safer to back further Hamilton domination. It's 4/1 for him to win the next two titles - in which time regs should remain fairly stable - and 10/1 for him to win the next three...

All odds quoted in this article were accurate at the time of writing.

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