Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton won both practice sessions and was the only driver to break the 1.23 lap barrier, so he understandably heads the betting. But it should prove to be an open and exciting race, as the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all look competitive this season.
The first Grand Prix of the season is always the most eagerly anticipated as it offers fans the chance to see the progress each team has made over the winter. There are always new rule changes to contend with – this year there are no more T-wings, trick suspension has been outlawed and there are now halos to protect the drivers from injury – and it is fascinating to see how the teams have adapted to cope with them. The greatest intrigue among many fans will lie in finding out if any team has done enough to really challenge perennial champions Mercedes, who have had it all their own way for the past four years.
The rule changes in 2018 are relatively few in number compared to the sweeping changes that saw cars becoming faster and wider last year, so the action on the track will be very similar and you would therefore expect Mercedes’ dominance to continue. The German team’s technical director, James Allison, said their 2018 car would “blow away” last year’s. If that is true, it will be a very long season indeed for Mercedes’ rivals as they romped to victory last season. As such, they have been made heavy favourites to win the Constructors’ Championship, best priced at 1/2 with Boyle Sports but as low as 3/1 with many Green Listed Bookmakers.
Next up are Red Bull at 4/1 with Sky Bet, Paddy Power, Betfair and Bet Stars, followed closely by Ferrari – runners-up to Mercedes last year – who are priced at 6/1 with Bet Stars. The odds have drifted on Ferrari after they were slightly outgunned by Red Bull in practice for the Australian Grand Prix. You then have to go a long way down before you get to the fourth team in the betting, McLaren, who are 100/1 with Green Listed Bookmakers.
The Drivers’ Championship offers a bit more value as Hamilton is 7/10 with 188Bet. That looks tempting if you are prepared to wait several months for a return on your bet, as Hamilton was sensational last year and he should have the fastest and most reliable car once again. He has won three of the last four titles and the only man to stop him was Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who is now retired. New teammate Valtteri Bottas was very much second fiddle last year and he is 11/1 with 188 Bet and 10/1 with Green Listed Bookmakers like William Hill to win the title this time around.
Sebastian Vettel is 5/1 second favourite with William Hill, Betfred, Betway and Bet Stars. He is now level with Hamilton at four titles apiece and if either wins it this year they will become the most successful driver of the modern, post-Michael Schumacher era. Vettel got his season off to a flyer by winning the Australian Grand Prix last year, and fans finally got to see two drivers from rival teams battling it out for glory throughout the season. However, Vettel fell away as Hamilton turned the screw at the business end of the campaign, and Ferrari will have had to make some serious improvements over the off-season if he is to contend this year. He finished fifth in practice this week, and has some rust to shake off.
The bookies think Red Bull’s prodigious Max Verstappen could also threaten another Hamilton title win, and the youngster is 13/2 with William Hill. He has the talent, but whether Red Bull can keep up with Mercedes over the course of the season is another
matter. He could spring a surprise in this race though as he was second in practice, with the Red Bull looking strong. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo has been hit with a penalty, so Verstappen will be the main man for Red Bull and he is as low as 7/2 with some bookmakers to win in Melbourne, but best priced at 6/1 with Betfred.
Hamilton is the 8/11 favourite with William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair to take the chequered flag, and rightly so. He last won the race in 2015 but he finished last season in formidable form and has looked strong in practice so far. Many punters will opt for the Brit to win it, but if you want more value Verstappen is interesting at 6/1, as is Bottas is 9/1 with William Hill.