Odds of 8/5 are available on a Mercedes car to win tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix after the team’s drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher secured the top two grid positions for the race.
Rosberg used the controversial DRS fitted to his Silver Arrow to full effect in qualifying to set a time just over half a second clear of his nearest rival and clinch the first pole position of his career.
Meanwhile, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel provided another talking point by failing to make it through to the top-ten shoot-out in his Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton set the second-fastest time in qualifying but will start from seventh after a five-place penalty is applied for changing a gearbox, meaning third-fastest man Michael Schumacher will line up alongside his teammate on the front row.
It will be the seven-times world champion’s first start from the front row of the grid since the Japanese Grand Prix in 2006.
Ominously for his rivals, that landmark came one race after the circus visited China, where he secured his last victory.
However, the price of 8/5 on a Mercedes success tomorrow makes the team only second-favourites to secure victory behind McLaren (13/10), despite Mercedes having a clear advantage in terms of grid position.
McLaren dominated qualifying in the first two races of the season, locking out the front row in Australia and claiming another pole position through Hamilton (his second in two attempts) in Malaysia.
That dominance – at least over one lap – seems to be a thing of the past if this morning’s events are anything to go by, with Hamilton having no answer for Rosberg’s scintillating form and Button set to start from a disappointing fifth after being outpaced by the Mercedes drivers, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.
Nevertheless, McLaren’s chances of victory are enhanced by expectations that Mercedes’ race form will mirror that shown in the first two races of the season, when they failed to replicate their single-lap pace over longer runs.
This suggests that a win for Rosberg (at 4/1) or Schumacher (at 9/2) is far from a foregone conclusion.
Indeed, Button is favourite to win the race at 7/2, with Hamilton joint-second favourite along with Rosberg at 4/1.
Schumacher and Rosberg both qualified in the top eight positions in the first two grands prix of the year – the former was third in Australia and fourth in Malaysia – but they have only managed one top-ten finish between them, and that was Schumacher’s tenth place in Sepang.
Such a poor return from strong qualifying performances casts serious doubt on their ability to finish high up tomorrow, and could even see punters who bet on at least one of the cars to finish outside of the top ten rewarded handsomely at odds of 41/20.
Race favourite Button has struggled in Shanghai this weekend and his chances of success could depend on the weather.
With the forecast for tomorrow being on the cool side and with only a small chance of rain, it could be worth looking to Mark Webber as the man to put your money on.
Unable to switch on his tyres in low temperatures, he is hoping for warmer weather tomorrow, while similar conditions to those seen in qualifying could scupper his bid for a second race win of the season.
Hamilton has fared better in the cold and believes he has a good race set-up, and has looked quick all weekend, meaning he could be the McLaren driver to back for the win.
Meanwhile, rain could improve the hopes of Sergio Perez, who was so impressive in the changeable conditions in Malaysia last time out.
The Sauber driver starts from eighth and is at 9/1 to win the race and at 7/4 to score a second consecutive podium. He is also quickest through the speed trap, which will improve his overtaking prospects.
But with the forecast for tomorrow being on the cool side and with only a small chance of rain, it could be worth looking to Mark Webber as the man to put your money on.
The Australian starts in sixth but is as long as 4/1 to finish in the top three, meaning a successful £25 free bet on this outcome will secure £125.
He will be high on confidence having out-qualifying his teammate Vettel after opting to keep the updated exhaust configuration that the reigning world champion chose to ditch in favour of a version used in pre-season testing.
And Webber will also be mindful of the fact that Red Bull have arguably had the quickest package in the dry on race day this season, even if they have been off the pace during qualifying.
That said, Red Bull are slow through the speed trap in China, meaning Webber could struggle to make it all the way to the front and clinch the win.
With this in mind, a small bet on Lotus man Kimi Raikkonen climbing onto the top step of the podium could offer value at odds of 15/2.
After all, the former Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari man has put in strong showings in the two races since his F1 comeback after a two-year rallying hiatus and, starting fourth on the grid, could take advantage of Mercedes’ lack of race pace and the over-exuberance of Kamui Kobayashi, who starts in third.
Raikkonen has the added bonus of being faster on the straights than any of the front-runners bar the two Saubers, and with the McLarens starting behind him he will fancy his chances of stealing his rivals’ thunder.
Webber to finish in the top three @ 4/1
Raikkonen to win @ 15/2
At least one Mercedes to finish outside the points @ 41/20
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