The months have flown by since Lewis Hamilton signed off on his fourth Grand Prix Driver’s Championship by taking 2nd at the season finale in Abu Dhabi last November. And with the recent testing in Barcelona giving us a taste of what's to come, fans of Formula 1 betting are salivating over the 2018 Grand Prix Championship.
The first port of call is the Australian Grand Prix, at The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, with the usual suspects at the top of the betting market, featuring Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the bookies' projected podium.
However, with pre-season testing in Spain dropping hints for a more competitive season, there are some value bets on the grid – not least Hamilton's under-rated team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the ultra-consistent dark horse, Kimi Räikkönen.
With Lewis Hamilton at even money, Sebastian Vettel at 10/3 with Paddy Power and Max Verstappen at 4/1 with Betstar to win the opening race in Australia, there are two ways to play the event – opt for a predictable winner, or seek out the potential value. Going on last season's Championship table, Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas stands out as looking over-priced at odds of 8/1.
Indeed, the Finnish driver finished third in the table last season, with three pole positions, three wins and 13 podium finishes. While Vettel won five races and Hamilton nine, it's worth noting that both drivers also notched 13 podium finishes – giving Bottas' overall performance real credit.
While there's speculation about his long-term future with Mercedes, to many astute eyes his first season with the team was very satisfactory – and he also ended the season by winning at Yas Marina. On paper, you'd expect him to improve his performances this time around, which would see him push both Hamilton and Vettel.
Having proven his ability in Australia with a third-placed finish at the Melbourne track in 2017, he'll be certain to be looking to make a bold statement early in the season. And that gives Bottas appeal to take pole position at odds of 10/1, secure a place at odds of 9/4 and win the race at odds of 8/1 with Unibet.
The recent pre-season testing in Barcelona has created a lot of hype and speculation about which teams are set to dominate the 2018 Grand Prix season. It's not helped by the fact that neither world champions Mercedes or the Red Bull team chose to show us their true teeth on the final days of testing, with many predicting they could be ahead of the pack with their technology.
However, what we do know is that Ferrari finished the eight day trial with four of the best times – and that Kimi Raikkonen signed off with some impressive speed. His time of 1:17.221 on hypersoft tyres was the second-fastest time all winter, only slower than his team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
The apparent health of Ferrari bodes well for the driver, who finished in fourth position in the Drivers’ Championship last season. In doing so, he demonstrated real consistency, given the fact that he was the only driver in the top six not to win at least one race throughout the previous season.
During the season he gained seven podium finishes – a strike rate of just over 36 percent, with two seconds and five third places. It was easily his best season since 2013 when he finished eight races on the Podium and won one event. Indeed, from 2014-2016, he only totalled seven podium finishes across three campaigns. Vettel could be a bettor's friend given his usual value odds with top bookmakers.
Furthermore, his performance at the Australian Grand Prix, including last year's race, also suggests an aptitude for the circuit. The Finn made his Grand Prix Debut in the 2001 Australian GP, gained his first ever podium in the 2003 running of the race, and won it in 2013 (the last time he won a GP race).
As for last year, he finished fourth in qualifying and maintained the position through the race, again showing his ability to drive well there when in a car befitting of his talent. If we're looking for a sign that Kimi has the skill and nerve to destroy the Australian track, we need look no further than the fact he recorded the fastest lap of the race last season, clocking a time of 1:26.538.
From 15 races at the venue, Räikkönen has recorded two wins and five podium finishes. Listed at odds of 20/1, he makes a good value each-way bet to at least finish in the top three and return a decent profit – coupled with the outside chance of a big-priced win available at Ladbrokes' award-winning online sportsbook.
Last season, the opening seven races of the Grand Prix season went to three drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel took three a piece, with Valtteri Bottas taking one. This time around, bank on Valtteri Bottas to win the Australian Grand Prix at 8/1 with Ladbrokes – and lay down an early statement to the big two.