The front of the grid for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix has a familiar look.
As in the season-opening race in Australia last week, McLaren have locked out the front row, with Lewis Hamilton lining up in front of Jenson Button.
Behind them are 22 drivers in roughly descending order of how fast their cars are over a single lap.
But who will prevail over 56 laps of the Sepang International Circuit? The unpredictable and often dramatic Malaysian weather could have a big say in that, so let’s play out the likely scenarios and best picks for dry and wet races.
In dry conditions in Australia, McLaren converted a one-two start into a one-three finish. They start as favourites to win on Sunday if it stays dry. But which of their drivers will come out on top?
There were two keys to Jenson Button’s win in Australia: first, he beat Hamilton off the line to the first corner. Second, his pace with cooler tyre temperatures – at the start of the race and at the restart – was much better.
Hamilton is not known for making poor starts and he believes he has got to the bottom of the problem he had in Australia.
Getting immediately on Button’s pace at starts and restarts should be less of a concern in Sepang, where track temperatures will be around 45C on race day.
Aside from those two weaknesses, Hamilton’s race pace compared well with Button’s. If Hamilton can get to the first corner first, stay ahead, and get that all-important first call on when to pit, he should win it.
Alternative picks for a dry race
However, backing the pole sitter to win doesn’t give you the best odds: Hamilton to win is currently priced at 2.1. Are there any better opportunities?
Mercedes have looked quick in Malaysia, and Michael Schumacher is well-placed to attack the McLarens from third on the grid. He had the quickest car in a straight-line in qualifying, and is priced at an attractive 15.0 to score his 92nd career victory.
The Lotuses are also appealing. Their potential in Australia was masked by Kimi Raikkonen qualifying poorly and Romain Grosjean going out on lap two. Raikkonen, raced from 17th on the grid to finish seventh.
A Lotus win is priced at 50.0 with Raikkonen tenth on the grid (he set the fourth-fastest time in qualifying and had a gearbox change penalty) and Grosjean sixth. The car has excellent straight-line speed and Raikkonen was fastest of all in the second part of qualifying.
You can also name Raikkonen or Schumacher to win, priced at 12.0. A Raikkonen podium is priced at 6.0.
Finally, note the Marussias are priced at 4.0 to get both cars classified. Despite doing no pre-season testing, both cars finished in Australia, and ran reliably in Malaysia in practice. This is definitely worth a look.
What if it rains?
Rain is always a possibility in Malaysia and a storm is forecast for around the start of the race. The effect rain would have on the race is largely unpredictable. But as it tends to fall in sudden, heavy bursts, it could increase the chances of some lesser lights scoring points.
The best prices here are for the Caterham drivers: Vitaly Petrov at 25.0, Heikki Kovalainen at 30.0. However, given the car’s reliability problems, this is also probably best avoided.
Instead, consider taking a punt on the fastest lap-setter. Wet weather masters Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher are listed at 5.0 and 10.0 respectively.
Keith Collantine is the editor of <a href=http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk title=”F1 Fanatic”>Formula One blog F1 Fanatic</a>