Heading into the third race weekend of the year, is there any good reason to bet against Lewis Hamilton continuing his making it three-in-a-row in qualifying?
On the face of it there might seem one very good reason: Hamilton has a five-place grid penalty for the race. So the likelihood is that even if he does take pole position, the highest he will start is sixth.
But remember that Unibet pays out on bets for pole position based on whoever leads the classification before grid penalties are applied. So if you bet on Hamilton to take pole position, and he is quickest, you still win even in spite of his penalty.
But at a price of 1.8 to take pole position, Hamilton is not the most attractive option out there. Especially when there are compelling reasons to consider backing his rivals – and better value odds to boot.
The Mercedes is not a great car over a race distance. But the W03 is superb over a single lap in qualifying.
The car’s controversial ‘double DRS’ rear wing gives it excellent straight-line speed. This makes it ideally suited to a track like Shanghai which offers five opportunities for Mercedes to deploy their trick system per lap.
The data spells it out: Schumacher set the fastest lap of the day in second practice but Hamilton was quicker around the first two sectors of the lap.
It was in the final sector, with its 1.4km-long flat-out blast, that Schumacher gained enough time to be quickest of all. He’s priced at an attractive 7.0 to take his first pole position since the 2006 French Grand Prix.
Nor should we overlook Schumacher’s team mate Rosberg, who has a strong record at Shanghai. He was on the podium in 2010 and led the last two races here.
Rosberg consistently thrashed Schumacher in qualifying last year, but has started behind him in the first two races this season after making mistakes on his hot laps.
If he can get a clean lap in this time he’s a good candidate for pole position, and keenly priced at 8.0.
Button was not quite on Hamilton’s pace in today’s two practice sessions. But he has form on his side: in their two previous appearances in China as team mates, Button out-qualified Hamilton both times.
As Hamilton knows he will likely start no higher than sixth, he may elect to begin the race on the harder compound tyres – a tactic which worked superbly for Mark Webber last year.
If he were to do so, Hamilton would have to qualify on those tyres, which would cost him a few tenths of a second. His average margin over Button in qualifying so far this year has been a slender 0.15 seconds.
Button has a credible shot at pole position and is decent value at 6.0.
What of the team who took 18 out of 19 pole positions in 2011? Red Bull could be worth a look this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel was just 0.187s off Schumacher’s time in practice today. And he set his lap much earlier in the session than Schumacher, indicating he could go even faster.
He’s priced at 9.0 and team mate Mark Webber – who’s out-qualified him in both races so far this year – is at 15.0.
Heading into the race weekend, Lotus looked like a smart tip for pole position as they’d demonstrated great potential. But they were vexed by cool temperatures at the track today and seemed to lose their way on set-up.
However it could prove to be nothing a few degrees’ higher track temperature couldn’t solve.
If you fancy a long shot, Kimi Raikkonen is priced at 15.0. Need a more solid reason to pick him? He set the fastest lap in the last race.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic