The 2018 Formula 1 season starts in Melbourne this weekend and Mercedes are widely expected to extend their dominance into a fifth year.
However, with the limited amount of testing now afforded to teams, could the Silver Arrows receive a bloody nose on the opening weekend?
It is so difficult to gauge where teams are at in the development of their car heading into this year’s curtain-raiser, despite two weeks of testing in Barcelona.
Those in the know feel Mercedes still have the superior race pace after keeping something back in testing while Ferrari showed their hand in clocking the quickest times of the winter.
On that basis, you would expect this year to have a similar feel to 2017, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and the Scuderia’s Sebastian Vettel fighting it out for their respective fifth world titles.
However, Red Bull will hope to have something to say about that after holding back in testing while McLaren are bullish of huge gains after switching to Renault power units.
Given the teams are still finding out about their cars at this stage, it would be no surprise to see an unlikely winner on top of the podium this Sunday.
Few expected Kimi Raikkonen and his Loftus to take the chequered flag in 2013 while Brawn and Jenson Button shocked F1 when they came home first in 2009.
Given the history of shock results, it therefore makes little sense to back pre-race favourite Hamilton at 20/21, especially when the Brit has only won the season opener once while with Mercedes.
The 33-year-old’s hunger has also been called into question in the wake of his fourth World Championship triumph, with the Brit accused of being distracted by his other ventures.
Given his potential issues, last year’s winner, Vettel, offers better value at 16/5 while Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas is 7/1 to pick up where he left off last season, having clinched the final race of 2017 in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull duo Max Verstappen (23/4) and Daniel Ricciardo (15/2) are perhaps the most intriguing options given how well they finished last year, with Ricciardo desperate to end Australia’s 38-year wait for a home winner.
Away from the podium places, Force India’s Sergio Perez could be a good outside bet to break into the top six at 19/4. The Mexican has secured four points finishes in six outings at Albert Park and could come home ‘best of the rest’.
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