The 2018 Formula One season begins in Melbourne this weekend. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are both vying for their fifth drivers’ championship titles, but Hamilton is the pre-season favourite to retain his crown after his 2017 success.

Vettel was victorious at Melbourne last season with the Ferraris carrying greater pace throughout the weekend. The Mercedes struggled with tyre degradation throughout, but this was an issue they learnt to manage throughout the season.

Albert Park is the traditional season-opener and it rarely disappoints. With a couple of DRS zones and 16 varied corners, the Australian Grand Prix has a tendency for drama. Pirelli have selected the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft tyres for the race weekend, just as they did last year. We will unfortunately have to wait for a first sighting of the new hypersofts.

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Hamilton has opted for the more aggressive tyre selection. The reigning champion is taking just one set of softs to Melbourne and loading up on the ultrasoft compound. This might suggest that we will see a two-stop strategy from the Brit.

His raw speed saw him take pole in Australia last year, and a fair few times after that. The 13/20 price for Hamilton to take pole again isn’t a great one given the uncertainties heading into the first weekend of the season, however. I would stay clear of that for the time being, but that could change if we see some chart-topping times in free practice.

The forecast – which isn’t that reliable a few days in advance – has a suggestion of rain this weekend. Showers are probable, and look set to disrupt qualifying and maybe the race, too. Changing weather can make any race a bit of a lottery.

While the potential for precipitation shouldn’t impact our betting too much, it does make the outside bets a little more interesting.

Away from the two favourites, Hamilton and Vettel, who do not offer a great deal of value in the race or qualifying, there are a host of drivers that present decent odds.

The chasing pack is led by baby-faced sensation, Max Verstappen. After a strong end to 2017, the Red Bull driver is 11/2 to win the Grand Prix. That’s a high price given his undoubted talent. His current 10/1 to get pole is worth consideration, too.

My favourite price of the lot, though, is Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. His home Grand Prix has been disappointing for the majority of his Formula One career to date, but that is as much down to misfortune as anything else.

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If the Red Bulls are real contenders this year as many people expect, Ricciardo’s price of 9/10 to make the podium could be an absolute steal.

This race is as close to an unknown as we get in any Formula One season. Albert Park has been home to some thrilling races in the past, and we can only hope that this is another classic. The arrival of the ‘halo’ will no doubt provoke endless debate, but hopefully the alterations to the rules are nothing more than a sidenote to a fascinating first weekend.

It’s good to have you back, Formula One.

 

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*

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