In a little under a week the Melbourne Grand Prix will open the 2012 Formula One World Championship with six former or current world champions on the grid. Sebastian Vettel (1/1) is the favourite to defend his crown and take his third world title at the tender age of 24, but the competition looks to be intense as the teams deal with the new regulations imposed by the FIA.
Changes to exhaust regulations mean that the Red Bull which was so dominant last year has lost a vital part of the design which made it so quick in the corner, the blown diffusor, and as a result the challenge to the world champion could be much stronger than in recent years. The Ferrari of Fernando Alonso (15/2) could be amongst the front runners, with encouraging testing times to please the men in red.
Vettel could have had more trouble from his team-mate last year, but Mark Webber (14/1) was unable to sustain a challenge despite being the only man who technically had the same tools as the eventual winner. Jenson Button (7/1) finished the season in great form, and the Red Bull team principal Christian Horner felt the need to single out the Brit as the main threat to his driver.
Lewis Hamilton (5/1) is the more favoured of the two McLaren racers amongst the bookies, which is interesting given Horner’s prediction, but the erratic form he showed last season may excite the fans to some extent, but isn’t good enough to challenge a driver on top of his game, like the champion. For Hamilton to win the title this year would take a monumental effort, and potentially represent his greatest achievement to date.
Replacing the still-absent Robert Kubica at newly-named Lotus is Kimi Raikkonen (22/1), who has returned from a sabbatical into a Renault team with a new name, hoping for a new start. They have struggled since the disgrace of Flavio Briatore, and all that surrounded his decision to endanger the life of Nelson Piquet (and also the Brazilian’s willingness to obey), but will hope the return of the former champion and a name change can revitalise their organisation.
Michael Schumacher (25/1) is the last of the former champions, and it can only really be nostalgia keeping him at that sort of price. His team-mate Nico Rosberg (22/1) has consistently got more out of the car, and will look to his senior partner as only an initial yardstick, not an eventual goal. Mercedes (12/) are fourth favourite to take the Constructors’ Championship, behind Ferrari (8/1), McLaren (13/8) and Red Bull (5/6)
All odds listed are available with SkyBet at the time of publication. Driver odd are for World Championship title. Look out for our Melbourne Preview later this week.