Lewis Hamilton is short odds to continue his perfect start to the Formula One season with victory at weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 08:00 BST, live on BBC & Sky Sports F1).
Hamilton took both pole position and the race victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago. Mercedes had a clear pace advantage over the field, with Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg (pictured) following him home in both qualifying and the race.
Sebastian Vettel came in third to secure a podium on his Ferrari debut, although he finished over 30 seconds shy of the Mercedes drivers. Felipe Massa finished fourth for Williams ahead of his compatriot Felipe Nasr, who drove a very solid race to score good points for Sauber on his Grand Prix debut. Daniel Ricciardo was sixth for Red Bull at his home race.
Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso) and Sergio Perez (Force India) rounded out the top 10. With Manor failing to make the grid, Valtteri Bottas unable to take part due to a back injury and two drivers suffering mechanical issues prior to the start, only 15 cars began the race. Just 11 finished it.
The bookies’ have quickly cottoned on to the speed of the Mercedes and the betting odds available on them have swiftly shortened from those seen prior to the first race of the year. The rest of the field have a lot of catching up to do if they are to provide a regular challenge to the team, but the chance of a non-finish makes it difficult to tip Mercedes at current prices.
The Sepang International Circuit, located about 60km south of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has played host to the Malaysian Grand Prix since its introduction to the calendar in 1999. It is a medium-to-high downforce track, featuring sweeping infield sections and two long and wide straights that are separated by a hairpin at the final corner.
Pirelli have chosen their hard and medium compound tyres for this weekend’s event. The weather is always unpredictable in Malaysia, but forecasts suggest there is a good chance of rain and/or thunderstorms on both Saturday and Sunday. The conditions will be very hot and humid.
Vettel is one of two three-time winners of the Malaysian Grand Prix on the current grid (Fernando Alonso being the other). He also finished third at Sepang for Red Bull last year in what was otherwise a disappointing season.
Ferrari showed very good race pace in Australia and the team believe they currently have the second-quickest car on the grid in race trim. Vettel finished third, while Kimi Raikkonen was running solidly before a botched pitstop brought his afternoon to a premature end.
Williams are sure to run Ferrari close, but Vettel can be fancied to take another podium finish on Sunday.
Sauber posted some quick times on short runs during pre-season testing, but they surprised with the strength of their race pace in Australia. Nasr ran very consistently throughout the Grand Prix, maintaining a marginal lap-time advantage over the top-running cars of Red Bull and Toro Rosso, both of whom were quicker than Sauber over long runs during the final test.
Nasr comfortably got the better of his teammate Ericsson in Melbourne, despite having never before raced at the circuit. He does have experience of Sepang, having performed well – sixth, third, fourth and second – at the track during two GP2 race weekends and is confident that the layout will be suited to the strengths of the Sauber. A second consecutive points finish is therefore a solid possibility.
Force India were playing catch-up on outright pace ahead of the opening race of the season, having missed the first two pre-season tests. What they did have, however, was a very reliable package, which they were able to parlay into a double-points finish in Melbourne.
Hulkenberg was a picture of consistency last season. He finished in the points in the first 10 races of the year and in five of the subsequent nine, while only failing to complete the full distance on two occasions. He has a similarly impressive record at Sepang, having finished in the points (5th, 8th, 9th, 10th) in all four of his previous visits to the circuit.
He will therefore be hopeful of picking up some more points with another steady performance on Sunday.
The hot and humid conditions in Malaysia make this a tough race for cars and drivers alike. The strong possibility of rain further adds to the challenge. It was the fourth most attritional Grand Prix last season, with just 15 finishers, while the percentage of cars that have both started and finished the race over the last five years stands at 76.72%.
If all 20 cars started on Sunday, history would suggest that 15 of them will finish the race. However, while Manor appear confident they have sorted out the software issues that prevented them from running in Australia, it remains to be seen whether they are capable of putting in a sufficiently competitive time during qualifying to be allowed into the race.
Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix Betting Tips
- Back Sebastian Vettel to finish on the podium @ 7/4 with Ladbrokes, Betfred & BoyleSports.
- Bet on Felipe Nasr to finish in the points @ best odds of 11/10 with Ladbrokes.
- Back Nico Hulkenberg to finish in the points @ 7/4 with Bet365, Betfred, Ladbrokes or William Hill.
- Back under 14.5 on the ‘number of classified drivers’ market (ie: number to finish the race) @ 5/6 with SkyBet. If those odds vanish it is under 14.5 @ 4/5 with Ladbrokes.