What the Latest Betting Odds Tell Us About Current Chances of Formula 1's Teams
Testing times and lap counts are one way to get an idea of where each team is before the start of a new Formula One season; news stories and rumours are another.
But there's another way, and it's often the most accurate of the lot—a look at the betting odds.
They're certainly not foolproof (nothing is in F1), but with so much at stake the bookies can't afford to get it badly wrong. Their inside sources and experts are top notch, and they usually paint an accurate picture.
Here are some key betting lines, and what they tell us about the drivers' and teams' chances.
All odds are in the fractional format commonly used in the UK—the first number is the winnings (plus your stake) you would receive for staking the second number. For example, if the odds were 5/1, and you staked £1, you would get £6 back if you won.
All odds are taken from Oddschecker's comparison page, and are correct at the time of writing.
Mercedes Are Ahead, Just
For the first time since 2010, Red Bull have been unseated as favourites for the constructors' championship. Mercedes are now considered more likely to take the title.
The best price for them to win is 13/8, and their drivers have the lowest combined odds of any pairing for the drivers' championship too.
But if they were a significant distance ahead, the odds would definitely reflect it.
And they don't.
This suggests the bookies—or rather, the very knowledgeable people the bookies pay to tip them in the right direction—feel other teams are more than capable of closing the gap.
Red Bull Can Close the Gap
Red Bull had a disastrous start to the preseason, with problems of both their own and Renault's making reducing them to just 21 very slow laps at Jerez.
Despite that, Sebastian Vettel is still favourite for the drivers' championship at a top price of 7/4. The team are second-favourites for the constructors' championship, not far behind Mercedes.
Vettel being favourite is partly a nod to the general belief that the other teams expected to challenge (Mercedes and Ferrari) have two top drivers who'll take points off each other, while Red Bull are effectively running a one-man team.
But mostly the odds reflect the fear of being caught out. The bookies know Red Bull have the budget and personnel to quickly turn things around, particularly later in the season.
And if they're scared, the rest of the field should be as well. Don't write them off just yet.
Ferrari Have Work to Do
Ferrari seemed to do well at the Jerez test, and they have the best driver lineup for 2014. Looking good?
They're widely available at 9/2 for the constructors' championship, which is longer than they were before the start of 2013.
Fernando Alonso is considered the favourite in the team battle, but you can get him at 7/1. And the bookies think the fight will be more one-sided than most fans—Kimi Raikkonen is out at 12/1.
Considering the quality of the two, those odds suggest a worse car than their rivals.
But the car didn't look significantly worse than the Mercedes at Jerez. So it seems the bookies think it's their engine that might not be as strong.
McLaren Not There Yet
McLaren had an even more impressive Jerez test than Ferrari, but the bookies consider them even less likely to challenge.
You can get them at 9/1 at the time of writing, a long way behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
This is partly down to their driver lineup being perceived as weaker than those three. But mostly it reflects a lack of confidence in the team as a whole to build on their early promise.
The odds very much support the idea than this is a transition year for McLaren.
Lotus Won't Be Challenging
Bookies rarely push odds too long unless they're certain the outcome is very, very unlikely. Long odds bets exist to tempt punters into wasting their cash—no one is supposed to actually win them.
So we can establish a lot from Lotus' odds. They're as long as 66/1 for the constructors' championship and their lead driver, the new and improved Romain Grosjean, can be found at 80/1 for the drivers' championship.
And those odds are probably a touch shorter than they would otherwise be because Lotus did so well last year.
Budget problems and personnel losses have hit Lotus hard. It looks like they're going back to the midfield.
The Mercedes Midfield Is Ahead of the Rest
The two Mercedes-powered midfield teams are considered far more likely to do well than the others. Williams especially are looking good, suggesting their pace and reliability at the Jerez test were genuinely representative.
Realistically none of them are going to win the title, but the difference is quite marked.
Williams are as low as 33/1 (ahead of Lotus with many bookies) and Force India are 66/1. By contrast, Sauber and Toro Rosso are at best 250/1.
The drivers each team has are one factor, but it's mostly a nod to the cars—and more specifically, to their engines.
Caterham and Marussia Are Nowhere
And finally, the two "new teams."
Anything above 1,000/1 is considered a novelty bet. Caterham and Marussia are available at 2,500/1, so far back they're not even worth clumping in with Sauber and Toro Rosso.
There's zero confidence that either will make a great leap forward in 2014.
Maybe one day.