After an extended summer break, the 2012 Formula One season resumes with a trip to the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix (Sunday, Sept 2).
Lewis Hamilton’s win in Hungary last time brought him back into world title contention, but it is still Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who leads the way, 40 points ahead of Mark Webber, and a further two clear of Webber’s Red Bull teammate and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton and Kimi Raikonnen are clinging onto the coattails of the top three.
The Belgian Grand Prix is usually full of entertainment, with heavily changeable weather conditions often mixing up the pack. This can, of course, make it difficult to pick out good bets, as the element of surprise is higher than at some other circuits. Current forecasts suggest some rain is to be expected this weekend, so we have kept the possibility of a downpour in mind when choosing our recommended bets.
With the potential for rain, betting on any of the usual qualifying front-runners is unlikely to represent much value. The bigger teams occasionally get their timings wrong and this year has seen a number of illustrious drivers fail to progress past the first or second round of qualifying due to such mishaps.
Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit at which the teams with the best low down-force setups thrive. This was borne out in last year’s results, which showed that the top ten qualifiers were also the ten quickest through the speed trap.
This season the Toro Rosso team has the highest instance of top five speed trap measurements in qualifying (11). Six of those appearances came courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo, who also leads his teammate Jean Eric Vergne 9-2 in qualifying performance. The young Australian has twice made his way into the final session of qualifying this year and also narrowly missed out in Germany.
The general pace of the Toro Rosso isn’t sufficient to consistently secure top ten qualifying positions, but Ricciardo has shown it to be possible at circuits that suit the car, which Spa-Francorchamps should.
With this in mind, betting on Ricciardo to reach qualifying session three at odds of 6/1 with Ladbrokes appears good value.
For similar reasons, the Sauber pair of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi are both worthy bets to reach the top ten shootout, albeit less attractively priced at evens a piece with Ladbrokes.
Hamilton is currently the bookies favourite (5/2 at Bet365) to top the podium, with the other usual candidates, Vettel and Alonso, also proving popular.
Picking an outright winner in the Formula One market is always difficult as there are so many variables that can come into play: mechanical issues, driver error, punctures caused by debris, etc. With variable weather also entering the equation at Spa, the market for podium finishes is a safer bet than the one for outright winners.
As previously mentioned, Spa favours teams that are strong at low-downforce circuits and therefore on pace alone Red Bull are unlikely to be right at the sharp end. The reigning constructors championship winners secured a one-two finish at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, with Vettel leading home Webber, but did so with a dominant car that swept to victory in 12 of the 19 races. The performance of the top teams is a lot closer this year, and therefore Red Bull’s low-downforce deficiencies are likely to preclude them from the podium places.
Hamilton should be in contention for the race win, let alone a podium finish, but his short odds for the latter (4/6 at Bet365) offer little value, especially considering the impetuous facet of his personality that still occasionally surfaces.
Championship leader Alonso is the current form driver, with 78 points in the last four races, but it is Raikonnen (61 points) who offers a better chance of a yielding a return this weekend.
The Lotus driver has finished on the podium in three of the last four races. With his team pushing hard with new updates (including a double-DRS scheme) to keep the car competitive in the second half of the season, Raikonnen should be thereabouts come the race end.
He also has good previous form at the Belgian Grand Prix, sharing third with Jim Clark on the list of all-time wins, having emerged victorious on four occasions. Therefore, bet on Raikonnen to finish on the podium at evens with Bet365.
Finally, considering the strong possibility of rain and the fact that it has been utilised at least once in each of the last three Belgian Grand Prix, betting on the safety car to be deployed at odds of 8/11 with Bet365 would appear good shout.