Formula One Betting a Real Test for Gamblers

Sebastian Vettel will be a narrow Formula One betting favorite to retain his World Drivers Championship when the 2011 F-1 season roars out of the grid at the Bahrain Grand Prix, March 13. Vettel opened as an 11/4 favorite, just ahead of Fernando Alonso, who is offered at odds of 3/1. Lewis Hamilton is tick behind those two at odds of 10/3.

Germany's Vettel, at 23 the youngest driver ever to win a Formula One championship, and Spain's Alonso, who notched back-to-back world driving championships on 2005/06, engaged in a spirited duel last year with each driver winning three times in the final six races. Vettel wound up erasing an eight-point deficit and edging Alonso by four points, 256-252, when he won the final race of the year, in Abu Dhabi, while Alonso finished seventh.

Britain's Hamilton, the 2008 F-1 driving champion, wound up fourth in the standings last year. He won three times but faltered in the stretch run, never finding the winner's circle after August.

Jenson Button of Great Britain and Australia's Mark Webber also are prime contenders to win the 2011 Formula One World Drivers Championship. Button, offered at odds of 9/1, claimed the world title in 2009, locking it up early by winning six of the first seven races that year, but could do no better than fifth last season. Webber, listed at 10/1, notched four victories in 2010 and was in contention for most of the season but wound up fourth in the final standings.

Formula One betting fans may also want to look at Germany's Michael Schumacher and/or Nico Rosberg. Many consider Schumacher, 12/1, a seven-time world champion, as the greatest F-1 driver in the sport's 62-year history. Schumacher, who returned to competitive racing last year after a three-year retirement (2007-09), failed to win a race and finished ninth in the standings but some feel a comeback this year is a very strong possibility. Rosberg, 14/1, who holds dual citizenship in Germany and Finland, finished seventh in the standings last year and still is looking for his first F-1 victory.

Others in the hunt include Brazil's Felipe Massa, a 25/1 proposition who was runner-up in the driver standings in 2008, losing the world championship to Hamilton by a frustrating single point. Nick Heidfeld, 33/1, who lost his ride when BMW did not field a car last year, returns to competition this season behind the wheel of a Lotus Renault, replacing the injured Robert Kubica.

In addition to posting a future book on the Formula One World Driving Championship, most sportsbooks also are offering prices on the Constructors Championship, which goes to the top point-garnering team. Again, it's tight at the top with three teams battling for automotive honors. Red Bull Racing, the defending champion, heads the list at odds of 3/2. Red Bull, which uses Renault engines, is comprised of drivers Vettel and Webber.

McLaren, which employs Mercedes engines, and Ferrari are next in futures at odds of 5/2 each. McLaren, which boasts a strong team in Hamilton and Button, has won eight Constructors Championships, the last in 1998. Ferrari, perhaps the most famous name in automotive racing history, employs Alonso and Massa to drive its cars. The Italian automaker has won a record 16 Constructors Championship, including seven in the last decade, and its drivers have won 15 world titles.

Beyond the big three, only the Mercedes GP team of Schumacher and Rosberg is in single digits at odds of 8/1.

As has become the custom these days, sportsbooks aren't limiting themselves to the obvious. In fact, many betting outlets also are offering prices on individual drivers finishing in the top three in the final standings, the equivalent of a show bet at the racetrack. This bet should appeal to gamblers who lack either knowledge or confidence when it comes to Formula One betting.

Vettel is 4/7 to finish no worse than third while Alonso is 8/13 to be among the top three and Hamilton is 8/11 to be standing on the final podium. Webber, 3/2; Button, 7/4; Massa, 5/2; and Schumacher, 11/4, are others sure to attract betting attention.

The first race of the 20-event F-1 calendar may not be until March 13 but Formula One betting already is in second gear.