Formula One Betting Shifts Into High Gear

Formula One betting always has been a merger of man, machine and money, an uneasy alliance that again will be tested when the 2010 F-1 season screeches off the grid at the Gulf Air Grand Prix in Bahrain, March 14.

The return of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa, the former from a three-year retirement and the latter from a horrific accident that forced him to sit out most of the 2009 campaign, adds intrigue to a Drivers Championship that already had bettors eyeing future books with an unusual mix of uncertainty and opportunity.

Let's see if we can't separate the contenders from the pretenders:

Fernando Alonso (5/2): The two-time world champion moves from Renault to Ferrari, which is every bit of a step up as it seems. The Spaniard won his two titles in 2005 and 2006, notching 13 victories but was winless last year on the F-1 circuit. Clearly, oddsmakers expect the shift to Ferrari to make a big difference.

Lewis Hamilton (4/1): The Brit became the youngest champion when at age 23 he beat Massa for the title by a single point in 2008. Hamilton slipped to fifth in the standings last year but if McLaren gives him a good car, also is capable of winning it all.

Sebastian Vettel (9/2): The German, who became the youngest (21) winner on the F-1 circuit when he stood atop the podium in 2008, built on that promise last year, finishing with four wins and a second-place finish in the yearlong driver standings. Many think Vettel, who drives for Red Bull, is the man to beat this season.

Michael Schumacher (5/1): Schumacher retired after the 2006 season with seven world championships, 91 Formula One wins and seemingly nothing left to prove. Now he's back, driving for Mercedes and, if testing in Valencia can be believed, the layoff has cost the German nothing of his skill and guile.

Felipe Massa (8/1): The Brazilian, who is returning from a skull fracture, showed no signs of rustiness in running fastest in two days of early practice. Massa had six wins in 2008 before last season's near-death experience and will team with Alonso to give Ferrari a formidable duo.

Jenson Button (10/1): It's always nice when you can get double digits on the defending world champion. Of course, you have to take a leap of faith that the Brit, who won six of the first seven races conducted last year (and eight, overall) will be as good for McLaren this year as he was for Brawn-Mercedes last year.

Mark Webber (12/1): The Aussie's hallmark is consistency, an asset that makes the Red Bull driver a dangerous longshot should some of the top drivers falter.

In addition to Drivers Championship futures, many ambitious sportsbooks also have posted a Constructors Championship future book on which automaker will amass the most points during the Formula-1's 19-race campaign. Let's look under the hood:

Ferrari (3/2): The Italian automaker finished fourth in the standings last year but is favored to regain its winning form in 2010. Alonso, who beat Schumacher twice during the latter's heyday, and Massa are a strong team.

McLaren (5/2): Their drivers—Button and Hamilton—have won the last two championships so McLaren seems well-positioned to challenge for the title. The automaker was doomed by a poor start in 2009, something it aims to avoid this year.

Red Bull (3/1): It's not a good sign when a team delays its launch two weeks but if Red Bull works out the kinks, Vettel and Webber have the ability to drive the automaker to a championship.

Mercedes (4/1): Schumacher may be 41 but he was among the fastest during the first two days of testing and should again be a factor. His teammate is fellow German Nico Rosberg, a 25-year-old who has yet to win his first F-1 race. The youngster would contribute mightily if he just made a podium or two.

You can get at least 33/1 on any of the other teams to win the Constructors Championship, including Sauber, Renault and Williams.

Formula One betting is a serious business but sportsbooks can have a little fun with the pursuit, too. That explains why you can run the extreme from taking 40/1 on Hamilton standing on the podium after all 19 races (only 40/1?) or laying 1/3 that Schumacher wins at least one race this season.

You also can get 3/1 that Germans (Schumacher, Vettel, Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld, et al) finish 1-2-3 in any race this year.

Formula One betting is off to the races.