Lewis to back up in Bahrain
Tom Millard says Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton can repeat the form he showed in Malaysia by winning the Bahrain Grand Prix.
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"It's the best car I've ever driven", said Lewis Hamilton of his dominant Mercedes F1 W05 after their victory in Malaysia.
"Last year, although the car was quick, I never felt good in it - there were a lot of things, such as the brake feel, that just didn't suit me," he explained. "But if I was as comfortable as I am now..."
- 4pts win Lewis Hamilton at 11/10 (totesport, BetVictor, BetFred) - dominant on Sunday, the man they all have to beat.
- 5.5pts Valtteri Bottas to finish in the top six at 10/11 (general) - compromised in both races so far; when unleashed he should excel.
- 1pt Valtteri Bottas to finish on the podium at 5/1 (Ladbrokes, SkyBet, BetVictor) - could have the third-fastest car this weekend; worth a bet to overachieve.
- 3pts Nico Hulkenberg to finish in the top six at 7/4 (SkyBet) - two out of two so far, shows no sign of slowing.
- 3pts Force India to take a double points-finish at 11/4 (Hills) - Perez can join Hulk in the top 10 once again.
His enthusiasm will be making his rivals anxious, and so it should be.
Now in his eighth season in the sport, Hamilton remains something of an enigma - the spellbinding speed has always been there but the mental resiliency occasionally hasn't.
Too often he has failed to drag a Fernando Alonso-like performance out of a flawed car, losing patience with the deficiencies of his machinery rather than making the best out of a bad weekend.
When the chips are down he can be frustrating for colleagues, fans and punters, but when everything clicks it is tough to justify opposing him.
We've been treated to seeing Sebastian Vettel at his imperious best in a car which is the class of the field in recent years, but now this is Hamilton's big chance to recreate the German's stranglehold over the sport in this new era.
The Englishman is understandably resentful of the success of Vettel, three years his junior, after being usurped as the 'next big thing' within three years of bursting on the scene in 2007.
But all Vettel did was grasp the opportunity presented by a sublime car in a relatively stable period of regulation; it's now Hamilton's opening to do the same.
Of the three widely-acknowledged best drivers in the sport - the trio mentioned above - neither Hamilton nor Alonso have had unequivocally the fastest car in the field for any significant period of time.
This is now changing, and the racer from Stevenage has the chance to show he can be every bit as ruthless as Vettel when it comes to racking up the victories.
His lights-to-flag demonstration of superiority in Malaysia was a great start, one which can continue this weekend in Bahrain.
He's odds-against to take consecutive wins, which looks tempting given the straightforward nature of his afternoon last Sunday.
Hamilton was never stretched, coolly building up and maintaining a lead while team-mate Nico Rosberg held off Vettel in the much-improved Red Bull.
The 11/10 on a repeat performance looks well worth taking given the ease with which he pulled away, all the time saving fuel and looking after his tyres.
Rosberg should be closer to him at a circuit at which he took pole position last year, but the stars seem aligned for the 2008 world champion at present and he should not be opposed lightly on current form.
Another one-two looks on the cards for the Silver Arrows pair but it's probably worth resisting the odds-on quotes for such given the ongoing reliability concerns of this new generation of F1 cars.
Both works Mercedes ran faultlessly in the oppressive humidity of Malaysia but there were teething troubles in Melbourne and the 5/6 on a Hamilton/Rosberg dual forecast is enough to put us off backing another clean sweep.
Perhaps more likely to be affected by the desert heat this weekend are the Renault-engined Red Bulls, which are still experiencing difficulties with their power unit and its associated energy-recovery systems.
The number one car nearly missed Q3 in Malaysia thanks to a forced software reset, and the same car in Australia suffered problems in both qualifying and the race - Vettel's grand prix at Sepang was the first time all year he had completed a full race distance.
The RB10 certainly seems the 'best of the rest' behind the Mercs but Vettel looks plenty short enough for a podium finish on a track which isn't expected to play to his car's strengths.
Power and acceleration outweigh aerodynamic efficiency and fast-corner speed at the Sakhir track, meaning the Mercedes-powered cars are likely to hold an advantage over their Renault- and Ferrari-propelled rivals.
With this in mind, consider a play on Valtteri Bottas in the slippery Williams.
The Finn was on his way to a likely podium place in Melbourne before clobbering the wall and putting him down the field, while his Malaysian outing came to a halt behind team-mate Felipe Massa and McLaren's Jenson Button, who were scrapping for sixth.
The evidence we've seen so far suggests that when untethered, Bottas is quicker than Massa, and his car is a match for all but the Mercedes and Red Bulls.
With Daniel Ricciardo the victim of an unfortunate 10-place grid demotion after a pit-lane misdemeanour from his team last weekend, one of that quartet of cars will be out of the way from the start.
Speed trap figures from the first two races have the Williams at the top of the order, which could be crucial at this circuit, so there is every chance that Bottas could place the FW36 on the front two rows and drive a clean race from there.
He's 5/1 for a podium finish and 10/11 to finish in the top six, both of which look worth taking.
Finally, the bookies don't seem to have given Nico Hulkenberg's performances the credit they deserve.
Sixth and fifth places in Australia and Malaysia respectively represent a terrific return for the German, who is outperforming the Force India underneath him.
A two-stop strategy on Sunday wasn't enough to pip Alonso in the race behind the podium contenders but it was a brave gamble, one which the Silverstone-based team might try again this weekend.
Last year in Bahrain, that strategy was enough to vault Paul di Resta into fourth position ahead of both Mercedes, both McLarens, both Ferraris and a Red Bull.
It's yet to be seen if tyre degradation will affect the field to the same extent as 12 months ago - this year's race takes place in the evening rather than the afternoon - but if there's an opportunity to try something different, they might give it a go.
The VJM 07 is arguably only the fifth- or sixth-fastest car on the grid at the moment, but that hasn't hampered Hulkenberg's exemplary drives to top-six finishes in both races so far.
With the onus on straightline speed and aero efficiency likely to play to the team's strengths, a repeat showing looks worth backing at 7/4, while a double-points finish for Force India at 11/4 also appeals.
Sergio Perez barely turned a wheel in Melbourne thanks to a gearbox problem and it appears the layers have rather forgotten about him.
But the Mexican made a respectable debut for the team in Australia and he can exploit his car's engine advantage and join his team-mate in the top 10 again.