Silver Arrows to shine again
Tom Millard says Mercedes can continue setting the pace on the first practice day of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
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Just how fast is the new Mercedes?
McLaren's Jenson Button is certainly impressed, suggesting after testing, "one team that has been consistently quick and consistent in their runs is Mercedes, more than anyone else."
Nico Rosberg, though, was slightly more cautious, claiming that "it is just not possible to know at the moment really. I think the way you can describe our winter is 'pleased' and that is it."
But Lewis Hamilton has his sights set on victory: "I think we definitely will be able to win a race at some point during the season," he said after setting the fastest time in his final outing in testing at Barcelona earlier this month.
So, with inconclusive evidence from testing and mixed messages from team personnel, we can only guess as to the raw pace of the W04 before it is fired up in anger at Albert Park on Friday morning.
But even if the new car does lack that final tenth of single-lap speed, or suffers from slightly more degradation than the Lotus or Red Bull cars, those first two Friday practice sessions might not lay bare its weaknesses.
Hamilton and Rosberg each went quickest in their respective final days of practice at the Cicuit de Catalunya in close to Melbourne-spec cars, and there's nothing to suggest that they can't do the same on Friday.
Qualifying simulations are unlikely to take place until Saturday morning's practice session (unless FP3 looks like being wet and qualifying is forecast to be dry) so there's every chance that the Mercedes pair will continue to set the pace on the opening day of the grand prix weekend.
The Friday practice markets reflect the race (and hence championship) odds but teams are more likely to continue their methodical working-through of troubleshooting, tyre testing and race simulations rather than compete in a free-for-all for the fastest time.
With this in mind, Hamilton and Rosberg respectively to top FP1 looks decent value, as well as the pair in FP2.
In any case, both drivers have good form of being at the top of the timesheets on Fridays at this stage of the season.
From the first four "flyaway" races last year, Hamilton (then with McLaren) was second in FP1 in Australia, fastest in both Friday sessions in Malaysia, fastest and second fastest in the two China sessions, and fastest in FP1 in Bahrain.
Rosberg went second-quickest in FP1 in China and quickest in FP2 in Bahrain, while consistently featuring in at the top of the screens in practice sessions in the early part of preceding seasons.
The inference is that both Hamilton and Rosberg have a tendency to post benchmark lap times while fine-tuning their weekend set-ups.
Now, this may or may not continue - but at the available odds it's worth betting that it does.
Looking further into the weekend, things start getting a little more grey - at this stage, Saturday is judged to have a greater than 50 per cent chance of showers, meaning qualifying could prove very interesting.
No rain is forecast for race day, though, which tips bet365's offer of there being 17 or more finishers at 11/8 into value.
We'd need five or fewer retirements in order to collect on this, which looks a good bet considering only four races last season saw more than that number of cars fail to be classified.
The race winner market is largely determined by the championship prices, leaving value thin on the ground at this stage, particularly with qualifying likely to be disrupted by the weather.
We'll let you know if there's a stand-out race bet once the grid has been decided but for now concentrate on the Mercedes in Friday practice.