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17/10/2008 No.7
rendspotting Editor's Choice
Dan Roebuck
Friday Oct 17, 2008
  Hamilton's the favourite but there are options for everyone

Formula one may be preparing to combat the credit crunch with shorter races, less frequent testing and no refuelling, but grand prix bettors are not cutting back as this season enters the final straight.

The race for the drivers' title has kept interest up and despite the timing of this weekend's race in China - early-morning sport always puts off casual punters - turnover is expected to be better than usual. "The race has really captured the public's imagination and we would expect to see in excess of £500,000 gambled industry-wide on the Shanghai GP," said Ladbrokes' spokesman, Nick Weinberg.

Lewis Hamilton can, of course, win the title this weekend. The McLaren driver is five points clear of Ferrari's Felipe Massa, and Sky Bet is offering 5-1 the Englishman does enough in Shanghai to go into the final race of the year with an unassailable lead. Hamilton is 2-5 (general) to win the title after either the Chinese or Brazilian grand prix, with Massa 11-4 (Ladbrokes). Robert Kubica, 12 points behind Hamilton, is trading at 25-1 (Totesport) and there has been interest in the Pole this week with Boylesports and Ladbrokes cutting the BMW driver after significant support.

Massa may feel confident that he can overhaul Hamilton. Ferrari, 1-3 (general) to win the constructors' crown, have dominated the Chinese grand prix since it came on to the calendar in 2004, winning three of the four races staged in Shanghai.

The action then moves to São Paulo, Massa's home city, for the final grand prix of the year, and with Hamilton showing a propensity to let the pressure get to him, punters holding an ante-post voucher with the Brazilian's name on it should not throw it away just yet.

Hamilton, who was in a good position to win the 2007 Chinese grand prix when an error on lap 30 saw him spin out, is 2-1 joint favourite with Massa to win the race this year. Hamilton is a stand-out offer with Betfred, which might not hold the price long as some firms are going as short as 6-4 about the Englishman. But given what has happened in the last two races - when Renault's Fernando Alonso scored double-figure-odds victories and the top two in the standings made mistakes - taking short prices about either of the market principals may again prove a poor investment.

The spectre of team tactics will hang heavy on bettors' minds ahead of the Chinese race, with an added conundrum to consider in the shape of Alonso's alleged post-Japanese grand prix suggestion that he will help Massa to the title if possible. So it is difficult to get excited about the 7-1 (VC Bet) offered that Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen wins on Sunday, likewise the 10-1 (Betfred and Sky Bet) Alonso is quoted or the 18-1 (Betfred and Sportingbet) available on Hamilton's team-mate at McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen. Throw in the fact that showers are forecast over the weekend in Shanghai and this race looks impossible to predict (Paddy Power offers 11-10 that the safety car is forced to come out again).

Raikkonen won the Chinese grand prix last year and while he won't be retaining the F1 title he won in 2007, there is one market that he has dominated all season. The Finn has posted the fastest lap time in 10 of the 16 grands prix this year and is worth an interest at 11-10 (Paddy Power and Sportingbet) to do so again on Sunday.

A handful of firms have priced up a market which asks punters to predict the winner of the race "without the big six" (the Ferrari, McLaren and BMW-Sauber drivers). Understandably, given he has won the last two races, Alonso is the favourite at 6-5 (Sky Bet).

However, a better option might be Sebastian Vettel of Toro Rosso at 7-1 (Ladbrokes). The German, who won the Italian grand prix, has rewarded each-way backers in this market in three of the past five races, missing out in the other two by a single position.

Elsewhere Jarno Trulli, at 11-10 (Extrabet), is an appealing bet to finish in the points. The Toyota driver has done so in nine of the 16 grands prix so far, suggesting the shade of odds-against on offer is a value play.

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