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Formula 1: Against The Odds

Betting Markets for the Drivers’ Market

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I must admit I didn’t expect to still be blogging at this stage of the F1 season. However speculation as to the whereabouts in 2008 of some of the sport’s top drivers is maintaining an unexpected interest into November.

Last week’s unsurprising announcement that Fernando Alonso and McLaren would be parting company after just one season, is likely to be catalyst for a few teams to clarify their driver line-ups for next season. This may or may not include some going back on previously issued statements.

Both the mainstream media and the F1 blogging community are covering the merry-go-round extensively; with every comment, rumour or press release drawing analysis and counter-analysis or just further speculation. Rather than add to this further, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the betting markets are making of the situation and to see whether there is anything that will help us predict the likely course of events over the coming days and weeks.

For those sceptical of the ability for the markets to do just that, it is worth reading up on the thoughts of Professor Leighton Vaughan Williams, Head of the Betting Research Unit at Notting Trent University. He has extensively commented on the ability of betting markets to predict the outcomes of events – including those of the magnitude of presidential elections.

Anyway back to the markets in question. Whilst some published theories have a chain reaction of possible driver swaps throughout the field, I am going to concentrate on the two big questions:

Where will Fernando Alonso be driving next season and who will be partnering Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes?

The fact that the majority of firms listed on oddschecker now have Fernando Alonso quoted in doubled figures to win back his DWC crown suggests that few believe he will be driving for Ferrari next season. SkyBet appear to be the only firm that have not pushed the Spaniard out that far in the last few days. This may prove to be inspired or may simply be reflective of existing liabilities that they have. Unfortunately only time will tell. For me the consensus is the most interesting thing.

Betfair have a market specifically for which team Fernando will start 2008 with. As Betfair is an exchange and not a bookmaker, these prices are a result of the mass opinion of the betting public and not just one odds compiler. Renault is still the massive odds-on favourite destination in most people’s eyes, with the shortening price of “Any Other Constructor” [than those quoted] clearly reflecting the speculation of Red Bull’s interest. To me, this market seems to be all but ruling out a move to Ferrari, BMW Sauber and perhaps to a lesser extent Williams.

The Any Other Constructor option is interesting because as well as Red Bull is covers a shock move to Toyota, Force India or any other outsider – including Prodrive! This factor prevents us from calling it a two horse race but anyone who took any of the 7/4 about Renault that was available a few weeks ago is clearly in a strong position. The lack of liquidity makes laying it off an unattractive option, but a saver on Any Other Constructor may be wise at this stage.

With regard to who will partner Lewis Hamilton next season: Ladbrokes have opened a market just today. Heikki Kovalainen is the Even Money favourite, with Nico Rosberg at 6/4, Pedro De La Rosa at 5/1 and Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button both 33/1 shots. It is interesting that they have not quoted the third driver mentioned by Lewis Hamilton in a recent interview – Adrian Sutil. As I type this, Ladbrokes have suspended the market on Jenson Button. Watch this space…

To back this market up – Kovalainen and Rosberg fill the two positions in the outright DWC market behind the big four. That both are comfortably a shorter price than Nick Heidfeld shows that the bookmakers are taking no chances that one of these men could end up in a McLaren next season. Jenson Button’s price in this market ranges from 25/1 to 50/1 – none of which would be in any way appealing if he was still in a Honda next year. However it is always worth considering that the core market of most of the bookmakers listed is the UK and they won’t risk leaving themselves exposed to a patriotic plunge.

So, if we were to draw any conclusions from all of this it would be a straight swap of Alonso and Kovalainen, with Nico Rosberg and Red Bull the next most likely options. Jenson Button to McLaren seems fanciful to me, but the situation is worth monitoring closely. As we know the world of F1 is rarely as clear-cut…

Finally it is worth bearing in mind that F1 is a 24-hour sport – at some point news will break about these positions and the likelihood is that not all of the bookmakers will be the first to react. As soon as you hear anything it is worth trying to get some money down. Bookmakers will not thank me for saying this and whether all of them will honour the bet will depend on a number of circumstances. It is worth a shot though!

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