Lewis Hamilton could have an advantage heading into Qatar.
Max Verstappen still leads Hamilton by 14 points with three races to go this season. But as he saw in Brazil less than a week ago, Hamilton’s got an incredibly fast car in a straight line.
Hamilton had to take a five-place grid penalty after Mercedes put a new internal combustion engine into the back of his car ahead of the race weekend. And then he had to start at the back of the field for the sprint qualifying race on Saturday after his car was deemed illegal because of the rear wing. That ultimately didn’t matter as Hamilton came from 20th to fifth in 24 laps in the sprint race and then drove from 10th to first for the Grand Prix win.
Hamilton was routinely 20 KPH faster than other cars on the straightaway thanks to his engine and DRS — the aero advantage that cars get when they’re within a second of the car ahead of them. And a lot of high-speed sections at the new Losail circuit in Qatar could play into Mercedes’ hands again.
We don’t know much about the track hosting Sunday's Qatar Grand Prix (9 a.m. ET, ESPN2). It’s the first time that F1 has raced on it. Here’s what it looks like on the F1 video game.
If Mercedes has found something with its new engine that Red Bull can’t match over the final three races, Verstappen could be in trouble. It’s no guarantee, however. The Honda engine in Verstappen’s car has been good enough to keep in touch with Mercedes, and the Red Bull chassis has once again been the best in F1.
But Losail, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and the renovated track in Abu Dhabi could favor Mercedes. Hamilton can take the lead from Verstappen over the final three races if he wins them all no matter what the Red Bull driver does. That’s why Hamilton and Verstappen are both -115 to win the F1 title despite Verstappen’s 14-point advantage.
Here are some bets that we like for the race weekend in Qatar. All odds are from BetMGM.
Valtteri Bottas to post the fastest lap in FP1 (+250)
If Mercedes has a pace advantage, Bottas should be showing it off in the first practice.
McLaren to be the fastest non-Mercedes or Red Bull team (+175)
These odds are inflated thanks to a price boost at MGM. They’re worth taking even if Ferrari has been the clear third-best team in F1 in recent weeks.
Lewis Hamilton to post the race’s fastest lap (+175)
This is where we’re going to trust the oddsmakers. Big shifts in odds don’t inexplicably happen. And if we’re getting odds like this for a Hamilton fastest lap, we have to take them.
Lewis Hamilton to win the pole (-110)
Red Bull’s Christian Horner called Mercedes’ top-end speed at Brazil “unraceable.” Hamilton could have the field covered by quite a margin in qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton to win the race (-135)
If Hamilton starts up front like he should on Sunday, then it’s possible he cruises to a win. Verstappen and Red Bull aren’t out of this thing by any means, but we also want some title drama heading into the final two races.