Formula 1: Surprising change made after Miami

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

While the two top contenders to win the 2022 Formula 1 world championship are quite obvious, number three may come as a surprise.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen became the first driver to win back-to-back races in the 2022 Formula 1 season, taking the checkered flag to win Sunday’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix at Miami International Autodrome.

Verstappen has now won three out of five races in 2022, though he still trails Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the driver standings. Leclerc’s three non-wins include two runner-up finishes and a sixth place result, while Verstappen’s two non-wins are both DNFs.

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Leclerc holds a 19-point lead over Verstappen with 18 races remaining on the schedule, but the reigning world champion is the slight betting favorite to win this year’s title, according to WynnBET.

Verstappen is listed as the -120 favorite (bet $120 to win $100), while Leclerc is listed close behind at +115 (bet $100 to win $115).

Without two late reliability-related retirements, Verstappen would have collected two runner-up results, good for 18 points each, in the two races Leclerc won. Instead, he would have a 17-point lead over the Ferrari driver heading into the Spanish Grand Prix in under two weeks. So the odds make sense, despite the standings showing the opposite.

What doesn’t make as much sense, however, is the driver whose odds sit third best.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is still listed as the third favorite at +2250. While it’s not like +2250 odds imply that Hamilton has much of a chance, it doesn’t make a ton of sense why more drivers aren’t ahead of him. He has been having a career-worst year and only sits in sixth place in the standings, worst among the six Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.

Take a look at the odds for these six drivers, according to WynnBET.

  • Max Verstappen, Red Bull: -120
  • Charles Leclerc, Ferrari: +115
  • Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: +2250
  • George Russell, Mercedes: +2500
  • Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari: +2500
  • Sergio Perez, Red Bull: +4000

The argument for Hamilton and Mercedes, all season long, has been “Oh, they’ll surely figure it out”, despite absolutely zero factual backing to suggest such a turnaround. This isn’t the same era of Mercedes dominance anymore, one which saw them ride a streak of eight consecutive world constructor championships entering the new rules and regulations of 2022.

Even if they make significant gains moving forward, they have a lot of ground to make up on the two true title-contending teams just to get close. And it’s certainly not an overnight fix like most at Sky Sports apparently want to believe. So far, they have shown no signs of clawing back that gap. Despite the standings, you could even argue that they aren’t the third best team at this stage.

It is, of course, hard to picture Sainz passing Leclerc or Perez passing Verstappen. So even at +2500 and +4000, you could argue that their odds are too short.

But both of those drivers have still consistently shown much more speed than Hamilton, and despite a combined three DNFs between the two, both have opened up quite a gap over him in the driver standings as well.

However, even if we assume Mercedes somehow turn the W13 into a title contender, why is it Hamilton who is considered the favorite?

Hamilton has been beaten by newcomer teammate George Russell in each of the last four races, twice by at least five positions in races that saw Hamilton score a total of one point. Russell leads Hamilton by 23 points and hasn’t finished a race outside of the top five this year. Hamilton, meanwhile, has just two top five finishes.

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Sure, Hamilton may be a seven-time world champion with 103 victories, but career accolades don’t give the car a boost — especially a car that, unlike past Mercedes machinery, isn’t the only car capable of winning. Russell has been the driver to beat at the Silver Arrows this year, and there is no doubt about it.