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How to Bet on Formula 1

There can be no argument that the most popular motorsports circuit in the world in terms of overall fan support and betting action is Formula 1. However, open-wheel racing is largely ignored in the United States. If you asked a casual sports fan who Lewis Hamilton was or how open-wheel racing even differs from NASCAR, they would have a blank stare. Then again, in almost every other corner of the world, stock-car racing (NASCAR) is a completely foreign concept.

Open-wheel racing wasn’t always so overlooked in the USA. For most of the 1900s the biggest race in the world was the open-wheel Indianapolis 500. Most Americans know who A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears are. 

However, since about the turn of the century Americans have turned their backs on open-wheel racing because of in-fighting and confusion in the sport. The Indianapolis 500 is still recognizable, but that’s the only race. NASCAR has far surpassed open-wheel racing in this country.

It doesn’t help Formula 1’s popularity here that there’s just one race in the USA: The United States Grand Prix, which is held in Austin. That dates to 1908 but there was no race from 1981-88, 1992-99 or 2008-11.  No American has won that race since 1958 and that’s another problem: There are no American drivers currently in F1 or U.S. car companies involved. It’s all European and South American drivers and car companies like Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, McLaren, Renault and Alfa Romero.

Still, there are F1 fans out there and plenty of European transplants in the USA so here are the basics of betting on the sport.

Formula 1 Picks

Moneyline wagers to win

For the 2020 F1 season, there are a record-breaking 22 Grands Prix; NASCAR, by comparison has 36 races. Vietnam will become the 34th country to stage an F1 race, which will be in the capital city of Hanoi on April 5. In addition, the Dutch Grand Prix has been revived for 2020. It’s the first time that has been run since 1985. The season starts March 15 at the Australian Grand Prix and concludes November 29 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The season starts in March and ends in November, which is typical. The length of each race is the minimum number of laps that exceeds a total distance of 189.5 miles, or 305 kilometers. The one exception is the Monaco Grand Prix, which is 161.6 miles/260 kilometers.

The simplest way to bet on any race is on a driver to win via the moneyline, which is the only way to wager on Formula 1 in this country (it’s called decimal betting overseas).

Easily the most popular wager on any race is simply the winner, just like in NASCAR. However, in Formula 1 a single/driver team can dominate unlike in NASCAR. For example, Great Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and Team Mercedes reign supreme over the sport currently. In the 2019 season, Hamilton won a whopping 11 of 21 races to finish with 423 total points, easily winning another championship. 

It was the second year in a row that Hamilton won the drivers’ championship and the six title overall for him. Mercedes successfully defended the constructors’ championship, securing the title for the sixth consecutive year and tying Ferrari's all-time record from 1999-2004.

In F1, some teams are just much wealthier and have the better drivers and equipment than other teams. That’s Mercedes right now. 

Hamilton is essentially going to be favored in every race. Odds to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix would like this at the top:

Lewis Hamilton +175

Max Verstappen +350

Valtteri Bottas +350

Charles Leclerc +400

Sebastian Vettel +500

There will never be a negative-priced favorite at, say, -200. In the above scenario, a $100 bet on Hamilton to win returns $175. Some of the longest-shots could be priced at +5000 or higher. 

Other moneyline wagers

While betting on a race winner is the easiest wager for a newbie, there are also options for which driver wins the pole position (starts first in the field), a driver to finish in the Top 3 in the race (that’s called a podium finish), the Top 5, or head-to-head finish against another drivers. That prop could like this:

Lewis Hamilton -150

Sebastian Vettel +300

If Hamilton is usually that much better than Vettel, then Hamilton could be a heavy favorite.

Other prop options during a race could be the country the winning driver is from, head-to-head team results (as in car companies), or which driver might retire (crash out) first.

There are also season futures odds on which driver wins the championship and which car company wins the constructors’ championship. More often than not, the team of the winning driver also takes the constructors’ championship but not always. Perhaps one team had the second- and-third placed drivers in the standings. Here are the opening odds for the 2020 season:

Drivers’ championship

Lewis Hamilton -175

Charles Leclerc +450

Valtteri Bottas +500

Max Verstappen +650

Sebastian Vettel +650


Constructors’ championship

Mercedes -275

Ferrari +333

Red Bull +450

McLaren +25000

As you can see, it would be a huge upset if Hamilton and Mercedes didn’t win the titles again in 2020. If Hamilton wins No. 7 that would tie German legend Michael Schumacher for the most all-time. The earliest in a season that the drivers' championship has been clinched was in 2002 when Schumacher secured the title with six races remaining. Ferrari’s 16 titles are easily the most among constructors. Schumacher’s F1 record of 91 race wins could easily fall in 2020 as Hamilton has 94. 

Betting strategies

As noted above, the favorites almost always dominate in Formula 1 races both from a driver and team perspective.

It’s certainly important to see how a driver’s current form is or his history at a given track. All circuits have different layouts. Some have lots of hairpin turns, while others have more high-speed straightaways.

For example, Hamilton has won just twice at the Australian Grand Prix and not since 2015. Vettel has won it three times. Perhaps someone off-the-radar could win at Vietnam in 2020 because it’s a new track. Also makes it harder to handicap that race. 

Bettors can largely disregard who wins the pole because that really has no bearing on the race winner because the cars are so bunched together, just like in NASCAR. The driver with pole position only wins around 45 percent of the time. Conditions in the race could be totally different in the few days between qualifying and race day. That said, starting on the pole can be much more important at one track than another. On circuits where it’s difficult to pass, with Monaco being one, bettors should more consider a driver who starts high on the grid.

One good in-race strategy is to hedge a bet by wagering on multiple drivers, perhaps one of the favorites and longer shots. Or just bet on a team instead of a driver. Weather can also be a factor believe it or not. When it’s cool and rainy, very unusual results can happen. 

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