F1 Australian Grand Prix
Sunday April 10, 06:00
Sky Sports F1
If the drama in Bahrain wasn't enough to whet the appetite, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix wrote another enthralling early chapter in what is already a fascinating story this season.
Verstappen to close gap on Leclerc in standings
Red Bull brushed any reliability concerns aside and came storming back in Jeddah, with Verstappen securing his first win of the season and teammate Sergio Perez putting his first points on the board after the Mexican secured an historic pole.
Sandwiched in between them were the two Ferraris who bagged back-to-back double podium finishes, and while Verstappen and Leclerc have now passed one another nine times in the opening two races, it has produced some sensational driving and smart tactical racing from the pair.
Red Bull and Ferrari and their quartet of drivers have proven to be a cut above the rest of the field thus far, and the expectation is that they'll continue to spar with each other at the front of the grid in Australia at a modified Albert Park Circuit.
Verstappen showed his class in Jeddah with his late overtake of Leclerc, and the Dutchman is the favourite at 2.26/5 to be the Race Winner in Melbourne on Sunday. Red Bull clearly have the pace and skill to go wheel-to-wheel with Ferrari, and it will be intriguing to see who gets the upper-hand this weekend.
Struggling Mercedes to bag points
For Mercedes, it has been a completely different story. They remain well off the pace with George Russell finishing over 30 seconds behind Verstappen last time out, while Lewis Hamilton finished 10th, over a minute adrift of his old rival, and off the back of his worst qualifying performance in 13 years.
That led to a dejected Team Principal Toto Wolff conceding "there are deficits everywhere", and while they're expected to make changes to their cars this weekend which should improve performance, that is a major gap to bridge.
Factor in cost-cap regulations, teams must be disciplined in how they implement developments, but Mercedes should, in theory, still be able to put some daylight between themselves and the midfield as they continue to play catch up to Red Bull and Ferrari.
With that in mind, backing both Red Bull, both Ferrari and both Mercedes to all finish in the points @ 2.47/5 is another appealing option this weekend, while focusing more so on the pacesetters, Verstappen and Leclerc to seal podium finishes and both Sainz and Perez to secure top six finishes at 3.185/40 is also very much in play in Melbourne as a stand-out Pre-Qualifying special.
There are still so many unknowns at this early stage of the F1 season, with teams seeking improvements while differing track characteristics nullify certain disadvantages.
That adds to the unpredictability and competitiveness, but both Red Bull and Ferrari have been the most consistent thus far, and so the smart money is on them to continue to lead the pack with Verstappen showing his class again.