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No surprise: Oddsmaker makes Lewis Hamilton early favorite to repeat as F1 champ

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It’s still more than two months before the 2018 Formula One season kicks off on March 25 with the Australian Grand Prix.

But oddsmakers are already setting odds on how the season will play out and who are the favored drivers to win the championship.

One of the biggest and most accurate oddsmakers, Bovada of Las Vegas, is out with its F1 picks for the upcoming season and, to little surprise, is picking defending champ Lewis Hamilton with 5/4 odds to win the championship again in 2018.

After all, it’s kind of hard to pick against a guy who won nearly half the races (nine wins) on the 20-race schedule last season

“There is no surprise Lewis Hamilton is once again the favorite at just over even money to defend his title with really only Vettel to challenge him at just over 3/1,” Bovada SportsBook Manager Kevin Bradley said. “Hamilton was the favorite last year and won and bettors are sticking to the trend with over 60 percent of all money bet on Hamilton and 80 percent of all money on these two combined. Considering these two have won 8 of the last 10 championships, there is a reason they are the two favorites.”

Hamilton has won three of the last four titles (2014, 2015 and 2017), and four overall (2008).

However, looking at Bovada’s picks, there are several surprises:

* It’s giving better odds to Max Verstappen (finished sixth last season, but is rated with the third-best odds – 4/1 – heading into this season), while 2017 third-place finisher Valtteri Bottas tied for fifth odds-wise at 14/1.

* Bovada is going long on the prospects of Fernando Alonso, having him tied with Bottas for fifth-best odds (14/1). Bovada isn’t the only oddsmaker or media outlet that is looking upon Alonso as one of the top darkhorses in the F1 championship this season.

* Last year’s runner-up, Sebastian Vettel, is also picked second in Bovada’s odds with a 13/4 prediction.

* Kimi Raikkonen, who finished fourth last season, is rated seventh in Bovada’s picks at 33/1.

* Sergio Perez, who finished seventh last season, is tied for 12th in Bovada’s picks with Esteban Ocon at 200/1.

* Lastly, the three drivers that Bovada gives the longest odds of winning the championship are Pierre Gasly, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, all at 1,000/1.

Here’s how Bovada sizes up the 2018 F1 championship battle:

Lewis Hamilton                           5/4

Sebastian Vettel                        13/4

Max Verstappen                          4/1

Daniel Ricciardo                       13/2

Fernando Alonso                      14/1

Valtteri Bottas                           14/1

Kimi Raikkonen                        33/1

Nico Hulkenberg                       66/1

Carlos Sainz Jr.                          66/1

Stoffel Vandoorne                    100/1

Esteban Ocon                           200/1

Sergio Perez                              200/1

Brendon Hartley                       500/1

Daniil Kvyat                               500/1

Lance Stroll                                500/1

Pierre Gasly                              1000/1

Romain Grosjean                     1000/1

Kevin Magnussen                     1000/1

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.