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28/09/2007 No.24
Dan Roebuck
Friday September 28, 2007
  Punters steering clear of Hamilton after McLaren scandal as his team-mate chases down a third title

One of the best formula one title races in recent years is gripping punters as the drivers go into the final three events of the season. The FIA's decision not to strip Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso of their points in the drivers' championship after the spying row between McLaren and Ferrari, has ensured interest remains high as the English rookie tries to cling on to his slender lead over the defending champion, Alonso, in Japan at the weekend.

Of course, the contest for the constructors' crown is now over, after Ron Dennis's team had all the points they had won this year expunged. But at least those who backed McLaren to win with Paddy Power were refunded. "If punters could gather inside information we would not stay in business very long. Since they cannot it is only fair we refund on a bet that has no chance of reaching the chequered flag," said a Paddy Power spokesman.

Going into the Japanese grand prix, Alonso is a best-price 10-11 (Bet Direct and Betterbet) to win the drivers' title with Hamilton 7-5, Kimi Raikkonen 9-1 and Felipe Massa 100-1 (all Sporting Odds). Ladbrokes also reports that Alonso has been the best-backed driver since McLaren were penalised, with the Harrow-based firm laying some chunky bets on the Spaniard including one of £8,000.

And it is the McLaren drivers who head the market for the race at Fuji Speedway, which hosts a grand prix for the first time in 30 years. Ladbrokes reports a number of four-figure bets at 11-10 against either McLaren car winning (that price has firmed to 4-6, but Sky Bet still offers 11-10). Alonso and Raikkonen are joint favourites at 2-1, with Hamilton 4-1 (all generally available) and Massa 9-2 (Sky Bet).

With Raikkonen now considered the No1 at Ferrari there is a growing feeling that the Finn will have a real advantage this weekend. Dominant in the last race at Spa, a track with downforce levels very similar to those at Fuji Speedway, Raikkonen seems happy at last with his car's set-up and with Massa now detailed to protect him when possible, the freely available 2-1 looks worth taking (Extrabet quotes just 6-4).

Of the McLaren duo, Hamilton is certainly better value than Alonso as he is double the price of his team-mate. According to reports they have not spoken since the Spaniard forced the Englishman off the track at the first bend in Belgium. If you think it might happen again, this time with either or both cars failing to return to the track, Sky Bet's offer of 25-1 that a McLaren car will be first to retire from the race might be worth a flutter.

No one knows just how tough the track in the foothills of Mount Fuji will be on the cars. However, they are generally more reliable in the later races of the season and, unless it rains, a small stakes buy of the number of finishers at 16.5 with Sporting Index is advised - a bet that would have yielded a profit in nine of the 14 races this season.

Ralf Schumacher is one of the few in Sunday's field who has driven at the old Fuji Speedway (in his days in the Formula Nippon series) and, although the new track has been revamped, it retains much of the original layout - including the longest straight in formula one, which should afford plenty of overtaking opportunities. Slower corners, too, are expected to make for a more exciting race. With Toyota desperate to do well at their home venue, Schumacher just might land odds of 3-1 (Extrabet) to finish in the points.

TIP: A small stakes buy of the number of finishers at 16.5 with Sporting Index is advised - a bet that would have yielded a profit in nine of the 14 races this season.
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