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Are we in for a season-long battle between Red Bull and Mercedes?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen sure looked to have the fastest car over the course of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. But some canny pit strategy by Mercedes and some even better driving by Lewis Hamilton meant that the defending Formula 1 champion was the one celebrating the win at the end of the race and not Verstappen.

Can Verstappen exact his revenge in the second race of the season at Imola on Sunday? He kept pace with the Mercedes cars a year ago but was forced to retire from the race because of a tire problem. This year he enters with a car that appears to have more raw speed than Hamilton’s. Maybe things will be different this year.

Here are some bets you should consider for the race weekend. As always, odds are provided by BetMGM.

Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

9 a.m. ET (ESPN2)

Max Verstappen to post fastest lap in Free Practice 1 (+110)

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff offered this up ahead of the race weekend. 

“We may have won the first round, but we are under no illusions that this is going to be an easy season,” Wolff said.

“Our car still lacks speed on a single lap and Red Bull have the edge at the moment.”

You read that correctly. The man in charge at Mercedes thinks Verstappen has a faster car in practice and qualifying conditions. Is that a bit of gamesmanship? Maybe. But until a Mercedes driver beats Verstappen in practice or qualifying, you should believe Wolff. That’s why you have to take the better than even odds here. 

Max Verstappen to win pole position (-140)

The odds for a Verstappen pole are lower than they are in practice. But he’s the prohibitive favorite for the pole until we see otherwise. If you’re unsure about the Red Bull edge, you should wait to bet Verstappen for pole until after a practice or two. If you’re confident, go ahead and bet it now in case his odds for the pole get even lower. 

Either Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton to win race (+125)

We’re offering the same advice we did a week ago. Go with your gut. It feels like a toss-up again between Verstappen and Hamilton for the race win and they both have some tantalizing odds. If you like Hamilton’s chances to get a win and you think Mercedes will have better single-lap pace this weekend, take a flier on him for the pole (+150) or even fastest lap in FP1 (+225). 

Winning race margin under 6 seconds (+120)

With Red Bull and Mercedes so close together it’s going to take a couple of unique events for the margin of victory to be more than six seconds. Hamilton beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by less than six seconds in 2020. 

1 car will fail to complete the first lap (+300)

Every driver completed at least eight laps in the 2020 race at Imola. That’s why the odds are -150 that no cars will fail to complete the first lap on Sunday. 

But after seeing Nikita Mazepin’s first-lap crash at Bahrain, take a flier on a first-lap crash causing a driver to have to retire before he completes a lap. The odds are pretty tantalizing. 

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