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Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix betting preview: Max Verstappen has won two in a row, but he's not the favorite

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Max Verstappen is back atop the points standings.

Verstappen is ahead of Lewis Hamilton by three points after he won the Dutch Grand Prix. But Hamilton enters the Italian Grand Prix (9 a.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2) as the betting favorite to both win the pole and the race and, therefore, retake the points lead.

Hamilton is the favorite because of his success at Monza and because the legendary track seems to favor Mercedes’ cars more than Red Bull’s. While Verstappen has been exceptionally fast everywhere, the top speed of the Mercedes cars has been slightly stronger all season. With Monza’s sweeping curves and long straights, that speed could give Hamilton the edge he needs to reclaim the points lead.

While Hamilton has five wins at Monza, neither he nor Verstappen finished in the top five in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. That wild race saw Pierre Gasly take the checkered flag after Verstappen had an engine problem, Hamilton got penalized for entering the pits when they was closed, and Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc crashed. Valtteri Bottas was the top Mercedes or Red Bull driver in the race and he finished fifth and Pierre Gasly got the first win of his career.

We’re not expecting the craziness of the 2020 race to repeat itself in 2021. At least when it comes to a driver in the winner’s circle. Hamilton or Verstappen should win Sunday’s race. Don’t try to overthink your bets just because Gasly won a year ago.

The race weekend also features sprint qualifying for the second time this season. Friday’s session includes one practice and a qualifying session for Saturday’s sprint race. Saturday includes another practice and then a quick sprint race to determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s full-length race.

The first sprint race format happened at Silverstone, where Hamilton won the pole in qualifying, Verstappen won the sprint race and then Hamilton won the Grand Prix after Verstappen crashed out from contact between the two on the first lap.

Here are the bets that we like entering the weekend. All odds are via BetMGM.

Lewis Hamilton to win the race (+100)

Hamilton has the same odds to win the race as he does the sprint race. We like both of those bets, but we’re not going to put three Hamilton-focused bets for the race here.

Lewis Hamilton to win qualifying (+115)

This one is pretty straightforward. Hamilton should post the fastest lap in the third round of Friday’s qualifying session. Verstappen, meanwhile, is +125 to get the pole.

Pierre Gasly to be the fastest outside the Big 4 in qualifying (+400)

This bet is simply picking the fastest non-Mercedes or Red Bull driver in Friday’s qualifying session. And Gasly’s odds are tempting. He’s the No. 3 favorite behind Lando Norris (+125) and Charles LeClerc (+300).

Valtteri Bottas to win FP1 (+450)

If you think Mercedes has the pace advantage over Red Bull this weekend — and we’re firmly in that camp — then the odds are enticing for Bottas. He’s no stranger to posting fast laps to start a weekend. And that could easily happen at Monza.

BONUS BET

Lewis Hamilton to win the championship (+110)

If you think Hamilton is going to win on Sunday and take over the points lead on the way to a record-breaking title, jump on these odds right now. Verstappen is currently -155 to win the driver’s title while Hamilton is better than 1:1 to win. Hamilton’s odds are going to drop after the race if he does win, and you’re going to regret not betting this if you’re a believer.