Sunday, 12 May 2019

Spain: post-race analysis 2019

Of the quartet of bets, half came off, yielding a modest overall profit. As an aside, if I’d whittled them down to two it’s likely I would’ve abandoned the more profitable one and kept the less profitable one, so the overall result wouldn’t’ve been hugely different.

Off the line, Bottas started poorly, Hamilton and Vettel very well. Hamilton went right, Vettel left. But the German locked a brake and slipped back, behind both Mercedes and the opportunistic Verstappen. Hamilton did not make a mistake and claimed a lead he would never relinquish.

Further down the order, Raikkonen relived his rallying days with a gravelly excursion and Norris forgot that corners entail turning the steering wheel, though he was able to return to the track some way down the order. Otherwise it was broadly formation flying.

The gaps started to stretch between the top four, with Vettel unhappy with his flat spotted tyres and unhappy with Leclerc being so close. After much prevarication, the Ferrari pit wall ordered him to let Leclerc through. Shortly thereafter, after much nagging, Vettel was pitted for medium tyres (like almost everyone else, he had started on the softs). Verstappen also pitted, but for the soft tyre, guaranteeing the necessity of a second stop.

The Mercedes were brought in for medium tyres, and Leclerc was the odd one out, staying out a bit longer and switching onto the hard compound. Might he go for a single stop whilst those around him had to stop twice?

Vettel, unsurprisingly, cruised up behind his team mate. Cue yet more Ferrari indecision, although less than last time. Eventually they took the obvious step (given the contra-strategies) and had Leclerc let him through. Vettel, and his car, seemed altogether happier on the medium tyres, which made the Leclerc/hard decision somewhat perplexing.

Gasly was in a lonely No Man’s Land, unable to challenge the Ferraris and under no pressure from the Haas cars, which (perhaps because the hardest compounds had been brought to Spain) weren’t chewing up their tyres for once. Both they and the Toro Rossos were having a lovely day.

Further back, the McLarens, Alfo Romeos, and Renaults weren’t far off but also weren’t making a huge amount of progress, with Sainz keeping Ricciardo behind him for most of the afternoon, losing the position, then regaining it near the end.

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s rear right tyre was crumbling like a shield made of cheese. Vettel and Verstappen had second stops, and Mercedes brought in Bottas. They were preparing to bring in Hamilton when Norris made an uncharacteristic error and collided with Stroll, taking out the pair of them, flinging gravel across the track, and bringing out the safety car.

Hamilton pitted, retaining the lead. Others pitted too, including Leclerc (for medium tyres) and the Toro Rossos, who ended up slipping down the order.

Upon the restart, it was very close. Gasly had a good crack at Leclerc but was unable to make it stick and himself came under pressure from the Haas (of Grosjean, I believe). However, the Frenchman then began a series of unfortunate events which entailed taking an escape road at least thrice, losing places to his team mate, then Sainz, then Kvyat, and finally, just about managing to hold off Albon.

At the sharp end, nothing changed. The top 6 retained the order of Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen for the podium, with Vettel, Leclerc, and Gasly following.

Albon ultimately failed to score a point, which is a shame, but he has had a good start to the year. Both Renaults were pointless, as were both Alfa Romeos, and the Williams. Perez also failed to trouble the scorers.

Hamilto also snagged the fastest lap point. It’s the first race this year that saw no points for Raikkonen. Every podium to date has been led by the Mercedes chaps.

From a betting perspective, the first lap decided most of them. Hamilton leapt to the lead and Verstappen passed Vettel, both of which were helpful. Norris and Raikkonen both cocking up was not, and nor was Norris later staging a dramatic re-enactment of Pastor Maldonado’s works. Overall, I finished modestly ahead, which is nice.

Driver standings:
Hamilton 112
Bottas 105
Verstappen 66
Vettel 64
Leclerc 57
Gasly 21

It’s a two horse race, and neither of them are prancing. Verstappen’s driving very well indeed, and given Red Bull’s generally strong development cycle I think he has a decent shot at finishing third overall. The major question is whether Bottas can maintain his impressive start to the season, or if he’ll wither away.

Mercedes 217
Ferrari 121
Red Bull 87
McLaren 22
Racing Point 17
Haas 15
Alfa Romeo 13
Renault 12
Toro Rosso 6
Williams 0

Very tight in the midfield. Renault’s got two great drivers and a lot of resources, but you wouldn’t guess that from their standing. McLaren’s above them, which isn’t a great look. The reliability in Barcelona was fine, but the Renault car itself was simply not fast enough. Whether Haas have mended their rubber-chewing tendency of whether they were helped out by the harder compounds in Spain remains to be seen. Norris did cock up at the race today, but generally McLaren seem better set up than in previous seasons. The midfield order will continue to be shuffled as circuits vary and cars develop, but I expect it to remain tight all season.

Heard some bad news, though I’m not sure how accurate it is. Suggestion is that this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be the last to be held at the fantastic Interlagos circuit, with the race from 2020 onwards moving to Rio de Janeiro. Something to keep an eye on.

There’s also a suggestion we’ll lose Spain/Germany and go to the Netherlands/Vietnam next year.

The next race is processional congestion in Monaco, in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Spain: pre-race 2019

The first session of qualifying was notable for Hulkenberg making an error and taking his Renault on a scenic excursion through the gravel. He was able to return to the pits and his team mended the wounded car, but he was unable to progress any further, missing out on Q2, to his team mate, by under two-hundredths. Unsurprisingly, the Williams were slowest, but Russell (who was 19th fastest but will start 20th due to a penalty) was within a few tenths of Giovinazzi, so perhaps the gap is narrowing. Stroll also failed to reach Q2.

The second part of qualifying was as competitive as ever, with just a few hundredths separating progression from elimination. Norris, Albon, Sainz, Raikkonen and Perez left at this stage (as an aside, Norris and Albon have been impressive in their d├ębut season. Harder for Russell to show his skill given his car, of course). Leclerc cocked up his first lap and had to have a second, meaning he only got one run in for Q3.

Q3 saw the top six joined by both Haas chaps, Kvyat, and Ricciardo. The actual gap between Hamilton and Vettel was pretty close, just a couple of tenths. Unfortunately for them, Bottas put in a stonking lap to eclipse the field by over half a second. The Finn is doing rather well this year (third pole on the bounce, I think). Verstappen added to Ferrari woes by slipping his Red Bull ahead of Leclerc, who could only manage 5th. Gasly was next up, with the fourth row a Haas affair (Grosjean one place and one-hundredth of a second ahead of Magnussen). Kvyat and Ricciardo comprise the fifth row, but with the Haas habit of drifting backwards in races they might fancy their chances of moving forward.

The only penalties I’m aware of are a 3 place drop for Ricciardo due to reversing woe in Baku last time out, and a 5 place penalty (1 in reality) for Russell (component changes, I think, maybe the gearbox).

The forecast is for an entirely dry race. Might be expected in Spain, but still worth checking.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Verstappen podium
Kvyat/Norris top 6
Williams double classified

After a rather long delay, Verstappen’s podium odds came out at 2.6. That’s a bit longer than I was expecting, and might be worth backing.

The top 6 bet is based on the Haas probably drifting backwards and a reasonable chance of one of the top 6 suffering misfortune. Kvyat is 5.5, Norris is 8. I feel a bit more inclined to back Norris on a driver basis, though McLaren has a worse reliability record. Tricky.

There was no double classified market that I could see at the time of writing (5.38pm Saturday). [Next day the Williams price was 1.5, which is too short to tempt].

Given most of the markets weren’t up I decided to wait until Sunday before making a decision.

Perusing the markets Sunday morning revealed the following:
Hamilton, lead lap 1, 3.5
Raikkonen to beat Ricciardo, 2.75 (could hedge with Ricciardo to be classified 1.53)
Giovinazzi to beat Stroll, 3
Kvyat to win group 2, 8
Norris to win group 2, 11
Kvyat winner without big 6, 11
Norris, winner without big 6, 17
Bottas, drivers’ title, 3.25

To be honest, surprised so much looks interesting.

With the exception of last race, I think every event this year has seen the pole-sitter passed at the start, and the same very nearly happened in Azerbaijan too. Hamilton will be hungry for it, and it’s a reasonably long run to the first corner.

Raikkonen to beat Ricciardo (he starts one place behind the Aussie) is largely based on Ricciardo’s uninspiring 75% DNF rate. Renault have brought new bits to try and enhance reliability. Nevertheless, 2.75, given the Finn has a 100% finishing record, is appealing.

Giovinazzi and Stroll had very similar qualifying times. Neither have a DNF to date, so the 3 for the Italian is less tempting than his team mate’s 2.75 above.

Group 2 includes both Haas drivers as well as Kvyat and Norris. They start (Grosjean first) in that order on the grid. But Haas have a bad record of drifting backwards after strong qualifying performances. In their favour is the difficulty of passing in Spain, but if the tyres go off they’ll be passed regardless or lose so much time they’ll just ruin their own race. Kvyat’s had a slightly up and down season with a point and a couple of DNFs. Norris has scored at half the races so far. 8 and 11 respectively are quite interesting, and I’m probably more tempted by Norris.

The winner without the big 6 market might look practically identical to the group 2 winner market, but a safety car could easily add a large slice of luck to the race. In those circumstances the group 2 and winner without the big 6 markets could have drastically different results. Nevertheless, if all proceeds smoothly(ish), they should be more or less the same. And, unlike the group 2 market, you can go for a third the odds top 2 for an each way bet. Similar to the group 2 bet, it’s Kvyat and Norris I’m looking at (Albon and Sainz are 23 and 26 which might also be worth considering). Hmm. Half a mind to split a stake up and back several of them. Although I’d feel like a banana if Haas won.

Last and not at all race-specific, Bottas is 3.25 for the drivers’ title. There’s no each way aspect available. Right now he’s leading the title race, has had several pole positions in a row and, excepting a lacklustre Bahrain performance, has enjoyed the strongest start to a season he’s ever had. Two things put me off: Hamilton’s quite good at winning titles, and the short odds/long time frame is a bit irksome. On the other hand, if any of you backed my 9 tip on Hamilton to exceed Schumacher’s win record and are getting a bit nervous about it, this could be a nice hedge, (and it’s entirely possible both bets can come off).

So, of those many options, which ones tempt me the most?
Verstappen, podium, 2.6
Hamilton, lead lap 1, 3.5
Raikkonen to beat Ricciardo, 2.75
Norris, winner without the big 6, 17 (each way)

Hmm. My thinking at the moment is whether to whittle those down to one or two bets, or maybe back all but with half-stakes. The agony of choice.

My usual approach would be to go for just two, but I think this time I’ll back them all, but halve the stakes involved. I’ve done this occasionally in the past (typically betting on two drivers from the same time to achieve something) and considered those single bets with £5 on either outcome. For this race, I’ll consider these stakes in the ‘official’ records to be £5 rather than the standard £10, as I’m specifically advocating half-stakes.

So, an exciting quartet of tips. Well, a quartet, at least.

Not in the ‘official’ tips, but if anyone backed my early mention of Verstappen for the win (36 with boost), I’d suggest setting up a hedge at about 3.

The race starts shortly after 2pm UK time. Let’s hope it’s profitable and exciting.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Spain: pre-qualifying 2019

Ricciardo gets a three place grid penalty for his reversing into Kvyat last time out.

There are also lots of new bits and pieces, with new engines for the Ferraris and Ricciardo. The Renault update, however, seems to be more about reliability than speed.

My early thoughts are to keep an eye on the odds on Verstappen, Perez, and Sainz/McLaren. The circuit is one where overtaking is difficult, so cunning strategy/safety car luck can be worth a lot.

In first practice Bottas was fastest, a tenth ahead of Vettel, himself just a tenth in front of Leclerc. Hamilton was six-tenths off his team mate, with Grosjean a third of a second further back. Sainz, Magnussen, Gasly, Kvyat, and Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10. Verstappen was down in twelfth, with fewer laps and none on the fastest tyres. Stroll had a bit of a crash.

Verstappen had an oil leak in first practice, so Red Bull have brought forward an engine change for him.

Second practice had Bottas fastest, just under half a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Tasty. Leclerc was a few tenths further back, also less than a tenth ahead of his title-winning team mate. Verstappen was a few more tents off, ahead of Grosjean, Gasly, Magnussen, Sainz, and Kvyat.

At this stage I was quite interested to see Bottas’ odds for pole. However, when they finally went up (before third practice) the odds were a measly 2.5. Alas.

Hamilton topped third practice, half a second ahead of the tightly clustered trio of Leclerc, Bottas, and Vettel. Interesting to note that Haas (who I don’t think have new engines but do have other upgrades) had Grosjean just two-hundredths off Vettel. Scarlet sandbagging? Magnussen and Verstappen came next, then Albon, Raikkonen and Sainz.

Russell had a crash at the end of third practice, so we’ll see if he makes it out for qualifying.

Mr. Sandpit suggested backing the Ferraris for pole at about 6 each. My initial response was that Hamilton’s huge gap made him overwhelming favourite, but the Haas/Ferrari closeness smells of sandbags, so there may be value after all.

I wasn’t especially minded to bet given how things stand, but checked the odds anyway just in case something seemed wonky.

Hamilton was 1.53 for fastest qualifier, Bottas 2.9. The Ferrari odds were 8.5 on Vettel and 9 on Leclerc. I didn’t back any of those.

The 34 (36 with boost) on Verstappen to win each way looked the tastiest, to be honest, although it’s only a third the odds top 2, which does make it a little less attractive.

So, no tip for qualifying.

Not sure if the pre-race ramble will be up this afternoon/evening or tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Azerbaijan: post-race analysis 2019

Well, the bet didn’t come off and the race wasn’t that great, so easily the worst one of the year so far. Quite surprised by the low DNF rate, and zero crashing rate (discounting a reversing incident).

Raikkonen ended up with a pit lane start due to a tiny front wing infringement, and Kubica got one for a fuel flow irregularity.

Off the line, Hamilton started well but Bottas defended superbly to keep the Briton behind him and then pull a significant lead over the course of the first lap.

Unfortunately, that was also as close as the pair ever got.

Further back, Perez had a stonking start to pass Verstappen and drove well to keep the Dutchman behind him for a while, but eventually the Red Bull’s pace told and Verstappen passed the Mexican.

Leclerc was the only frontrunner (if you can call a chap starting 8th a frontrunner) to start on the slower medium tyre, although Gasly, starting last of the three pit lane fellows, did likewise. He lost a few places off the line but soon made them up, cutting his way through the field until he was, perhaps 15 laps or so in, hot on the heels of his team mate.

A strange thing then happened. Ferrari made a smart strategy call. They brought Vettel in and Leclerc continued on his merry way. Whilst all the other fast fellows had pitted, swapping softs for mediums, the Monegasque cruised into the lead. Unfortunately for him, a more predictable thing happened, and Ferrari kept him out too long (fearing his new soft tyres wouldn’t last more than 16/17 laps or so), costing him lots of time and putting him 5th, behind Verstappen.

Another odd occurrence happened. Ricciardo was passing Kvyat but locked up and went straight on, down a run-off area. But the angle of his departure meant the Russian also ended up unable to make the corner. Neither had any damage until the Aussie reversed and crashed, at low speed, into Kvyat, who was probably peeved by this point. Both ended up retiring due to damage.

I would not have bet on the biggest crash of the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix being a reversing incident.

Grosjean also ended up boxing to retire, and Gasly’s Red Bull lost power and he was forced down an escape road, bringing out the virtual safety car. A shame, as he was running 6th and had very competitive pace, especially considering he’d started in the pit lane.

Leclerc was too far back from Verstappen to close up so Ferrari made a second smart decision and pitted him for fresh soft tyres, with which he duly snatched the fastest lap away from Bottas.

Mercedes enjoyed yet another 1-2 finish, with Bottas winning. Vettel got 3rd, and Verstappen 4th, with Leclerc 5th. Another weak weekend from Ferrari, and an unlucky one for Gasly. Perez was best of the rest, and it was fantastic for McLaren, who had Sainz 7th and Norris 8th for a double points finish. Stroll got 9th, so it was just as good for Racing Point, and Raikkonen scored again, with 10th, making him the only non-top 6 driver to score at every race so far.

Albon and Giovinazzi just missed out. Renault, and Hulkenberg particularly, were lacklustre, and Magnussen also failed to trouble the scorers. The two Williams finished a lap behind everyone else, again. Bit sad to see.

So, neither a classic nor a profitable race. Still, can’t have everything.

Bottas 87
Hamilton 86
Vettel 52
Verstappen 51
Leclerc 47

Leclerc’s points tally should be a bit higher due to Bahrain but the table as a whole does reflect that when Mercedes has been faster they’ve taken advantage of that and exploited their pace, whereas when Ferrari has been faster they’ve either cocked up or been unlucky. It’s a two horse race, but neither of them are prancing.

Mercedes 173
Ferrari 99
Red Bull 64
McLaren 18
Racing Point 17
Alfa Romeo 13
Renault 12
Haas 8
Toro Rosso 4
Williams 0

Mercedes have more points than Ferrari and Red Bull combined. Competitive, it is not. Unlike the midfield, which has four teams separated by half a dozen points. Alfa Raikkonen is the most consistent of the midfield, whilst the others appear to have more pace, and more reliability failures.

We’re off to Spain next, in a fortnight. Let’s hope it’s both more entertaining and more profitable.

Morris Dancer

Azerbaijan: pre-race 2019

A very odd, prolonged qualifying. Passively galling, as Mr. Sandpit’s tip was doomed by misfortune, and the bet I had contemplated and decided against when the terms changed ended up coming off. I neither lost nor gained anything, yet felt peeved all the same.

As well as Gasly’s pit lane start, Giovinazzi, who reached his first ever Q3, has a 10 place grid penalty for electronic parts being changed.

In the first part of qualifying, we had the Williams at the back, which is, alas, usual. Less usual is the crash that occurred when Kubica introduced his car to the barriers, but the Pole was fine, although a moderately lengthy delay ensued. Stroll, Haas, and Hulkenberg failed to progress, the German’s slowness at least partly down to the car, whilst Stroll will be a bit miffed to see his team mate make the top 10.

Leclerc dominated the day, until his car (on medium tyres, as was Vettel but no-one else) struck the same barrier with which Kubica had earlier become intimately familiar. The Monegasque, as appears to be his wont, blamed himself thoroughly. Despite another delay putting qualifying about an hour behind where it should’ve been, his time remained good enough to reach Q3, and Giovinazzi’s penalty means he should start 9th. The delay meant the sun was sinking and Vettel was forced to bolt on the faster soft tyre to reach the final part of qualifying. Gasly, due to his pit lane start, didn’t bother running. The four ‘real’ eliminations were Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon, and Magnussen.

Would Vettel reclaim Ferrari’s honour in qualifying? Not quite. A second run traffic problem helped Bottas and hindered Hamilton, enabling the Finn to achieve another pole. He’s doing rather well this year. Vettel was a few tenths further back, possibly relatively disadvantaged by the cooler temperatures, which will be less of a factor on race day. Verstappen was 4th. The third row is Perez, whom I hope gets a podium, and Kvyat. Norris and Giovinazzi qualified next fastest but the Italian’s penalty throws him down the grid, so the Briton lines up alongside Raikkonen. Leclerc and Sainz form the fifth row.

At this stage my early betting thoughts were:
Williams points
Hulkenberg DNF
Leclerc win
Verstappen win

The Williams are 19 each for points. Could happen. They’re reliable cars, just very slow. However, it would almost certainly require around 10 DNFs, and every single not to be classified bet is odds against. Possible…

I believe Hulkenberg’s had a couple of DNFs around Baku and his car is the most unreliable on the grid. He’s 3 not to be classified, which I find quite tempting.

Leclerc starts 9th and is 7 for the win. That might still be value given his pace around the circuit, but there’s plenty of opportunity for collisions, whether down to him or someone else.

Verstappen is 13 to win. He was more competitive than I expected at the business end of qualifying but I’m not sure how much of that is down to the later running and cooler conditions. If only a little is due to the colder temperatures, then he stands a pretty good crack at the race win, I think. His problem is relative slowness on the straight and the high probability of a safety car.

All of those are interesting but it’s tricky to guess value at a circuit notorious for comedy calamity and DNFs.

Anyway, the markets took forever to awaken on Saturday, but the advantage is more markets to peruse on Sunday. Here’s what I saw:
Alfa Romeo, double points finish, 15
Under 15.5 classified finishers, 1.72
Safety car, 1.14

Alfa Romeo has a DNF rate of zero so far. So does Racing Point, but that team is 3.25 for double points whereas Alfa are 15. Raikkonen has a great shot of scoring, and Giovinazzi showed good pace to reach his first ever Q3 (he only starts down in 18th because of a penalty). Probably requires some DNFs ahead. And those will, to a greater or lesser extent, likely happen. Downside, of course, is if they happen to either driver.

I think qualifying showed the potential for crashing. Under 15.5 finishers at 1.72 is the stand out bet I’ve seen at this time.

Safety car is very likely, although I probably prefer the under 15.5 classified finishers bet.

Bit pushed for time so my usual approach of entering a prolonged meditative trance has to be replaced with making a decision quite quickly. And that decision is to back under 15.5 classified finishers at 1.72.

The post-race analysis will likely be up on Monday.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Azerbaijan: pre-qualifying 2019

As soon as the winner market went up (fifth the odds top 3 on 15th April) I backed, with tiny stakes, seven midfield/backmarker drivers each way for the win. In recent years, even with the dominance of the top three teams, we’ve seen Perez and Stroll achieve podium results at Azerbaijan, largely due to the chaotic and crashing nature of the circuit (turns out Monaco + a massive straight isn’t conducive to finishing the race).

So, I backed, and tipped on PB, the following (prices Ladbrokes with boost):
Ricciardo 651
Hulkenberg 651
Magnussen 901
Grosjean 901
Raikkonen 1301
Perez 1751
Stroll 3001

Very much long shots, but also educated guesses. Anyway, I did advocate splitting one stake between the lot. We’ll see what happens (still odds against, of course).

First practice was curtailed by a manhole cover getting sucked up by the aerodynamic power of Russell’s Williams, thoroughly buggering his car and preventing the session from resuming (hundreds of covers had to be checked). The extent of the damage prevented the unlucky Briton from running in second practice, though he should be ok for the third session.

For what it’s worth, Leclerc was fastest and Vettel was behind him but they were the only chaps who set times.

Second practice had a rather fuller time sheet, but the same chaps were at the top, Leclerc three-tenths ahead of his team mate. Hamilton, Verstappen, and Bottas followed, with Kvyat (who had something of a crash) next. Sainz, Albon, the lacklustre Gasly, and Norris rounded out the top 10.

For missing a call to the weigh bridge in second practice, Gasly has been punished with a pit lane start for the race. Not great, especially given he really needs to improve his performances.

Leclerc was top, again, in third practice, two-tenths ahead of his team mate Vettel. Verstappen was next but more than a second down the road, a couple of tenths ahead of Bottas and Hamilton. Kvyat, Magnussen, Albon, Perez, and Raikkonen rounded out the top ten.

At this stage, Leclerc is looking tasty for pole position with Vettel likeliest to cause an upset or pick up the pieces if the Monegasque makes a mistake. That said, I do not believe the Mercedes chaps are over a second behind Ferrari so we’ll see what sandbagging has occurred shortly.

Leclerc’s just 1.5 for pole. Vettel 3.5 and Hamilton 4.5.

I’m more tempted by each way (fifth the odds top three) on Bottas at 13, (14 with boost). Think he has a decent shot of being top three and there’s always a chance that one of those ahead of him will screw up and crash. However, as I write this, the each way aspect changed to a third the odds for top two, and that doesn’t tempt me.

So, no bet. I suspect Mr. Sandpit’s earlier tip of Leclerc for pole will prove profitable, and we shall soon see.

Not sure if the pre-race ramble will be up later today or tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 14 April 2019

China: post-race analysis 2019

After very competitive qualifying, the race was a little less close, certainly at the sharp end. The Kvyat bet failed (as an aside, so did both the other ones I was considering) but the weekend as a whole was green, which is nice.

Off the line, Bottas was slow and passed by Hamilton, and Leclerc passed Vettel who started perfectly well but had to slow to avoid ramming into Bottas. Further back, Perez had a good start and Kvyat dropped a couple of places, an error compounded by playing dodgems with both McLarens, which helped none of their races.

The ensuing debris brought out a brief virtual safety car whilst the track was cleared by stewards.

Early on the top five stayed as they were. Vettel appeared to be faster than Leclerc but unable to pass. He nagged on the radio until the team, to the Monegasque’s displeasure, ordered him to let the German through. Leclerc duly, if grumpily, obeyed, yet it was a little odd that Vettel was unable to pull away (he had looked faster) and spent much of his time locking brakes and wounding tyres.

Through the first round of pit stops, Verstappen went first, undercutting so successfully it forced Ferrari to make a correct strategy call and bring in Vettel. The German emerged just ahead and did well to keep the pesky Dutchman behind, despite a valiant effort by Verstappen to get past. Leclerc was sacrificed, but Ferrari’s decision was weird. They could’ve either brought him in right away to have him immediately behind Verstappen and hoping to take advantage of better pace (particularly on the straight), or they could’ve left him out for a longer time so he’d have the freshest rubber at the end when everyone else’s tyres were chewed up.

Instead they kept him out a few laps more, enough to cost him time without gaining any sort of real advantage whatsoever. Leclerc emerged from the pit lane behind Verstappen.

At the front, Hamilton suffered a setback when he struggled to complete the Times’ crossword, but otherwise his race was not interrupted by any sort of inconvenience.

Further back, reliability woe for Renault continued as Hulkenberg retired (my prediction, on PB, that Renault would either score or DNF proved accurate). Kvyat also retired, but they were the only two chaps to drop out.

Raikkonen showed that he still had speed, spending the latter quarter of the race passing cars and increasing his points tally, but was unable to get past Perez (who maintains his skill at looking after tyres when others are getting theirs torn to bits). Albon had a cracking race, starting from the pit lane and ending up 10th, keeping Grosjean behind him (it was another race to forget for Haas, with neither car scoring). Ahead of them Ricciardo was best of the rest, a consolation for Renault, whilst Gasly has a lonely race in No Man’s Land, comfortably 6th, neither troubling others nor being troubled in turn.

Back to the ‘sharp’ end: Hamilton cruised to victory. Bottas was an easy 2nd. The pair had safety first second pit stops (stacked and handled very well by the Mercedes pit crew) in reaction to Verstappen and Ferrari having second stops beforehand. The second stops didn’t alter anything, but Leclerc was left out too long (again) which meant he didn’t have enough time to try and catch up to the back of Verstappen.

I believe Gasly got the fastest lap, after a late pit stop to bolt on soft tyres and have a crack at it. Sensible from Red Bull and what Ferrari should’ve done for Leclerc in Australia after they ordered him not to pass Vettel.

So, how do things stack up after a reasonable but not stellar race?
Hamilton 68
Bottas 62
Verstappen 39
Vettel 37
Leclerc 36
Gasly 13
Raikkonen 12

Pretty much a two horse race at this stage, with three 1-2 finishes for Mercedes. The next three are tightly clustered, but Gasly’s on about a third of the points. He had a better race in China but really needs to pick up the pace. He’s a solitary point ahead of Raikkonen. Ferrari were faster than Red Bull today but the team failed on strategy to the advantage of Verstappen. Mercedes were simply quicker than their rivals and didn’t suffer the misfortune that attended Leclerc in Bahrain.

Mercedes 130
Ferrari 73
Red Bull 52
Renault 12
Alfa Romeo 12
Haas 8
McLaren 8
Racing Point 7
Toro Rosso 4
Williams 0

Got to say that whilst pace is being squandered by reliability weakness at Haas, McLaren, and Renault (Haas also seeming to eat its tyres), I’m impressed by the reliability and speed of Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen’s doing good work for the team, but I don’t expect them to retain their position. Other cars are faster, if more fragile. Hulkenberg’s retirement today improved Renault’s DNF rate from 75% after two races to just 67% after three.

Slightly up and down weekend. Very exciting, and profitable, qualifying, following by a less engaging race that included a red bet. Albon showed the car did have the pace for points, but Kvyat’s collisions ensured the tip failed to come off.

The next race is in a fortnight, when we visit comedy crash-fest Azerbaijan.

Morris Dancer