Saturday, 12 January 2019

Driver Pairings for 2019


Last season saw some very tight battles (Force India being the closest, I’d say) and some less tight battles (Alonso, Leclerc, and Gasly all had very strong years, as did Hulkenberg). In this post, looking ahead to how chaps might stack up in 2019, I’ve split it into sections based on how many drivers change.

Steady Eddies – No Change

Only two teams have unchanged driver lineups: Mercedes and Haas.

Hamilton and Bottas ended up some way apart on points last year, and, even if you take the view that Bottas was significantly unlucky early on, the Finn’s second half of 2018 was not fantastic. It’s also possible he’ll be set back by the Silver Arrows effectively supporting Hamilton as a number one driver (I’ve backed Hamilton to beat Schumacher’s win record [92+ wins], at 9, so that’d suit me). I think Hamilton’s near certain to win this, perhaps by a large margin. Bottas, with Ocon waiting in the wings, may well be driving for his future at Mercedes, and perhaps in F1.

Haas was rather more tightly matched last year. Grosjean and Magnussen are both quick drivers, and reliable, though Grosjean had a shocking start to 2018 (some of it not his fault, most obviously at Australia where the team had a nightmare of a double pit stop failure). I see no reason for the 2018 result to be anything other than pretty tight again.


Half and Half – One New Driver

Four teams retain one driver and change one: Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, and Force India. Interesting to note these are all either in the first division or the top of the midfield.

Ferrari has perhaps the most exciting pairing and the greatest potential for a bust up. Vettel really liked Raikkonen, and the pair obviously got along well personally (to a very unusual extent for team mates). Against his wishes, the Finn has been replaced by the highly rated Monegasque Charles Leclerc. People are already wondering who will be the fastest and whether Ferrari will overtly back one over the other. Difficult to assess race pace as Leclerc’s a new driver and will be shifting from a pretty good Sauber to one of fastest cars on the grid. I think he’ll certainly give Vettel a lot to think about, and I suspect there’ll be a bit more rivalry and a bit less friendship than there was with Raikkonen.

Red Bull also has a new driver, with Pierre Gasly joining old man Verstappen (their combined age is just a few years older than Raikkonen by himself). The Frenchman drove very well for Toro Rosso and I think he’ll acquit himself well at Red Bull. But, and it’s a big but, Verstappen in the latter half of 2018 was arguably the best driver on the grid. He’s phenomenally fast and, so long as he keeps his recklessness in check, will be very tough to beat. I think Gasly will do well, but I’d be surprised if he can match Verstappen. It’s also possible that Red Bull will have an overt number one status for the Dutchman.

Renault waves goodbye to Sainz and hello to Ricciardo, who joins Hulkenberg. The German had a strong 2018 against the talented Sainz, and the pairing of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is almost certainly the best of the midfield (assuming Renault doesn’t undergo a startling improvement from one year to the next). Ricciardo’s a very good driver, but on pace he seemed a little way behind Verstappen in the latter half of 2018. I think most people would guess Ricciardo would be faster. But it’s a great opportunity for Hulkenberg to be measured against a very highly rated driver, and, if he beats Ricciardo, that could be his ticket to a top team (although Renault may be aiming for a title tilt in a few years).

Force India, likely to be renamed, retains the reliable and fast Sergio Perez, and acquires new driver/son Lance Stroll. Stroll’s only driven a Williams that was iffy and a Williams that was atrocious, so assessing pace isn’t easy. He does tend to start races very well. I’d guess that Perez will be top dog, simply because he’s performed very well for a number of years.


All Change – Entirely New Pairings

It’s the most turbulent season-to-season change to drivers I can remember, and four teams changed both their drivers. These are: McLaren, Toro Rosso, Sauber, and Williams.

McLaren replaces one Spaniard with another, Carlos Sainz replacing Fernando Alonso. The second seat will be occupied by young Briton Lando Norris. The car has been weak for several seasons now, though the early part of 2018 was pretty good and saw the McLaren matching the Renault (briefly). Sainz should win this. He’s experienced, fast, and reliable. I don’t know much of Norris, but if he can stay fairly close to Sainz for his first year that’ll be a good performance.

Toro Rosso welcomes back Kvyat in an object lesson on the importance of maintaining good relations. Kvyat’s confidence seemed shot when he was demoted from Red Bull, then axed by Toro Rosso, but it’s worth recalling he’s a good driver. The second seat goes to Alexander Albon, a Thai-Briton. Likely Kvyat will win, but intrigued to see the Thai guy try.

Sauber sees Raikkonen return after an 18 year gap (well, 17 if you count the recent testing). He’s up against Giovinazzi, who replaced Wehrlein for a couple of races due to the latter’s injury in 2017. Raikkonen had a strong 2018 season. Giovinazzi, in his brief stint before, showed good pace and a less welcome tendency to crash. I think the Finn, now the elder statesman of F1, will be leading the way.

Williams is joined by Kubica, the talented Pole who last raced in the 2010 season before suffering a near fatal rally crash ahead of the 2011 F1 season. As a result, he now drives 70% left-handed. How much that will hamper him remains to be seen, but prior to the accident he was, rightly, highly rated and mentioned up there with Hamilton and Alonso. Also joining Williams for 2019 is young Briton George Russell, reigning F2 champion and former GP3 champion. He’s in a great position, as if he beats Kubica that may be rated as quite the achievement, but, if he doesn’t, Kubica’s reputation means it won’t be a death knell for Russell’s career. Perhaps less pressure on Russell than any other driver.


One thing to note is that, outside the top six (assuming we retain the two-tier situation we had last year), number one drivers are unlikely to be a feature. The midfield was very competitive last season and may well be again, so teams will be emphasising points for the Constructors’ table over anything else. At the sharp end, teams with a realistic prospect of tilting for the title may jump the other way and have an overt number one driver even if that compromises the Constructors’ position.

This is the last planned post in the inter-season period, but I’ll be posting more news/articles ahead of the 2019 season.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 7 January 2019

An Early Look at How the 2019 F1 Titles Might Go


There’s a natural focus from fans on the Drivers’ title, but there is a second trophy up for grabs, namely the Constructors’. Interestingly, the 2018 result saw Mercedes get both, again, but Ferrari having two out of three top spots in the Drivers’ table.

Bookies (I look mostly at Ladbrokes) have two markets, one per title race, with the Drivers’, at this early stage, having an each way option. Currently, that’s a fifth the odds for top 3, but as the season unfolds it’ll likely change (not retroactively, of course) to a third the odds top 2, and then the each way option will most likely disappear altogether. The Constructors’ race has just a straight win option.

Obviously, Betfair (and the Ladbrokes Exchange, which has less liquidity but may be a little more convenient if you don’t want to shuffle money around) enables you to hedge bets by betting against specific outcomes.

My record over the years has been mostly positive. As well as the old 71 tip on Button for the 2009 title (from the good old days, when testing times were a useful indicator of pace), I had about 16 each way on Rosberg to win in the early days of total Mercedes dominance. More recently things have been ropier, with the 16 or so on Bottas to win [be top 3] missing out in 2018 by 4 points.

Before looking to the future, Raikkonen, after a few races, was 61 to win the 2018 title. Obviously, he didn’t. But that still made it, effectively, 12 for him to be top 3, and that did happen.

At the time of writing (28 November 2018), the Ladbrokes prices are as follows:

Constructors’:
Mercedes 1.53
Ferrari 3.5
Red Bull 4.5
Renault 101

I think Renault are unlikely to narrow the gap sufficiently to enjoy a credible shot at the title. Whilst they have a very good driver pairing (Ricciardo and Hulkenberg), the gap is simply enormous. The engine does make a difference but if we compare the 2018 Red Bull/Renault results, it’s not the main story. They may pull ahead of the midfield, but won’t be a title contender, I think.

Of the big three teams, the title winner will have a car that’s fast, a car that’s reliable, and a strong driver pairing. Hamilton was good enough to allow Mercedes to win because he beat Vettel by a wide margin, and the Finnish contest (narrowly won by Raikkonen) was tight enough to not even come close to overturning that. Better reliability for Raikkonen would’ve made it closer but Mercedes would still have won.

I think Bottas is likely the weakest of the top teams’ drivers. He did start last season well, if unluckily, but in the latter half he was not up to scratch. Hamilton might yet be fast enough for another double title triumph for Mercedes, but with Ferrari close for two consecutive seasons and Red Bull developing strongly in the second half of 2018, the 1.53 does not tempt me.

Ferrari has an interesting driver pairing and it’s intriguing to consider whether there’ll be fireworks. Probably not on a Hamilton-Alonso scale, but there could be some testiness, and it definitely won’t be as cosy and harmonious as the extremely unusual level of friendliness between Vettel and Raikkonen. Leclerc is a very talented driver, although it’s always difficult to gauge just how good a promising chap is until he’s in a top car against a proven winner. I do expect him to live up to his billing and for the results for Ferrari to improve. However, that may come at a cost of team spirit. For a season or two, the Monegasque may (if Ferrari go down this route) be willing to be a number two driver, but they may prefer just to let them race then back whoever’s got the best shot of the title. I think the Ferrari pairing is probably the strongest of the big teams, but their title prospects depend a lot upon the 2019 offering being quick and reliable.

That brings us to Red Bull, Verstappen, and Gasly. Red Bull has another major change, unique to the top trio of teams, namely the engine. They’re no longer to be provided with Renault engines and will instead be racing with Honda. Which they may not mind too much. Toro Rosso spent the latter half of 2018 burning through Honda engines to help improve development for the big sister team this year. I remember reading that the horsepower deficit from Honda to Ferrari/Mercedes was about half that of the Renault. It’s still significant but, if accurate and maintained for next year, a large step forward for Red Bull.

If we imagine a 2018 season in which Verstappen had half the horsepower deficit he actually had, that would certainly see him finish 3rd. But there’s another side to the coin. Reliability. Verstappen’s DNFs were mostly due to early season red mist, but Ricciardo’s were almost entirely down to his car breaking. Worth pointing out this didn’t happen as much to some other Renault-powered vehicles (Hulkenberg and Alonso had 7 DNFs each although both had some that were caused by on-track collisions) and the finger has been pointed to Red Bull’s shrink-wrapped approach that decreases reliability. If that is the prime cause it’ll remain, at least to some degree, in 2019.

Gasly has flown under the radar for the most part, overshadowed by the surprise story of Ricciardo joining Renault and the flavour of the month Leclerc getting a Ferrari seat. The young Frenchman who joins Red Bull performed very well against his (sometimes unlucky) team mate at Toro Rosso, beating him by 29 points to 4. We’ll see for certain just how good Gasly is when he’s racing Verstappen race after race, but I think he’ll perform well (although matching the Dutchman would be a hell of a feat).

Does Red Bull have a better chance of winning than Ferrari? Maybe. Hard to gauge whether Vettel-Leclerc is better than Verstappen-Gasly. On cars, we cannot predict development but we do have one piece of significant information: the Renault to Honda engine change for Red Bull. Reliability may improve, although that’s open to question. If it stays the same as this year, Red Bull have very little chance of winning the title. Power should improve by a significant margin. Couple that to the baseline of this year’s performance, and Red Bull could be in a good position to take the title.

However. There’s 4.5 for them. And 3.5 for Ferrari. And it’s still possible that Hamilton will drag the Mercedes to yet another victory. If someone gave me a fiver on condition I backed a team for the title I’d have a hard time deciding between Ferrari and Red Bull, and might favour the latter. But the uncertainty over the engine change coupled with the long time frame and short odds means I haven’t backed anything, and, right now, don’t plan to.

Drivers’:
Hamilton 1.72
Verstappen 4.5
Vettel 4.5
Leclerc 8.5
Bottas 17
Gasly 34

Interesting that the bookie reckons Verstappen and Vettel have an equal shot, but Leclerc is far shorter than Gasly. (At the time of writing, Betfair has Vettel 4.7 and Verstappen 6.4). With the possible exception of Leclerc, I agree with the implicit assumption that Hamilton, Verstappen, and Vettel will top score for their respective teams. However, that does raise the question of how their team mates will do.

It was close in 2018 between Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Bottas. They were covered by just 4 points. Drivers matter a lot but the car matters more. If Red Bull does effectively perform as in 2018 but with the power deficit halved, that instantly pushes them into close title contention, rather than the punchy third spot they had in 2018. That being so, I think there’s some value on Gasly at 34, each way. That comes to, effectively, a 5.6 bet on him being top three. If the cars are close to being even, I suspect Bottas may end up at the back. I haven’t put a huge amount on Gasly, but I think he’s been overlooked due to significant driver changes elsewhere. Leclerc at 8.5 is also somewhat tempting, although I think the Red Bull’s probable improvement from 2018 may make Gasly the better bet.

As for who’ll win the title, Hamilton will have an advantage of being an overt number one. That may or may not be the Ferrari policy. At Red Bull, I think Verstappen will be a de facto number one. But if Gasly can match the Dutchman then he’ll be doing very well indeed. Sadly, (I like change and unpredictability), I think Hamilton is right to be favourite for the 2019 title. But 1.72 is damned short for a bet that won’t pay out for perhaps a year.

I post this often, but it’s worth repeating: don’t take testing times seriously. Listen more to the mood music. Testing can sometimes be indicative of reliability problems, but rarely, these days, of pace.

The large fuel engine means teams can manufacture large or small fuel effects. The tyres vary wildly. And engine modes alter pace substantially.

January update:
This was originally intended to go up late December, but the delay allowed time for new markets to go up on Ladbrokes. I’m disinterested in the intra-team race/qualifying match bets, but there is a title winner without the big 6 market which is a bit more interesting.

Unlike the title market itself, each way here is only a third the odds for top 2. Some contenders are:
Ricciardo 4.33
Hulkenberg 4.5
Perez 5
Grosjean 8.5
Raikkonen 9
Magnussen 10
Stroll 10

Interesting the two Renault drivers are so close but 51 and 101 for the title itself. I think Raikkonen’s miles too short. He’s driving very well but if the Sauber leaps all the way to best of the midfield that’d be impressive, as well as improbable. Last year, Renault, Force India (apparently now inflicted with the name Racing Point), and Haas were closely matched. Too tight to call, I think. But a good market idea.

There are also some Constructor match bets. Sauber are 2.37 to beat McLaren. Bit short for me given the long time scale, but I’d consider backing that if someone gave me a fiver on condition I used it to back one team to beat another.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 15 December 2018

F1: Trials and Tribulations


F1 is not at death’s door, but it is looking a bit sickly. None of its problems are insurmountable, but action needs to be taken or they could lead to long term decline.

A few years ago the BBC hosted free-to-air, Bafta-winning coverage of the sport. Then the BBC and Sky decided to ‘share’ the coverage, a situation we have recently seen continue between Sky and Channel 4 (in reality, Channel 4 got half live and half highlights coverage, Sky being fully live). Next year, almost the entire sport goes behind the Sky pay wall (British viewers will get to see the British Grand Prix live on Channel 4. Everything else is highlights or Sky).

Why does that matter? Well, for the UK, more than half the teams are based in a small part of southern England. It’s great for the teams, because engineers can change jobs without moving country, and sometimes without moving house or forcing their kids to switch schools. It’s also great for the economy, as F1 brings in high end, well-paid jobs, and, beyond direct employment, there’s a large number of supply jobs. The less successful F1 is, the less money there is, which will hit the UK.

In terms of the sport itself, viewer numbers matter for sponsorship. With the sport drifting ever more behind the pay wall (and, football excepted, pay walls seem to lead to audiences shrinking), sponsorship declines for obvious reasons. This hits the smaller teams the most, because sponsorship revenue goes to the teams. Broadcast revenue, from the pay TV stations, goes to the sport generally, which doesn’t necessarily divvy up the cash in a fair manner. Some teams *cough*Ferrari*cough* get paid just for turning up. It’s a double whammy for mid-grid and backmarker teams.

Force India have come 4th twice in recent years, yet this very season nearly went under due to financial pressure. If the most successful midfield team can barely hold its head above water, it means there’s something rotten in the state of F1.

The grid’s already pretty small, just 20 cars. Every one of the recent new teams has vanished. They were promised spending caps, to stop the big teams blasting money to guarantee they’d be faster, and it never happened. Now great drivers like Esteban Ocon are looking at being without a seat because the grid’s too small.

Another problem, a hangover from the Ecclestone era, is the rise of the identikit street circuit, which is bloody tedious. It doesn’t have to be this way. The track in Austin, Texas, proves that new circuits can be very good indeed. But when you cram a track into city streets you inevitably end up with a constricted, slow layout, usually festooned with right angles and bereft of places to pass. A track that’s slow and difficult to pass on is not a good racetrack (and, yes, I’ll commit F1 heresy and include Monaco in that. Monaco is the worst circuit on the calendar).

So the sport’s left trying to persuade viewers to pay for something that had been free for decades, to watch something on circuits that are increasingly boring (with perennial threats to end racing at Silverstone, Suzuka, Interlagos, and Spa), whilst making it financially more difficult for every team in the midfield.

Liberty are still in the early days of running the show, so there is hope that they might do things differently. We’ll see how they handle free-to-air versus pay TV coverage, whether they make things fairer for the teams financially, and if they’ll prefer racetracks over processions.

I hope so, because F1 can be absolutely fantastic. Who can forget the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix? The longest in history, over four hours total, saw Button go from dead last to passing Vettel, who had gone wide, on the final lap to win the unlikeliest of victories. Or the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix duel in the desert between Hamilton and Rosberg, with the Mercedes drivers passing one another over and over again?

There are still plenty of good races, but also more processions, and fewer viewers. Things can be turned around, but Liberty are going to have to recognise the problems and have the gumption to do something about it, otherwise F1 will slowly decline.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 December 2018

F1 Team Driver Battles in 2018


Mercedes


Hamilton
Bottas
Points
408
247
Points finishes
20
19
Pointless finishes
0
0
DNFs
1
2
Points per finish (average)
20.4
13

Looking at those stats, the sheer chasm between the two drivers is laid bare. Must say it was larger than I imagined. Hamilton’s average points (per finish, so discounting the DNF) is between a 1st and 2nd place. That’s unbeatable. Bottas’ equivalent stat is between a 3rd and 4th, which isn’t bad by any stretch but is only two-thirds what Hamilton achieved. Indeed, by the end of the 14th race (Italy), exactly two-thirds through the season, Hamilton had 256 points, exceeding Bottas’ final tally.

It’s worth noting Bottas had some bad luck, occasionally being hit by others, and the debris in Baku robbed him of a certain victory, replacing a 25 point haul with 0. There’s quite the gulf, though, between the two. I do wonder if Mercedes will be saying goodbye to Bottas fairly soon.

[After writing this, I happened to comment on Twitter about it and a polite stranger (they do exist, even on Twitter) indicated he and a friend had worked out Bottas had lost circa 80 points through misfortune in the first half of the season. And that the second DNF was a similar failure that occurred when he was leading. That’s more than I would’ve guessed, and is a mitigating factor, but doesn’t make up for a weak second half of the year].


Ferrari


Vettel
Raikkonen
Points
320
251
Points finishes
20
17
Pointless finishes
0
0
DNFs
1
4
Points per finish (average)
16
14.76

This is a bit closer than one might think, largely because Raikkonen suffered worse reliability. The Finn had a pretty good year, including his first win for some time, and an impressive string of podium finishes (12, including a run of 5 consecutive in the second quarter). That said, Vettel’s own DNF was self-inflicted, throwing away 25 points for 0 in Germany. The average for the German was just better than a 3rd place, and the Finn’s was a tiny margin worse than 3rd place. With an equal DNF rate, Raikkonen would’ve had about 295 points.

Pretty evenly matched overall, although Vettel did have the edge.


Red Bull


Ricciardo
Verstappen
Points
170
249
Points finishes
13
17
Pointless finishes
0
0
DNFs
8
4
Points per finish (average)
13.08
14.65

It’s easy to ascribe the vast chasm between Ricciardo and Verstappen down to DNFs. And, to a large extent, that’s true. It’s worth noting almost all of Ricciardo’s DNFs were down to bad reliability, whereas most of Verstappen’s were down to reckless driving early in the season. However, the Dutchman got himself together mentally and by the latter half of the season was driving out of his skin (one might argue the Ocon collision was a 50/50 incident or even Verstappen’s fault, but personally I’d blame the Frenchman). The points per finish difference is small, but a little larger than the Ferrari difference, perhaps counterintuitively. Both scored an average of between a 3rd and a 4th, with Verstappen a small but significant step ahead of Ricciardo.


Force India


Perez
Ocon
Points
62
49
Points finishes
12
10
Pointless finishes
7
6
DNFs
2
5
Points per finish (average)
3.26
3.06
And so we leave the heady heights of the chaps who always score if they finish and move into the mortal realm. The very evenly matched Perez/Ocon partnership remained as tight as ever. The only significant difference was the DNF rate, minimal for Perez and middling for Ocon. Taking that into account, the gap between them on average points was tiny, just 0.2 (as an aside, I initially mistakenly only included points finishes, the gap of which was almost the same – 0.27). Closely matched, fast, consistent, and (mostly) without the clattering on-track melodrama of earlier times, Force India had a great lineup, and it’s a shame Ocon’s taking a forced sabbatical. He’s definitely good enough to return to the sport.


Renault


Sainz
Hulkenberg
Points
53
69
Points finishes
13
11
Pointless finishes
6
3
DNFs
2
7
Points per finish (average)
2.79
4.93

I rate both Sainz and Hulkenberg, and was intrigued to see how the pairing would match up. Got to be said the German had far the better season. Despite 7 DNFs to the Spaniard’s 2, he still finished significantly ahead on points, and with an average points-per-finish 2.14 higher (given the big teams dominated the top positions, that’s quite significant). Next year, Hulkenberg versus Ricciardo could be rather good, and it’s a tasty lineup for Renault, who really need to narrow the gap to the top chaps. As a proportion, Hulkenberg had a better points-per-finish tally over his team mate than Hamilton (Bottas scored about two-thirds the Briton’s average, Sainz 56% of Hulkenberg’s). A strong performance indeed from the German.


Williams


Sirotkin
Stroll
Points
1
6
Points finishes
1
2
Pointless finishes
17
16
DNFs
3
3
Points per finish (average)
0.06
0.33

Bit difficult to assess much as the Williams this year was an absolute dog of a car. I think Sirotkin is a bit underrated. Calm, hard-working, commentary claimed he would often not complain about problems if they couldn’t be fixed and gave good feedback. Stroll started well at many races, but, fundamentally, neither had a car capable of anything other than rare points finishes. Hopefully next year’s car will be an order of magnitude better.


Haas


Grosjean
Magnussen
Points
37
56
Points finishes
7
11
Pointless finishes
8
8
DNFs
6
2
Points per finish (average)
2.47
2.95

Must admit I was slightly surprised by this. Magnussen was very reliable (I forget his second DNF, but the first was due to the double pit stop horror in Oz). Grosjean had a scratty start to the season, but did improve markedly thereafter. The Dane had a better finishing record, more points overall and a 0.48 better points-per-finish average. Reasonably close, and given they were Renault’s closest rival, puts into perspective Hulkenberg’s dominant performance over the year.


McLaren


Alonso
Vandoorne
Points
50
12
Points finishes
9
4
Pointless finishes
5
14
DNFs
7
3
Points per finish (average)
3.57
0.67

We had some tight battles in 2018. This wasn’t one of them.

Vandoorne averaged, per finish, points less than 19% of Alonso’s average. The most dominant performance by miles. The Spaniard had more than quadruple the Belgian’s raw points tally, and that’s with more than double the DNF rate. Sheer dominance from Alonso. Vandoorne did show flashes of speed, but didn’t seem in the same league as his illustrious team mate (whose points per finish average is higher than everyone in the midfield except Hulkenberg).


Sauber


Ericsson
Leclerc
Points
9
39
Points finishes
6
10
Pointless finishes
11
5
DNFs
4
6
Points per finish (average)
0.53
2.6

Almost as crushing as Alonso’s dominance on both raw points and the average per finish (Ericsson’s being just over 20% of Leclerc’s), this was a fantastic performance by the highly rated Monegasque. There’s almost a precise inversion of the points and pointless finishes, with Leclerc scoring at two-thirds of races he finished and Ericsson only managing to do so at just over a third. That may be the real story. Ericsson was sometimes faster than Leclerc, but not often. He also didn’t screw up much or drive like a Magnussen, but, ultimately, the Swede just wasn’t as fast as the Monegasque.


Toro Rosso


Gasly
Hartley
Points
29
4
Points finishes
5
3
Pointless finishes
11
11
DNFs
5
7
Points per finish (average)
1.81
0.29

Hartley averaged about 16% of Gasly’s points-per-finish. That’s an even larger margin than Alonso achieved over Vandoorne, or Leclerc over Ericsson although the raw points difference was only 25 (38 for Alonso/Vandoorne). Gasly had a couple of very good results, including an early 4th in Bahrain, and Hartley often seemed to end up barely out of the points. Nevertheless, that’s a large margin overall. I do wonder how much of that was down to some bad luck for Hartley. Gasly’s a better driver but the margin’s a bit heftier than I imagined it would be (a little bit like Sainz against Hulkenberg).

Note: as I wrote this, Alexander Albon was announced as Kvyat’s team mate for next year. The Thai-Briton (I believe he’s dual national and races under the Thai flag) was a bit off my radar but apparently people who pay attention knew he was coming.


Summary

Hope you enjoyed the stats. Interesting that amongst the top three teams, two were pretty tight, and Hamilton beat Bottas by a significantly wider margin (although Bottas did have some misfortune). Also worth noting the remarkable stat that there wasn’t a single pointless finish from the top six. All of them either scored or had a DNF at every single race.

Amongst the midfield, Force India was ultra-competitive, and Haas was almost as close, but every other team had a dominant driver, some of them by a very significant margin.

Next year seems to have more driver churn than I can remember happening before. Mildly amused Mercedes bleated about Ocon not getting a spot when they’re one of only two teams (Haas, I believe, being the other) to have an unchanged driver lineup. Young, talented drivers join two top teams, with Leclerc to Ferrari and Gasly to Red Bull.

Force India (which may well be renamed but seems likely to retain its pink livery) and Renault retain one driver each, with McLaren, Williams, Toro Rosso, and Sauber all having total changes. Eight drivers, by my reckoning, stay where they are, and 12 either enter the sport or switch teams.

In the future, I’ll have a look at those head-to-heads and ponder how things might go.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more F1 thoughts and news.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The 2018 F1 Season Review


Racing

There were some very good races indeed, and some absolute dogs. Season-long patterns were also interesting, as the initial Mercedes-Ferrari fight became a three way battle when Red Bull improved in the latter half of the season. The best of the rest contest was also intriguing (NB Renault would’ve narrowly beaten Force India even had the Pink Panthers kept their pre-takeover points tally), and the midfield was tightly competitive (excepting Williams, who languished at the back for pretty much the whole season).

I’ll look at how the driver pairings stacked up in intra-team battles in more detail in a separate post, probably as a precursor to looking at next year’s pairings. This review will focus more on title contenders, the fight for third, and the battle to be best of the rest.


Title Duel

At the start of the year, Hamilton seemed to have the Australian Grand Prix sewn up, only to lose it to a cunning Ferrari strategy call, bringing Vettel in for a relatively faster pit stop when a virtual safety car emerged.

Immediately after this Vettel notched a second win in two races, impressively keeping Bottas behind him in Bahrain. China had Hamilton a bit lacklustre but Vettel was hit by Verstappen, enabling the Briton to close the gap.

Azerbaijan, Spain, and Monaco saw Hamilton in the lead, with Vettel snatching it back (by 1 point) in Canada, losing it in France, regaining it in Austria (again by 1 point) and extending it in the UK (roughly the halfway mark).

It was looking very nicely set up. But the second half of the season was an entirely different matter. Vettel made a number of mistakes, most notably beaching his car in the gravel during wet running in Germany (he had been in the lead). Hamilton ended up winning, reclaiming a lead he was never again to lose.

Between early collisions (Italy, the US), and some dubious strategy calls, plus a near flawless performance by Hamilton in the latter half of the year (switching roles with Bottas, who was strong early on and faded later), the gap ended up looking rather enormous.

Could Vettel have done things differently? Undoubtedly, but mistakes are easy to make. Could the team have provided better strategy? Yes. But it’s worth remembering Hamilton in the second half of the season was driving better than he did in the first half. Perhaps people knock Vettel too much, and credit Hamilton too little.

Next year, Ferrari has a big decision to make. Mercedes will be backing Hamilton. Will Ferrari back Vettel, or will the centre of gravity shift towards the very talented, but also inexperienced, Leclerc?

The same question might be asked of Red Bull with Verstappen and Gasly.

Battle for Third

From the outset, this appeared to be a straight Finnish duel, with Red Bull too far back, and perhaps too unreliable, to trouble the Nordic contest. Verstappen’s early driving was aggressive beyond the bounds of sense, costing himself (and occasionally his team mate) points. In the first quarter or so, Ricciardo, despite early reliability problems, was right up there in the fight, though.

Later, reliability became so horrendous for the Aussie he really had no hope of getting the third spot. His driving has generally been very good, but it’s hard to score points when your car breaks down more than a third of the time.

Just as Ricciardo’s woe deepened, Verstappen’s temperament cooled. He still drove fast but, generally, with better judgement than before. Bottas and Raikkonen remained very tight on points, and were joined by Verstappen, whose second half performance was impressive.

It finished with just 4 points covering them all. Raikkonen won third, 2 points back was Verstappen, and 2 points behind him was Bottas. Worth noting Bottas had just a pair of DNFs, against twice that for the other two.


Best of the Rest

Quite some way behind the big three teams, the battle to be king of the midfield was rather tight. The development race and in-season drama (Force India’s financial difficulty and rescue, namely) played significant roles. A few teams racked up healthy points tallies early on, such as McLaren and Toro Rosso, only to fade significantly later. Sauber did it roughly in reverse, whilst Renault, Force India, and Haas scored throughout the season.

Of the drivers, Hulkenberg was the most consistent, despite many DNFs (seven). He scored points throughout the year, and managed to finish atop the midfield pile. Perez was 7 points off the German, but had only a pair of DNFs. Weirdly, the Force India started terribly, with just 1 point scored in the first three races, before kicking into gear.

Magnussen had a pretty good year, a little up-and-down. He often scored highly but then went a few races pointless, and suffered only two DNFs. He ended up on 56 points.

Sainz, Hulkenberg’s team mate, got 53 in the end, but had just two DNFs to Hulkenberg’s seven. I rate Sainz, but it’s clear that his team mate had the better year.

Last, but not least, Alonso ended up with 50 points. McLaren actually had a pretty good start to the year, with regular double points finishes. But their development was horrendous. In the first half of the year, Alonso reached 40 points, at that stage just 2 behind Hulkenberg. The Spaniard added just 10 more in the second half, ending up 19 adrift of Hulkenberg and also behind Perez, Magnussen, and Sainz.

Alonso’s said adios but McLaren remain. If they ever want to return to the sharp end they need to shape up their development during the course of a season. Force India tend to do an exemplary job on that, with a (relatively) small budget. Stand still in F1 and you’ll be last before long.

How much was it down to the drivers, and how much to the teams? Well, McLaren were right there with Renault early on, after which the black-and-yellow team soared away. Haas got close but couldn’t reach Renault. Force India were fast throughout and would’ve finished just behind Renault (and ahead of Haas and McLaren instead of behind) had they kept their earlier points.

And Williams, sadly, had a line so flat it resembles a heart monitor attached to a corpse.


Betting

Very much a season of two halves for me. The start was utterly horrendous. At the time, I blamed this on really bad luck, something I’ll examine in more detail later. It wasn’t until the sixth race I finished ahead, and in the first half I had only two green races, and both of them were small.

In the latter half, I had a couple of good races and lots of so-so ones (usually small reds) and finished almost flat, with the smallest of green shoots.

My much mentioned Bottas to finish top three tip did not come off. Raikkonen, who got it in the end, at one point early in the season was 61 for the win, effectively 12 for top three. This was entirely down to Bottas’ poor performance. He did have some misfortune, but both the chaps who finished immediately ahead of him had four DNFs to his two. And, over the course of the season, he had the best car.

So, did I really have a bucketload of bad luck, or was I just judging things badly? [NB I’m not including annoyingly close examples, where I back a pole-winner and he’s 0.04s off].

Australia: I backed two red bets. Raikkonen to have the fastest lap, and No Safety Car. The safety car did emerge but only after the second Haas pit stop failure. I think that’s a clear case of bad luck. The Raikkonen bet also failed but harder to say if it would’ve come off (closing the field up decreased the potential). Taking the safety car bet as the only difference, that meant I ended up minus 2 stakes, instead of plus 1.9 [net].

Bahrain: I backed Ricciardo to be winner without Ferrari. He was the only driver to suffer a reliability retirement. Had it come off, that would’ve swung from minus one stake to plus 2.9. The retirement was very early on making it difficult to say whether he would’ve got it or not.

Azerbaijan: backed Perez to be top two (win each way) at 326. He was 3rd. Can’t complain too much but I was pissed off at the time. Important to remember this for next year. A combination of street ability and a solid engine plus potentially high attrition rate makes this sort of bet on a midfield team, even if miles slower than the top group, potential value. Podium bets also worth considering.

France: backed Bottas to win each way at 6, he was hit by Vettel and had to pit after the lap one incident. Hard to say, given that, whether it would’ve come off, but the collision prevented any chance of it happening.

Austria: backed Sainz for points at 1.5. He had a terrible start, then heavy blistering, and his extra stop was very slow (he was running 8th when it happened then slumped out of the points).

Considering just the Australia and Bahrain situations, that would’ve changed things from minus eight stakes, in the first half, to minus one. Obviously if Perez had come second or won in Azerbaijan it would’ve been greener than Kermit the frog.

I did have some early atrocious luck but I think the reason it jarred so much was that I had a lot of near misses and no corresponding good luck for a long time. I had a bet on Ricciardo making up three places, and he made up two, backed someone for pole and they were 0.04s off, etc.

Anyway, sometimes seasons are good and sometimes bad. There’s not much you can do against luck in F1, and it does swing both ways, as proven by the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.


Stay tuned to enormo-haddock.blogspot.co.uk, as I’ve plans for posts about new 2019 driver lineups, how the titles might go, and several other things to help make the long inter-season gap seem a little smaller. My intention is to put new blogs up every Saturday throughout December.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis 2018


An entertaining race, though not a classic. The race bet was half-green, meaning the weekend as a whole was red to a small extent.

Off the line, it was formation flying for the front rows. Verstappen seemed to get off the line well but a sensor problem that made his engine think it was dangerously hot prevented full power deployment meant he got swamped in the second phase of the getaway and he slipped down to 9th. Hulkenberg and Leclerc started well, the Monegasque passing Grosjean, and Hulkenberg doing likewise. Briefly.

In what most will see as a racing incident (could argue the Frenchman should’ve backed off, but it’s tight lap one racing so perhaps harsh), they bumped and Hulkenberg’s Renault did a roll, ending up on its roof. Then it burst into flames.

The German couldn’t get out because of the halo (a safety feature).

Thankfully, alert marshals were on hand to immediately extinguish the fire before it roasted the driver, and Hulkenberg was unharmed, talking on the radio. His car had to be flipped by marshal and medical staff back onto its wheels so he could get out. I’ve said before the halo could make just this situation happen, whereby a driver is trapped, upside down, in a burning vehicle. Hulkenberg was fine, but this needs to be taken into account for next year’s regulations. It’s no good waiting until a man suffers burn injuries, or burns to death, before taking action.

The safety car was deployed. Nobody pitted as it was lap one. Notably, Leclerc was ahead of Ricciardo, and 4th on the track. Pretty tasty.

Racing resumed, only for Raikkonen’s Ferrari to lose all power on the straight, forcing a virtual safety car around lap seven or so. Hamilton pitted, as did Leclerc and Grosjean (the Frenchman was around 7th or so at this point). Interestingly, Verstappen, on the hypersoft, stayed out.

This bumped Leclerc and Grosjean well down the order, and the traffic they suffered made it plain they’d made a strategic error. Leclerc suffered slightly, Grosjean a lot. But how would it affect Hamilton, with a far faster car and less traffic?

On the radio, the Briton was unconvinced by the strategy. Ahead of him, Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo and Verstappen were all within the pit window (they’d emerge behind Hamilton) but would have fresher tyres come the race’s climax. In a weird twist, rain was approaching too.

Those ahead of Hamilton successively boxed, excepting Ricciardo. The rain came, enough to look worrying in front of the floodlights but not sufficient to cause any grip problems.

It seemed we’d be heading for a classic Abu Dhabi processional finish. But Vettel was gaining on Bottas, and Verstappen on Vettel.

Further down the field, Grosjean passed Vandoorne, after being bottled up behind him for ages, only for the Belgian and Ocon to both pass the Haas immediately. Shortly after this (I think, may have the wrong driver) Ocon passed Vandoorne. Shortly after, Ocon braked too late for a corner and lost some time, only to, bizarrely, be given a 5s time penalty for gaining an advantage.

At the sharp end, Bottas was busy shredding his tyres. Vettel passed him and set about narrowing the gap to Hamilton. Ricciardo, meanwhile, had finally pitted, perhaps 10-15 laps after everyone else, and was chasing down Verstappen.

Verstappen closed on Bottas and was going to nail the Finn when Bottas locked up, missed a corner and took a shortcut across runoff. He didn’t receive a penalty. Dying tyres meant Verstappen got past a lap or two later, and Bottas pitted again.

Alonso was 11th, and trying to nab a final point. He locked up at the same corner as Bottas. He took the same runoff shortcut. Nobody was immediately ahead of or behind him. And he got a 5s time penalty. I’m glad the decisions taken today didn’t really affect anything much, because they were inconsistent and ineffable.

Sainz, meanwhile, was running best of the rest. He hadn’t pitted when Leclerc and Grosjean had, and waited too when others like Magnussen and Ericsson (who retired with a reliability failure, as did Gasly and Ocon) came in. The late strategy, avoiding traffic, paid off and he emerged ahead of Leclerc, who was 4th in the early stages.

Things were closing up nicely at the sharp end… and then they weren’t. Vettel couldn’t get near enough Hamilton. The top two eased away from the chasing Red Bull pair. Bottas was in a lonely 5th. The closest late on-track battle was Perez trying to hunt down Leclerc (on very old tyres) but the talented Monegasque managed to keep his place.

Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen were the podium chaps. Ricciardo just missed out, followed by Bottas. Sainz’s 6th makes it a mixed day for Renault. Likewise Leclerc’s 7th for Sauber. Perez’s 8th means Force India kept Sauber at bay in the Constructors’. Grosjean and Magnussen ended up 9th and 10th.

Alonso and Hartley, both seemingly at their last race, were 11th and 12th. Vandoorne and Sirotkin, likewise, were 14th and 15th. Ocon, who will probably return, and Ericsson, who may not, both failed to finish due to reliability letting them down.

And so endeth the 2018 season.

Drivers’:
Hamilton 408
Vettel 320
Raikkonen 251
Verstappen 249
Bottas 247
Ricciardo 170

It looked comfortable for Hamilton in the end. A string of failures let down Vettel and Hamilton’s relentless consistency saw the Mercedes’ winning machine notch up another pair of titles. In the battle for 3rd, both Raikkonen and Verstappen had four DNFs apiece, most of Verstappen’s being self-inflicted in an unimpressive start to the season [though he’s driven fantastically in the last third] and most of Raikkonen’s not being his fault. More telling is Bottas. He had just two DNFs, yet finished third of that little group. Ricciardo’s points-per-finish is slightly lower than Raikkonen/Verstappen (about 13 versus about 14) but his eight DNFs, almost all down to car failures, really did take him out of the running.

Drivers’, best of the rest:
Hulkenberg 69
Perez 62
Magnussen 56
Sainz 53
Alonso 50
Ocon 49

Pretty tight. Hulkenberg and Alonso had 7 DNFs apiece, just one fewer than Ricciardo, Ocon had 5 and Perez, Magnussen and Sainz each had just 2. That makes Hulkenberg’s margin of victory all the more impressive. Him and Ricciardo should be a tasty pairing next year for Renault. Remains to be seen if their car will be good enough.

Constructors’:
Mercedes 655
Ferrari 571
Red Bull 419
Renault 122
Haas 93
McLaren 62
Force India 52
Sauber 48
Toro Rosso 33
Williams 7

Pretty distinct for the top three. Renault did well for 4th, though it’s worth remembering Force India had the points (for drivers) be on 119, so it would’ve been very close had the Pink Panthers not been stripped of their pre-takeover points tally. Haas on 93 isn’t bad but they could’ve and should’ve had more. Easy to forget now but they, particularly Grosjean, had a poor start to the season when their car was pretty good, epitomised by the irksome double pit stop failure in Australia.

McLaren’s 62 was almost entirely earnt in the first half of the season, indicating very poor development (in stark contrast to a team like Red Bull or Force India). Lucky for them Force India had a double DNF recently, but the extra money is sorely needed at the once mighty team. Sauber came damned close to passing Force India. They lose Leclerc but gain Raikkonen next year, whose experience and technical expertise may help them develop. Toro Rosso’s 33 was, like McLaren, almost entirely delivered in the first half of the year. Some of that will be down to going through engines like a shore leave sailor visiting a brothel, in order to develop the Honda engine for Red Bull next year.

Williams on 7 is a little sad. It’s not so long ago (2014?) they had something of a revival with Bottas and Massa, but since then they’ve slumped down the order. Let’s hope next year they’re more competitive.

Next year, the regulations will be fiddled with to try and simplify things a little and increase overtaking. The rumour mill consensus is it won’t make a huge difference. A bigger set of rule changes will come into force in 2021, so the tight midfield might shuffle a bit in 2019, and Red Bull might close up, but expect the same two tier racing we had this year. Intrigued to see how much, if at all, Renault can narrow the gap to the top chaps.

This is also the last season of free-to-air coverage in the UK, excepting the British Grand Prix. Since the BBC did a deal with Sky, coverage was ‘shared’ (half free-to-air, and every race on pay TV), which continued under Channel 4. Now all save one race will be going to Sky. In a world of social media, where it can be easy to stumble across spoilers unless you impose a total blackout until you’ve seen the highlights, this will, I fear, see audiences plummet.

Got a few plans for post-season and inter-season rambles, such as the usual season review and a few other ideas, and maybe even some articles that don’t mention betting at all.

For the record, the only bets I’ve made have been small ones, each way, on Gasly for the 2019 title (fifth the odds top 3) at 34, most recently. Imagine a Red Bull with half the power deficit and better reliability, and consider how it would’ve done this year. That’s my reasoning. We’ll see if it comes off.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Abu Dhabi: pre-race 2018


Well, I got that wrong. Raikkonen was some way off, so it was plain misjudgement on my part. Very surprised just how big the Mercedes advantage was, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pace running order reversed in the race, as happened to a large extent in Brazil.

Alone of the top six, Verstappen starts on the hypersoft. This may harm his prospects, but that didn’t really happen much at the last race. And the Red Bull is pretty kind to its tyres.

In Q1 there was no surprise to see the Williams slowest. This year’s car has been horrendous, harking back to the blue days of yesteryear and making the recent relative revival under Massa and Bottas seem a long time ago. Vandoorne also failed to progress. Somewhat more surprising was a double Toro Rosso departure. Gasly would’ve escaped but just before the last corner he suffered a reliability failure that robbed him of power and booted him from qualifying. Very bad luck for the Frenchman.

Q2 had one or two notable features. Every departing driver was from a different team (fastest to slowest): Sainz, Ericsson, Magnussen, Perez, and Alonso. Only Alonso outqualified his team mate, of those. Also worthy of note is that there’s a massive performance gap between the hypersoft and ultrasoft, yet the top three teams were so dominant they still made it through on the ultrasoft. With one exception. Verstappen was slow (I think he just screwed it up) on his initial lap and, for safety’s sake, had to set a quick time on the hypersoft. Will this compromise him? Maybe. It didn’t seem to happen last time, when everyone thought it would.

In Q3, Hamilton seemed on another planet, especially in the third sector. Bottas managed to get within a tenth and a half, sealing a record fifth consecutive front row lock out for the Silver Arrows. Ferrari may be a bit grumpy on the second row, Raikkonen behind Vettel and just three-hundredths ahead of Ricciardo. Verstappen, perhaps surprisingly, was nearly two-tenths off his team mate.

However, given the flattering effect of the ‘party mode’, I think Red Bull could be very tasty in the race. Assuming they finish.

Grosjean was best of the rest, a tiny margin ahead of Leclerc. Ocon starts 9th, qualifying two-thousandths of a second ahead of Hulkenberg.

Initial betting thoughts were:
Verstappen/Ricciardo podium
Sainz points
Leclerc/Grosjean winner outside top 6

Verstappen is 2.9 and Ricciardo 2.87 for a podium. They’re both pretty tempting.

Sainz is 1.61 for points. Too short, given he starts (just) outside the top 10.

No market for winner outside the top 6 went up within my time (I’ll check tomorrow morning, if I’m able to. May be busy).

Perusing the markets didn’t throw up much, although Verstappen to win each way at 12 looked tempting.

Decided to back Verstappen/Ricciardo for a podium at 2.9 and 2.87 respectively (splitting one stake).

Race starts at 1.10pm. Let’s hope the season ends rather better than it started.

Morris Dancer