Sunday, 29 November 2020

Bahrain: post-race analysis 2020

Well, that was a dramatic race. Unlike last week, when a bet failed due to clear misfortune, this was an evident misjudgement on my part. The Ferraris had been very close to reaching Q3 yet their qualifying performance vanished. Obviously a red bet, bit baffled by the total lack of pace.

Off the line Bottas left the handbrake on and slumped to 6th, Perez climbing to 3rd. Vettel slid down the order, Leclerc improved. All that was overshadowed by Grosjean hitting the barriers and his car bursting into a ball of flames. The impact was such it literally tore the car into two halves. Despite it all, the Frenchman, aided by very prompt arrival of medical staff, was able to leap from the inferno and appears, at this stage, to have suffered only minor burns and possibly a broken rib.

For the third time this year we had a race halted due to a red flag. Seems rather more than usual. The hour or so off allowed drivers to mend broken bits, handy for front wings for a couple of chaps, and slip on some fresh rubber.

It was a grid restart, Vettel again having a poor time of it and going backwards. Bottas ended up with a puncture and had to pit. The front three checked out and drove off.

Further down the order the McLarens set about carving through the field over the laps, whilst Renault drivers squabbled a little and couldn’t match the orange cars for pace. Bottas did get into the points. Just about.

Stroll also DNFed after an unlucky result of contact courtesy of Kvyat tipped his car upside down. This brough out a safety car (for the first time).

The top three were circulating on their own, Perez not able to challenge Hamilton or Verstappen but comfortably ahead of Albon. Until his engine blew up with three laps to go. Terrible luck for the talented Mexican, who so clearly deserves a place in the sport yet may have only two races left in his F1 career. Albon inherited 3rd, but was not especially impressive today.

Hamilton notched up another win. Impressive. But not thrilling. Verstappen got a deserved 2nd, with his team mate 3rd. Norris and Sainz, promoted by Perez’s misfortune, ended up 4th and 5th which is great for McLaren in a tight team race (and correspondingly awful for Racing Point, who had a double DNF that wasn’t the fault of team or drivers). Gasly lucked out with the Perezian safety car as his tyres were shot and he was able to trundle in 6th. He’d driven well, though.

Ricciardo was 7th and Ocon 9th (Bottas between them). Small points, but better than nothing, as Racing Point and Ferrari can attest. Leclerc did nab the final point, which wasn’t exactly deserved but he was next in line when Satan defecated in Perez’s kettle.

McLaren 171

Racing Point 154

Renault 144

This contest isn’t over, but it’s looking good for McLaren, and I’m glad I backed them at 3.75 or suchlike. The fact the next race is at the same circuit (albeit a different track layout) may be good news for Racing Point who clearly have good pace, if not good luck, around Bahrain. Barring a major slice of fortune, Renault look like they’re out of it.

Ricciardo 102

Perez 100

Leclerc 98

Despite Perez DNFing rather than scoring 15 points, he remains very much in the running for the best of the rest driver, and may even still be the likeliest chap to get it. If his engine doesn’t let him down.

Next race is also in Bahrain, less than a week away.

Morris Dancer

Bahrain: pre-race 2020

There were no major upsets in qualifying but one or two cars ended up outside of expected positions, which may offer some intrigue for the race tomorrow.

Q1 was eminently predictable with both Haas, both Alfa Romeos, and Latifi all failing to progress.

Q2 had an early surprise. Before anyone could put in a lap time, but after almost everyone had taken much life out of their medium tyres (AlphaTauri alone were on the red soft tyres), Sainz’s rear wheel went on strike and he found himself spun around and his car unable to move. Cue the red flag, just for a little while. This put the Spaniard down to 15th with lower possible if he takes a penalty. Also eliminated were both Ferraris, Vettel ahead of Leclerc (miraculous how the German has suddenly become competitive when Binotto isn’t attending races…), the oddly slow Stroll, and Russell.

In the first runs of Q3 Verstappen split the Mercedes, Hamilton leading, but this did not last. The Briton duly took his 432nd career pole, with Bottas confirming that the Mercedes is a good car by achieving 2nd, a tenth ahead of Verstappen. Albon joins his team mate on the second row, but is still over half a second slower.

Perez was best of the rest, a tenth ahead of Ricciardo, who was two-thousandths faster than Ocon. Gasly, Norris, and Kvyat finished off the top 10.

It’s possible some drivers may go for a single stop. The soft is thought to be rubbish for life and the medium pretty competitive on pace, so this may be advantageous for the likes of Perez and Leclerc, who has done well this season on this sort of thing.

Sad news. As of this morning there’s only a 4% chance of rain. I don’t believe there are any penalties… how old-fashioned. Race start time is 2.10pm (UK).

Early betting thoughts:
Vettel/Leclerc top 6
Ferrari double points finish
Sainz points
Stroll points

Leclerc is 4 to be top 6, Vettel is 9.5. Got to say, Vettel is a lot more tempting at those odds. Starts 11th (one place ahead of Leclerc) and has free choice of tyres. If the top chaps all fall over one another doing the same thing (Mercs and Verstappen will be over the hills and far away, of course) that opens up a window of possibility. Leclerc, even last week when Vettel had a good race weekend, was faster in the race but the disparity in odds is excessive.

And Ferrari are 3.5 for a double points finish. That’s something I’m backing. An average of two gained places, with better tyres than those immediately ahead of them and good strategic scope for taking the best course.

Sainz is only 1.73 for points, and starts 15th. There’s a reasonable chance he’ll achieve that but odds so short aren’t tempting, especially if gremlins return. Stroll at 1.83 for points is more appealing, as he starts 13th and has a faster car (seems a comms error of some sort led to his unexpectedly slow pace in Q2, having been second fastest in Q1).

Oddly, there’s a lot to like from early thoughts. Nevertheless, I browsed the market to see if anything else caught my eye. The market does think there’s unlikely to be many retirements, though nothing really got my attention otherwise. That does, if accurate, obviously have implications for my initial betting thoughts as all involve chaps outside the top 10 doing well.

I like Ferrari to double score at 3.5. They were very close in Q2 and the loss of being 11th and 12th on the grid may well be outweighed by free tyre choice. Vettel for top 6 at 9.5 is tempting, but I think might be a bit too far. Hmm. Stroll at 1.83 for points is well worth considering, although his recent scoring record hasn’t been fantastic.

In the end I decided to just back the Ferrari double score bet at 3.5 (3.6 with boost).

The podium feels settled already, but the midfield is very competitive and it’ll be interesting to see how the strategies play out.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Bahrain: pre-qualifying 2020

Just a quick reminder ahead of time that whilst we have two races at this venue the circuit layouts will be different from one race weekend to the next. That’s not to say there won’t be useful guidance for the next race from this one, but the circuits will not be identical.

This is the first of three races on the bounce, so if a driver gets COVID-19 here they could miss out on a lot of points.

In earth-shattering news, Hamilton led Bottas at the top of the first practice time sheet. Perez was next up, half a second down the road and two-hundredths ahead of Sainz, with Gasly in close contention and Verstappen a couple of tenths further back. Albon, Ocon, Stroll, and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.

Second practice had the same chap fastest but this time Verstappen was next, albeit a third of a second off Hamilton’s pace. Bottas was less than a tenth and Perez just over a tenth behind, with Ricciardo hot on the Mexican’s heels. Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Kvyat and Albon followed.

Albon had a pretty big crash in second practice, which isn’t going to enhance his chances of remaining at Red Bull. Both Hulkenberg and Perez would be very reliable replacements.

Third practice had something unexpected: Verstappen fastest, a few tenths ahead of Hamilton and Bottas. I still fully expect a Mercedes front row, however. Albon was a few tenths further back, with half a second to Sainz. Gasly, Norris, Kvyat, Stroll, and Perez were all in close contention.

At the end of third practice Hamilton was parked at the end of the pit lane with some sort of problem. Not sure what and there’s time to likely fix it, but worth knowing.

Mildly tempted by Bottas each way at 4.33 for pole, but a bit too tight. So, no tip (as has been common this season) for qualifying.

There’s currently about a 20% chance of rain tomorrow, during the race. Worth keeping an eye on that. Can’t imagine drainage was top priority when they made the track.

Qualifying is at 2pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Turkey: post-race analysis 2020

Well. It’s hard to know where to start with that. The race was thoroughly entertaining, with drama throughout and a red sting in the tail near the end. Both bets were red, one a bit unluckily, but some longer term bets well-served by the result for various teams and drivers.

The track was very wet. Everyone save the Williams began on wet tyres.

Off the line it seemed the ‘dirty’ (even) side of the track was poorly served, except for Hamilton who made great progress off the line. The Racing Points retained their 1-2, with Verstappen losing half a dozen places before making up a couple because Ricciardo and Ocon collided, massively slowing the Aussie and spinning the Frenchman. Vettel charged up the order and Leclerc slid back down.

Bottas also spun at the first corner, his debut of at least a quartet of gyrating misadventures.

The Racing Points charged off, Verstappen tried to pass Vettel, and couldn’t, and calamity reigned as multiple drivers missed corners or had little off-track excursions. It was really rather good.

Stroll seemed in control, with a sizeable margin over Perez, who had about 10s further back to Vettel.

In the pit stops, a fantastic performance by Verstappen enabled him to leapfrog the German and set about catching Perez. Hamilton was now stuck behind Vettel yet couldn’t get past at all.

Further back, Leclerc had the earliest of stops for fresh inters which enabled him to make up ground but he was still around the lower reaches of the points.

At the sharp end, Stroll was slowly but surely losing time to Perez. And Verstappen was closing rapidly on the Mexican. Indeed, he got a rush of blood to the head, got too close, and lost control, spinning wildly around. This allowed Albon, then behind his team mate, to pass and flat-spotted Verstappen’s tyres, necessitating another pit stop. In retrospect, this lost the Dutchman a probable victory. He’s got a lot cooler in recent years but in this frustrating weekend showed that he still needs to work on his temperament.

Perez was within a second of Stroll when the Canadian was pitted for fresh inters, preventing any intra-team woe on the track and gifting the Mexican the lead.

Albon, meanwhile, had run out of grip, spun around, and also needed another stop. Bit of a poor day for Red Bull, all things considered.

Weird things were happening. Strange, mystical things, that had possibly occurred due to a timeslip from 2010. Vettel was driving away from Hamilton. And gaining on those ahead of him. The German was flawless throughout today, when almost everyone else spun or couldn’t make their tyres last. It’s true he had a little less pace than his team mate most of the time, but for a man who’s made quite a few mistakes lately it’s remarkable, and welcome, that he didn’t put a foot wrong today.

As the track continued to dry Hamilton got past, and Leclerc, who again gained by an early second stop (Ferrari made wise strategy calls today… also bizarre), cruised up to Vettel and passed him. Given they were around 3rd and 13th at the end of lap 1, that was very impressive from the Monegasque.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls weren’t making huge progress, and Stroll was slowly losing ground. Having assuredly led for about half the race, it must’ve been dispiriting. Clearly a poor call from Racing Point, as they did last time out for Perez, whom they sensibly kept out.

Hamilton was miles faster and took the lead, but both he and Perez were rare men who could make do with a single stop, and whilst Hamilton drove off into the sunset for his seventh title the Mexican seemed set fair for 2nd. Or was he? Because Leclerc was gaining by seconds a lap.

Perez locked up. Leclerc passed him on the final lap, but got too deep and went off. Perez reclaimed 2nd. And Vettel nabbed 3rd. Leclerc was lucky not to lose 4th to Sainz, but that did turn my bet red, alas. Shade unlucky, but that’s life.

Sainz, incidentally, had a good race, flourishing in the uncertain conditions, and whilst Norris was a bit further back in 8th, that’s still handy for McLaren on a day Racing Point scored well. Stroll ended up 9th, but that’s still a little helpful for Racing Point. Renault, meanwhile, could only manage 10th for Ricciardo (Ocon 11th). In a very tight contest, that’s clearly a major blow for the team.

Red Bull ended up 6th and 7th. They’d seemed destined to win and possibly have a double podium at one stage but in the end all came to nought. The pace was there all weekend, but a little bit of bad luck for Albon and a misjudgement from Verstappen gave them a poor result.

And with that impressive win in tricky conditions, with his team mate lapped and spinning like a top, Hamilton claim a magnificent seventh title. Not the most challenging season for him, but he still trounced Bottas.

Here’s how the Constructors (battle for best of the rest) line up:
Racing Point 154
McLaren 149
Renault 136
Ferrari 130

Renault slip back and now must fear a resurgent Ferrari team shunting them down to 6th. Racing Point take a small lead over McLaren but they’re still far from safe in that regard.

I also tipped and backed Perez to be best of the rest driver (which made me less than thrilled with the
previous race’s nonsense). Here’s how that battle is shaping up:
Perez 100
Leclerc 97
Ricciardo 96

Way to close to call. I’d probably make Leclerc the marginal favourite right now, despite a couple of very good races for Racing Point. Ricciardo’s a great driver, probably the best of the lot, but his car has lost some relative pace, it seems, as the season has progressed.

Anyway, it was a thoroughly entertaining race today, red, alas, but these things happen.

The next race is in a fortnight, the first of two in Bahrain (albeit on different rack layouts, unlike Austria).

Morris Dancer

Turkey: pre-race 2020

Well, that grid is quite unexpected. Having ruined Perez’s result with a strategic failure, this time Racing Point benefited by Red Bull cocking up. Pole for Stroll!

In Q1 it was very wet indeed. So wet, in fact, that it was red flagged for quite a while. Both Grosjean and Latifi ended up beaching their cars. Double waved yellows for Latifi annoyed Magnussen who felt his competitors didn’t slow down.  Unsurprisingly, we lost both Williams, both Haas, and Kvyat, whom I believe spun on what would’ve been his fastest lap.

We were still pretty much in wet tyre territory for the second part of qualifying, which featured a potential blocking by Sainz on Perez (this is being referred to the stewards). I was a bit surprised Gasly was slowest of them all, with both McLarens and both Ferraris out.

Q3 went a bit differently. Verstappen had been literally seconds ahead of everyone else. He and the others went out on inters… except for Racing Point. And Perez was just two-tenths off Verstappen. The Dutchman was brought in for inters, aborting a purple lap. And it proved a great mistake. Whilst Perez performed well, Stroll did even better, bagging his first pole, with his team mate an also impressive 3rd. Verstappen struggled on the inters, came in for wets, and then could only achieve 2nd when he clearly had the pace for pole. A significant miscalculation for Red Bull, but given the evolving track it could’ve gone a lot worse, especially with Albon having a good day and starting 4th.

Ricciardo was next, and whilst 6th for Hamilton isn’t great it could’ve been a lot worse (he was briefly in trouble in the first session). Ocon was 7th and Bottas could only manage 9th. A very good qualifying for Alfa Romeo, however, with Raikkonen 8th and Giovinazzi 10th.

Weather tomorrow may be wet and there’s plenty of potential for grid penalties.

Checking at 7.04am of race day, it seems isolated and low level showers are possible but there’s unlikely to be a deluge. However, the track will still be slippery due to the recent resurfacing (and any rubber laid down will be washed off by the downpour of Saturday).

Russell, as mentioned previously, starts from the back of the grid due to taking new parts, Sainz has a 3 place grid penalty for impeding Perez, Norris was penalized 5 places for not respecting yellow flags. (The F1 website indicates Stroll got a 5 place grid penalty for the same reason but I believe this is an error, as the F1 official Twitter feed has a penalty-corrected starting grid with Stroll still on pole):

My early betting thoughts were:
Albon podium
Few classified finishers
Gasly points

Albon is 3.5 for a podium. Interestingly, Stroll, who starts on pole (probably) is 3.25. Perez is 3.5. Hmm. I can see arguments for backing any one of those. I’d like to back Albon as he has the better car, but he does have a habit of underwhelming.

Gasly is 1.83 for points. He starts 13th and whilst impressive in the dry the potential for collisions and a slippery surface make this unappealing.

Under 15.5 classified finishers is 2.2. Basic bet but might be value given how much drivers have struggled with the circuit all weekend.

The upside of the race being earlier than expected is that there are more markets than usual. After perusing them, the following caught my eye:

Leclerc to top group 2, 2.4

This was less than I expected to see as possibly being value, but the only bet that tickled my fancy was Leclerc to lead group 2, at 2.4. That group is him, Raikkonen, Vettel, and Giovinazzi. In the dry, the Ferrari has looked far better than the Alfa Romeo, especially in Leclerc’s hands, and he’s had the whip hand over Vettel all season. The only drawback I can see (he starts last of the set but I think that’s more than outweighed by pace difference) is the treacherous surface of the circuit but that applies to every single bet.

On second glance, I’m also somewhat tempted by backing, each way, the two Racing Points to win. I don’t think they will. I think Verstappen’s all but nailed on, but with odds of 17-19 each way, a third the odds top 2 and Mercedes being on the back foot does make things more intriguing. Albon’s 19 as well, and should have the hardware to do it… though I must confess I always have my doubts him.

Two tips for the race, then (odds are with boost):
Leclerc, top group 2, 2.45
Albon, win each way (third the odds top 2), 21

Leclerc should beat his team mate handily, as usual, and although the Alfa Romeos start a little up the road the practice times indicate that, in the dry, the Ferrari will gobble them up nicely.

For all my doubts about Albon, evidently shared by Ladbrokes, he’s been very close to Verstappen this weekend. The third chap has been Leclerc, who starts 12th. The Mercedes have been iffy in conditions wet and dry. The race should be dry, or mostly dry, and even in the wet Albon was pretty good. In the dry, his car should be enough to surpass the Racing Points.

Really hard to call this race. Verstappen’s clearly the favourite for the win, but beyond that things could develop in any number of ways. A safety car seems near certain (rubbish odds, though) and the timing could cause even more havoc.

Should be a fun one.

Important note: the race starts at 10.10am UK time. This is two hours earlier than I was expecting, and I’m not sure if the time was brought forward due to potential daylight problems if a safety car or red flag occurs (time was very tight for qualifying).

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Turkey: pre-qualifying 2020

Excitingly, a Saudi Arabian night race is now set for November next year. One waits with bated breath for the moral prognostications from the sport to find out if political opinions are something for the US, or if they apply to Saudi Arabia too (and China, Russia, etc). Mind you, plenty of lawyers, journalists, and teachers have been imprisoned in Turkey as well.

That’ll be it for the politics this weekend, but I felt it’d be remiss not to mention the hypocritical bullshit of the sport.

The full 2021 calendar, currently is set to be:

Australia, Bahrain, China, TBC, Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Canada, France, Austria, UK, Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Japan, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi.

That’s 23 in total with Vietnam perhaps being nixed.

Turkey’s actually a pretty good circuit, and until the Circuit of the Americas was the best modern track, probably. Russell will be starting from the back due to grid penalties for taking new bits.

First practice had the unexpected result of Verstappen and Albon topping the time sheets, followed by Leclerc, Gasly, Vettel, and Kvyat. Norris and Giovinazzi followed, with Bottas the leading Mercedes in ninth. Ocon rounded out the top 10 (Hamilton was fifteenth).

Verstappen led second practice as well, four-tenths up on Leclerc. Bottas was next, over half a second off the ultimate pace, with Hamilton a few tenths further back. Albon, Kvyat, and Gasly followed, with Vettel, Stroll, and Norris just behind them.

That’s just plain weird. The surface was slippery (due to resurfacing just two weeks ago, with Pirelli not being told) and there was much spinning. Apparently the Mercedes lack of pace is genuine, but I’d still be surprised if they don’t make up a lot of ground. Great opportunity for Red Bull and Ferrari, and AlphaTauri are looking very well-placed too.

Third practice was a realm of inters and wets. Not sure how qualifying will be weather-wise. Verstappen was fastest, nearly a second ahead of Leclerc. Albon was third, a second and a half behind his team mate but nearly four full seconds ahead of Ocon. Norris, Vettel, Perez, Bottas, Magnussen, and Stroll followed, the Canadian over seven seconds off Verstappen’s pace. Hamilton did not set a time.

After this, Verstappen’s odds tumbled from around 5 to just 2.7 for the win and 2.37 to top qualifying. Leclerc has been looking good, and has odds of 13. Albon’s 15, and Gasly 51. The weather and track make things unpredictable but it’s probable qualifying may be delayed if it’s still so wet, which reduces the variability. Bottas is out to 6. If Mercedes have fixed their woes that’s immense value. If they haven’t and it’s ultra-slippery the long shots could come in.

I’m torn between sitting this out and splitting one stake, each way, between Albon, Gasly, and Leclerc to top qualifying.

Decided to sit it out. Verstappen, earlier, was great value at around 5 for pole/winner, but his odds now are too short given Mercedes history of performance, and potential for spinning. The long shots are tempting but I think they’ll be done in by the FIA holding off if it’s wet off enough for them to be able to take the fight to Mercedes, and in drier conditions I expect the Silver Arrows to at least be right behind Verstappen and maybe Leclerc, if not ahead.

Incidentally, it seems qualifying is from midday, which is a little earlier than I expected. (Think the race is 12.10pm, UK time).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Imola: post-race analysis 2020

Not a classic, but it did have its moments. One bet failed, one succeeded (just), so green overall.

Off the line Hamilton was slow and Verstappen fast, with the Dutchman taking the Briton’s place. Gasly came close, but that was as good as his race got as he very early on had to retire for safety reasons, which is a tremendous shame given how well he’s been driving all weekend.

The top three cruised away from the field who were relatively close, but passing, even with DRS, was very difficult. Perez, naturally, ran longer his rivals Ricciardo, Leclerc, Albon, and Kvyat. This paid dividends when they emerged behind Magnussen, who had spun early on, and were held up long enough for the Mexican, who started on medium tyres, to pit and emerge ahead of them. Once other late stoppers such as Raikkonen, Vettel, and Latifi pitted, Perez was 4th, 8s ahead of Ricciardo.

At the sharp end, Verstappen and Bottas pitted, the Finn coming out ahead, despite damage to his car from the second lap. Hamilton, meanwhile, stayed out. Then the Briton enjoyed a huge slice of luck as Ocon’s Renault packed up and he parked it by the side of the road, bringing out a very brief virtual safety car that was perfectly timed for Hamilton to pit and come out into 1st with a sizeable margin to boot.

I’m glad he got some good luck. Hamilton’s been really struggling lately.

I was feeling pretty comfortable at this stage. And then Verstappen’s car broke (looks like his rear tyre exploded but that’s not confirmed at this time), beaching his Red Bull in the gravel and bringing out a full safety car.

The Mercedes pitted. As did Perez. But Ricciardo, Leclerc, and Albon did not. Perez was down in 7th, having been 3rd. I may have uttered non-complimentary opinions regarding the Racing Point strategy team at this point.

Whilst the safety car was still trundling, Russell, then in the points, managed to hit the barriers and end his race. Not a great moment. The debris also prolonged the safety car period somewhat.

When it came in, the Mercedes were soon over the hills and far away, leaving Perez to try and get ahead of the cars ahead, still on the hard tyre. Would sacrificing track position for fresh tyres prove wise? Not really.

Kvyat, who had also swapped his old tyres for new soft ones, stole Perez’s thunder by passing not only Albon but Leclerc as well. Albon, under pressure, spun his car in a manoeuvre which may not necessarily be career-enhancing.

Perez put Leclerc under significant pressure, and Kvyat likewise on Ricciardo, but the Frenchman and Aussie proved the power of track position, squandered by Racing Point, and retained 5th and 3rd respectively. My Perez bet still came off, but only just.

Hamilton won (shock), with Bottas 2nd. Sainz and Norris ended up 7th and 8th which is good considering they’d been lower than that for most of the race. Not a great weekend for McLaren but they still got a reasonable points tally.

Even better was Alfa Romeo nabbing 9th and 10th, partly thanks to Russell ending his chance of grabbing a point or two.

Another retiree was Magnussen, who complained of a serious headache. Albon was last but classified, annoyingly. Still, race was green overall, so can’t complain too much.

Next race is in a fortnight at Turkey. From memory, one of the better modern tracks.

Morris Dancer