Sunday, 25 August 2013

Belgium: post-race analysis

From a betting perspective the race was red. However, it did provide (being entirely dry) a very nice illustration of how the cars fare on a circuit with high speed corners on race pace. I’ll go into this more below, but the podium spots of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton perfectly reflect how good the driver-car combinations are on a circuit dominated by high speed corners.

The start was a dream for Vettel and nightmare for Hamilton. Before the lap ended (but not right off the line) Vettel passed Hamilton and then zoomed off into the sunset. I think the manner of Vettel’s victories (predominantly driving off in first rather than fighting through the field) may be one reason why he’s not held in as high regard as other top drivers by some.

Webber forgot to take the handbrake off and went backwards, and Alonso got a very good start (as is quite common). Di Resta had a bit of a shocker too.

Fairly early on Alonso passed Hamilton on-track, and from there on the three top spots seemed pretty much nailed on. Whilst that made the race less exciting than it could’ve been it also gave us a very helpful guide as to which cars and drivers flourish on a circuit of high speed corners (the Mercedes, although slower than the Red Bull overall, was about a second faster in the second sector).

Raikkonen had brake dust clouds coming off from the front from the start, and eventually he had to retire the car, bringing to an end a run of 38 consecutive finishes and a record number of consecutive points finishes. A shame, but he was running a little lower than might have been expected so at least he didn’t lose as many points as he might have.

Di Resta ended up retiring after the single most interesting incident when he, his team mate and Maldonado (and another driver whose identity I forget) went round the final chicane. The Scot was entirely innocent, and got whacked by someone else to such an extent it wrecked his car.

Perez had run fairly well, but his driving style (in the eyes of the stewards) crossed the line from robustness to being unfair, and he got a drive-through which meant he ended up 11th.

Rosberg finished 4th, directly behind his team mate, but seemed to have a fairly unexciting race. Webber was 5th after his ropey start and Button should be pleased with 6th, considering the McLaren is not great this year. Massa was next, then Grosjean, Sutil and Ricciardo.

No rain at all and no safety car either. The race was a bit less exciting than I’d imagined it would be, but should prove useful as it gave us a perfect picture of race pace on a track of fast corners.

There are just 8 more races left this season. On tracks that have low speed corners I expect Mercedes to do well, and on fast corner tracks I imagine Red Bull/Ferrari will prove quicker.

Sadly, Vettel’s win, as well as meaning my tip was wrong, meant that his advantage over everyone else increased again. Here are the standings:

Vettel 197
Alonso 151
Hamilton 139
Raikkonen 134

Raikkonen’s DNF also means my bet against Alonso finishing in the top 3 is looking suspect. However, many of the circuits to come have slower corners (mostly) so we’ll see how the Prancing Horse gallops around those.

Red Bull 312
Mercedes 235
Ferrari 218
Lotus 187

Hard to see anyone but Red Bull getting this, although the next three spots are up for grabs.

Italy and Singapore are up next, each separated by a fortnight, and then we get three pairs of back-to-back races separated by just a week (each pair separated by a fortnight, of course).

Alonso’s closest to Vettel again, but 46 points behind. The gap can be closed (a similar situation was reversed in 2012) but it requires Alonso to start winning races again.

So, a slightly disappointing race. It had its moments, but (excepting the first lap) they weren’t at the sharp end, and the title race is in danger of being ein Procession once again.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Belgium: pre-race

As predicted, qualifying was wetter than a mermaid in the shower, but I got almost all of my other forecasts wrong (just as well I didn’t offer a tip). It was also a staggeringly entertaining qualifying hour.

Q1 was the most interesting of the year by a mile. It was raining, so all went out on intermediate tyres, but towards the end it dried up. Caterham and Marussia bravely opted for the slicks, which looked like the wrong choice until the last lap or so which saw Van Der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton all make it to Q2 (Pic must feel a bit disappointed not to have joined them). Terrible day for both Toro Rosso and Williams, as all four of their cars fell at this first hurdle. Gutierrez will also be disappointed to only be 21 out of 22 cars.

Q2 was slightly less dramatic as it was, essentially, dry. The 3 intruders on Q2 all left at this stage, with Van Der Garde getting a good 14th. Hulkenberg, Sutil and Perez made up 11-13.

Q3 was a fantastic session. It started off raining, so 9 out of 10 drivers rushed to the track on slicks whilst it was still dry enough… only it wasn’t. That canny Scot Di Resta waited half a lap or so then went out on intermediates. All the other 9 pitted immediately for intermediates (more rain meant it was too wet for slicks) and by the time the second chap (Massa) went across the line Di Resta had made the most of the drier track and was 1.7s up the road. For almost the whole session it seemed he’d have his first pole (Force India also got pole here a while ago… maybe 2009, when Fisichella managed it).

But, there was a twist. Rosberg just pipped Di Resta’s time. Then, with only three drivers still eligible for a lap, (Webber, Vettel and Hamilton) the track suddenly started drying. Webber got provisional pole, then Vettel, and then Hamilton. Four in a row for the Briton, and Di Resta, although undoubtedly disappointed, will still start from a joint-career best of 5th.

Congrats to Swiss Bob, incidentally, who got just over £1 on Hamilton for pole at 360/1 in the dying moments of Q3. Although £1 is small, a 36,000% rate of return over about 3 minutes is not a displeasing thing.

Button will also be happy with 6th, whilst Grosjean and Raikkonen should be disappointed with 7th and 8th. However, not as annoyed as Alonso and Massa, who start 9th and 10th. That’s just not good enough.

In title terms this continues to reinforce the idea that Hamilton is Vettel’s closest rival, despite being 4th, behind Raikkonen and Alonso. However, Vettel’s 2nd is still a great place from which to start.

The weather forecasts suggest lighter rain is entirely possible (though not quite probable) tomorrow, and today perfectly illustrated just how difficult to predict and how changeable weather can be at the circuit.

It’s interesting to check the times ( In Q2 Raikkonen and Alonso were very fast, and very close together. Alonso will benefit from rear gunner Massa, and Raikkonen from having his team mate right ahead (who will presumably move over to let the Finn through). On recent form I can’t see Di Resta staying in 5th. Button’s a little harder to call, though.

I did consider a few potential bets, but decided to back Hamilton for the win at 3.9, hedged at 1.5. He’s had four poles in a row, but in the three prior races only one once. So, why do I think he’ll win (or stands a good chance, at least)? In Hungary, he won, so that’s clear. At Silverstone, he was on for the win when his tyre came apart. Now, he may have won that or not, but he stood a realistic chance. In Germany, the sport was using the one-off interim tyres whilst Pirelli changed their compounds after the failures in the UK. So far it seems like Mercedes aren’t suffering especially with tyre wear.

On Pirelli, apparently Michelin have popped up and indicated (despite the very low amount of time left) they would be able to supply tyres in 2014.

Spa is always a cracking race, and tomorrow should be no exception. Let’s hope Hamilton enjoys a great victory.

Morris Dancer

Belgium: pre-qualifying

The tyres this weekend are medium and hard.

The Lotus seems like it may run the double-DRS, finally. This is basically a device to reduce drag on straights, enabling the team to run more downforce generally (the rear wing gets stalled by air flow that enters via two slots either side of the main air intake above the driver’s head when there’s low pressure under the front wing. I think).

Showery, wet-dry weather is expected throughout the weekend. Whilst lower downforce will ease overtaking in the race it will also make a car suffer more from the slippery conditions if the track becomes wet.

P1 began with the track mostly wet but partly dry. Running was limited and on intermediates. The track half-dried out, enough for hard tyres to be used but not enough for times to be considered representative of pace.

Alonso as fastest, ahead of Di Resta, Sutil, Perez, Rosberg, Vettel, Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, with Bottas rounding out the top 10.

Commentary suggested a low or high downforce setup could work, but that lower downforce was better for the race as it enables more overtaking whereas higher downforce is better for qualifying (faster overall) but makes passing harder. With 1-2 pit stops expected getting stuck behind someone could ruin a race.

Happily P2 was entirely dry. Vettel suffered some sort of tyre failure with his right rear (the most loaded tyre on this circuit). Unidentified cause as yet but the tyre held together pretty well, certainly compared to the dramatic disintegrations seen as Silverstone. Vettel and Webber were fastest, a clear eight-tenths ahead of Grosjean. He was followed by Massa, Vergne, Raikkonen, Alonso, Perez, Rosberg and Di Resta.

At this point Red Bull do seem fastest but whether that eight-tenths margin is true to life or not is hard to say. The cars immediately behind them are fairly tightly clustered together.

On Friday morning the puncture to Vettel’s tyre (and Alonso’s, the Spaniard suffering a similar situation in P2) was attributed by Pirelli to a piece of metal found at turn 13 which matched the size of the punctures.

The forecast for qualifying is a more than 50% chance of pretty substantial rainfall.

At the start of P3 the Lotuses had removed the double-DRS and blocked up the mini-intakes either side of the main air intake above the driver’s head, which is a shame. During the session in an interview Toto Wolff was asked about ‘even his car’ struggling to get temperature into the tyres, which suggests the Mercedes should be ok on their tyres.

Vettel was fastest in P3, just a tenth ahead of Alonso. Webber was close behind in third, then Vergne, Massa, Button, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Rosberg and Raikkonen. Ferrari seem to have improved since Friday, with Lotus and Mercedes dropping back.

It’s possible that Mercedes were sandbagging, as they’ve done in the past before plucking pole from under the nose of Red Bull, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

Because rain is probable for qualifying (and I’m pushed for time) I’m not offering a tip for it. My expectation is a Vettel pole, with McLaren reaching Q3 and Toro Rosso to do fairly well.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 19 August 2013

Belgium: early discussion

Feels like bloody ages since the last race (4 weeks, as it happens). Anyway, at least we’re going to a proper circuit. Spa’s one of the very best on the calendar, and it’ll be interesting (and perhaps critical for the title race) to see how Mercedes fare. Unlike Hungary, the Belgian circuit is festooned with fast corners. If the Silver Arrows can handle their tyres on such a circuit then Vettel may face a serious challenge from Hamilton.

Ferrari need to sort themselves out. They’re being out-qualified and are now fourth on race pace. If this persists Alonso will not only fail to take the championship, he’ll not even finish in the top 3.

My season bets are ropier this year than last (in common with the race bets). However, one I made a little while ago was laying Alonso to be top 3 at 1.5. Barring some freak incident Vettel’s practically guaranteed a top 3 spot. Raikkonen’s super reliable and so’s his car, and Hamilton has had a storming few races. If he keeps that up the Spaniard will slip from the top 3.

The tyres for Spa will medium and hard.

As always, your thoughts, insights, comments and tips are welcome.

Morris Dancer