Saturday, 30 November 2013

2013 season review: racing

It’s a long way back now, but the start of the season was actually really promising. Lotus, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull all looked competitive. Lotus and Ferrari were kinder to the tyres, but Mercedes and Red Bull has better raw pace. It was finely balanced.

Force India made a cracking start to the season, and them beating McLaren seemed possible. McLaren, by contrast, had managed to turn what was the fastest car in 2012 into perhaps the sixth fastest in 2013.

Hamilton’s jumping ship to Mercedes had been considered by many (including me) to be bad for 2013 but possibly good for 2014. As it happened, it was a great decision for this year.

However, a huge change occurred around the halfway point. Crumbly tyres are desired by the sport’s bigwigs, but tyres that explode around Silverstone are a step too far. So, the tyres were hardened and swapping left and right rear tyres was banned. The former gave Red Bull a critical advantage, and the latter really harmed Force India’s pace. It transformed a tightly contested and competitive season into a 9 race procession of largely tedious Vettel victories.

But let’s not forget those away from the sharp end. Hulkenberg had a cracker of a season, finishing 10th, splitting the two McLaren drivers and beating both Force India drivers.

Grosjean moved on from first lap tomfoolery last year to excellence this year, with strong qualifying, superb race pace and often being the best of the rest behind the Red Bulls. At the time of writing he wasn’t officially confirmed for next year but Lotus would be insane to let him go (then again, they’ve be insane to take Maldonado over Hulkenberg).

Bottas had a hard time. Lauded as a great talent, the car he had was really poor. Towards the end of the season it improved slightly, but he was only able to show flashes of skill. Hopefully Williams can stop the downward trend of the last decade and improve.

There were very few safety cars this year. Partly this is because rain was rare, but mostly it was because the driving was pretty good. There were fewer avoidable incidents than last year, where Maldonado and Grosjean racked up quite a few between them. I suspect we’ll see more next year, but I’ll talk about that more in another piece.

Mr. M had suggested a rolling driver market thread, but as I’d already written this article and pencilled it in for today, I thought it made more sense to post it and have a little about drivers at the end.

Maldonado has been confirmed for Lotus. This is pretty bad news for them, for the sport in general and for Hulkenberg.

The general rumour for Force India is a Perez-Hulkenberg combination, which could be good for them, but makes Di Resta’s exit from F1 likelier. Sutil may end up going to Sauber, as the Sirotkin deal appears to be off.

I’ll post more about this sort of thing when I do the look ahead to 2014.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Brazil: post-race analysis

Sadly, Rosberg didn’t really get near a podium place, and his 5th place finish flattered him as Massa and Hamilton got drive-throughs. It might have been different if it had rained, but it didn’t.

For the first time this weekend it was dry in Sao Paulo, making it hard to predict how the cars would go (particularly as some would have wet setups and others setups suited for the dry).

The start was pretty good. Rosberg dove into the lead, and Alonso had a pretty nice start. However, it soon became apparent Rosberg lacked speed, and a radio transmission revealed this was due to lack of rear grip. He began an inexorable decline through the order.

Once Vettel was ahead he had an easy time of it, yet again. Red Bull forgot to get the tyres ready for his pit stop, but his advantage at that point was such it didn’t materially alter the state of play.

Webber had a nice tussle with Alonso, whose Ferrari was motoring along nicely, and eventually ended up on top. A decent finish for a number two driver.

Alonso’s third was impressive, and the Prancing Horse was galloping along well. In fact, Massa would’ve had a much better finish but he received a drive-through penalty for crossing the pit lane entry line. This is permitted, but only to a certain point, which he definitely crossed. He was very unhappy about this, and perhaps a warning would’ve sufficed as any advantage would be marginal.

Ironically, given Rosberg’s wet setup in practice and qualifying looked good, it was Hamilton who seemed far more comfortable in the dry race. Although he couldn’t match the podium chaps he was ahead of his nearest rivals until he suffered double woe. Firstly, he tangled with Bottas (there was a slight touch but it had the impact of ending Bottas’ race and causing a tyre to be shredded on Hamilton’s car, necessitating a slow drive back to the pits), and then he got a drive-through for it. Bit hard to call either way… I probably would agree with the drive-through, but it’s certainly not black and white. Rosberg finished 5th.

McLaren had the best day, in relative terms. I think their two drivers made up about 23 places from grid to flag between them. Button got 4th which, rather depressingly, is their best result this year. Perez (6th) also made up a lot of ground. Both drivers drove well and it was a good, solid performance.

Hulkenberg got 8th, and had a slightly anonymous afternoon. He drove well, but the action elsewhere meant he neither made many passes nor got passed a lot. There are rumours he’s signed for Force India. If true, I’d have mixed feelings. He deserves a top seat, but at least he’d stay in the sport. Di Resta looks like he may end up leaving. Grumpy paranoid lunatic Maldonado seems to be staying.

Ricciardo managed to get 10th, just ahead of Di Resta.

The race was very entertaining in the first half and fairly good in the second. Interlagos is amongst my favourite tracks precisely because it seems to always throw up good races. However, in the dry there was no disguising the tediously predictable dominance of Vettel. We must hope that next year it’s more competitive. Nine wins in a row is as impressive as it is boring.

Mr. M’s (comments, previous article) podium bet looked good on paper, but was thwarted by Grosjean’s engine unhelpfully exploding and Rosberg’s poor performance. The safety car bet also appeared to make sense (I checked the odds pre-race and they were about 1.4 and 3.25 for Yes and No respectively) but it did not make an appearance. Bit unlucky, given rain seemed possible throughout but never really materialised.

I believe they’re reducing the number of ‘engines’ (technically they’re called ‘power units’ as they include engines, souped-up KERS and turbos) allowed next year, and this may adversely affect reliability. If that’s the case then lower numbers of classified finishers, more safety cars and laying rather than backing could prove useful betting guidelines early on in 2014.

As always after a season concludes I’ll be doing a look back at how things went from a racing and a betting perspective. This is the fifth year I’ve done tips either here or on the old pb channel 2 blog, so I’ll also be doing a piece comparing how the years went.

After that and before the 2014 season kicks off I’ll do a piece or two about the regulation changes.

It hasn’t been the best year (actually, it’s probably been the worst), but the overall loss is about four stakes or two, depending how you bet. Whilst not happy with that, it’s also not disastrous.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the articles this season, and enjoy rather more profitable ones in 2014.

Morris Dancer

Brazil: pre-race

Qualifying began drier than it’s been all weekend, but with the rain starting to fall again. Intermediate tyres were the order of the day, and all teams rushed to set early laps as conditions worsened.

Gutierrez and Maldonado left along with the pointless teams in Q1. Not too surprising.

Both Force Indias and both McLarens failed to escape Q2, and Perez ended the session by crashing his car. Kovalainen could only manage 11th, and Bottas was 13th.

The start of Q3 was repeatedly delayed because the rain was too torrential even for wet weather tyres. Rosberg’s lay value dropped to 4.3 (as I mentioned on for those who wanted a safe hedge).

Eventually Q3 got under way, and so much time had been wasted that by the time they got out it was only a lap or two before they switched wets for intermediates (not unlike the over-cautious use of safety cars in the wet). Sadly, Vettel got pole, with a surprisingly and suddenly huge margin. Not sure, but I’d hazard a guess he was aided by a helpful track condition which existed briefly (ie a short lull in the rain). Otherwise the sudden and significant margin he had on everyone else was quite odd.

Rosberg got 2nd, and Alonso did amazingly well to drag his prancing horse to 3rd, alongside Webber. Hamilton and Grosjean should be disappointed to be sharing the third row, but Ricciardo and Vergne should be pretty happy to be on the fourth (not least because a bad call by Toro Rosso in Q1 almost meant the Frenchman failed to escape it). Massa and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

The Rosberg bet didn't come off either way. I must admit I chickened out and laid at 4.3, but the 3 hedge wasn't matched so it counts as red for the record.

My initial thoughts are:
Check the weather forecast tomorrow morning and wait until then to bet
Hulkenberg for points
Grosjean for a podium
Lay Kovalainen for points

I decided to leave it until Sunday morning, partly so the betting markets would have time to get going. It’d also mean the weather forecast would be likelier to be correct (40% chance of rain, which is a bit unhelpful).

Hulkenberg’s odds for points were just 1.5. Too short for me, particularly given the possibility of rain. Kovalainen didn’t have lay odds, so obviously that bet’s out too.

Grosjean was about 3-3.25. That felt a little short to me. He’s been driving very well, but with Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber, and Hamilton ahead of him and the possibility of wet spots in the race, I decided against it.

I was going to check the Ladbrokes market for both cars in a team to score points (for Toro Rosso) but that seems to have disappeared.

In the end, I backed Rosberg for a podium (2.16 at Betfair). He’s been driving well all weekend (all of it wet) but in the dry he should be fast enough as well. Also, whilst Vettel’s a mile ahead of everyone Rosberg is almost as far ahead of Alonso.

I think Webber’s not quite there, Hamilton’s struggled with setup which not only compromises pace but will probably increase tyre wear, Alonso’s fast but his car is not and Grosjean’s good but seems to have been off the pace in the rain.

If you think that’s a good bet you may be interested in (NB this is not a tip) the dual forecast. Vettel-Rosberg is just 3.5 with Ladbrokes but 5.3 on Betfair. Riskier, but it could work out.

So, just the one tip: Rosberg to get a podium at 2.16, no hedge.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Brazil: pre-qualifying

The tyres for this weekend are medium and hard.

P1 was wet, for the first time I can remember this season. It’s hard to read into the times as the tyres for the conditions were wet and intermediate, and weather conditions determined pace more than anything else.

Rosberg was fastest, followed by Hamilton. Vettel and Button were next, then Alonso, Webber, Perez, Kvyat, Kovalainen and Hulkenberg. Rosberg seemed much happier with his setup than his team mate, and had little work done compared to the Briton.

In P2 there was little running, because it was also wet and the teams have relatively few intermediate and wet tyres.

Rosberg was fastest again, ahead of Vettel and Webber. Kovalainen, Hamilton and Vergne came next, followed by Massa, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Grosjean. Interesting that Kovalainen had beaten Grosjean in both practice sessions so far, and Rosberg has been fastest in both as well.

In P3 there was very little running, and the fastest time was largely due to the track temporarily being a little bit drier. The Ferraris, Mercedes and Vettel all did very little, so the top 10 isn’t entirely representative of pace. Anyway, Webber was top, then Grosjean and Kovalainen. Bottas, Hulkenberg and Vergne were next, then Gutierrez, Maldonado, Di Resta and Sutil.

Bets I’ve got in mind now are:
Backing Rosberg for pole or top 3
Backing Bottas for Q3

Bottas odds were evens, which are just too short (and there was almost no liquidity in the market).

Rosberg was (for pole) 8, having been 10 before P3. However, qualifying is expected to be wet and I think he will be Vettel’s chief rival. I’ve had a pretty poor run of qualifying bets this year (hence why I’ve not offered many for a while).

However, the P2 time (Rosberg two-tenths up on either Red Bull) was representative, I feel. So, I’ve backed Rosberg for pole at 8, hedged at 3. This might look bloody stupid if it’s dry and/or if Vettel storms to another pole, but at more or less the same time and in equal conditions Rosberg was the fastest man on the track.

In entirely unrelated news I’ve backed Wales to win the Triple Crown in next year’s Six Nations at 5.5, with Ladbrokes. For this weekend I’ve also backed France to beat South Africa at 3.55 and Australia to beat Scotland by over 12 points at 1.91.

Qualifying begins at 4pm.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Brazil: early discussion

The final race of the 2013 season is at Brazil’s excellent Interlagos circuit. This is one of my favourites. There’s great opportunity for passing and it rains very often, meaning that we may well get to see the intermediate and wet tyres (I’m not sure, but I can’t recall a wet race this year).

On the driver market, it’s quite remarkable just how long this Quantum/Lotus deal has taken to get done, and the money still hasn’t arrived. Lotus still want Hulkenberg, but he hasn’t been signed yet. It’s nonsensical. If Sauber can afford to keep him (afford in the sense of taking talent over money) then how can Lotus not afford to hire him?

For now, they’re still waiting, but it can’t last forever. After Hulkenberg, there’ll be many dominos waiting to tumble. Di Resta and Perez will scramble for the leftovers after (presumably) Maldonado’s money (and certainly not his manners) gets him a seat at a cash-strapped team. A couple of decent drivers could well leave the sport this year, sadly.

At the moment the forecast is it’ll be dry over Saturday and Sunday, but there are a few days to go and that could change. So, be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecasts.

If it is soggy off and on then that could really suit Button and Hulkenberg. Button’s exploits in changing conditions, particularly making the right tyre calls himself, is well-known. In 2009, when he won the title, he sealed it by driving through most of the field at Interlagos to get a solid points finish after a poor qualifying. Hulkenberg got pole here in… 2010, I think, for Williams. Last year he was challenging Hamilton for the win in changing conditions when his Force India slid slightly, but because they were so close there was a collision and he (somewhat unfairly, perhaps) got a drive-through penalty. If it’s dry, those two drivers will probably be top 10 but nowhere near the sharp end.

However, if it’s dry it’ll be worth seeing how the tyres (unsure at this stage what compounds are being used) behave. The less conservative the choice the more overtaking and opportunities for strategic shenanigans there will be.

As always, your tips, insights, and so forth are welcome in the comments.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 18 November 2013

America: post-race analysis

I only realised after the pre-qualifying piece that the race would finish about 20 minutes or so before Homeland, so instead of trying to rush the post-race analysis I decided to delay it until today. The early discussion for Brazil (next weekend) will be put up tomorrow.

The bet didn’t come off, alas. Whilst Rosberg did have a poor performance in a car that’s second or third in pace terms, he managed to climb up to 9th. It’ll be useful, however, to remember this driver-circuit weakness for next year.

The race started according to the script. Vettel retained the lead, and Webber had a bad start and went backwards, being passed by both Grosjean and Hamilton. Interestingly, as per last year, the even numbered cars appear to have had relatively bad starts (Webber, Hulkenberg, Alonso all lost places at the start, I think). That’s worth recalling for 2014 as well.

One thing not in the script was Sutil going off almost immediately. This prompted an immediate safety car, and whilst it was exciting to see someone who wasn’t Vettel in the lead it didn’t change anything really, because the appearance was so early there was no reason for anyone (save the heavily penalised Gutierrez) to pit early for tyres.

There was far less overtaking than last year. However, I should’ve seen this coming (I sort-of did, hence my Rosberg bet). The reasoning is this: the tyres this year either crumble like cheese or last forever. The tyres in America were the hardest varieties. So, no tyre degradation means no wild speed differences, means it’s harder to overtake. The Suzuka/Silverstone-style twisty bit after turn 1 makes it hard to follow another car, and the DRS zone is immediately after that, meaning that you’ll lose speed and then almost certainly be outside the DRS zone, decreasing the utility of the gimmick for overtaking.

The race was pretty exciting, so much so I had to stop listening halfway through and play Mass Effect 2 instead.

Grosjean did well to get 2nd. I really hope he has a worthy team mate next year. Hamilton’s 4th might sound par for the course, but for a long while he was staving off Hulkenberg, who continues to impress in the Sauber and got a solid 6th. Alonso finished just ahead of the German.

Perez had a good 7th, and Bottas had perhaps the most impressive result, getting 8th and the first points (4) in his career. Rosberg and Button rounded out the top 10.

So, what did we learn? Pirelli have slightly screwed up the tyres, as I mentioned above. This isn’t entirely their fault, as practically no testing doesn’t make their job easy. However, they’ve gone too conservative at the end of the season. This doesn’t alter the title races, but seems now to be a habit. Next year, the cars that are fast but hard on tyres may enjoy a better end to the season because of this.

Vettel’s dominance remains boring. The rule changes next year will either improve this, or the F1 audience will fall off a cliff. I wouldn’t quite describe myself as a die-hard fan (I didn’t watch much of Schumacher’s dominance either), but if I’m struggling to maintain interest in a race then it’s not a good sign.

Kovalainen went backwards to 15th. He finished a minute and a half off the pace of his team mate. He isn’t a bad driver, albeit a bit cocky (he claimed whilst a Caterham driver he could beat anyone if his car was competitive enough, which his 2008 season with Hamilton proved false), but being shoved into a new car with minimal notice is clearly very difficult.

Sadly, Massa also failed to make progress and the bets on him didn’t come off.

Mercedes 348
Ferrari 333
Lotus 315

I think none of the above teams will change places now. To do so would likely require one of the above teams to actually win a race. The only other way it could happen would be for two cars in one team to have a strong result whilst the team above them had minor points or two DNFs.

On a side note, it’s nice that Bottas is now ahead of the generally unpleasant Maldonado.

Incidentally, the races in Korea, New Jersey and Mexico have reportedly been axed from the 2014 calendar. This is not surprising news, but does have the effect of cutting the number of races down to about 19.

Mr. Cotton (from the previous comments), I thought Maldonado only had the Gutierrez impediment. That said, even with two he should have had enough time to do more flying laps. His comments were, as well as being paranoid, even more stupid than I initially thought. He said something along the lines of the car turning differently one way to the other. Yes, Maldonado. It’s almost as if there was a crosswind…

Let’s cheer up, though. Interlagos is next. It’s a bloody good circuit and it rains half the time. It’s even on TV.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 17 November 2013

America: pre-race

Q1 saw the pointless teams ditched as usual, but there was a stark divergence between the Williams’ drivers. Bottas was 1st (in Q1 only), and Maldonado 18th. Turns out money can only buy seats, not speed. Surprising to see such a difference between the two drivers, though. Sutil went out in 17th, and may have suffered some sort of technical problem as he peeled off after his final lap.

During Q2 it was confirmed Sutil had a problem, namely a slow puncture.

Q2 saw the surprise departure of Rosberg. The Mercedes seemed to be the best of the rest, so that’s quite a shock. Not only that, he’s 14th, behind Ricciardo, Di Resta and Button (although Button suffers a 3 place grid penalty for ignoring red flags during practice). Massa is behind Rosberg, followed by Vergne. Impressively, Sauber got both of their cars into the top 10.

Q3 was surprisingly close, but Vettel narrowly got pole ahead of Webber. Grosjean continues his strong form with 3rd, followed by Hulkenberg, who is just ahead of 5th-placed Hamilton. Alonso won’t be too disappointed with 6th, and 7th for Perez is very solid. Kovalainen, Bottas and Gutierrez round out the top 10.

The race is expected to be a one stop affair, minimising the possibilities for strategic shenanigans.

After qualifying Gutierrez got a 10 place grid penalty for impeding Maldonado.

Without checking the odds, bets that may interest me are:
Bottas to score points (finish top 10)
Hulkenberg to be top 6
Both Lotuses to score points
No Safety Car
Grosjean to win without Vettel (and Webber?)

I decided against backing Bottas. As Mr. Putney said in the comments of the previous article (I’d already put together the above list, except the last bet, at that time) the odds of less than evens for a chap who’s never scored a point and has Button, Rosberg and Massa behind him, and who starts 9th, is far too short.

Hulkenberg was 1.5-1.6 to be top 6. Again, whilst I feel he has the pace that’s too short. He’s had bad luck recently with car reliability and a drive-through, and last time out the car tailed off during the race and he went inexorably backwards.

The usual Ladbrokes market for both cars of a team to score points was missing, rather oddly. Instead I checked the highest scoring team market. Red Bull was a comically tragic 1.05, and Lotus were second, at 11. That may be worth a look. Grosjean has been very fast lately, and Kovalainen seems to be solid right from the off. If Webber has an alternator failure then Lotus could be well-placed to claim the spoils (I’m going to check the last six races and see how often that sort of issue has arisen). Webber's failed to finish 2 of the last 6 races, but one of those was because his car was rammed by another. So, decided against this bet.

No Safety Car was 1.5. Given we have a single race to go on I think that’s too short.

Annoyingly, Ladbrokes have also taken down their winner without Vettel/Webber market, which has only made one or two appearances. The Betfair winner without Vettel market does recur, however. Webber's 1.6 and Grosjean 4.6 (big gap to the lay odds, though, which are 6.8). I was tempted by that, but thought to check the qualifying times. Grosjean was seven-tenths off of Webber. If that’s anywhere near replicated in the race then it’d take a Red Bull failure for him to be winner without Vettel (and, in that case, I’d be more tempted by Lotus to top score at 11). That’s particularly annoying, as I was going to back that until I realised the pace difference.

Right… so I’m going to have to try and come up with some more bets to consider. Given the above, I thought it’d be cunning to try and consider how the chaps out of position might fare. So, here’s what I came up with:

Lay Hulkenberg to be top 6
Perez to be top 6
Kovalainen to be top 6 (or lay to be top 10, depends how he handles the tyres)
Lay Bottas for points
Back Di Resta for points
Back Rosberg for points

There’s a gap between the odds of Hulkenberg to be top 6, and not to be (namely 1.55 and 1.79). So, on the 1.79 basis there’s no value there. Shame, but there we are.

Perez is driving for his F1 future, was about a quarter of a second ahead of Kovalainen and about a tenth off of both Alonso and Hamilton. But odds of 1.5 are just not good enough. Am I being too picky, or are the bookies (and exchange, to be fair) being very tight?

Kovalainen is evens to be top 6. Although the harder compounds should stop him screwing the tyres I’m not sure whether he’ll make the top 6, and evens isn’t long enough.

Bottas has a lay value, for points, of 2.5. Probably the most tempting bet so far. I’d prefer it to be nearer the 1.8 back value, but then, if I got to pick and choose my odds betting would be simpler all round.

Rosberg is about 1.5-1.6 for points and Di Resta evens. Neither is too appealing. Rosberg was over half a second off Hamilton in qualifying. Not sure if it’s a car issue of if Texas just doesn’t suit him. In fact, I’m now looking at the lay value of 1.69. Hmm.

I checked last year’s race, and Rosberg was significantly off of Schumacher’s pace as well (nearly a second). He qualified 17th and finished 13th (he would’ve been 1 or 2 places lower, but Webber retired, as did Vergne). Rosberg will start 12th (he qualified 14th but penalties for Button and Gutierrez will bump him up the grid).

On the basis of his bad race and continuing poor performance this weekend, coupled with Mercedes recent habit of buggering up strategy, I’ve decided to lay Rosberg for points at 1.69. This is the twelfth bet I’ve looked at, which may be a record.

That was unexpectedly difficult. Hopefully he’ll have a harmless crash at the start. The race start is at 7pm.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 16 November 2013

America: pre-qualifying

The tyres for this weekend are medium and hard.

P1 saw another red flag due to fog/the medical helicopter not being there. That’s the second time such issues have affected practice, after the smog of India. The session was curtailed because of this, and Button ignoring the red flag has earnt him a 3 place grid penalty.

In P1 Alonso was fastest, followed by Button, Bottas, Gutierrez, Rosberg, Hamilton, Massa, Webber, Hulkenberg and Maldonado. I’d give that list zero credence when it comes to betting, frankly.

P2 was business as usual, both in terms of no delays and of Vettel being fastest. Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton were next, with Kovalainen, Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Button and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

I’m not going to read huge amounts into P2, but it’s nevertheless interesting that Kovalainen and Gutierrez were faster than their team mates. I may keep an eye on the odds for either the Finn or the Mexican to make Q3.

Because the qualifying will end at 7pm and the race markets may take a while to get going the pre-race piece may be up this evening, or tomorrow. The race starts at 7pm.

Just before P3 the commentary team of BBC radio were saying that the session might not be hugely helpful, as there’s apparently a huge temperature difference between the time of P3 and that of qualifying/the race. In P3 Bottas was very fast on the hard tyre, and on his medium tyre fast lap he flat-spotted it, which meant his ‘fast’ time wasn’t representative of his pace. Hulkenberg was very fast on the medium tyres.

In P3 Vettel was fastest, then Webber and Hamilton. Hulkenberg (who seems unlikely to get the Lotus seat and may not have any next year) was next, then came Grosjean, Button, Rosberg, Perez, Bottas and Sutil.

Weather forecasts for qualifying suggest a very low chance of rain.

I’m loathe to bet on very short odds because anything can happen in Formula 1 (and as a man once said, it usually does). I was tempted to back Bottas to be top 10, but the limited liquidity (a few pounds at 3 and then at 2) mean I can’t tip it.

Hamilton to be top 3 (qualifying) at 1.8 was briefly tempting, but considering the Red Bulls likely have places sewn up and Hamilton’s been a shade off the pace compared to his team mate, and Grosjean has a chance of upsetting the applecart (off-chance Hulkenberg or Kovalainen might as well) I decided it was too short.

I expect Bottas and the Saubers to have a pretty good qualifying, and Ferrari not to.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 11 November 2013

America: early discussion

News broke last week that Raikkonen, whose back problems are apparently flaring up again, is to miss the final two races (here and Brazil). He’s having surgery. The replacement isn’t yet clear. Most seem to think Valsecchi, Lotus reserve drive, will get the seat, though a fair minority reckon they’ll try and move Hulkenberg (assuming he’s there next year) a little early. What is certain is that this will damage the team’s hopes of progressing from fourth in the Constructors (which was a bit unlikely anyway, as they’re 26 points off third-placed Ferrari).

Since Abu Dhabi Ecclestone’s been making more negative noises about New Jersey. Mexico also looks unlikely, and Korea could well drop off the calendar (which makes one wonder why the first two were on it in the first place).

On Thursday it emerged that McLaren were actively looking at taking on reportedly talented youngster Kevin Magnussen to replace Sergio Perez in 2014. This would be a big setback for Perez, not just because he’d be axed, but because he hasn’t (apparently) been talking to any other teams, limiting his 2014 options to driving a McLaren and not driving in F1.

On the same day Newey stated that the 2014 regulation changes (whilst including aerodynamic changes) were very much engine driven. It’d be nice to have engines rather than aerodynamics as the key dividing line for once. Here’s a quick rundown of how things will stack up next year (NB not an exhaustive list, I’m just briefly looking at it from a title perspective):
Mercedes - Mercedes, McLaren (McLaren will change to Honda in 2015)
Ferrari - Ferrari, Sauber
Renault - Red Bull, Lotus

If Mercedes is best I think the team of the same name will be best-placed. Rosberg and Hamilton are a great partnership, and almost certainly better than Button and Perez/Magnussen. If Ferrari is best it’s hard to see anyone but the Prancing Horse taking the Constructors’ title. Renault could be most interesting. A Vettel/Ricciardo and Grosjean/Hulkenberg (if the German gets the seat) battle could be very close.

Earlier mutterings I’ve heard suggest that (in power terms) the Mercedes is far more powerful than its rivals, and the Ferrari is more powerful than the Renault (albeit by a smaller margin). Reliability (I think fewer engines are available next year and there are bound to be teething problems with new technology) and efficiency will, of course, also be critical.

Anyway, back to America. The circuit had its first race last year, and it was pretty bloody good. The circuit has tight, twisty sections, faster-paced bits, hairpins, undulation. I wish all new circuits were like it. (That said, an inaugural race can often be a bit weird, so it may or may not be as entertaining this year, given Vettel’s driving the Starship Enterprise and everyone else is in a 2CV).

In pace terms I was surprised last week how competitive the Ferrari became in the race. The general theme of Mercedes moving backwards from a strong qualifying and Lotus doing the reverse is something I expect to see continue.

I don’t think there was a safety car last year, and the last 3 races have had a total of just 7 retirements, so it’s perhaps unlikely we’ll see one this year. The Winner Without Vettel (Betfair) and Winner Without Vettel Or Webber (Ladbrokes) markets should be interesting to watch.

As always, thoughts, tips, and F1-related haikus are welcome in the comments below.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis

I listened to this on ye olde radio. I felt more confident about the Hulkenberg bet than the Rosberg one, but ironically the latter came off and the former didn’t. Slightly weirdly, this race is the first this year where my profit has been between £1 and £40 (assuming the standard £10 stake per bet).

Off the line Webber, shockingly, had a bad start. Vettel, amazingly, got into the lead. Who would have suspected this could happen?

Anyway, Webber also got passed by Rosberg, and Hamilton got passed by Grosjean and Hulkenberg, though he soon took the place back from the German. Ricciardo, having qualified well, immediately went backwards.

Interestingly, Massa was ahead of Alonso (the pair were right behind the Hamilton/Hulkenberg tussle) and the Spaniard couldn’t pass him. It seems Fernando was not faster than him.

After the first pit stops Webber was able to get ahead of Rosberg, and the top three remained in their positions throughout the race (effectively). At one point it seemed Grosjean might try to one stop (almost everyone had two stops) and get ahead of Rosberg and/or Webber, but in the end he had a second stop and finished a solid fourth.

Sutil, who did one stop, stayed out for a long time, which held up a number of cars and enabled Grosjean and the other leaders to build a nice gap. Hulkenberg slid down the order after the pit stops and then got a drive-through penalty because of an unsafe release, taking away any hope of points.

Raikkonen’s weekend from Hell continued. Unpaid all year, disqualified and sent to the back of the grid, and he suffered a collision with a Caterham on lap one which immediately put him out.

Massa was ahead of Alonso almost all race, but late on Alonso got the jump through the last pit stop phase. He was investigated (as he had all four wheels over the white lines that denote the track limits) but will not suffer any penalty.

Di Resta, like Sutil, had just the one stop and did very well to get fifth, ahead of Hamilton. After the early part of the Grand Prix Hamilton complained about a total lack of grip (probably due to running in dirty air for a very long time) and later on got told the right side of the car was overheating.

Perez finished up ninth, behind Massa and ahead of Sutil, which is an ok position. McLaren looked a bit racier in practice, though. Button’s race was compromised almost immediately as he suffered damage to his nose on lap one and had to pit right away.

So, the race was fairly entertaining, albeit not at the sharp end. Second in the Constructors’ remains very tight:
Mercedes 334
Ferrari 323
Lotus 297

I think it’s very unlikely Lotus will be able to get second now. Even third would be a stretch. Although they’ve got great race pace and are kind to tyres, their qualifying’s a little off the pace and there are only two races left. With Vettel having decided that all the races belong to him that leave second or third the best others can hope for. Ferrari might overhaul Mercedes, but I suspect the Silver Arrows will hold onto second place.

The Hulkenberg bet was a clear misjudgement on my part. Whilst the unsafe release penalty shunted him well down the order he was outside the top 6 anyway, and that was on pace rather than being due to misfortune. Ferrari surprised me a bit with their race pace, to be honest.

The Rosberg bet came off, which I’m quite pleased about. 4 to finish where you start is a bit long, and for most of the race it seemed the likeliest result.

The bets I didn’t take (Webber to win and Mercedes to top score) didn’t come off. Webber was 3.35 to win, but finished over 30 seconds behind Vettel. If Vettel had suffered an alternator failure and been forced to retire, then both of those untaken bets would’ve come off.

The good news is that the two remaining races are at very good circuits (well, we’ve only been to Austin once but that first race was thoroughly entertaining). And then we’ve got the massive regulation changes for 2014. The last time we had such a big change a chap called Button won the title, despite being 70/1 to do so.

After the race it emerged that the Lotus/Quantum deal may finally have been concluded:

If this proves to be the case then it could be good news for Hulkenberg. It will increase his chances of going to Lotus next year, but there have been many rumours that Maldonado had already signed an agreement with the team, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The other potential change is Massa to Williams, replacing Maldonado, and Sir Frank has been suggesting Brawn might like to rejoin the team he worked for several decades ago.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Abu Dhabi: pre-race

In Q1 we lost the pointless teams, as usual, as well as Sutil and Gutierrez. Slightly surprising Gutierrez left this early given how strong the Sauber seemed earlier.

Alonso was the biggest casualty of Q2, managing only 11th (Massa was 10th). Di Resta, Button, Vergne, Maldonado and Bottas were also out. It’s the first time this year that Alonso failed to make the top 10.

Q3 was notable for Webber getting pole, ahead of Vettel. Hamilton spun on his final lap, and starts 4th, with Rosberg 3rd. Raikkonen was 5th, and starting alongside him is Hulkenberg, who did very well to beat Grosjean (7th). Massa, Perez and Ricciardo round out the top 10.

After qualifying Raikkonen was excluded as his car failed a floor flex test, so he’ll start either last or from the pit lane.

I’ve backed Hulkenberg to finish in the top 6 at 2.63 with Ladbrokes. Given he starts 5th and has been highly competitive in recent races, and the Sauber is hard to overtake, this seems a reasonable bet.

Three other bets that interested me were:
Webber to win 3.35
Rosberg to win without Webber and Vettel (Ladbrokes) 4
Mercedes to top score (Ladbrokes) 9

Ladbrokes hadn’t, at the time of writing, corrected for Raikkonen’s penalty. I found it hard to decide between the bets, not because I dislike them or the odds, but because they all seem to have value and I was unsure about how many bets I’d feel comfortable making (I tend to put on a standard stake for every tip).

In the end I backed Rosberg at 4 to win (without Vettel or Webber) with Ladbrokes. Raikkonen’s probably out of the equation, Grosjean’s been having brake problems, and although Hamilton’s a serious contender Rosberg starts ahead and has slightly better odds (he’s also been performing a bit better than Hamilton lately).

So, two bets:
Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 2.63 (Ladbrokes)
Rosberg to win without Vettel or Webber at 4 (Ladbrokes)

Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying

Ross Brawn is to leave Mercedes at the end of the season, according to the BBC’s Eddie Jordan:

This has long been on the cards. He said a few weeks ago he was in negotiations with the team, and wished to remain but only on condition he was clearly the leader of the F1 team. Mercedes takes a hydra approach to leadership, and will, apparently, have Wolff, Lauda and Lowe as leaders once Brawn goes.

It’s unclear where Brawn will go, or if he’ll even stay in F1.

Soft and medium tyres, same as India, will be used in Abu Dhabi.

The race is a bit of a weird one because qualifying and the race occur during the transition from late evening to dusk. Because of this P1 and P3 are less useful because they happen earlier, during the heat of the day. So, unusually, P2 is the best for the teams because the temperatures and conditions are the most similar to both qualifying and the race.

In P1 Grosjean was fastest, ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. Webber, Rosberg and Raikkonen follow, with Di Resta, Button, Maldonado and Perez rounding out the top 10.

In P2 we had: Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Perez, Button, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Massa.

During P2 Gary Anderson reckoned the Lotuses (with high fuel) looked terrible. 55 lap race, James Allen reckoned 2 stops likely, but that Lotus or maybe Force India could make a 1 stop work.

Vettel fastest on softs, he and Webber basically the same on the medium, and Hamilton significantly off the Red Bull pace. Fuel loads unknown, but Raikkonen’s race start simulation (ie soft tyres, high fuel) was a second faster than Vettel. Relatively low fuel almost certainly was part of that, but it’s perhaps a positive sign.

It’s also emerged that Raikkonen is threatening to boycott the final two races (Austin and Interlagos) if he isn’t paid:

Apparently Lotus haven’t given him a penny all year.

In P3 Sutil described the Force India as undriveable, and both Grosjean and Di Resta have suffered significant brake problems (Grosjean in both P2 and P3). Gary Anderson reckoned Rosberg was very good on long runs yesterday. The Williams drivers reported improved performance with the removal of the coanda exhaust system (which can help, but if it’s a bit iffy it can make things worse by reducing driver confidence due to lack of consistency). Vergne also said he was struggling with lack of grip, and poor balance.

The time sheets for P3 had Vettel and Webber fastest, with Hamilton third (very narrowly behind Webber). Rosberg and Grosjean were next, followed by Button, Hulkenberg, Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Vergne.

In addition, Betfair now have a Winner Without Vettel market, which could be interesting on race day.

I had lots of ideas for qualifying bets, namely:
Hamilton top 3
Lay Alonso to reach Q3
McLaren drivers to reach Q3
Maldonado to reach Q3
Laying Force India drivers to reach Q3

However, every single one had bad odds. Alonso was 1.4, but I’d want circa 1.15 for such a bet, or at least 1.2-1.3. Vettel’s rightly favourite for pole, but 1.33 is just too short.

I expect the Red Bulls and Mercedes to be at the sharp end, and Ferrari to be well down the order. Sauber and McLaren seem to be having a good weekend, and Force India one to forget.

In non-F1/shameless plugging news, my short(ish) comedy, Sir Edric’s Temple, came out on the 31st. It’s a witty and wondrous read of about 37,000 words, chronicling the misadventures of Sir Edric Greenlock as he battles rockheaded golems, terrible sorcery and the Ursk: a race of brutal slavers who consider humans to be a sort of edible currency.

It’s available at Amazon, or if you buy it from Smashwords you can get 2/3 off with the code KF49K, until the 7th.

Morris Dancer