Sunday, 30 March 2014

Malaysia: post-race analysis

The bet was green, huzzah! 2.5 are not the longest odds in the world, but I'll never complain about a winning bet. I am mildly peeved with myself that I didn't tip Vettel to be best of the (non-Mercedes) rest at 5.5 pre-qualifying, but of 2 bets, 2 were positive (admittedly, one only a smidgen), which is quite pleasing.

Perez had a DNS (did not start) due to some sort of software issue, it seems. That's very unfortunate for the Mexican, but he's not the first and probably won't be the last to have this sort of technical problem.

Off the line, Rosberg had a pretty good start, Hamilton retained the lead and Vettel, although not getting too bad a start, ended up being squeezed out by Ricciardo. Vergne had a shocker and got passed by perhaps 10 cars or more.

Early on Hamilton started to build a substantial lead with little effort, but Rosberg was dogged by the Red Bulls. Although he managed to retain and then, somewhat, establish a gap he was never quite out of sight. Vettel got past Ricciardo, but the Aussie was keeping the German honest. Behind them Alonso and Hulkenberg were pretty close.

Raikkonen had a lacklustre first few laps, dropping a few places. Later he suffered a puncture due to a collision with Magnussen. This happened very far from the pits, and he lost a large amount of time, from which he never really recovered.

Rain had stayed away from the start, but there was the threat of a light shower late on. This prompted the drivers to try and stay out as long as possible, to avoid having to make an additional stop if it did start to turn soggy. Everyone went for three stops, except Hulkenberg, who went for two. This worked well for the Force India driver, and although he couldn't retain fourth against Alonso (on fresh medium tyres) he was a comfortable fifth with the gap to Button one of great size (40 seconds or so).

Ricciardo, at the final stop, suffered woe. His front left tyre was not placed properly, so he stopped before leaving the pits and was wheeled back, so it could be put on correctly. This cost a lot of time. Then his front wing broke and punctured his front right tyre. And then he got a penalty for an unsafe pit lane release, and ended up retiring the car. One wonders if there's some sort of Australian driver hex at Red Bull.

At the front it was pretty serene for Hamilton, who glided around, finished off the Telegraph crossword and basically cruised to victory. Rosberg was a little way back, and though Vettel was only a few seconds down the road the Mercedes never seemed under serious threat. Alonso was a short way back, and then Hulkenberg, but the top 5 were miles ahead of the field.

Behind Button, who was sixth, there were Massa and Bottas. Team orders were to let Bottas through, but Massa ignored the order. We'll see if there's any fallout. Magnussen got ninth, with Kvyat doing well to snag the final point.

Grosjean was 11th (Maldonado, yet again, retired) and Raikkonen ended up 12th. Kobayashi got 13th for Caterham, which could prove critical for the small team in their battle with Marussia.

An interesting graphic appeared on the BBC, denoting fuel consumption (based on weight). The Williams seems to be easiest on fuel, with Mercedes and Force India comparable, then Ferrari and Red Bull (Ricciardo was probably hardest on fuel). There was still plenty left, Hamilton could've done another 10 laps or so, but at other circuits (such as Bahrain) things may well be tighter, so the information could prove quite useful.

Here are the current standings for the Drivers' title:
Rosberg 43
Hamilton 25
Alonso 24
Button 23
Magnussen 20
Hulkenberg 18
Vettel 15
Bottas 14

It's interesting that there's quite a bunching up, but there are also two class, as it were, of driver. Hamilton and Vettel only have one finish to their name. The others all have two. In the betting, Hamilton has again become short odds favourite (2.3 or so versus about 4.1 for Rosberg) but this may be over-reacting. I do think it'll be a Rosberg-Hamilton duel, but the result of that is not a forgone conclusion.

Bahrain has many straights, so I suspect Mercedes and Williams will rather enjoy it, and both teams are also good at fuel efficiency, if the BBC graphic was accurate (which it should be because it's based on FIA information). It's the next race, and happens next weekend.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Malaysia: pre-race

Well, that was a bit frustrating. Vettel came within 0.055s and, I think, could have taken pole (he would've been the last man and Rosberg, just ahead, improved by a tenth) but buggered up the timing and didn't get what should've been his last lap. The hedge was matched but to such an extent the green result was only a few pence.

Of the other bets I contemplated, Hulkenberg did reach Q3 and Vettel was top 3, but neither Ferrari got a top 3 place, so it's all swings and roundabouts. The bets mooted but neither tipped nor declined (as they're race bets) were a mixed bag. I think Mercedes are nailed on, now, to top score. There's an off-chance Ferrari or Red Bull could spoil the party, but it would probably take crazy conditions or a Mercedes failing.

Qualifying was delayed by nearly an hour because of torrential rain. When it got going Q1 was largely predictable, with the pointless teams continuing to fail to reach Q2. Maldonado joined them, as did Sutil.

Q2 was somewhat more competitive. Kvyat just missed the cut, and Gutierrez was pretty impressive to reach 12th. Massa, Perez, Bottas and Grosjean will all be feeling like they significantly under-achieved, although most (excepting Perez) of those four can at least comfort themselves that they're about the same as their team mate.

The third session, with the track still suited for full wets, was tighter at the front than might have been expected (the Mercedes each had about 1.7s over everyone save Vettel [0.4s] in Q1). On the early runs Hamilton was just 0.055s ahead of Vettel, with Alonso 3rd and Rosberg a surprisingly lowly 4th. The McLarens and Vergne were near the back, with Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Ricciardo in the middle.

Late on, as mentioned above, Vettel cocked up his timing (or the team did it for him) and he missed what should've been his final lap. What's galling most of all is that we don't know if he would've gotten pole. I suspect he might have, but we won't ever know. The only change on the final lap was Rosberg improving to displace Alonso and claim 3rd on the grid (where he started in Australia, let us remember).

Ricciardo starts 5th, then we have Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Vergne and Button, who went out on intermediates, which turned out to be the wrong call.

There was a collision between Kvyat and Alonso, but neither man ended up with a penalty. Bottas, however, got a three place grid penalty for impeding Ricciardo.

In the wet, the Mercedes still seems to be top dog but not by much, with Red Bull their closest soggy rivals. Ferrari are a little behind, with Hulkenberg pretty close and the McLarens a little way back. Williams really don't like the wet. It'll be interesting to see how Massa and Bottas fare in the race (they also had a somewhat poor qualifying in Australia, but Bottas was probably the second fastest man on the track).

The weather forecast for the race is the same as qualifying, 70% chance of a thunderstorm. So, the race is likely to be at least partly wet, but some consideration should be given to dry-running pace. This makes it very hard to predict, because whilst I anticipate at least some rain, much of the race may be dry.

In the dry, Mercedes have a huge advantage, Red Bull slide backwards and McLaren/Williams are far more competitive.

There were several bets I considered.

Hulkenberg to be top 6, on the basis that he's a very good driver and his car is pretty solid in the wet or the dry.

I considered laying Vettel for a podium, but 2.36 or so is a bit too long. My thinking was that he might suffer another reliability issue (he had a problem in qualifying but they were able to reset the system).

Both McLarens to score tempted me, but the odds of 8/13 are ridiculously short given they start 8th and 10th, so I decided against this.

The betting without Hamilton/Rosberg market was also intriguing. I think they're highly likely to get a 1-2 (but reliability could be an issue, as could sliding off in the wet). The problem is Vettel seems likely to come next, but at just 3, and with potential reliability issues rearing their head again, I wouldn't feel confident backing him. In the dry Alonso (4) would be a solid pick, but if it's wet and Vettel fails I could see Ricciardo getting it at 8. Pre-qualifying (I checked the market then) Vettel was 5.5. If he were still those odds it'd be a pretty straightforward bet. In the wet or dry it should be pretty competitive between the Mercedes and behind them.

So, in the end I went for Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 2.5 with Ladbrokes.

I think the race will be pretty exciting. The weather's unpredictable, but in the wet or dry things should be close between many teams. It'll be intriguing to see how Williams can do from 12th and 18th (Bottas did reach Q2 but was subsequently put back 3 places on the grid for impeding Ricciardo). Let's hope it's nice and green. The race start is 9am, but don't forget the clocks go forward.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 28 March 2014

Malaysia: pre-qualifying

Between races I put a little on Williams for the Constructors at 34. I think this is too long and will shorten to layable odds for an all-green result. McLaren was also too long at 12.5 or so. Ferrari and Red Bull were both too short, Ferrari especially (they were about 8.6 and 5.6 respectively). The Prancing Horse has a great driver pairing but a car that simply isn't up to scratch on pace, Raikkonen seems to be struggling and it may well be thirstier than other cars.

It was also suggested on the Sky F1 site that Hamilton might end up with a penalty for his reliability failure in Australia. That would be utterly ludicrous, as he likely lost 25 (and probably at least 18) points from the incident itself. From a purely betting perspective it would, however, be handy for my Rosberg bet.

On Monday Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull owner) warned that Red Bull could leave the sport if it were run in a way he disliked (NB he also owns Toro Rosso). This came as Red Bull awaits (on 14 April, I think) the appeal on their disqualification for ignoring FIA guidance on the fuel-flow rate.

Red Bull were seen by some to use political manoeuvring to try and alter (or gerrymander, if one were being unkind) the rules in 2013. After the tyres were hardened up and the construction altered Vettel went on to win a record 9 races in a row. Right now Horner's behaviour is deeply unimpressive.

On Thursday the weather forecast was for a 70% chance of a thunderstorm during qualifying. This would be very bad for Williams, based on Australian qualifying in the wet, when the white car was (relatively) far more adversely affected than the others. If the forecast persists then I might lay Williams' cars to reach Q3, contingent on the odds being right, of course.

The tyres for the weekend are hard and medium.

Both the first two practice sessions were dry. At present (8.49am Friday) there is a 50-60% of a thunderstorm, but the overall amount rain is expected to be relatively light (1mm). This could have a dramatic impact, or none whatsoever, depending when it falls, and if it's all at once or just drizzle.

P1 had Hamilton fastest, a tenth and a half ahead of Raikkonen, with Rosberg third. Button and Magnussen were next, followed by Vergne, Vettel and Hulkenberg, with Massa and Bottas rounding out the top 10. [NB all times here were set on the hard tyres].

In P2 the top three were covered by less than a tenth of a second. Rosberg, Raikkonen and Vettel led the way, Hamilton less than a tenth behind Vettel. Alonso was fifth, then Massa, Ricciardo (three-tenths down on Vettel), Button, Bottas and Hulkenberg.

Lotus had a terrible time, again retiring both cars in both practice sessions. Maldonado failed to set a time all day. McLaren brought substantial updates but, whilst they're still in the hunt, they do not appear to have delivered the performance boost that was hoped for.

By contrast, Ferrari are suddenly looking very racy. Importantly for the team, Raikkonen, who had a very hard time in Australia, has really picked up his game. Red Bull are also doing much better in terms of pace. It's surprising that Mercedes' advantage (a second a lap) over the others appears to have evaporated already. However, we do not know fuel loads used in practice, and the different track and temperature (nearing 40C) will have a significant impact. If you have backed either Mercedes driver (or the team) for the title and have yet to lay, I would advocate doing so now.

On practice times Williams appear to be a bit behind Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and maybe McLaren, but that was also the case in 2/3 of Australia's practice sessions, do I don't believe we can conclude they've gone backwards. For whatever reason [could be as simple as high fuel sandbagging], they may be much better in a race situation (as we saw with Bottas) than practice (and perhaps qualifying, but as we haven't had a dry qualifying yet that's hard to tell).

There were a few bets I was tempted by. Laying either Williams driver at 1.6 to reach Q3 (I'd put down a little at 1.2, which are silly odds, but nobody bit).

I also considered Hulkenberg for Q3, but his odds were only 1.6, which is too short.

The other bets I looked at focused on the surprisingly swift chaps. Alonso or Raikkonen to be top 3 in qualifying (at 3 and 4 respectively). According to a snippet of commentary I heard on the BBC highlights, Alonso (and Hamilton) both had the capacity to beat their team mates but buggered up a certain sector. Both the Ferrari bets were tempting (I would've made it a single stake split evenly between the two), but the odds were a little on the short side given the advantage the Mercedes seem to have (leaving one place) and Vettel, or even Ricciardo, springing a surprise. Plus, if it's wet that would further advantage the Red Bulls, who may be the biggest threat to a Prancing Horse starting in the top 3.

The final bet I pondered was Vettel to take pole. The odds on Ladbrokes were 13, on Betfair 11.5 (but, of course, you can hedge on Betfair. Hmm. Actually, you probably can on Ladbrokes, but I've not tried using that exchange, yet). He was third in P2, but less than a tenth (about 0.06s) behind Rosberg. In addition, if it is wet the Red Bull seems to have a performance advantage (relative to others), as we saw in Australia when Ricciardo surpassed all expectations to take second on the grid.

I was only going to consider Vettel if the odds were right and, to be honest, 13 is enormous. He's got a cracking record of delivering pole positions and, as mentioned above, would probably (relatively) benefit if it is wet. The question of whether to back with Ladbrokes at 13 (and, if so, whether to make it each-way, which offers a fifth the odds for the top 3) or with Betfair at 12 (it increased as I wrote this piece) and hedge is a tricky one.

After much pondering I'm tipping Vettel for pole at 12 (Betfair), hedged at 5. It's probably at least a three-way scrap, perhaps five-way. I rank Vettel perhaps Hamilton's only equal in qualifying and suspect it'll come down to the two of them. If he is competitive then hopefully the hedge will get matched. [You could also opt for the Ladbrokes 13, each way, but that's not my tip].

Betting on qualifying without P3 is somewhat risky, but I think Vettel's worth backing. He has a great pole record, the Red Bull was more competitive than expected in both qualifying and the race in Australia, and inclement weather could prove advantageous.

Sky reports Mercedes has fears of tyre durability (medium, the faster), and that the Ferrari and Red Bull can both run for longer on it. This could present an opportunity for the latter two teams to top score, but I'm not betting on that pre-qualifying (for those interested I believe they're 8 and 9 respectively with Ladbrokes. At this stage I'd be more predisposed towards Ferrari).

So, that's just the one tip: Vettel for pole, 12, hedged at 5.

Qualifying is at 8am tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Australia: post-race analysis

Apologies for the absence of a pre-race piece and the delay to this. My computer was taken away at short notice and has only just been returned.

The odds on Williams to top score (Ladbrokes) were up to 7.5, from 5.5, after the first two practice sessions.

I’ve laid Bottas and Massa at 50 and 36 respectively for the title, having earlier backed them at 65 and 40. I had intended to hold on until the third or fourth race then lay, but I suspect Williams will underperform compared to my previous expectations. So, I'm ahead if Rosberg or either Williams wins and flat if anyone else does.

Although Williams were unlucky with Massa's retirement, Bottas made a driver error so his finishing point cannot be considered unfortunate. However, I am fairly sure that even had Massa not been taken out early on he would not have scored enough points for Williams to top score. To tie, he would have had to finish ahead of Button, and to win outright, he would have had to finish ahead of Magnussen. I just can't see that having happened (and it would've pushed Bottas down a place, now I think of it).

Anyway, lacking ye olde computer I resorted to pen and paper to make notes on the race. Given the unexpectedly long delay between the race and this article, it's perhaps as well I did.

Both Marussia engines went on strike, necessitating two formation laps and a queue at the end of the pitlane (Grosjean, having been due to start near the back, opted to fiddle with the car to improve its setup, at the cost of starting from the pitlane for breaking parc ferme). However, Grosjean immediately got a drive-through penalty (even before the race started) for leaving the garage too early.

The start was dramatic, with Rosberg taking off like a rocket and moving from third to first. Hamilton, having started on pole, looked sluggish and almost immediately lost another place to Ricciardo. On the opening lap Hulkenberg passed Alonso, Kobayashi left the field by crashing into Massa and taking both of them out, and Vettel was down to 15th (probably due to an issue with lack of kinetic energy).

Hamilton and Vettel both had to retire very early on, due to reliability failures.

Bottas had a stellar start, up from 15th (due to a penalty for changing his gearbox) to 8th within about 15 minutes (8 laps or so). At the front Rosberg pulled a nice gap on Ricciardo and the pair were moving away steadily from third-placed Magnussen.

Sadly for Bottas, an entirely unavoidable error was made. He hit a wall whilst following Alonso, and had to pit for new tyres (and was perhaps fortunate not to suffer race-ending suspension damage). Prior to this he was absolutely flying and, excepting Rosberg, the fastest man on the track. The pit stop put him all the way down in 16th.

The Bottas incident caused a safety car, and just about everybody pitted. Button was first, and really benefited from it, ending up about 3 places higher up because of it.

The Mercedes really was dominant, and around 45 minutes into the race was 0.9s faster than everybody else. I do not expect such dominance to be maintained throughout the season, but right now it would seem to be a Hamilton-Rosberg duel.

Marcus Ericsson was forced to retire due to a problem with his engine oil pressure.

At a later stop Button did very well, leapfrogging both Hulkenberg and Alonso. Alonso managed to pass Hulkenberg but because of Button's antics he remained in the same place and Hulkenberg slid down two spots.

Fears of excessive fuel-saving appear wide of the mark, but it's worth mentioning that two formation laps and about four safety car laps will have helped this quite a bit.

Early on McNish observed it was difficult to get heat into the tyres, but considered Toro Rosso to be good at it (relatively), and Ferrari poor.

My guess on race pace performance at the minute is:
Mercedes (by miles), then Williams, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Force India. The last two could be the other way around. Hulkenberg and Alonso were pretty close.

Raikkonen appeared very uncomfortable in his Ferrari, and whilst Alonso wasn't exactly flying he was miles better than the Finn.

The 24 second margin of victory for Rosberg will be both good and bad news for Hamilton. He knows he's got the best car on the grid by a mile, right now, but his biggest rival (probably) has stolen a march.

After the race Ricciardo was disqualified for exceeding the 100kg/hr fuel flow rate limit. It appears Red Bull was contacted by the FIA during the race and told to turn it down slightly and all would be well, and the team decided obeying the governing body was optional. If that's the case, it's their own damned fault, and a great shame for the Aussie who had a very good race.

Kobayashi acknowledged the first lap crash was entirely his fault and said he would apologise to Massa, which was good to see.

Maldonado retired, as did Grosjean, ending the weekend as badly as the rest of it went. The Lotus appears to have all the stability and speed of a one-legged unicyclist.

Magnussen and Kvyat both had very good races. The Russian helped Toro Rosso to a double points finish, and Magnussen acquitted himself well. Perhaps the Dane lacked a slight killer instinct against Ricciardo, but a third place finish (promoted to 2nd a little later) for a first ever race is very good indeed. Right now McLaren top the Constructors' title race.

So, my bet was a bit rubbish. Not miles wrong, but a misjudgement. However, the two chaps I backed for the title are currently 1st and 2nd.

Malaysia is just over a week away. I'm rather looking forward to it.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 14 March 2014

Australia: pre-qualifying

After a rather exciting set of winter tests, the first race weekend is upon us. Will Red Bull really be rubbish? Have Williams made the greatest comeback since the Second Punic War? Will anybody manage to finish the first race?

It’s worth mentioning every team will have worked on their cars extensively since the last test, whether that’s trying to extract performance or enhance reliability. So, even if we had a clear picture of how things stood at the end of the third test, things are a bit different from then.

A week or so before the race I read on Twitter that the chief of an electronics firm warned that it was possible every car could fail to finish Australia. I doubt that will happen, but reliability is a massive concern for the race.

In a BBC preview video Allan McNish reckoned the Ferrari engine was a bit too thirsty. If he’s right, that’ll be another setback for the Prancing Horse.

Before practice started I tipped and backed Williams to be the highest scoring team (Ladbrokes) 5.5. In all honesty, I would not back that right now (it will count towards the official record, as I tipped it on Whilst I retain faith in the team’s reliability, others appeared to have made a step up in that regard, and both Red Bull and McLaren are vying with them for second on speed (Ferrari is quick over a single lap but has poorer race pace, and a reportedly thirstier engine).

Anyway, I didn’t catch P1, as it started around 1.30am, but the top 10 were: Alonso, Button, Bottas, Massa, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Vettel, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Vergne. During the P2 commentary I caught (the last hour) it emerged a sensor calibration problem prevented Hamilton getting any laps in, and both Lotus cars stayed in the garage. The Mercedes issue was just someone putting in the wrong data to a sensor, it wasn’t a mechanical or electronic failure.

P2 had Hamilton and Rosberg top, separated by a tenth and a half. The top times were set a little way apart, and a tenth and a half isn’t a huge margin. Hamilton was half a second ahead of third-placed Alonso, with Vettel a quarter of a second further back. Button, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Bottas, Magnussen and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

The Red Bull seems to be running much more reliably. Maldonado’s Lotus failed to get out again, which must screw his weekend. To add to his problems, Allan McNish reckoned the Lotus of Grosjean looked unstable. McNish also singled out the Red Bull and Williams for being the only cars that appeared to be running on rails, which should help tyre wear, consistency and avoiding crashes due to driver error.

Mercedes were fastest. Fastest over a single lap, fastest on race pace (by around 0.8s over Williams). Possible problems for the Silver Arrows could be fuel consumption (but most of their rivals use the same engine), Hamilton’s driving style leading to higher tyre degradation, reliability or the weather. To be honest, I think only the latter two could really throw a spanner in the works. Mercedes are looking mighty.

Incidentally, it appears that the spectre of many reliability failures might have been an illusion. Although there were some failures in practice (see below), they were nowhere near the anticipated level, and Red Bull ran very well. If this turns out to be the case on race day, Mr. Putney’s optimism on Vettel (I held the exact opposite view) could prove very profitable.

On tyres: they’re much steadier this year. There’s no cliff to fall off when it comes to performance and the tyres last longer as well. Pirelli have introduced three limitations, to the amount of heating allowed in the blankets prior to bolting the tyres onto a car, to the camber angle (so tyres don’t run just on the shoulder) and to tyre pressure. This is to help stop any recurrence of exploding (and because the tyre firm feels the teams didn’t get their fair share of the blame last year, when some teams were putting the tyres on the wrong half of the car on purpose and running severe camber angles). They’ll still be a factor, but not the critical factor they were last year, I think.

There’s a roughly 10% chance of rain, so it’s unlikely to affect qualifying. Worth mentioning in passing that Red Bull still seems to have a downforce edge, so when we get rain this will help them enjoy superior grip.

Kvyat appeared to be struggling, according to both his times and radio messages. I’d be unsurprised if he failed to escape Q1. Caterham had no real running whatsoever, and are in an even worse position than Lotus. Chilton was over a second slower than Bianchi.

Interesting to see Hulkenberg was around 0.2-0.4s faster than Perez. The Mexican’s a bit shorter, so I thought the two might be about the same speed. It’ll be touch and go as to whether Force India can reach Q3.

Sauber’s car appears ragged. I can’t see them doing too much. If the Ferrari engine is inefficient, that’ll also hamper them. Strong reliability and a high failure rate could see them sneak points, perhaps. I wouldn’t bet on it.

I anticipate a Mercedes front row. Who lines up behind them could be much, much closer.

The pre-race piece will be up around this time tomorrow. It’s unlikely I’ll offer a(nother) tip, but we’ll see how the grid and markets stack up.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 3 March 2014

F1 2014 - Second and Third Tests

Bit of a whopper of an article, but it didn’t make sense to write two for the Bahrain tests, as they were so close together.

This is one more reason why reliability is to critical. Losing a whole power unit (exceeding the 5 per season limit) means starting the next race from the pit lane. Losing a component, such as the turbo, means a 10 place grid penalty.

On day one of the first test in Bahrain it appeared the Renault/Red Bull woe might continue. However, both Red Bull and Toro Rosso got in good running on the second day. Any remaining issues seem more to do with the car rather than the power unit.

It’s been suggested the Renault requires significantly more cooling than rival engines, but apparently there are upsides. If the horsepower rumours were true (Mercedes being mighty and Ferrari better than Renault by a smaller margin) then any plus side would seem to be efficiency.

That sounds tedious but fuel tanks have shrunk from about 150kg to 100kg, and there’s a maximum fuel flow rate of 100kg/hour (a race is typically just under two hours). A more efficient engine would be a great advantage.

From the BBC livefeed, on day three:
“They [Renault engines] are not being able to run the full mapping and are about 100-150bhp down on the Mercedes and Ferrari.”

So, that would make it hard, it would seem, for Renault-powered cars to do well in qualifying. 100-150bhp is a bloody enormous deficit. But, efficiency will be worth a lot come race day. With that in mind, my early thinking (NB I have not bet on this and it is not a tip) for Australia is a Mercedes for pole, and Vettel for the win. However, Ferrari must not be discounted. They also have solid reliability and two fantastic drivers.
Later addition: given the continuing and chronic reliability issues that Red Bull have faced I would not back them for the win. Ferrari may be another matter, and there’s an off-chance the very reliable Williams could spring a surprise.

Alonso said that Australia would be hard to bet on:

Day three also saw Red Bull suspend running after finding a mechanical fault. This turned out to be a gearbox failure. The gearboxes, as with just about everything else, are more complicated this year, so expect more of these during the season. Lotus (also powered by Renault) had a gearbox problem on Friday as well.

After the second test, my vague thinking of Australia bets was as follows:
Hamilton pole [he was better than Rosberg there last year]
Marussia points
Bottas points

The race in Bahrain could be more down to efficiency than pace:
Q: So if you don’t know where the car is, how about the driver - what will be the biggest challenge for a driver this season?
Nico Rosberg:
All the new systems. The whole hybrid power - there is a lot complications in that. Then coming to terms with the fuel saving to make it to the chequered flag. Bahrain, for example, will be a tough one. When I did the race distance in the afternoon it was difficult to make it with the one hundred litres we are allowed. That will be an issue for all of us.”

Let us not forget the tyres:
“The performance differences in Bahrain between tyre compounds were approximately as follows: the supersoft around 0.7s per lap faster than the soft; the soft around 1.2s per lap quicker than the medium; and the medium is around 1.3s per lap quicker than the hard.”

During the third test engine homologation was due to occur. This means you can’t fiddle with it for performance reasons, but can on the grounds of safety and reliability. Renault lodged an application for an extension. This has since been denied (both the making of the application and, if it was made, the application request itself).

The third day of the third test was abysmal for Red Bull. Vettel got in four corners. His car didn’t manage the installation lap, and when he tried to go out later it didn’t even reach the end of the pit lane.

It’s interesting that gearboxes appeared to be breaking left, right and centre in the final test. Mercedes suffered numerous failures. Williams, on the very final day, suffered their first and only on-track reliability failure (engine, due to high mileage). I do wonder if the Williams could be a dark horse. Probably not on for a win, but top 6 is perhaps possible.

There are three aspects to F1 cars (and especially their engines/power trains):
Pace, reliability, efficiency.

Pace is impossible to truly read from testing. Fuel, tyres, track conditions, qualifying simulations and race runs all conspire to make it very hard to discern any kind of performance advantage. Rumour has it Mercedes is fastest, then Ferrari, then Renault. That will help in qualifying, but in the race efficiency will be as important and perhaps more so.

Reliability is easier. All the cars have weaknesses. Mercedes and Ferrari seem to be alright, Renault seem to be behind by a distance. Expect multiple reliability failures in Australia, something we have not seen regularly for many seasons (discounting tyres, which teams are not responsible for).

Efficiency is also very hard to judge from testing. The fuel tanks have been reduced (to 100kg, I think) and fuel-flow limited to 100kg/hour (NB teams can’t run constantly at that rate or they’ll run out of fuel within 50-60% of a race distance). Going slow conserves fuel but could cost tyre temperature. Efficient engines will be very useful.

The teams doing worst than expected are Red Bull and Lotus. Both have had relatively limited testing due to numerous failures. By contrast, Force India and (even more so) Williams are perhaps exceeding expectations. The Williams might be the most reliable car there is, and in a season where parts could fail often that might get them many, many points.

That said, Hamilton seems to believe the Red Bull is a quick car, and I read (during many hours of checking the BBC livefeed of testing) that the Red Bull passed a McLaren going around a high speed corner, suggesting relatively superior downforce. Of course, a fast car that explodes a lot will not win a title (cf McLaren with Raikkonen or McLaren in 2012) but it could win races, and with improvements to reliability could yet make up lost ground, assuming it has any to make up after the start of the season.

Before testing began, based on rumour, I backed Magnussen at 51 and Rosberg at 17 with Ladbrokes and 23 or so with Betfair (tiny stakes). Reasonably content with those, and hedged my Betfair Rosberg bet the other day at 8. I do think Mercedes (team and engine) have the edge right now.

Ferrari are interesting. They’ve largely flown under the radar, and seem to be doing alright (although my spies tell me they’re down on power compared to Mercedes). They have a very strong driver line-up and could be Mercedes’ biggest challengers. It’ll also be intriguing to see how Magnussen (who appears to have impressed during testing) can do, and likewise the Force India pairing of Hulkenberg and Perez.

Not sure if I’ll offer a qualifying tip for Australia. I will write a pre-qualifying piece, though.

On that note, the qualifying rules have been tweaked:

Basically, Q2 tyres will be used to start the race. That way, nobody ducks Q3 or trundles around like Postman Pat (and his black and white cat) to start on lovely fresh rubber.

I’m really looking forward to the first race. It’s only covered on radio by the BBC, alas, but there we are. Practice in Australia starts on 14 March.

Morris Dancer