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

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