Sunday, 25 May 2014

Monaco: post-race analysis

The race was tense rather than dramatic, and had quite a few cunning twists. The bet came off, more due to luck than judgement, but if fortune intervenes in my betting I'll not complain if it's the helpful sort.

Off the line Rosberg had a great start, for once, and Raikkonen had a flyer, getting ahead of his team mate and Vettel into fourth place before passing Ricciardo somewhere or other for third.

Maldonado failed to get off the line for the parade lap and had to start from the pit lane, behind Marcus Ericsson.

Vettel early on had a problem with his engine, then when he pitted and emerged he was stuck in first gear and forced to retire. A great shame.

The gap between the two Mercedes was less than a second for most of the race, particularly early on. When Sutil introduced his car to the barriers the safety car emerged (I think there was one earlier, but it was too early for pit stops), and everyone streamed into the pits. However, during the safety car running a Marussia struck Raikkonen and caused a puncture, so the Finn had to pit again, and Ricciardo was promoted to third, Alonso to fourth.

Massa was fifth, at this stage, ahead of Hulkenberg. However, the Brazilian had not pitted and was perhaps gambling on another safety car or wet weather forcing everyone else to stop as well. That didn't happen, and he was forced to pit, falling down the order to the outer reaches of the points positions.

The top four remained as they were. Hamilton, very unusually in F1, got something in his eye and the battle with Rosberg effectively ended there. Ricciardo narrowed the gap to half a second, but couldn't pass the Briton. Alonso, alas, was trundling around by himself, about 20 seconds or so off a podium place and 50 seconds or so ahead of Hulkenberg.

Everyone lower than Alonso was lapped. Raikkonen tried passing Magnussen at the roundabout, but got the angle slightly wrong, enabling Button to scamper off into the distance (eventually finishing 6th) and putting Raikkonen out of the points. Magnussen recovered to 10th, giving McLaren their first points for a while, and a double points finish.

Hulkenberg was struggling with tyre degradation but did well to hang onto 5th. Perez had earlier been running well enough but crashed out.

Back to Massa: what with all the issues for Magnussen, Raikkonen, a drive-through for Vergne after his team released him unsafely and an engine problem for Bottas, the Brazilian ended up climbing all the way to 7th. Not bad from 16th.

However, after the Mercedes duel the most significant result was Bianchi's 8th, on the track (9th after a 5 second penalty was applied). This marks the first points for Marussia, which I cannot now refer to as a pointless team anymore, and means they are not only ahead of Caterham in the Constructors but also Sauber. That's pretty surprising. I expect Sauber to recover, but if not it'll mean millions of pounds more for Marussia.

Grosjean got promoted from 9th to 8th because of that. Lotus are still well off the pace, but at least they're gradually getting the odd point now and then. Maldonado retired, I'm uncertain, come to think of it, if he ever made it out of the pit lane.

After the race there was practically no eye contact, let alone handshakes, between the Mercedes drivers. I think it's a shame that any vestige of their friendship appears to have disappeared. It also emerged that Hamilton used an engine power mode in Spain he was not supposed to (for more horsepower) and apologised to Rosberg for it. Given Rosberg didn't kick up a fuss about that, it may be that Hamilton's being something of a prima donna. Hamilton was also quite grumpy on the radio, but was correct to lambast the team for not bringing him (or Rosberg, though he didn't say that) in a lap earlier after Sutil's crash necessitated a safety car.

A radio message that was not broadcast from Hamilton to Mercedes apparently included a line similar to: “I knew you wouldn't” in reference to pitting him after the Sutil crash but before the safety car emerged. This speaks of mistrust between himself and the team, perhaps indicating he feels they've sided with Rosberg over the controversial pole. However, Hamilton's not an automaton and he could've simply pitted and gotten on the radio to inform the team. Other drivers, such as Button, make such calls.

Rosberg now has a 4 point advantage over Hamilton. This was must-win for Rosberg, and keeps his title hopes very much alive. He's arrested Hamilton's formidable momentum, regained the lead and the impact upon Hamilton's mindset of both the defeat and the pole lap could be another advantage.

The next race is the fantastic circuit in Canada, where I'd expect Williams and McLaren to be a little stronger, relatively, and Hamilton to stand a strong chance of getting the title lead back. That's in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Monaco: pre-race

Well, it was very tight, but only between the two Mercedes. If Vettel's kinetic energy supply had been stable it might have been a shade tighter, as it was, he was outshone again by his Aussie team mate. Ricciardo's having a great season, to date.

Q1 was as expected, with the four pointless teams being joined by both Saubers, who, alas, really haven't got their act together. It was also notably for Ericsson knocking out Massa after the Brazilian helpfully let him through, meaning Massa starts 16th as he couldn't participate in Q2.

Q2 saw the two Lotuses (Loti?) last (but still ahead of Massa), and joined by Hulkenberg, Button and Bottas. Mercedes power did not seem as helpful here as at other circuits, and Hulkenberg and Button were left behind by team mates who got into Q3.

Q3 was all about one incident, really. On the first runs Rosberg was half a tenth ahead of Hamilton. On the second, the German failed to make a corner after locking a brake, caused a yellow flag and Hamilton (behind him on the road) had to slow down and couldn't improve. Now, there is fierce debate as to whether this was intentional or accidental, and opinion seems fairly evenly split. My inclination at first glance is that it was accidental. I don't think it's definitive either way.

What is certain is that Hamilton clearly thinks Rosberg effectively cheated, and the Briton's coldly furious. Whether Rosberg did cheat or not almost doesn't matter because the impact on the intra-team relationship has already occurred.

However, there were eight other cars in Q3. Ricciardo was 3rd and Vettel 4th, a great performance by the German who was suffering intermittent problems with his kinetic energy supply (a running theme, this year). Alonso and Raikkonen came next, the Spaniard almost a second faster than his team mate.

Then we had Vergne and Magnussen, Kvyat and Perez. It was especially impressive from the Russian newcomer who got 9th, as he has never before driven around Monaco. He's very young, but has really hit the ground running.

It's worth mentioning there are about half a dozen incidents under investigation by the stewards. These include (but are not limited to), Perez and Kvyat for blocking (about two others have the same), Ericsson for losing control and knocking out Massa, and Rosberg for being unlucky/lucky/having flashbacks to 2006.

Ericsson unsurprisingly got a penalty and starts from the pit lane. Without being cruel, I'm not sure this is necessarily going to disadvantage his race prospects very much (he qualified 22nd).

I was surprised how quickly a Rosberg decision was reached, and mildly surprised he didn't get a penalty. He retains pole, which I must think will infuriate Hamilton.

I'm not a Monaco fan, and when I was trying to think of bets to make the difficulty just reinforced my assessment of the circuit. It's too damned processional. The race will also be dry, so we won't have any wet weather shenanigans. Just looking at the grid, nothing came to mind.

However, Alonso be winner without Hamilton or Rosberg at 10 (backed each way, for 1/3 odds top 2) with Ladbrokes seemed of some value. The Spaniard typically starts well, and if he could mug Vettel at the start would stand a decent chance of staying ahead of the German throughout (especially if Vettel suffered yet more kinetic energy woe).

Perez top 6 was tempting but the odds were too damned short (3.5).

So, just the one tip: Alonso to be winner without Hamilton/Rosberg (each way) at 10, with Ladbrokes.

I've got to say, though, that my focus tomorrow won't be on that result but how the Silver Arrows battle goes. For the sake of the title race and my wallet I hope Rosberg has a cracking race.

Morris Dancer

Monaco: pre-qualifying

The tyres for this weekend, unsurprisingly, are soft and supersoft. During P2 (I think), early on, Grosjean said he reckoned the softs took about 8-9 laps to warm up in his Lotus, but for Mercedes it's only 3.

P1 was dry, and had the two Mercedes cars within 0.032s of one another (Hamilton first). Ricciardo was a few tenths down the road and Alonso 0.4s further back from him. Then came Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Perez, Magnussen and Hulkenberg.

P2 was mostly wet, so the times are probably worthless. For the sake of completeness, Alonso was fastest, then Hamilton, Vettel, Vergne, Bottas, Perez, Hulkenberg, Button, Ricciardo, Magnussen.

Qualifying is forecast to be dry, with the race probably dry but with the potential for some rain.

P3 was dry. Hamilton led Ricciardo and Rosberg, but the gaps were minute. Vettel was next, then Alonso, Raikkonnen, Perez, Hulkenberg, Vergne and Kvyat.

In the third practice session it seemed that the supersoft tyres took a few laps to get up to optimal temperature, so the quickest lap won't be the first one.

It looks like it'll be very, very close between the Mercedes and Red Bulls. A tiny mistake could ruin not just a lap but the car, and traffic may be an issue as well.

Interestingly, Ladbrokes have a market on which will be the first Grand Prix Mercedes fail to win. I'm not betting on that, but if you're interested I'd look at the street circuits. Monaco's 5.5, Singapore 15 and Abu Dhabi 34. To win all the races is 4 (bit short for the length of time involved).

I had a quick look and whilst the qualifying winning margin to be 0.15s or less (Ladbrokes) at 2.2 was mildly tempting it wasn't enough.

So, no tip.

My expectation is for tiny gaps at the front between Mercedes and Red Bull, with the other teams some way further back.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Spain: post-race analysis

The race wasn't a classic, although the end was entertaining, but the bet came off (just). Overall the weekend was slightly green.

Off the start Bottas took third from Ricciardo, and Button left the handbrake on. Otherwise drivers mostly held station. Grosjean had a lock-up into the first turn but managed to stay ahead of both Ferraris, Raikkonen retaining his place ahead of Alonso.

In the initial phase of the race Hamilton slightly pulled away from Rosberg, and the pair of them galloped away from the battle for third. Bottas remained ahead of Ricciardo on track, but after the first pit stops were done the amiable Aussie was a distance ahead and untroubled in third for the rest of the afternoon.

After the first stops Hamilton went medium and Rosberg hard, but the gap didn't really change, staying around 3-4s. In the final stint Hamilton was on the hard tyres and Rosberg the medium. The German was on a charge, but may have left it a lap or two too late, and although he was very close (less than a second) at the end he couldn't pass Hamilton.

However, it's worth pointing out that Rosberg was faster on the 'slower' hard compound than Hamilton on the medium, but when the tyres were switched the German was still faster. Spain is a hard circuit to overtake on, and although this is a good win for Hamilton we still cannot count Rosberg out because he was very, very close. The win means Hamilton leads the title race for the first time.

Grosjean initially held onto fifth but spent the rest of the race slowly descending down the order. Given the Lotus' horrendous start to the season I was pretty impressed with the Frenchman, who ended up 8th and got Lotus their first points of the season.

Bottas nearly had 4th, but was passed by Vettel, who had a very good day and rose inexorably through the field from 15th to 4th. I think he must be amongst the happiest of chaps after the race, given how difficult the weekend (and season) had been up until that time. Red Bull firmly look to be best of the rest right now, but they're still a day and a half behind Mercedes. Hamilton finished 49 seconds ahead of Ricciardo.

Alonso was kept behind Raikkonen most of the time, but the two went on a split strategy which ultimately saw Alonso get the better of his Finnish team mate. However, it was the most competitive (relative to Alonso) I think Raikkonen's been this year. That's good, but the car is not. It needs more in both power and aerodynamic terms. Rumours have resumed about Ferrari trying to tempt Newey, and Alonso considering jumping ship.

Force India had a quiet day. Perez was less than a second behind Hulkenberg for most of the race, eventually passed him cleanly (but didn't make a huge gap) and the pair finished 9th and 10th (which was nice). The car needs updates, and fast, or they'll get left behind.

McLaren's nightmare continues, with a third successive pointless race (they finished 11th and 12th). It's simply not good enough. Next year they have the opportunity to make a great leap forward as sole customers of Honda (who may well try and copy the Silver Arrows' cunning layout of the engine and its various bits and bobs). However, their problem isn't really power, it's aerodynamics. Honda won't help with that. Hiring a chap or two from Red Bull may help.

Bit perplexed by Massa only finishing 13th. Not sure if I missed an incident, but that means he went backwards from the grid, and finished very poorly compared to 5th-placed Bottas.

After 5 races of a probable 19 races (Russia could yet be axed or even replaced by Azerbaijan) the championships look like this:

Hamilton 100
Rosberg 97

Alonso 49
Vettel 45
Ricciardo 39
Hulkenberg 37
Bottas 34

Mercedes 197
Red Bull 84
Ferrari 66
Force India 57
Williams 46
McLaren 43

The drivers' title, barring something highly unlikely, is still a Mercedes duel. The advantage is Hamilton's, but isn't so great that we can yet write off the season. If Rosberg loses in Monaco, that'll be a significant blow. Not only will he have lost two races (Spain and Monaco) at which he beat Hamilton last year, but it's a street circuit, and if Hamilton can win there and Abu Dhabi it'll make it much harder for Rosberg to bounce back.

The Constructors' is a reasonable guide to pace. Mercedes are best, by a mile, and Red Bull are best of the rest. In Monaco, Red Bull may be closer to challenging the Silver Arrows. All the sliding cars are doing due to torque exceeding grip will be interesting on a circuit 90% plus of which is ringed by barriers.

Monaco is in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Spain: pre-race

Got to admit qualifying was a bit galling, although it did have some interesting moments. If I'd made the bet myself I might've gone for a hedge (as I often do), and if Vettel hadn't had a red flag (perhaps needlessly) things may have turned out differently. However, the real story is that the tip was close but wrong, and red's red whether it's by an inch of a mile, or, indeed, 0.168 seconds.

In Q1 Maldonado crashed (an event which astounded and astonished all who heard of such a thing). Together with the pointless teams Sutil went out, as has become quite common.

In Q2 2/6 of those who departed did say without setting a time at all. Magnussen suffered an in-garage power failure and Vergne, who has a 10 place grid penalty for a wheel going walkies during practice, opted not to run. Gutierrez and Kvyat were 14th and 13th, with the Force Indias the fastest not to make Q3.

Q3 saw a Mercedes duel for pole, as expected. However, the initial fast laps were aborted (when Rosberg seemed ahead...) due to Vettel suffering a failure similar to practice and causing a red flag prior to the initial laps being completed. Rosberg had been fastest in Q1 and Q2, but was beaten on both initial and later runs by Hamilton, but not by a vast margin. The race remains in doubt.

Ricciardo was best of the rest, and Bottas will be thrilled with an impressive starting spot of 4th. However, Grosjean's 5th must rank as the best result based on previous performances. Lotus are in trouble and that will help them, especially as the clean side of the grid may prove especially advantageous on the circuit with the longest run to the first corner on the calendar.

Raikkonen narrowly out-qualified Alonso, and Button was 8th. Massa was, surprisingly, some way off Bottas' pace and could only manage 9th. Vettel, of course, was 10th.

Not all bad news for Rosberg, though, as he was fastest in sector 3 which can be a good guide for Monaco. Got to admit I was quite hopeful he'd get pole, and whilst I still think 3.8 was too long, it didn't come off due to bad judgement.

The Force Indias may be able to make progress. Lack of tyre temperature hurt them in qualifying but could enable them to make 1 stop fewer than others, whereas Williams and Ferrari were harder on their tyres in Bahrain and had to make a stop more than most (both Ferraris and both Williams are ahead of the Force Indias). It's also worth mentioning that, apparently, Force India have only brought a new floor to Spain, whereas everyone else has a raft of updates, hence the loss of relative pace.

Ricciardo may spend the race all by himself, left behind by the Mercedes, which I expect to have a private duel, and ahead of everyone else comfortably. Grosjean will be intriguing to watch. He's a talented driver, but has complained all weekend of car issues, most notably it pulling to the left under braking (making his fast pace all the more impressive).

Ricciardo may have a hard time, depending how things go. His car was very slow in the speed trap, so although it's fast in the twisty bits he'll find it hard to pass anyone on the straight. A mistimed pitstop could ruin his race more easily than most.

I expect Bottas to go backwards. The Williams seems to be one of those cars that has great potential but doesn't seem to be able to deliver on race day. Ferrari are hard to call. They may end up standing still.

Vettel ended up getting a 5 place grid penalty, because it was a gearbox failure which requires a replacement. He starts 15th.

The starting grid will probably have a decent resemblance to the final result, as it's hard to pass in Spain. However, the same was/is true of Bahrain, so the new setup (tyres, high torque, lower downforce) may make it a more entertaining race in terms of on-track passing. Nobody's won from lower than 5th, which Alonso did last year.

Disclaimer: due to recent computer issues I'm playing it cautiously and not betting myself this weekend. Usually, I back every tip I put up. I'm hoping I suffer no more issues and can get back to that for Monaco.

I waited until this morning for any potential penalties to arrive (seems there are none beyond Vergne's and Vettel's which we knew about already) and for the markets to develop. The bets I considered were:
Hulkenberg, top 6, 4.1
Grosjean, podium, 12.5
Alonso, podium, 4.8
Force India, double points finish, 2.75
Ricciardo, winner without Hamilton/Rosberg, 2.2

I rate Hulkenberg very highly, so much so that him being top 6 is a bet I often check. I'm not sure the odds are quite nice enough. The Force India might be able to eke out its tyres for one fewer pit stop than some others, but it's very hard to pass on circuit (or has been, in the past), and if they get stuck they'll be screwed. Tempting, but not tempting enough.

Grosjean for a podium tempted me, but I decided against it for a few reasons. He's complained about his car pulling to the left under braking. If that gets worse then it'll be game over. The Lotus has been faster, by some distance, this weekend than previously but reliability was also a weakness for the Enstone team, so it would not be a surprise if he suffered a failure. In addition, he'll have extremely good driver/car combinations around him (Ricciardo, Alonso) and there's likely to be only one spot left on the podium once Hamilton and Rosberg have settled the win.

Alonso's a fantastic driver and got his last win here. However, I wonder whether the Ferrari has the pace to be best of the rest, and whether it'll shred its tyres. The long run to turn 1 may mean he'll get mugged by the Mercedes-powered Button and Massa (the Brazilian has been starting very well this year). So, no tip.

Force India are 7/4, or 2.75 in new money, to get a double points finish. I think that's worth backing. Perez and Hulkenberg are a good combination, and the difficulty getting heat into the tyres, which harmed them in qualifying, may well help them in the race. So, this is what I'd back (it's with Ladbrokes).

I also considered Ricciardo to be winner without Hamilton and Rosberg at 6/5 (2.2) with Ladbrokes. Tempting, but Vettel's had a wiring loom and gearbox failure, so perhaps the Red Bull is a bit fragile.

So, the one tip:
Force India for a double points finish, 7/4 with Ladbrokes.

Let's hope the race is thrilling, and green.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Spain: pre-qualifying

Pirelli have stated they're hopeful of avoiding four stops in Spain. However, as the circuit's hard on tyres that may compromise the hopes of Ferrari and Williams, both of which had to make an extra stop compared to cars ahead of them in Bahrain.

It's also worth remembering, for the race, that the run to the start is the longest of any circuit, so Mercedes-powered cars should love it, and Renault less so (although I expect the performance gap to have narrowed somewhat).

During the weekend it emerged Renault were getting annoyed with late payment from some teams (probably Lotus and/or Caterham) and was threatening that it may stop supplying engines to the relevant team(s) if it doesn't get paid.

The tyres for this weekend are hard and medium.

There's an emphasis on aerodynamics, which will help Red Bull.

Mercedes have tightened the packaging at the rear of the car to increase aerodynamic efficiency at the cost of heat dissipation, but have deliberately done this after the hottest races of the year in the initial fly-away period of races. They may have over-egged the cake, however, as Rosberg suffered quite a lot of heat in the cockpit during P1 and didn't do many laps. In P1 Hamilton complained about high tyre degradation, which may well be a factor in the race.

Vettel had a reliability failure in P1, which turned out to be wiring loom damage that also meant he couldn't make P2. Not a great start to the European part of the season for the defending champion.

In P1, Hamilton led the way, followed by Button, Ricciardo and Alonso. Then came Rosberg and Raikkonen, with Magnussen, Maldonado, Perez and Massa rounding out the top 10.

Hamilton was also top of the timesheets in P2, half a second ahead of Rosberg, who was half a second faster than Ricciardo. Alonso and Raikkonen were next, followed by Magnussen, Button, Massa, Maldonado and Kvyat.

Raikkonen seems to be more on the pace, after the first two practice sessions. Then again, I'm reasonably sure that seemed to be the case at a previous race, but he fell away later in the weekend. Force India and Williams seem to be struggling to break into the top 10, with Perez once and Massa twice just edging in.

Lotus, are looking rather improved, with Maldonado making it into the top 10 both times. McLaren got both drivers in the top 10 in both practice sessions completed at the time of writing.

Vettel really could've done without the reliability woe. New chassis, new parts, and he'll have wanted to get a good start to the European leg of the season. I don't think he's completed one flying lap, so in P3, just an hour long, he'll need to sort out qualifying and race pace.

At this stage, it looks like business as usual for Mercedes, probably followed by Ricciardo and Alonso. McLaren and Lotus on the up, Williams and Force India going backwards (relatively). But, there's still P3, qualifying and a race to go and we'll only know for certain once the chequered flag arrives.

During P3 McNish opined that teams would prefer a 2 stop strategy, whereas those who are hard on tyres would be forced onto a sub-optimal 3 stop strategy.

Vergne got a 10 place grid penalty for his wheel coming off in Friday practice.

P3 had Rosberg ahead of Hamilton by nearly a second. However, Hamilton aborted his only qualifying run. Prior to that the Briton was very slightly behind Rosberg (less than a tenth). On pace the Silver Arrows were over a second ahead of third-placed Alonso, with Massa very impressively just a whisker behind his former teammate. Grosjean was almost half a second down the road with Magnussen and Ricciardo very close together, with Button, Maldonado and Vettel rounding out the top 10.

Force India are reportedly struggling with tyre temperature. They may be kinder to tyres in the race but suffer badly in qualifying. Red Bull were pretty poor in P3 but that may well be sandbagging.

As may have been noticed from elsewhere, I've had some computer issues lately, so I will not be betting this weekend (I want to wait and see whether they recur. I'm hoping they're resolved). However, I will tip if I see something that looks good (this will be the first occasion I've tipped without backing something myself, but I'm sure readers will understand my caution).

Bets I considered were:
Rosberg pole
Perez top 10
Grosjean/Maldonado top 10
Lay Vettel top 10

Rosberg's odds on Betfair were 3.8... that's pretty tempting, actually.

Perez to be top 10 was just 2.5, which is too short, particularly given the very poor performance in P3 by Force India. So, no bet.

Grosjean and Maldonado had even shorter odds, and given the possibility of reliability failure from Lotus I was not tempted.

Vettel's lay odds were only 1.45. Again, too short (or not short enough depending on how you want to phrase it).

I think I might tip Rosberg. There was only half a tenth between the two chaps in sector 3 in P2 (P1 doesn't count because Rosberg missed most of the session and P3 can't because Hamilton aborted his qualifying run and didn't set a sector 3 time that's comparable to Rosberg's). On that basis they're basically even, so if I were betting I'd back Rosberg, due to the odds.

So, a tip: Rosberg for pole at 3.8.

Let's hope qualifying's exciting, the bet is profitable, and I don't suffer any more technical woe.

Morris Dancer