Sunday, 22 June 2014

Austria: post-race analysis

Well, not sure it necessarily qualified as entertaining or profitable.

Sadly, my bet didn't come off, so the race was red. I got certain predictions right (hard to overtake, Williams genuinely competitive) but the team was strategically inept, in a rather silly, simple way. If they'd been wiser then a win was perhaps possible, and a better overall result likely. Still very good for Williams, but it could easily have been better. That said, I don't think my bet would've come off even if they'd been smarter.

Off the line Hamilton got a flyer and Rosberg passed Bottas, only to be repassed on the very same lap by the Finn.

From then on the top four had a private tussle. Williams were slow reacting to Mercedes' initial pit stops, ending up Rosberg-Bottas-Hamilton-Massa, and then repeated the inexplicable mistake at the second stops, resulting in Rosberg-Hamilton-Bottas-Massa, which was the end result. I think the only non-pit stop pass between them was Bottas on Rosberg on lap 1.

Through the race Alonso and Magnussen lost a place (to Hamilton) but basically trundled round, holding station (Perez eventually passed the Dane). Late on the Spaniard had a brief charge at Massa but it wasn't enough to trouble the Brazilian.

Vettel lost power, regained it (being at that stage a lap down) and eventually had to retire the car after duelling with Gutierrez for last place. He's had rotten luck this year, and it continues unabated.

Perez recovered very well from a 16th place start to finish 6th, ahead of Magnussen and behind Alonso. His team mate (who started 10th after having his team discounted in Q3 for overrunning the white lines) could only manage 9th, which is quite disappointing.

Ricciardo went backwards to 8th, making the Red Bull Ring one of the worst results (perhaps the worst) for the team this year. Raikkonen got 10th, as he continues to struggle with his prancing horse.

Williams should not be happy with the result. Whilst Mercedes were faster the difference was small and the Williams was faster on the straights (no Williams was passed by a Mercedes, I believe, on track). With smarter strategy there were more points for the taking. That said, they can be happy that their car was clearly best of the rest and the first to truly take the fight to the Mercedes this year.

Alonso and Perez both punched above their weight, as did Magnussen. Force India may be a little displeased that Hulkenberg didn't do better, but Ferrari and McLaren will probably be glad of the points.

Both Mercedes appeared to have brake issues, but it's difficult to say how much that slowed them. Hamilton never really had a run at Rosberg.

Here's how the Constructors line up:
Mercedes 301
Red Bull 143
Ferrari 98
Force India 87
Williams 85
McLaren 72

There's potential for great change, excepting Mercedes. Red Bull will probably retain second, but that's not certain. I think Ferrari could be overhauled by both Force India and Williams. McLaren won't drop any further back (Toro Rosso are only on 12) but it's hard to see them making much headway either. This is a golden opportunity for Force India and Williams to get a great finish and, with it, a substantial bonus in prize money.

Rosberg now has a 29 point lead over Hamilton. Still a long way to go, but this is exactly what Hamilton didn't need. Rosberg got the win, and extended his lead. If Hamilton can chip away at it before the mid-season interval between Hungary and Belgium he'll be fairly happy. But if Rosberg can keep it steady or increase it a little the pressure may tell on Hamilton.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Austria: pre-race

Anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does.

Got to admit, I never saw a Williams pole coming, let alone a front grid lock-out. Annoyingly, I immediately dismissed a 30 shot for the team to top score pre-qualifying, but that would be very tasty if I'd taken it.

Q1 was business as usual, with Caterham and Marussia exiting the stage. Sauber's season of woe continues, with both drivers this team failing to escape the first phase of qualifying. Sad to see the Swiss team in such dire straits.

Q2 was a bit more competitive, as might be expected. Both Lotuses departed (14th and 16th), sandwiching Vergne, whose 15th was not great considering where his team mate ended up. Perez, Button and Vettel all failed to reach Q3 as well, but recall that the Mexican has a 5 place grid penalty for the Canadian crash with Massa.

Q3 was greatly surprising. On the initial run, Bottas was fastest, then Rosberg (I think), and Hamilton went over the white line and had his time discounted. On the final runs, Hamilton spun and failed to set a time, meaning he starts 9th (Hulkenberg reached Q3 but failed to set a time. Not sure why). Amazingly, Massa got pole, Bottas ended up 2nd and Rosberg had to make do with 3rd. However, given his title rival is some way further back, the German might not be too displeased.

Behind the intriguing top 3 lineup was Alonso, who delivered on practice promise (in qualifying, at least), Ricciardo (again outshining his team mate) and Magnussen, who not only beat Button but did very well to drag a time out of a McLaren that really isn't very good.

Kvyat got a pretty impressive 7th. He's been strong all weekend and probably has the most recent experience of the circuit of any driver (unusually). Raikkonen was 8th then, as mentioned previously, Hamilton and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

Can Williams match Mercedes in the race, and will Hamilton be able to overtake? The first I'm unsure about, as for the latter, my suspicion is Hamilton will climb through the field. His biggest danger is that if Hulkenberg gets the jump on him at the start he may find it hard to pass, as the Force India is very strong on the straights (the Mercedes is too, of course, but it could still be challenging). Otherwise the next car that would prove difficult, on the grid, is Rosberg's (Magnussen has a Mercedes engine, but the chassis is poor, and the other cars have slower engines).

According to tweets from Andrew Benson (BBC F1) Hamilton had the fastest race simulation runs on both tyres, but Rosberg was second fastest.

Possible bets (pre-highlights):
Massa win 4.33 (4.9 Betfair)
Bottas win 9 (10.5 Betfair)
Williams top score 5
Williams double podium 3.75
Hamilton win 5.5 (5.9 Betfair)
Hulkenberg top 6, 2.75
Perez points 3
Alonso podium 3

I watched the BBC highlights, which revealed a few interesting things. Hamilton seemed to feel overtaking might be difficult, Claire Williams remains lovely, and Bottas has a bet that he'll wear lederhosen if he ends up on the podium.

Many of the corners in the faster sections are (basically) right angles, which tend not to make for good overtaking opportunities, so Hamilton might be right. Whether overtaking's easy or not is critical, for rather obvious reasons. I do think he'll make progress regardless of whether it's easy or hard (and may benefit from strategy) but it's a question of how much.

Alonso seemed pleased starting 4th, but didn't fancy his chances of doing much in the race. I have confidence in his abilities, but his car's a dog and I think I recall hearing it was chewing up tyres again. 3 for a podium is not tempting enough for me.

Perez is 3 to get points, from 16. He's fast and the Force India is good, but if overtaking's hard that's 2/1 to make up 6 places. The Toro Rosso of Vergne and both Lotuses may be easy, but I think Vettel and Button may be another bag of monkeys, plus starting back there always leaves opportunity to get caught up in an early incident. Perez has also had a couple of DNFs. So, not tempted.

Hulkenberg to be top 6 is, as regular readers know, one of my go to bets this season. He's a very good driver, the car's fast but races better than it qualifies. I'm not sure about this time, though, and 2.75 is not generous enough.

Hamilton to win at 5.5 is either tasty, if overtaking's relatively easy, or rubbish, if it is not. It also depends largely on how Rosberg does. The Mercedes is faster than the Williams, so if Rosberg leaps into the lead at the start it'll be springtime for Rosberg, winter for Hamilton. The margin's small enough that passing them might just be impossible for Rosberg. Not sure about this.

Williams for a double podium is pretty interesting. I do think they've got the edge on everyone save Mercedes, and Hamilton starts in another postcode. Unless Alonso can screw things up for them at the start (and if he passed Rosberg for third it could help them a lot) this could happen. 3.75 isn't huge, but isn't mean either.

Williams to top score is also interesting. Winner nets 25 points, so to best him (assuming his team mate scores 0) another team would need 2nd and 6th, 3rd and 5th or better. If a Williams finishes top and the other finishes at all, they should get this. If Rosberg wins and Williams are 2nd and 3rd (entirely possible), Hamilton needs 6th to match them and 5th for Mercedes to be the top scoring team. If Williams are 1st and 3rd, Rosberg 2nd (also entirely possible), Williams get it regardless of where Hamilton comes. I'm very tempted by this. Could be sort-of-hedged with a bet on Rosberg to win at 1.9.

Bottas starts just one place behind Massa, they have very similar times and his car is identical, but his odds are far longer for the win. However, I think it comes down to the start. If Massa keeps the leader then the time will surely prioritise him (and rightly so), which could see Bottas be strategically sacrificed to help Massa. The bet on a Massa win makes less sense, though, than the slightly longer top score bet, which is very likely to come off if Bottas finishes reasonably well.

So, spoiled for choice (unusually). It depends largely on how easy it is to pass and just how large the margin between Williams and Mercedes is. Rosberg suggested after qualifying he had the race more than qualifying in mind when setting his car up, which may suggest he had his mind on passing (probably had his team mate rather than Williams in mind, though).

Worth remembering that Rosberg has qualified 3rd a few times, but even when he has the Mercedes has been miles faster than rivals in the race.

I was utterly confused about whether it'd be easy or hard to overtake, so I thought I'd look at Massa's pole lap:

My feeling after watching that is that it's mostly single file traffic, putting a premium on track position. Both Rosberg and Hamilton have suggested they're set up for overtaking, which may be indicative of concern about other cars (probably Williams more than any other) and/or the nature of the circuit. Because the last race was in 2003 I don't have much to go on (and Bahrain showed that even a track which typically makes overtaking hard won't necessarily do so this year).

[Being hard to overtake was also suggested on the Inside F1 programme, which I watched, having prevaricated for so long...]

So, it's a shot in the dark. Decided to back Williams to top score at 5, with Ladbrokes. (Wish I'd backed it at 30 pre-qualifying).

Very hard trying to decide what to back. However, the grid's set up very nicely for the race, so let's hope it's entertaining and profitable.

Morris Dancer

Austria: pre-qualifying

We've got soft and supersoft tyres in Austria. Only four drivers (Button, Massa, Raikkonen and Alonso) have driven there before in F1, but it was an awfully long time ago. It's essentially a new track for everyone.

Worth mentioning the lap seems to be pretty short and focused on straight line speed, so gaps may be smaller than elsewhere.

In P1 Rosberg was a tenth ahead of Hamilton, but Alonso was only 0.3s off the top time. Massa was another tenth and a half down the road and was followed by Button, Perez, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Magnussen and Vergne.

In P2 Hamilton was over a third of a second ahead of Rosberg, with Alonso almost a second off the top pace. Bottas, Massa, Vettel and Button followed, with Ricciardo, Magnussen and Vergne rounding out the top 10.

At the end of Friday practice it looks like business as usual for Mercedes, and a decent showing by Alonso and Williams. Sauber and Lotus continue to struggle.

In P3 Bottas was fastest, followed by Hamilton, Massa, Kvyat. Rosberg was next, then Alonso, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Raikkonen and Vettel rounded out the top 10. It was very tight at the top, with the first four covered by less than a tenth of second, and the first six covered by just over two-tenths.

However, I think Mercedes are sandbagging and will still be over the hills and far away come qualifying and the race. But, it's still good news for Williams, who are apparently also tasty on long runs. Alonso was fast, but he was in practice in Canada and that didn't lead to a strong qualifying/race.

Red Bull were a bit off the pace. Not sure if that's them hiding form.

Qualifying is expected to be dry.

As I said, I reckon Mercedes will again take pole with relative ease, so top 3 and to get into Q3 (or not) are the markets I'll be looking at.

Raikkonen and Magnussen could be laid and backed, perhaps, for the top 10, with a bet on a Williams making the top 3 also potentially interesting.

Button was unable to do a qualifying simulation run in P3 due to a brake issue. In previous practice sessions he had outqualified his team mate.

The most tempting bet was laying Raikkonen for Q3, but odds of just 1.95 were simply not good enough.

Similarly, top 3 bets for the Williams drivers were 2.3-2.5, and given that any of Alonso, Bottas and Massa might get it (or a sandbagging Red Bull) that did not appeal.

I've only offered a couple of bets on qualifying this year, and have generally avoided it. Can't say if that's purely because the Mercedes dominance makes things tricky, but there we are.

My guess would be a Hamilton pole, Red Bull doing better than in practice, strong result for Williams, and Ferrari slipping back.

Qualifying starts at 1pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Canada: post-race analysis

Rather weird feeling. Both tips came off, which is good (particularly as good fortune played more than a small role), but an early 34 bet on Perez to be the winner without Rosberg and Hamilton didn't come off despite looking very close. It was, narrowly, the greenest race of the season so far.

Anyway, to the race.

Off the line Hamilton had a good start and very nearly passed Rosberg who used his track position to force Hamilton to pull out, which enabled Vettel to sneak into third. Perez got the jump on his team mate and was eleventh.

On the first lap Chilton crashed into his team mate, wrecking both cars and necessitating a safety car that stayed out for several laps. Chilton made excuses and claimed it was Bianchi's fault. It categorically was not. Bianchi was ahead, left plenty of room and Chilton was sliding. It was 100% Chilton's fault and his bleating is significantly unimpressive.

At the restart Rosberg was over the hills and far away and it took Hamilton a little while to pass Vettel. From then on it was always close between the two Mercedes drivers.

Perez started on the supersoft and managed many laps (over 30), with Hulkenberg on the soft. Both were trying for one stop strategies unlike just about everyone else.

This almost compromised the Vettel bet. The German soon cruised up to Hulkenberg (then fourth behind Rosberg, Hamilton and Perez) but could not pass the Force India because, although his car was superior overall, the Force India had much greater straight line speed. This allowed other cars including his team mate and the Williams, to close up. When Vettel pitted he came out behind Ricciardo, much to his, understandable, annoyance.

About halfway through, with the Mercedes over 20s ahead of Perez, then third, both Silver Arrows were struck with a problem. It seems their MGUs were not working, robbing the car of a huge amount of energy. They lost seconds every lap to their competitors, and Hamilton had to retire with a brake problem. Rosberg was told to alter the brakes but was still losing a huge amount of time. He was able to pull a significant advantage in the first half of the lap over Perez, so that the Mexican could not effect a pass during the long straight. However, when Perez got passed by Ricciardo the Aussie was able to reel in Rosberg (the Red Bull has perhaps the best chassis on the grid and was much faster in the first half of the lap than the Force India) and pass him. Great for him, slightly annoying for me.

Perez's problems (turned out to be brakes) enabled Vettel to pass him, and the Mexican was struggling to keep Massa behind him. Massa ploughed right into the back of Perez just after the start of the final lap (Perez may have braked early due to lack of braking force, catching Massa unawares) and the two had a significant crash. According to Allan McNish, Perez had a 27G impact from it. It appears, at the time of writing, both are ok.

Vettel was fortunate not to get caught up in the crash as collateral damage. Behind, Button appears to have somehow pounced and passed both Alonso and Hulkenberg to claim an unlikely 4th.

Bottas was down in 7th, followed by Vergne, Magnussen and Raikkonen. Very much a tale of two team mates, with the Finn some way back from Alonso, Magnussen a similar margin behind Button, and Vergne scoring decent points whilst Kvyat retired.

Rosberg will be a little disappointed not to have won, but to extend his lead over Hamilton by 18 points is very significant. In addition, the Mercedes performance without its motor generator units is a sign of just how dominant it is. Without a huge stack of power the car was almost capable of victory. That's like winning a marathon by hopping.

It's interesting to note that the brakes failed on two cars with Mercedes engines. Perez chose (and was allowed to choose) to stay out by his team. Canada is very hard on the brake, so I don't expect this to happen at many other tracks, but it might happen again occasionally.

Some odds I glanced at had Red Bull at 21 to be top scoring team and Ricciardo 4 for a podium. Mind you, betting's rather easy when you know the results.

Rosberg now has a 22 point advantage over Hamilton. That is not impossible to overcome. We have about 12 races left (looks like Russia will go ahead after all), but at this stage 22 points is a healthy lead. If Hamilton's odds are long enough with Ladbrokes I might put some money on, so I'm green either way.

The next race is Austria, in a fortnight.

Do feel free to let me know your thoughts on the race, the crash, the brake and MGU failures, and anything else that takes your fancy.

Morris Dancer

Canada: pre-race

Well, I was surprised by the final grid lineup.

Gutierrez was unable to participate in qualifying because his car wasn't in a state to drive, following a P3 crash. Maldonado suffered yet again from mechanical gremlins, which ended his efforts to escape Q1 prematurely.

Q3 also saw the departure of the pointless team and Marussia, although the latter were pretty close to 16th.

Q2 saw the unsurprising exit of Sutil. The Sauber really is an absolute dog this year, and their driver lineup is not strong enough to compensate for the car's deficiency. Added to that are rumoured financial difficulties, and it's sad to see the team in such a poor state. Kvyat was surprisingly low down the order in 15th, with Grosjean 14th, suggesting Lotus' slight improvement in form has not been maintained. Perez, Magnussen and Hulkenberg were 13th to 11th. Not great, but par for the course and Force India has managed some decent results from similar starting positions. Slightly surprising Magnussen was so low down as McLaren had seemed more competitive earlier in qualifying.

In Q3 Ricciardo was once again teaching Vettel a lesson in qualifying, before the world champion rediscovered his form and shaved more than four-tenths from his time to snatch an unlikely 3rd from Williams. Through qualifying, Williams had seemed likeliest to get 3rd and Massa to lead Bottas, but in the end Bottas was 4th and Massa 5th. A shade disappointing, but it's also a measure of just how much improved the team is that they got 4th and 5th and think that was an underachievement. Ricciardo was 6th, and Alonso 7th, less than Ferrari perhaps hoped for. Vergne got 8th, miles ahead of his talented newcomer team mate. Button was 9th and Raikkonen 10th.

It was at the sharp end that the biggest surprise was sprung. On the first run in Q3 Rosberg was a tiny margin ahead of Hamilton, to everyone's surprise. Even more unexpected was that this was repeated on the second run. Rosberg got pole and Hamilton had to make do with 2nd.

After getting out of the car Rosberg was much more muted than his celebrations after the Monaco pole, and he and Hamilton seem to have at least some cordial civility between themselves now. In the press conference, the first thing Hamilton did was congratulate his team mate and, when asked if he thought the race would be as close, confirmed it would be.

The circuit in Canada is one of my favourites, a proper old school track where overtaking is entirely possible and the weather can play havoc (as we saw in 2011). There will be an almighty tussle between the two Mercedes (again), and it's immensely close for the title of best of the rest.

Incidentally, a new 10 year deal for the Canadian Grand Prix has been struck, which is great news.

The race starts at 7pm. It's expected to be dry.

Tyre wear can be high in Canada. That reminds me, along with the focus on straight line speed, a little of Bahrain. That may make things tricky for Ferrari and Williams, both of which struggled in the race due to needing an extra pit stop. Quite hard to see how tyre wear will go as it'll probably be quite a bit cooler and overcast on race day than during qualifying.

Found it difficult to come up with a clear good bet, so I slept on it and, the next day, checked the sector 3 and speed trap times. Was surprised that Williams were so high up on both, though my concern about their tyre wear remains. I'm inclined to back Massa over Bottas on the basis that the clean (odd) side of the track may help off the line, Massa's had some great starts this year, and he was faster (apparently some brake issue or other hampered him in Q3, if it's serious he'll be allowed to change it on safety grounds).

I looked at several potential bets:
Top 6 for either of the Force India drivers
Vettel podium/winner without Rosberg/Hamilton
Massa for a podium
Both Force Indias to score

Hulkenberg to be top 6 is one of my go to bets, on the basis the car's better in the race than qualifying and he's a top driver. He's 3.5, and Perez 5, to be top 6. The problem is trying to work out who'll finish ahead of them. Mercedes are a given. I'd be surprised if Red Bull failed to finish ahead as well. Williams is hard to tell. They have the pace to be there but in races they have tended to drift backwards. I'm not convinced Toro Rosso or McLaren will put up much of a fight, although Alonso could stand in Force India's way. I like the idea of this bet... not sure if I can see it happening.

I have great confidence in Vettel's abilities. The downside is that the others (especially Williams) seem to be very close, and the Williams will murder the Red Bull on the straights. If he can pull ahead of the DRS zone he may well be able to drive off into the sunset (well, in 3rd, he'll still be a day and a half behind Mercedes), but if not he could simply get mugged by both Williams. I also wonder whether his car will make it to the end, as he's had a fair number of reliability-related retirements recently. He's evens for a podium, which is pretty short given there's probably only one place left after Mercedes have thrown their beach towels over 1st and 2nd.

For the other bets I considered a big question and difficulty was trying to work out just how good or bad Williams will be in this race. They have tended to qualify well and underperform in the race. But what if they don't? With Betfair, Massa's 4.8 for a podium and a surprisingly long 5.9 for winner without Hamilton or Rosberg. It's probably going to be colder for the race than qualifying which should, perhaps, make the tyres last longer (which would help Williams more than other teams).

I rate both the Force India drivers and their car. However, it hasn't been updated and they do start from just 11th and 13th. That said, they have often started poorly and finished well. 2.25 for both to score is pretty tempting. My concern would be that Perez hasn't finished about half the races so far.

Despite sleeping on it, I still found this rather difficult to try and predict. In the end I went for:
Vettel, podium, 2.3 (Betfair)
Hulkenberg, top 6, 3.5 (Ladbrokes)

I think Williams will go backwards in the race. Ferrari may also struggle.

The grid was set up in a very tricky way for betting, but it's very nicely poised for an exciting race, from the duel at the front to the battle for the final podium spot down to a scrap for the last few points. I'm rather looking forward to it.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Canada: pre-qualifying

Rather stupidly, I managed to miss all of the first two practice sessions. I blame Alistair and Morrigan for this.

The tyres for this weekend are soft and supersoft. The soft tyres will be used at three out of four of the forthcoming races, so how well a car works with those tyres will play a significant role in determining their immediate term performance.

In P1 Alonso was sixteen-thousandths of a second ahead of Hamilton, who was a tenth and a half ahead of Rosberg. Vettel was the lion's share of a second behind, followed by Bottas, Ricciardo, Button, Magnussen, Raikkonen and Vergne.

In P2 Hamilton was fastest, with an almost identical gap to Rosberg as in P1. Vettel was three-tenths back, followed by Alonso and Raikkonen, with Massa, Bottas, Magnussen, Button and Vergne rounding out the top 10.

At this stage it looks like Hamilton has a consistent but slender advantage over Rosberg. More interesting is the seeming leap in performance Ferrari has made relative to Red Bull. The Prancing Horse has been upgraded, but in recent times Ferrari's upgrades often seem to make the car worse, so this may be a pleasant surprise for the team. Williams seems a shade ahead of McLaren.

Force India are surprisingly nowhere. Of course, practice can be a time for sandbagging, but the Force India wasn't updated in Monaco, when most cars were, and hasn't been here. They may be in Austria (next race), but it could be as late as Silverstone before the car's upgraded. Bit surprised by that, as Force India has been surprisingly good at keeping their car competitive throughout a season for a midfield team. They do have the advantage of two good drivers, though.

P3 had Hamilton fastest, but Massa split the Mercedes to be second quickest. Rosberg was next, then Alonso, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Bottas, Kvyat, Vergne and Vettel. Once again the Force Indias were just outside the top 10, and McLaren are looking rather ropey (Lotus also appear to have gone backwards, whereas Sauber have merely maintained their dire form).

Weirdly, the Mercedes was fastest on its soft tyre. Bit odd, could be sandbagging, or it could be that the Mercedes is great on the softs and a bit worse on the supersofts.

Ferrari really do seem to have made a step forward, and the Williams are looking racier than I expected. However, Williams tend to go backwards in races, whereas Force India tend to go forwards, so we'll see how that works out. Unlike some 'modern' circuits, Canada has scope for plenty of overtaking.

Hamilton seems extremely likely to get pole. 1.38 is too short to tempt me, especially given Rosberg could spring a surprise and the Wall of Champions could prove a problem if Hamilton gets a bit over-excited.

There was over three-tenths of a second between Rosberg and Alonso (fourth in P3), and four-tenths between Massa (second) and Alonso. That's a sizeable gap. Unfortunately there was only a very small sum available at 3.5 for Massa to be top 3, and just over evens (given varying temperatures and potential mistakes) is not long enough.

I was also tempted by the notion of laying Vettel to reach Q3 (a cluster of 5-6 drivers were very near the cusp of the top 10) but evens is not attractive.

So, I expect a Hamilton pole, a very tight fight for second and third, and likewise to reach Q3. Will Williams live up to their potential? Will Force India reach Q3?

Not sure if the pre-race piece will be up this evening or tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer