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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/27953598
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.