Sunday, 8 June 2014

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

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