Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hungary: post-race analysis

No more F1 for quite a few weeks, and Hungary provided us with an absolutely fantastic send-off. From start to finish there were crashes, weather changes, the safety car actually made an appearance (only the third Hungarian race it has ever done so), on-track passing [gasp!] and a riveting fight for the win right at the end.

The bet looked bad initially, good halfway through, bad again in the third quarter and finally, just, came off. Huzzah! Two bets, two wins, greenest race weekend on either measure (bet-and-forget or hedged). After a few red races in a row it's nice to return to the positive side of the balance sheet.

So much happened it's going to be hard for me to include everything relevant, but I'll endeavour to cover the key points.

It had rained heavily prior to the race start, so everyone began on intermediate tyres. Kvyat failed to get off the line for the formation lap and joined Magnussen and Hamilton in the pit lane.

Bottas cleverly kept out of Rosberg's spray and went on the outside to pass Vettel for 2nd, and Hamilton began his mighty comeback by almost immediately parting ways with the track. The track was drying rapidly and there was some confusion over whether rain would appear or not. Just then, Ericsson crashed heavily and a safety car came out. The leaders (Rosberg had cruised into a 9s or so lead by this point) were already past the pit entry and had to go around again before pitting for dry tyres. Magnussen remained out on his initial intermediates, Button pitted for new intermediates and everyone else went for dry tyres.

The bad timing put Rosberg down around 4th, but it was worse for Bottas who ended up something like 12th due to a poor pit stop.

As the safety car was due to pit Grosjean spun in a copy of Ericsson's accident and the safety car stayed out a few laps more.

At this stage Ricciardo was in the lead (I think). Later on Hulkenberg made a rare mistake and crashed, ending his unbroken run of points finishes this year (only Alonso can now make that claim). I forget who but someone span off on the last corner, crashed and prompted another safety car.

Most of the leaders pitted. Alonso and Vergne, ahead of Hamilton did not. Vettel also spun at the same place but was very lucky to merely flat spot his tyres. He drove a controlled (if dull) long final stint to eventually grab 7th.

With 20 laps or so left Hamilton was 3rd, behind Ricciardo and Alonso (Vergne had drifted inexorably backwards after a great first half). Hamilton was on old tyres trying to make them last without another pit stop, Rosberg was immediately behind him but had another stop to make.

The team repeatedly asked Hamilton to let Rosberg pass and Hamilton repeatedly refused (he would have lost 2s or so because Hungary's not easy to just wave cars on by).

Ricciardo and Rosberg pitted. Rosberg emerged 7th, and started scything past the likes of Raikkonen and Massa, hunting down Hamilton. Ricciardo emerged 3rd, and was soon on Hamilton's gearbox.

So, we had Alonso on old soft tyres, Hamilton on old medium tyres, Ricciardo on new soft tyres and Rosberg 15s down the road on new soft tyres but catching the leading pack at 3s per lap with about 8 laps or so left.

Hamilton struggled in vain to pass Alonso who was, unsurprisingly, driving out of his skin. Ricciardo was very close to Hamilton but the Mercedes was much better on the straight. Lap after lap, the Aussie chased in vain.

Then, with a few laps to go, Ricciardo went the long way around Hamilton, and managed to make the move stick. After that, he passed Alonso with relative ease (faster car and Alonso's tyres were awful). He sailed off to enjoy the second of his F1 wins.

But the drama wasn't over. With a couple of laps left Rosberg, who had been refused safe passage by Hamilton previously, caught up to his team mate. He was much, much faster, but didn't quite have the time to pass the Briton.

So, against all odds, it ended with Ricciardo victorious, Alonso in a mighty 2nd and Hamilton with an astounding 3rd.

A word on Ricciardo: pre-season I thought he'd be annihilated by Vettel. I was utterly wrong. But I've also been very impressed by the Aussie's character. He seems very optimistic, down-to-earth and humorous, unlike some drivers. Top bloke, and I'm delighted he got the surprise win today.

Massa was a bit anonymous in the race, but he'll be happy with 5th after numerous crashes of late, and Raikkonen ended up in 6th, which is pretty good from 17th. Bottas will be disappointed with 8th after three podium finishes on the bounce and starting third. He was screwed by a combination of awkward timing for the safety car and a slow pit stop. Today, the Red Bull was a faster car.

Vergne managed to grab 9th and Button ended up 10th. Sutil was just one place away from securing Sauber's first point of the season.

This cuts Rosberg's lead to 11 points. Hamilton must be happy with that, after starting from the pit lane when his rival was on pole. The Mercedes initially cruised away from Bottas but in traffic it just didn't seem as fast. Perhaps they'd gone for a wetter setup or sacrificed straight line speed for downforce.

Great day for Red Bull. Ricciardo drove brilliantly, and Vettel was fortunate to emerge with his car intact after introducing it to the pit wall. His drive from then on was boring but it was impressive to keep one set of tyres for about 40 laps.

Bit of a step backwards for Williams but that's probably more due to the nature of the circuit than a performance change. However, they did lose third in the Constructors' to Ferrari:

Mercedes 393
Red Bull 219
Ferrari 142
Williams 135
Force India 98
McLaren 97

The refusal of Hamilton to let Rosberg pass may upset a delicate balance at the Silver Arrows. If he had let the German by it's likely Rosberg would have finished ahead of him. But there are still many races to go this year, and his team mate will not forget.

Great race weekend. Dramatic qualifying, thrilling race, and two green bets.

There are four weeks or so until we visit Spa.

As always, questions, comments, observations and so forth are welcome below.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Hungary: pre-race

Hamilton must be cursed. His Mercedes burst into flames before he could set a time. Good for the bet, but yet more abysmal luck for the Briton.

In Q1, before Hamilton's fire, Maldonado also retired without setting a time. The drama did not stop there, as Raikkonen, who suffered no problems I was aware of, was knocked out of qualifying at this stage. Bianchi put in a great lap to knock the 2007 world champion out. The Caterhams and Bianchi's team mate Chilton also left at this stage.

Bianchi was on the soft and Raikkonen on the medium tyre, which turned out to be a crucial error of judgement by the Finn/Ferrari. Nevertheless, a great lap by Bianchi.

Immediately afterwards Hamilton suggested the engine and gearbox would need replacing. He also said it was “beyond bad luck”. I would guess that's implying reliability is simply not good enough, rather than implying there are dark arts at work.

Initial word was that it was a fuel leak.

In Q2 Perez suffered a hydraulic problem which prevented him setting many fast laps and ended his qualifying. Kvyat, Sutil, Perez, Gutierrez, Grosjean and Bianchi left qualifying in Q2. A better performance by Sutil, perhaps flattered by Raikkonen and Hamilton's early exit, but even so, a bit of an improvement by Sauber.

In Q3 rain started to come down, so they all went out early in case conditions got worse. Rosberg locked up and lost his fast lap, the rain was very heavy, and a red flag came out before anyone could set a timed lap. The red flag was due to Magnussen going off straight into the tyre wall.

When the red flag disappeared and the session restarted everyone was on slick tyres.

Rosberg ended up with pole. Vettel grabbed second, and Bottas continued his great run of form for third on the grid. Ricciardo was next, Alonso and Massa share the third row, Button, Vergne, Hulkenberg and Magnussen (assuming he doesn't get any penalties) round out the top 10.

Penalties are possible for Hamilton and Magnussen, and perhaps Perez as well (due to the hydraulic issue).

I watched the BBC qualifying highlights. Magnussen is definitely starting from the pit lane and Hamilton probably will. Very bad news for the Briton, as he'll miss the chance to mug half a dozen slower cars from a standing start.

Also learnt that the crash Massa had last time meant a new chassis and an older floor that'll cost him a few tenths of a second per lap.

There also appears to be a higher than 50% chance of rain during the race.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Red Bull top score
Williams top score
Vettel podium
Hulkenberg top 6
Lay Hamilton podium

Red Bull are 3.5 to top score. Hmm. Not sure about that. I do think both cars will finish in the top 4, all else being equal, but it's hard to tell how Hamilton will do, how rain will affect things and if Bottas can hold onto third or even gain a place or two off the start. Worth considering, though.

Williams are 12. Given the new habit Massa has of crashing and the fact his car's a few tenths off the pace, this doesn't tempt me.

Vettel's odds of 1.4 for a podium are a bit mean, frankly.

Hulkenberg is 3 for a top 6 finish. Force India's a little off the pace lately, but I rate his driving highly and if it rains he's one of several (Vettel, Bottas and Button being the others who spring to mind) who could benefit.

I was a bit surprised Hamilton's out to 3.7 or so for a podium. Not something I'd back, but also not layable.

Anyway, decided to back Red Bull at 3.5 with Ladbrokes. I think rain would help rather than hinder them, and if Hamilton really does struggle then they stand a decent chance. Furthermore, I can see Massa going backwards (or crashing...) and Ricciardo undercutting Bottas.

Really hot/humid here, so hopefully this isn't heat-addled nonsense.

Morris Dancer

Hungary: pre-qualifying

Tyres for this weekend are soft and medium. The Hungary track is very hard to overtake on, typically, but so's Bahrain and Hockenheim, so maybe we'll see more than usual this year. It's nature (not many straights) may help out Red Bull. McLaren and Williams are both bringing upgrades, and Bottas has reported that whilst the team's providing fewer this year, they're actually working, unlike in 2013.

Hamilton's got a great record in Hungary, so he'll be confident of winning, if reliability doesn't harm him.

The circuit's also notable for being the least likely to see a safety car on the calendar. If it's dry, I might well back that. The reason is the lack of barriers near the circuit and the wide run off areas. It's also quite hard to follow a car (for aerodynamic reasons), meaning you rarely get multiple cars abreast.

In P1 Hamilton was two-tenths up on Rosberg, with Raikkonen almost half a second down the road. Then came Alonso, Vettel, Magnussen, Vergne, Ricciardo, Button and Massa.

P2 also had Hamilton ahead of Rosberg, by just over two-tenths. Vettel was four-tenths further back and followed by Alonso, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Button and Massa.

I missed both the first two practice sessions. My instinct is that Williams are seriously sandbagging, Magnussen and Alonso will do fairly well and Red Bull will struggle to beat the Williams for best of the rest.

Hamilton was again fastest in P3, but Rosberg was less than half a tenth behind. Vettel and Ricciardo were next, followed by Bottas, Alonso, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Vergne and Kvyat.

There's a small chance of a shower during qualifying, but a higher chance of thundery downpours during the race tomorrow.

More than one lap will be gotten out of tyres (bit conservative this time) which will enable multiple fast laps and perhaps makes hedging, if possible, wise. In the race it'll mean strategy will probably play less of a role.

During practice Vettel and Magnussen have gotten the better of their team mates, and the Force Indias have looked a bit off the pace.

After qualifying a few potential bets presented themselves for inspection:
Vettel top 3
Lay Button Q3
Lay Perez/Hulkenberg Q3
Vergne Q3

I think Vettel's favourite to be top 3. Essentially that means fastest non-Mercedes driver, and as there's just one slot available for that the odds have to be tasty. Ricciardo could get it, but I think his team mate has been better so far this weekend. Vettel's odds were 2.5, which is too short to tempt.

The McLaren has apparently (along with the Ferrari) suffered most from the FRICectomy the sport has undergone. I think there's a good chance Button could fail to make Q3, and likewise the Force Indias. Button's lay odds were around 1.7, which is fine, but there's not enough liquidity there, unfortunately. The Force Indias were much longer (around 6).

Vergne, on the other hand, has been pretty good in practice. He was 7th in P1, 12th (one place behind Kvyat) in P2 and 9th in P3, a colossal one-hundredth of a second ahead of his team mate. His odds were 1.9, which is ok, but not great.

After checking, I was very surprised Rosberg's odds were 3.6 for pole. Hamilton's favourite but it's very slight. In a two horse race, 3.6 is just too long, I feel. So, I've backed Rosberg for pole at 3.6, hedged at 1.6. I wouldn't be surprised if it were a bit of a see-saw pole fight.

So, let's hope Rosberg either gets pole or gets close enough for the hedge to get matched.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Germany: pre-qualifying

Rosberg's week of wonder has seen him sign a new contract, Germany win the World Cup and the driver himself get married. Can he top it off with winning his own home race, and thereby stretch his lead (now just 4 points) over his team mate?

FRIC suspension is front-rear interconnected suspension. This has been banned after the FIA limply said it could be retained for the season if all teams agreed. As all teams agree on nothing, ever, this didn't occur so the teams are not running FRIC. This will disadvantage almost every team (Force India least of all, Marussia quite a bit and it may also help Williams), but won't have a critical impact, I feel. In Hungary the effect may well be more pronounced.

It's going to be hot until race day, when rain is forecast, and it could absolutely piss it down. Well worth comparing the probably dry qualifying pace with the wet qualifying in Silverstone and Malaysia (the former's more recent but Williams/Ferrari cocking it up makes it of somewhat limited utility).

Tyres are soft and supersoft.

P1 had the two Mercedes top of the timesheets, unsurprisingly. Rosberg was 0.065s ahead of Hamilton. Then came Alonso, Ricciardo, Button, Vettel, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Kvyat and Sutil. Worth mentioning the Williams may have been high on fuel (they were more or less on pace with the Sauber, which is a bit of a dog of a car). In addition, the McLaren's being upgraded at a more rapid rate than expected, so could be tastier this weekend than it might otherwise be.

In P2 it appeared that the Mercedes' brakes were getting really rather hot. Whilst other cars seemed to be near(ish) on single lap and initial long run pace, over the course of a longer run the Mercedes was in a league of its own.

James Allen suggested Force India (and Williams) tend to do better when the softer tyre compounds are used. Rosberg seems to be a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Then the Red Bulls, Massa and Alonso clustered together, according to analysis from McNish and Benson. The Ferrari appears a bit slower on race pace than in qualifying, but if the race is wet that changes things.

In P2 Hamilton was two-hundredths of a second ahead of Rosberg (apparently Rosberg made a mistake, suggesting that, on pace, the German is the faster). Ricciardo was close behind and Raikkonen a distant fourth, followed by Magnussen, Massa, Button, Vettel, Alonso and Bottas.

A day before putting this piece up I tipped Rosberg for pole at just over 3 on Betfair, hedged at 1.5. His odds have since declined to about 2.3/2.4, and I'm not tipping at those odds (the 3.1 bet won't count towards my records).

In P3 Rosberg was a day and a half ahead of Hamilton (or so it seemed...), with Alonso a close third, then Massa and Bottas also close together. Magnussen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

Hamilton reported a slight vibration in his tyres and was 0.6s off the pace. However, apparently it was said at the start of the session they were on different programmes (be a bit weird not to do a qualifying run at the end, but perhaps Hamilton had higher fuel. Short lap, though. Hamilton didn't sound disappointed on the radio, suggesting a fuel effect).

Raikkonen seems to have a car issue which makes it uncertain whether he'll be able to participate in qualifying. On the plus side, his 47G hit a fortnight ago doesn't appear to have caused any lasting damage.

The supersoft tyres are clearly the faster but in the very high temperatures may not last long at all, so it'll be one fast lap per set, it seems. The Red Bulls are looking nice over a single lap, though fuel may mean they can't match the Mercedes over longer runs. In P3 the Red Bulls were much slower but that may well be sandbagging. Williams perhaps a shade slower than expected, but still solid.

The McLaren's got a lot of upgrades. Button got them later (only in P3) than Magnussen. Could mark another step forward for the team.

Although not an issue for the qualifying, it's worth noting the climatic conditions are going to be very different from qualifying to the race, so don't make race bets using qualifying as a strong guide. The race is highly likely to be wet.

I still think Rosberg's favourite, but only marginally, for pole. The odds are too short to back him now, I feel. Red Bull probably sandbagging and Hamilton either well off the pace or, more likely, having his speed obfuscated by a higher fuel load makes it tricky to tell who'll be making up the top three.

So, no proper tip, though obviously I hope Rosberg gets pole.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 6 July 2014

UK: post-race analysis

Well, that's probably the worst misjudgement of a bet I've made this season. Slightly annoyingly, most of those I considered would've come off, and the one I went for was miles wrong. I'll go into that in more detail later, but that's two red races in a row, alas.

Hat tip to Mr. Putney, whose bet on Button for points at 8/11 (pre-qualifying) went rather better.

The race was quite entertaining, though probably not a classic.

Vettel and Hulkenberg had bad starts (possibly because they started on the slower, even side) allowing Hamilton to rapidly climb to 4th, with Magnussen in 3rd, early on. However, Raikkonen lost control on the opening lap. Massa could take only minimal avoiding action as a Caterham immediately ahead of him blocked most of his view, but was able to avoid a T-bone collision which could've been even worse. Raikkonen seems to be ok, but the accident took not only himself but Massa out of the race. [Massa had a dreadful start and was last off the line, hence the Caterham being ahead].

A red flag then came out and the cars lined up on the grid in race order.

Repairing the Armco barrier meant a delay of an hour, which prompted Niki Lauda to tell the BBC that the sport was over-regulated, which is a valid point, though not an indisputable one.

The re-start occurred, eventually, behind the safety car. Oddly, Vettel and Hulkenberg drifted inexorably backwards, whereas Button more or less hung on (unlike his younger team mate). Once Hamilton got into 2nd it looked like we'd have a nice contest between the two but then Rosberg's gearbox failed and he suffered his first DNF of the year. He retains the lead, but it's whittled away to almost nothing.

Meanwhile, Bottas was charging through the field. It must be said that the Williams is currently the second fastest car. Ricciardo got 3rd, but that was due to strategy (Vettel was 5th, but made one more stop). Vettel and Alonso had a very tight battle for 5th, but the Red Bull was faster. Then came Magnussen.

Hulkenberg was 8th. Force India are significantly off the pace now, and I was just wrong about their prospects. Right now, they're slower than Mercedes, Williams, Red Bull, Ferrari and perhaps even McLaren.

Kvyat and Vergne got the final points positions, which is a very nice result for a team that has been suffering reliability problems. Perez was just behind, but suffered an off on the initial lap which probably stopped him claiming 10th or higher.

There has been a shift, I think, in performance. Williams, who seemed second fastest in Australia, have returned to that position. Red Bull are a shade ahead of Ferrari, and Force India have gone backwards, presumably due to lack of updates. The McLaren was surprisingly good around Silverstone, so we'll have to wait and see if that's a one-off or the start of a trend.

Disappointed to bet on something that was not merely slightly wrong, but immensely wrong. Still, a bet comes off or it does not, you don't lose extra for it being especially bad.

Rosberg now has only a 4 point lead over Hamilton, with just over half the season to go. There are two more races (Germany and Hungary) before we reach the mid-season interval and have a prolonged (4 week, I think) break.

The Constructors' is pretty interesting. Whilst Mercedes is nailed on for the top spot and Red Bull are highly likely to get 2nd, the battle for 3rd is nice and tight.

Mercedes 326
Red Bull 168
Ferrari 106
Williams 103
Force India 91
McLaren 90

I expect to see Williams surpass Ferrari. They would have done so today, had Massa not been unfortunate. I suspect that tight four way battle may diverge into a Force India Vs McLaren and Williams Vs Ferrari pair of tussles, but it depends how things develop. It's pretty nicely poised.

Hockenheim is the next circuit, and we go off to Germany in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 5 July 2014

UK: pre-race

Well, I said the grid could be unexpected and it was certainly that. Quite probably the most surprising qualifying session of the year, which resulted in an intriguing grid for tomorrow.

Q1 started off a bit wet, suitable for intermediates, but then started to rapidly dry towards the end. Everyone managed to get out during this window, except Ferrari and Williams. Those two teams missed the optimal time, and when they were trying for their fast laps the rain fell again and the window of opportunity slammed shut. Shockingly, we lost, as well as both Caterhams, all four Ferraris and Williams. A minute or so late, and they line up 17-20th. Almost as surprising, both Marussias made it through (although Chilton, alas, takes a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change).

Q2 couldn't quite match the drama, but it also started off a bit wet then dried up towards the end. Sutil was fast enough to escape Q1, but unfortunately went off and was unable to compete in the second part of qualifying. Neither Lotus got any further, but Grosjean did get 11th which, for the team this season, is a very nice result. Bianchi got a very impressive 12th for Marussia, and Gutierrez was 14th (but will rise to 13th, because of Chilton's penalty). Toro Rosso did very well to get both cars through to the final session.

Q3, however, was even more shocking than Q1. It was reasonably dry first off, but raining slightly, so everyone went off with dry tyres. Vettel screwed up his initial effort and didn't post a time on the first run. After the first efforts, Hamilton was two-tenths up on Rosberg, and the Toro Rossos were 5th and 6th. Drizzle fell, seven went out for their final runs (Ricciardo and the Toro Rossos did not bother). Hamilton was ahead of Rosberg and backed him up on the out lap. The German just squeezed over the line in time for a fast lap but Perez, immediately behind, did not. Hamilton was slower in the first two sectors and peeled off into the pits. Aborting the lap (he pulled over earlier) enabled Rosberg to pass him. Five cars were astounded that, after the wet first two sectors, sector three had almost entirely dried out enabling them to make up huge amounts of time. Rosberg got the pole, Vettel a surprise 2nd, and Button an even more surprising 3rd. Hulkenberg was next, followed by Magnussen and Hamilton, in a lowly 6th. Perez, who lost the opportunity to improve because of the Mercedes business, was next, and then the three cars that hadn't bothered to try a final run.

Hamilton screwed up, and in the interview with Lee McKenzie he sounded utterly broken. To be honest, I was utterly shocked that others found so much time in the third sector, so his mistake was entirely understandable. Despite that, he knows that he handed pole to his fierce rival. He needs to pick himself up for tomorrow. From 6th he can mitigate damage or even challenge for the win but if his head's not in the right place he'll struggle and will give away even more points (the field is closing in on Mercedes).

It's also been confirmed that Lotus will have the Mercedes engine next year. That won't be a panacea, but it'll save them money (it's the cheapest of the engines, oddly) and increase power significantly.

Vettel's in great shape. The Red Bull was very tasty on long runs, not quite on Mercedes pace but best of the rest (perhaps excepting Alonso, who starts 19th). Button may struggle not to drift inexorably backwards, but it's still a great starting position.

Hard to judge Force India, who start 4th and 7th. They may end up holding on, more or less. Toro Rosso will probably aspire to retain any points positions and Ricciardo, from 8th, should move forward. Williams and Ferrari will also be on a charge.

Weather, as we saw today, will be absolutely critical. Forecast for tomorrow is for it to be dry (almost certainly). Overtaking at Silverstone can be tricky and the DRS zones may well be of limited use.

The first bets which sprang to mind were:
Alonso top 6
Williams double points
Hamilton win/podium
Vettel win/podium
Kvyat points

I was thinking of Alonso for a podium, pre-qualifying, but top 6 afterwards. He's a great driver, the weather should be dry and his car has actually been performing well in practice. However, he's got a long way to go to make headway. The odds of evens available on Betfair were just not good enough. After waiting a bit he was up to 3.5 on Ladbrokes.

From 17th and 18th Williams were just 2.25 to have a double points finish, which is bloody stingy of Ladbrokes. It's almost as if they don't want punters to make money.

Hamilton should've gotten pole. He definitely has the pace and I think he is capable of passing everyone ahead of him (possibly excepting Rosberg) but the big question mark is over his mental state. Immediately after qualifying he looked and sounded crushed. After Monaco qualifying he was very competitive in the race, and the first lap of Austria (from 9th) saw him climb to 4th. He's 3.5 with Ladbrokes for the victory, which is tempting. For a podium, he's 1.35 (Betfair). Given potential reliability problems, possible difficulty overtaking at the circuit and question marks over his mental state that does not tempt me.

Vettel's been a bit under-scored by the judges, as it were, this season. He should've won in Canada and didn't due to bad strategy, getting trapped behind the Force India (fast in a straight line) of Hulkenberg and then emerging behind his team mate after the pit stops. He's also suffered the majority of reliability failures. He's been roughly equal to Ricciardo on pace this weekend and had a great stroke of luck, for once, in Q3. The Red Bull is the second fastest car at Silverstone, and he's 7 to win (each way, with 1/3 the odds for top 2) with Ladbrokes is slightly tempting. Not sure he could best Rosberg, though. He's 1.6 for a podium. Likely, but a little short.

Kvyat is 2.1 for points. He's been very impressive this season, but I'm uncertain about his car's reliability.

So, after all that nothing that really leaps out at me, which is a bit disappointing. Lack of a dry P3 made assessing performance a bit tricky too.

When none of my seemingly cunning betting ideas have nice odds it can be useful to look at things the other way, going through markets one by one and seeing if anything looks tempting.

Hulkenberg or Button to be winner without Hamilton/Rosberg (each way), 8
Race margin of victory, under 5.5s, 2.1

Rosberg, Winner, 1.77
Hulkenberg, podium, 5.7

Of those, the winner without Hamilton/Rosberg market interested me most, although trying to pick whether Hulkenberg or Button stood a better chance was difficult. Vettel's odds were 1.83, but there are some mitigating factors which put me off him (short odds, the car was less impressive on the medium compound than others, he has a history of reliability failures). But then, a short odds winner is always nicer than a heroic long odds failure.

I decided to back Hulkenberg to be winner without Hamilton/Rosberg at 8 (each way). I checked the last few P1 and P2 sessions at other races and Force India often seem off the pace then. I have more faith in the Force India than the McLaren, Hulkenberg's a very good driver, although he does start from the dirty side of the track and Vettel has had a few DNFs this year. I think he has a good chance of finishing top 5 and a reasonable shot of being the fastest non-Mercedes.

Rosberg seriously tempted me at 1.77, however, the ERS problem in practice put me off. If it recurs in the race he will not win.

If the race is half as entertaining as qualifying it'll be a cracker.

Morris Dancer

UK: pre-qualifying

Exciting, and stupid, news: idiots in suits (I would guess the same idiots who decided double points in Abu Dhabi makes sense) have decided that next year we're going to have standing starts after a safety car.

What that means is that, instead of what happens now (cars trundle around behind the safety car then return to racing when it comes in) they'll line up on the grid. This will offer some exciting new disadvantages, such as:
The leading cars may well overheat
It'll greatly reduce the advantage leading cars rightly enjoy
It'll increase the chances of a crash

There are no upsides. Yes, crashes are exciting, but a sport involving moving at 200mph doesn't need less safety.

Maybe the FIA has a bet on that it can dream up a different totally mental rule each year...

In less idiotic news, Caterham has been sold by Tony Fernandes to a Swiss/Middle East consortium, which will retain the Caterham name.

Team principal Cyril Abiteboul has left the team and has been replaced, it seems, with Christijan Albers, a former F1 driver.

The new consortium has the stated aim of finishing 10th in the championship. That means either scoring 2 or more points, or beating Sauber. Realistically, points are probably needed. I think they're likely to finish last.

It also emerged that Raikkonen may well retire, according to the man himself, at the end of his Ferrari contract (end of 2015). It'd be a shame, and there's still a chance he'll be axed by Ferrari before that happens.

There was also a Sky article on the standing re-starts after a safety car, worth linking to as it's interesting (in a depressing sort of way) enough to read entirely:

In essence, Charlie Whiting, race director, has come out strongly in favour of the proposal for standing re-starts after a safety car from 2015 onwards (most drivers and fans are against). He has some exciting contradictory opinions including:
he doesn't know if overtaking is more likely at a standing than a rolling start (one would hope the race director would pay more attention than this statement suggests)
it'll give an opportunity for the person in the second to get into first (you can debate the merit of this, but it is diametrically opposed to the notion expressed above that there's no real difference in overtaking possibilities between standing and rolling starts)

I especially enjoyed his nonsense about accidents, which I quote:
Of course you are more likely, statistically, to have incidents at a standing start than any other time in the race, but no driver wants that to happen and no driver will cause it to happen.
I don’t know if there is any added risk, personally.”

There's a statistically higher chance of an accident, but he doesn't know if there's any added risk? Charlie Whiting, I wish you did my house insurance. “So, you want to build a hut on the caldera of an active volcano? Well, there is a statistically higher chance of your home being engulfed by a tsunami of lava, but I'm not sure if there's any added risk. A standard premium seems appropriate.”

As well as the points I raised above (which have been noted by just about everyone not employed by the FIA) one of the comments (by bob, a chap as sensible as his name suggests) rightly points out that half the grid might well be covered by marbles, giving a significant disadvantage to one side.

Oddly, Whiting's stated the change was an idea (I use the term loosely) by one of the teams, and that all the teams are 100% behind it. Now, the 100% line might just be because teams don't want to publicly oppose a rule change, but I doubt he made up the initiative aspect. Who wanted this? And why? It's bloody stupid.

Moving to the race weekend, the tyre compounds are medium and hard.

Watched some of P1. Williams suffered double woe, as Wolff's engine suffered terminal failure and Massa put his car into the wall at speed, bringing out the red flag. During practice Rosberg suffered an ERS issue. When Vettel's had that sort of thing in practice it seems to recur during the race and lead to a DNF. Not necessarily the case for Rosberg, but something to consider when betting.

In P1 Rosberg was fastest by a surprisingly large 0.7s over Hamilton, who was barely a tenth ahead of Alonso. Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Vettel followed, with Button, Kvyat, Vergne and Magnussen rounding out the top 10.

In P2 Hamilton stopped on-track due to an oil pressure problem with the engine, which is exactly the same as the issue that Wolff had in the first session. Vergne also halted on track, as his left front wheel decided to come off, and Bottas' session ended early when his engine cover blew apart.

Hamilton was fastest, two-tenths ahead of Rosberg, who was half a second up the road from Alonso. Ricciardo and Vettel were next, performing well on the hard tyre but a bit slow (relatively) on the medium, with Bottas, Button, Magnussen, Raikkonen and Vergne finishing the top 10.

On Friday afternoon it looks like Mercedes will once again enjoy a private duel, but the engine failures of Wolff and Hamilton may make things unpredictable. Alonso was looking pretty good, including on the long runs, in practice so he may have a shot at a podium (I'll be checking that market). Red Bull are also looking much improved from their Austrian nadir.

Williams have slid backwards, and Force India were behind a Sauber in P2. Either Force India are sandbagging greatly or they're going to struggle here. Lotus continued to have all the handling capacity of an oil tanker, but Toro Rosso may have a shot at points (if they can finish).

P3 started wet (although not raining), with most going out on intermediates. It rained almost immediately, and many had limited or no running, making the running order not very useful. Alonso and the Mercedes did no fast laps. For the sake of completeness, here's the top 10: Vettel, Ricciardo, Maldonado, Grosjean, Sutil, Kvyat, Magnussen, Button, Bottas and Raikkonen.

The lack of running also meant Hamilton couldn't make up the time (in the dry) he lost yesterday.

Weather for qualifying will be critical. If it's wet, that'll help Red Bull, and make things harder for the likes of Williams, who don't have a great chassis. Forecast suggests a likelihood of rain, but how much and when it falls is impossible to try and guess.

Two bets I considered were laying either Force India driver to be in the top 10 (I really don't think they'll do well in qualifying, whatever the conditions) and backing Vettel to be top 3. I think in the wet Vettel stands a decent chance of being best of the rest.

However, the odds were too long for the Force Indias (around 3 for Hulkenberg and 4 for Perez) and not quite enough for Vettel (2.8, with limited cash on offer. I was after something more like 4).

So, no bet, as has been the case for most qualifying sessions this year. The weather could make things more unpredictable, so perhaps we'll end up with an unexpected grid.

Morris Dancer