Woke up just in time to catch a fairly interesting qualifying session, and to hear the even more interesting news. It is confirmed that Vettel is leaving Red Bull and will be replaced by Kvyat. The German’s destination is currently unknown (officially) but everyone seems to think it’ll be Ferrari. Alonso, in turn, is expected to move to McLaren, but that is also unconfirmed (replacing Button, it seems).
Q1 saw the four backmarkers assume the position. Lotus’ woes continued with both their drivers leaving at this stage. To make matters worse, an engine change means Maldonado has a 10 place grid penalty and because there aren’t 27 cars on the grid some of that will carry over to the next race.
In Q2 neither Force India managed to escape, Perez 12th and Hulkenberg 14th. Likewise Toro Rosso, with Vergne 11th and Kvyat 13th. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Saubers also left the stage, bringing up the rear in 15th and 16th.
Q3 unfolded in a slightly unexpected manner. In the first two sessions the two Mercedes drivers had been, as anticipated, a long way ahead of the rest, but very close (less than a tenth) to one another. In Q3 Rosberg’s first lap was three-tenths ahead of Hamilton. Both men improved on the second, but the German was still a surprisingly large two-tenths ahead to claim pole. Hamilton did have a P3 crash, which some are using to explain his lack of pace. I’m not so sure.
As I suspected before the weekend got going, Williams were also tasty, locking out the second row. Bottas was nearly half a second off Hamilton, but about the same ahead of Massa. If it’s dry, he might have a lonely race in a clear but isolated third.
Alonso and Ricciardo came next, and McLaren have the fourth row. A better performance for the team, which says something about how far McLaren have fallen since having the fastest (but unreliable) car in 2012. Vettel and Raikkonen finish off the grid, two rows behind their team mates.
The race is planned to start at 7am and there’s still uncertainty as to just how wet it will be. There’s a chance it’ll consist of trundling around behind a safety car and then half-points being given out (due to not that many laps being completed). Hopefully that won’t be the case. If it were, Rosberg would have a lead over Hamilton of half a point.
If it is wet to a large (but not race-ruining) extent this will disadvantage Williams and help Red Bull. Barring accident or reliability, I can’t see anyone beating Mercedes. We might have a relatively rare duel between the two drivers, and they could finish miles ahead of the rest.
It’s tricky to overtake on the circuit so strategy could play a significant role. It also punishes small mistakes (gravel traps and grass line the track, rather than tarmac run-off everywhere). A safety car seems pretty likely, but I suspect the odds will be prohibitively short.
According to the all important forecasts there’s an 89% chance of rain (but only a few millimetres to fall over the entire race). In addition, Sunday night (local time race start is 3pm) could see 83mm of rain, so if it arrives early that could basically end the race.
Bets I considered early on:
Force India drivers to score
Vettel top 6
The Force India bets are based on the drivers being good and the car performing better over a race distance than in qualifying.
Safety Car is up there for obvious reasons, and the two Red Bull bets are on the basis of superior downforce giving them a relative advantage over everyone (perhaps excepting Mercedes) in the wet.
Since 2009, when the race returned to the Suzuka circuit, safety cars have appeared at all but one (I think) of the races. The odds available with Betfair are 1.19. Normally I’m loathe to back such short odds, but that may actually be value.
Perez and Hulkenberg are 1.72 and 1.83 for points, respectively. Not long enough, especially given the potential for rain causing problems.
Vettel’s only 1.5 for a top six finish (given, if it’s mostly dry, the Williams and Mercedes will walk away with the top four spots I think this is tight) and Ricciardo isn’t even out to 3 for a podium. Too mean to tempt me.
Bottas to win without Hamilton or Rosberg, 3
Just spotted the above Bottas bet on Ladbrokes. It’s tempting. At the time of writing 2.94 is available on Betfair but the lay is 5.3, so I’m going to wait a little while and see if the odds improve. An alternative is the similar podium bet for Bottas (2.52 with Betfair, better than Ladbrokes’ 2.25) but which would be handier if one of the Mercedes breaks down or crashes. It would also cover a race entirely behind the safety car.
After a bit of a wait, the odds on Bottas to be winner without Hamilton/Rosberg increased marginally on Betfair (all the way to 3). In the end, I decide to back this with Betfair and set up a hedge at 1.5 (equal winnings for this coming off or not). That way, if it starts dry and he gets away (eminently possible) but rain comes later, it’ll still pay off.
So, just the one tip:
Bottas to be winner without Hamilton/Rosberg 3 (hedged at 1.5)
The rain could make the race very tedious, or very exciting. It’s a 7am start.