Sunday, 21 June 2015

Austria: post-race analysis

Pretty good race, with crashing, a safety car, a good helping of passing, a late duel, although it was a little sterile at the sharp end. On the betting front, both tips came off. Button’s car had a reliability problem, and Alonso has a rather alarming high speed crash with Raikkonen [fortunately both men are fine].

Rosberg enjoyed a flying start, passed Hamilton immediately, and retained the lead throughout, never truly coming under threat. Bottas slid back a few places, and Ericsson jumped the start, which earnt him a penalty.

On the first lap Raikkonen appeared to lose control, at which point Alonso’s McLaren collided with the Ferrari, taking both cars out of the race (the McLaren parked atop the Ferrari). The safety car came out for several laps, and although it took a while for the wreckage to be removed both drivers were entirely unharmed.

A few moments later Will Stevens peeled off and parked his Manor Marussia on the wayside due to a reliability problem.

Formation was held when the safety car entered the pits and racing resumed.

Verstappen had gotten ahead of Bottas at the start, but the Finn soon dispatched the talented Dutchman, and set about hunting down Hulkenberg. The German held him at bay for a short time, but when the Williams got past his Force India he pitted, and the undercut worked, getting him out ahead of Bottas when the latter driver made his stop. It didn’t last (the Williams was just too fast) but it was the right strategic call.

There were some nice contests on track, including Nasr and the Lotuses (Loti?), Hulkenberg and Bottas (twice), and a little train of Perez, Maldonado, Bottas and Hulkenberg at one point (the first two drivers out of position as they had yet to pit).

It looked like the top five were set in stone, but it was not so. Ferrari had a horrendously long pit stop for Vettel, and even though he had a significant advantage over Massa, the Brazilian passed him in the pits. Vettel spent the last 20 laps or so closing that gap (the Ferrari was clearly faster) but he was unable to make the pass and Massa got the 40th podium of his career.

Late on there was a prolonged tussle for 7th between Maldonado (who drove well again, despite twitching the car like a twelve year old after their first coffee) and Verstappen. The Dutchman was ahead and was defending skilfully, but the Lotus was faster and when Verstappen’s tyres appeared to run out (he cocked up a corner, unclear if it’s true it was the tyres or that’s a racing driver’s excuse) the Venezuelan had him.

Grosjean, who might have had a tilt at a top 6 finish, had to retire due to reliability issues. Lotus need to sort that out. Their car’s fast, but you only get points if you finish. Sainz also retired.

Force India had a nice race, Hulkenberg holding onto 6th, and Perez climbing to 9th. I’d missed that they have a slightly updated (third generation, apparently) Mercedes engine now, which won’t have hurt their performance.

Ricciardo got the final point, finishing the race on the option tyre and passing Nasr. A slight shame for the talented Sauber driver. Kvyat seemed to spend the whole race getting passed.

On the betting front, hard to say whether Alonso would’ve finished without the crash. Button’s retirement was due to reliability, but if Alonso had finished then the relatively short odds (2.5) would’ve whittled the profit margin to half of one stake. But, if luck plays a role I’d sooner it be good than bad, and both came off.

Rosberg was plain faster today. Hamilton got a 5s time penalty for crossing the white line outside the pit exit, but even so his team mate had him beat all day long. The gap at the top is narrower than might be thought, so this title race is actually far from over.

Hamilton 169
Rosberg 159
Vettel 120

Vettel isn’t 100% out of it, but if both Mercedes retired from the next two races and Vettel won twice, he’d have a lead of just 1 point. Reliability in Ferrari and Mercedes is very good, so that’s unlikely. To get the title, or even another win, Ferrari needs to up the pace.

Rosberg started the season badly, and seemed to have almost adopted the mentality of a number two driver. Since Bahrain (where, ironically, he had a great performance but finished only 3rd) he’s been more competitive, winning fairly in Spain and Austria, (and fluking a bizarre win in Monaco, but they all count). He’s won three of the last four races.

Vettel 120
Raikkonen 72

That’s a hefty gap. I think Raikkonen may not get his contract extended. Ferrari have been interested in Bottas for a little while, and Hulkenberg’s Le Mans win will hopefully help his prospects of a top seat. Right now, the second Ferrari seat is the best one likely to be available in F1.

Mercedes 328
Ferrari 192
Williams 129
Red Bull 55
Force India 31
Lotus 29
Sauber 21
Toro Rosso 19
McLaren 4
Manor Marussia 0

I think the top three are more or less nailed on. With a new Force India due to arrive at the next race (a B-spec car) and Lotus having good pace, there’s a chance Red Bull could be passed by both of those teams (although Lotus need to sort out their reliability). I suspect Red Bull will retain 4th spot, but it’s not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination.

The next race is in a fortnight, in the UK.

Morris Dancer

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