Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hungary: post-race analysis

A red weekend all round, but if it must be red I’d like the race to be good, and this race was fantastic.

There was an odd moment after the parade lap when Massa missed his mark in his grid slot and a second formation lap was necessary (Massa got a 5s time penalty added to his pit stop).

Off the line, the Ferraris galloped ahead of the Mercedes, Vettel claiming first and Raikkonen managing to get past Hamilton, who had yet another poor start.

Hamilton then exited the track on lap 1, went for a rally detour through the gravel and ended up well down the field.

Hulkenberg had a strong start, making up several places, whereas Ricciardo went backwards (not for the first time this year).

The two Ferraris pulled away from Rosberg, with Vettel building a decent gap to Raikkonen and a massive one over his fellow German. Hamilton was trapped behind Massa for several laps and ended up around half a minute behind the leader before he could pass the Brazilian and start climbing through the field.

Behind Bottas, trailing the top three, were the two Red Bulls, Kvyat ahead. He was ordered by the team to let Ricciardo through, which he duly did. The Aussie was the faster and started making up places (driving as fast as the leaders or perhaps even more so).

About halfway through the race Raikkonen suffered a power failure with the ERS. This isn’t necessary for the car to run but the power loss is immense.

Then Hulkenberg had a total front wing failure (it fell off and disintegrated into the first corner), which saw him crash after littering the track with debris. He was fine, thankfully, but it necessitated a safety car. Which was irksome. Initially it was just a virtual safety car but the amount of rubbish strewn across the circuit demanded the real thing emerge from the pits.

This closed up the field (the frontrunners properly, less so the backmarkers and lower midfield as, thankfully, the safety car didn’t hang around for an extra 5-10 laps waiting for everyone to be in a nice line behind it). Most people pitted, with the result that we had Vettel, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo on medium tyres for the first four and the faster soft tyres on the Australian’s car.

Raikkonen’s energy problems meant he was easy meat and, after a failed attempt to reset the system, he had to be retired. Great shame as he was on for second spot and drove well throughout.

Ricciardo and Hamilton came together due to a small lock up by the Briton (it would’ve been a minor incident had Ricciardo not been passing him at the time), which caused some damage to Hamilton’s car and a drive-through penalty for the Briton.

Very near the end Ricciardo and Rosberg made contact in a racing incident. The Aussie lost part of his front wing and had to pit (emerging in 3rd), but Rosberg suffered a rear puncture and slumped down the order as he trundled round the track to change tyres. This allowed Kvyat, who had let Ricciardo through some time earlier, to rise into 2nd (although he had a 10s time penalty for shenanigans earlier, he was about 20s ahead of his team mate so it made no difference).

Vettel won a deserved victory, which is great for Ferrari but, more importantly, provides some variety. I’d feared a Mercedes procession, instead we had a rollercoaster race crammed with twists and turns. Red Bull had a triumphant return to the podium (the first since Brazil 2013 not to feature a Mercedes driver), and it’ll be interesting to see if that was just due to the aerodynamic aspects of this circuit or whether Renault and Red Bull have taken a real step forward.

No less impressive was Verstappen’s 4th, the best result of his fledgling career. He must also be relieved as well as pleased, given Sainz had to have his car retired.

In 5th was a young Spanish fellow called Alonso. Nice to see a backmarker team achieve such a great result, and his team mate got 9th. More seriously, that doesn’t alter McLaren’s Constructors’ position but does place them much closer to Sauber.

In the end, Hamilton was 6th. He’ll be pretty unhappy at that, particularly given he’s had four wins at this circuit in the past. Ultimately, he extended his lead, when it appeared it might have vanished entirely, so it’s not all bad. Rosberg finishing 8th is almost entirely bad. The only upside is that he lost fewer points than if he and Hamilton had finished where they started, but there was a golden opportunity today, and he missed it.

Grosjean was largely anonymous but got 7th, in contrast to his penalty-accruing team mate. I think Maldonado got or was under investigation for about four different alleged offences. The dodgems Venezuelan finished in 14th.

Ericsson got the final point, ahead of his team mate.

Williams had an awful day. Both cars finished, but a rather paltry 12th and 13th. This was never going to be their best circuit but for both cars to score nothing was pretty poor. They’ll be better at places like Monza, though.

Force India also had a weekend from hell. Perez was retired during the race (missed it at the time), and Hulkenberg had the aforementioned crash, so they scored nothing and their rivals for 5th in the title race closed up.

Just on the start, electronic aids are being reduced from Spa onwards so it’ll be more about drivers and less about technology. It remains to be seen whether this will harm or help particular teams and drivers.

Drivers’ title race:
Hamilton 202
Rosberg 181
Vettel 160

Although Hamilton extended his lead over his team mate the result saw Vettel close up on them both. I don’t think the German’s a serious title contender unless there’s a sea change during the mid-season interval.

Mercedes 383
Ferrari 236
Williams 151
Red Bull 96
Force India 39
Lotus 35
Toro Rosso 31
Sauber 22
McLaren 17
Manor 0

The top two are pretty much done. I think Williams will keep 3rd spot, because it’ll be better than the Red Bull at the faster tracks (notably Monza), and has a cushion of over 50 points.

The battle for 5th is very tight. I reckon Force India, despite this bad weekend, remain favourites. The Lotus is unreliable and Toro Rosso also have reliability troubles (and, more importantly, aren’t that quick in a straight line).

Sauber need to improve or I think they might well get overtaken by McLaren.

Obviously not pleased about the two red bets. I was very confident and very wrong about both, utterly misjudging the pace in qualifying and getting a bit unlucky in the race. However, the race was exciting from start to finish, which is good.

The next race is Spa, in four weeks. Between then and now I’ll put up a mid-season review of a rather odd first half.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Hungary: pre-race

The bet didn’t come off due to a straightforward, albeit massive, misjudgement on my part. I substantially underestimated the aerodynamic impact on relative performance, with both Toro Rosso and Red Bull ahead of Force India. (Williams did poorly as well, although that didn’t affect the bet). I almost fluked a green result by Lotus’ lacklustre pace, but Grosjean just about managed to knock Hulkenberg down to 11th.

In the first session both Manors departed the stage, as did both Saubers. Button was unable to claw his way out, but this was due to a failure in electrical energy, and the gap to Q2 was less than the power deficit he suffered. On pace he would’ve made it.

Alonso was first to leave the second session when his car’s engine went on strike. Though he gamely pushed it back to the pits (it came to a stop at the pit entry) the mechanics were unable to mend the problem and he starts 15th. Sainz, Perez and Maldonado were outshone by their team mates, and Hulkenberg failed by two-hundredths of a second to reach the top 10.

Hamilton’s crushing dominance to get pole seemed inevitable, and Rosberg once again lines up alongside him. Surprisingly, Vettel was less than two-tenths behind Rosberg, and Ricciardo was less than half a tenth behind his erstwhile team mate. I do wonder if Rosberg could be vulnerable. Raikkonen and Bottas make the third row Finnish territory, followed by Kvyat and Massa, with Verstappen and Grosjean finishing off the top 10.

It’ll be a little cooler on race day which should relatively disadvantage the Ferrari, which especially likes hot weather. As mentioned in my pre-qualifying piece, I’ve tipped No Safety Car at 1.75 with Betfair.

Weather is expected to be dry.

Bets that sprung to mind based on the grid:
Ricciardo podium
Red Bull double score
Force India double score
Button/Alonso not to be classified (requires reliability failure, crashing unlikely)
Massa top 6

Ricciardo was 3.5 for a podium with Ladbrokes and 4.1 with Betfair. That’s intriguing, so I’ll consider it properly later.

Both Red Bulls to score is 1.5. Given reliability woe, I’m unsure it’s value. On pace, I think it’s near certain.

Force India are 3.75 to double score. I think the Lotus might suffer a bit (comparable to the Force India on pace, but less reliable) and I could see the Toro Rossos going backwards.

Button is 1.83 and Alonso evens not to be classified. That’s a little too short.

Massa is 2.25 with Ladbrokes and 2.5 with Betfair to be top 6. Whilst I think he has a good shot at it, those odds are too short to appeal.

After idly perusing the markets for anything that jumps out I found nothing else that piqued my interest (with the minor exception of Ricciardo being 4.5 to be winner without the Big Two [Hamilton/Rosberg], but I prefer the podium market because it’ll have more money available for hedging).

The Red Bull really does appear to have taken a step forward. Ricciardo was great here last year (aided by some fortune but also some excellent passing on his part). Vettel has never really shone here. Hmm. It’s tempting, but I could realistically see the final podium spot falling to any of Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen. So, no bet there.

Perez was a long way back from Hulkenberg’s time. I’m not confident he’ll score, so I’m just going to stick with the one previously mentioned bet:
No Safety Car, 1.75 at Betfair [NB offered earlier today, current odds are less than this]

I generally prefer longer odds bets, but nothing really catches my eye.

I think Hamilton will win easily, but we could see a more competitive battle throughout the rest of the points positions (after Rosberg).

Morris Dancer

Hungary: pre-qualifying

In the time since the last race, Jules Bianchi has sadly passed away. The young driver was critically injured in the last Japanese Grand Prix when he crashed into a recovery vehicle trying to move Sutil’s stricken Sauber. The serious brain injury sustained meant he was in a coma until he passed away recently.

Bianchi was talked of as a serious talent with a strong prospect of ending up at Ferrari. He also scored the only points Manor (then Marussia) have ever had, in Monaco 2014, which may have proved vital to the team making it to 2015.

His death is the first of its kind since Senna, over two decades ago. F1 is far, far safer than it was in the past but it will never be an entirely safe sport. Nevertheless, efforts to protect drivers (and others) must not relent.

Since Hungary there’s much speculation that Bottas will replace Raikkonen next year. I like both Finns, but would’ve preferred Hulkenberg to get the seat. It’s possible the German will go to Williams (if Bottas goes to Ferrari) but I’ve also heard of Nasr as a potential Williams driver [update: Sauber have confirmed both drivers will remain with them next year]. If Hulkenberg can’t get a better seat now then he may well leave the sport, which would be a shame as he’s a top chap and a very good driver. It may also be indicative of the crackers approach to finance affecting half, or more, of the grid.

The tyres this weekend are medium and soft.

In P1 Hamilton led his team mate by a tenth, with Raikkonen over half a second down the road. Ricciardo and Kvyat posted almost identical times, and Vettel was about three-tenths back (worth noting Vettel’s never actually won at this circuit, which is unusual). Sainz, Perez, Bottas and Verstappen rounded out the top 10.

This session was notable for a sizeable crash that Perez suffered due to a suspension element breaking. This ended up with his car upside down, although he was entirely alright, thankfully. However, the lack of certainty over what had precisely broken led the team to avoid P2 altogether.

In the second practice session, Hamilton was fastest again, albeit over Kvyat (by four tenths), with Ricciardo and Rosberg next. Raikkonen was half a second back (again), with a sizeable gap to Sainz, who was less than a tenth ahead of Vettel. Alonso, Bottas and Massa complete the top 10.

Given Hamilton’s record I think he may ace this weekend. However, Vettel’s slightly dodgy record and the importance of aerodynamics [relatively harmful for Williams in their fight with Ferrari] might mean Raikkonen has a shot at the podium.

Before P3, it emerged the Force India wishbone was to blame for the suspension failure. The team believed they’d solved the problem for the final practice session, which hopefully will prove to be the case.

Surprisingly, on the soft tyres Alonso was three-tenths off of Hulkenberg but six-tenths faster than Perez. In P3 commentary it was suggested by Ben Edwards that Renault’s decision to buy back Lotus, or not, will be taken soon, perhaps in the next week or two. The Force India and McLaren soft tyre laps were done much earlier than other teams, so their times may be a little slower due to track evolution. Raikkonen had a water leak which prevented him doing a qualifying simulation run. Bottas’ qualifying simulation was slowed by traffic, and Ricciardo’s time was compromised by a mistake in the second sector.

P3 had Hamilton fastest but less than a tenth ahead of his team mate. Vettel was next but eight-tenths down the road. Kvyat was four-tenths further back, followed by Sainz, Hulkenberg and Verstappen. Alonso Ricciardo and Grosjean round out the top 10.

Early bets that came to mind were:
Alonso Q3
Hulkenberg Q3

Really quite surprised, but McLaren do appear to have taken a step forward. Alonso I think will end up 9-12th. Raikkonen, the Williams and Ricciardo could all have beaten his time, probably, but against that is that he set it early and track evolution means he’s faster than the time indicates. 2.1 for top 3 on Betfair is ridiculously short. 4 would tempt me a lot, 3 would be tricky, but barely evens does not appeal.

Hulkenberg, provided the car stays together, seems very likely to reach Q3. I was greatly surprised 1.8 was available, and backed it immediately.

I happened to see that No Safety Car was 1.75 on Betfair. Even though it’s early, I’ve backed that. Hungary is the circuit least likely to see one. Although it’s short odds, it seems value (the only doubt is that poor reliability from some teams could see a car become stranded in an area that necessitates a safety car. However, Betfair does not count a Virtual Safety Car, which is helpful).

So, two tips (both Betfair, but not hedged):
Hulkenberg to reach Q3 at 1.8
No Safety Car at 1.75

I’ll put up the pre-race piece as usual, whether or not I offer a second race tip remains to be seen.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 5 July 2015

United Kingdom: post-race analysis

Bloody good race. Dramatic start, dramatic end, crashes, strategic cock-ups and two green bets. Huzzah! Once again, Great Britain shows the world how to do this sporting malarkey.

Nasr’s car failed even before the start, unfortunately. Of the rest, only Verstappen started hard.

Off the line both Williams were off like a scalded cat, Massa claiming the lead and Bottas (after briefly and brilliantly fending off Hamilton) nabbing the second spot. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg got a very good start as well and was fifth by the end of lap 1.

But the drama didn’t end there. Before the first lap concluded the two Lotuses struck one another, and both were out, also collecting Button and Alonso (Button was out, Alonso managed to keep going).

Hamilton managed to pass Bottas, but then a safety car came out so that the assorted debris could be cleared. When the safety car came in, Hamilton tried to aggressively pass Massa but locked up, which enabled Bottas to get past him.

Bottas did appear faster than Massa at this stage of the race. After a brief delay whilst Williams decided what to do, the cars were allowed to race but Massa was not instructed to let his team mate through. The Finn got close, but Massa didn’t crack, and the top four circulated in order, close together, for the rest of the initial stint.

After the initial pit stops Rosberg remained stuck behind Bottas, and Hamilton emerged ahead of them. The Briton was flying, and when Massa pitted he emerged in second place, with Hamilton leading.

The Ferraris had clawed past Hulkenberg, who had slid down the order after his great start, but were a mile and a half behind the leading quartet, Raikkonen ahead of Vettel. Ricciardo was forced to retire due to a reliability failure, Verstappen also exiting the race after crashing.

A Virtual Safety Car emerged at one point. This allowed Sainz’s car, which he’d rather unhelpfully parked some way from the marshals, to be collected. The VSR also lets gaps stay basically the same because cars drive within a certain limit, rather than congregating behind a physical safety car, and it can be ended sooner because it doesn’t take a lap for the safety car to return to the pits, nor do cars unlap themselves (which is a nonsense).

And then the British weather intervened.

It started raining. Enough to annoy drivers, but not enough to necessitate new tyres. And then it rained some more. A few drivers (Raikkonen, who had just been passed by his team mate, Alonso and perhaps Ericsson) came in for inters. The Williams suffered in the slightly damp conditions, and Rosberg swept past Bottas and then Massa.

Raikkonen was lapping about eight seconds a lap slower than others. It was a gamble which had failed.

Rosberg, now second, was 10s or so behind Hamilton, but catching him by 2s a lap, until he was 1.7s behind. Hamilton complained of no grip from his tyres (both on medium). And the British rain saved the day. With inspired timing, Hamilton pitted for inters. It seemed too dry, or at least too soon. It wasn’t. Hamilton had timed it to perfection, and as the rain fell and Rosberg pitted, the tiny gap had grown all the way to 10s again, and this time there was no closing it.

Vettel also pitted that very same lap, leapfrogging the two Williams (who must feel a shade unfortunate after such a strong race actually seeing them go backwards from the grid) to get yet another podium, his sixth (I think) of the year.

Raikkonen had worn out his inters, having pitted too soon, made another stop for some fresh ones (he was far enough ahead of Perez not to lose a place), and trailed home a disappointing 9th. At the end, Kvyat’s superior downforce was helping him against the struggling Williams and very nearly passed Bottas. In the end, the Finn kept 5th and the Russian was a good 6th.

Hulkenberg got 7th, and Perez 9th, which is reasonable. The Force India B-spec car does look to be an improvement, but with so many retirements (7/20) it’s hard to be certain just how much better it is. The Red Bull was faster (definite in the wet, perhaps also in the dry), and the Toro Rosso seemed roughly comparable. Impossible to say how the Lotus stacks up against the new Force India, however.

And who got the final point? Some chap called Fernando Alonso, who scored his first point of the year. Nice to see McLaren enjoying a tiny bit of good luck.

Here are the updated driver standings:
Hamilton 194
Rosberg 177
Vettel 135

Whilst Vettel’s not quite out of it, it would take either a lot of reliability failures for Mercedes (they’ve had zero, I think, so far) or for the Ferrari team to put two engines in the back of Vettel’s car.

Constructors’(4th to 8th):
Red Bull 63
Force India 39
Lotus 29
Sauber 21
Toro Rosso 19

Very good day at the office for Force India, who see their lower-placed rivals score nothing, and they scored equal points as Red Bull, maintaining the gap ahead but extending it over those chasing the team. The old Force India was handy in a straight line but struggled with aerodynamic stuff, which matters quite a bit at Silverstone. Retaining 5th is important because, as Allan McNish pointed out recently, the 5th place gives a team a decision-making seat (because F1 makes no bloody sense only five teams get heard, and several of those appear to be for financial/historical reasons). If Toro Rosso get it, that’d give Mateschitz et al. two seats.

For those who’ve followed my tips for a little while, this is the best (going by hedged) race weekend since Monza 2009 when I offered something mad like 5-6 tips and more than half came off (including an 8.8 winner, I think, on a Brawn victory). This season’s been weird for betting, flat-lining red for ages, and a few good races just now.

After complaining of some bad luck earlier this year, I’ve certainly had some good fortune of late.

For my record-keeping, this is the mid-season point, so a review or two will be thrown up between now and Hungary, which is in three weeks.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 4 July 2015

United Kingdom: pre-race

Not since Malaysia 2014 has a hedged bet proved better than tipping without a hedge. The 1.8 on Rosberg was matched, but he didn’t quite manage pole. So, that’s either down a stake or up almost one stake.

The first part of qualifying was depressingly predictable. The Manor Marussias left, as did both McLarens. Felipe Nasr was the fifth chap to exit the stage, which was unsurprising as the Sauber’s looked out of sorts all weekend.

In Q2 Ericsson also departed, so he’s just one place above his Brazilian team mate. After some stronger performances the Lotuses failed to escape (Grosjean 12th and Maldonado 14th). Verstappen looked great in practice this morning, but complained constantly on the radio in qualifying, and achieved a lacklustre 13th. Perez was 11th.

In Q3, it was a straight duel between the two Mercedes. Hamilton was a tenth faster (Rosberg was quicker in both prior sessions) and neither man was able to improve on their second run. Irksome that Rosberg got so close and failed, but glad the hedge was matched. It was a lovely day in England for Williams, who locked out the second row, Massa a tiny margin ahead of Bottas. Ferrari had to make do with row three, with Raikkonen nearly two-tenths up on Vettel.

Kvyat did well to get 7th, ahead of Sainz, with Hulkenberg and Ricciardo at the back of the top 10.

Williams looked rather good, and the Renault-engined Toro Rossos and Red Bulls (Verstappen excepted) appear in better shape than the recent power-dominated circuits of Austria and Canada. Mercedes still in a league of their own, though Williams could be the best of the rest this time.

Key to the race is whether or not it rains. This affects things not just in terms of flukily timed pit-stops being helpful, but also because in the rain downforce helps add grip, improving lap time and reducing the chances of spearing off into walls or the gravel. Red Bull and Toro Rosso would get a relative performance advantage in the rain, I think. Bottas and Hulkenberg have also shown themselves capable of tasty driving in the rain (NB keep a close eye on the Interlagos forecast later in the year. Hulkenberg stuck it on pole, I think, in the rain, and was vying for the win a few years later).

I checked the weather forecast, and it seems the risk of rain has receded. I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but it seems pretty unlikely right now.

Potential race bets:
Lay Hamilton lead lap 1 (some dodgy starts recently)
Massa podium/winner without top 2/3
Vettel podium
Force India double score (1 stop thought to be optimal, but perhaps not possible for everyone)

Only 1.4 is available to lay Hamilton as lap 1 leader, though the back value is 1.25, so it might close up.

Massa is 2.56 for a podium (weird disconnect for Bottas, he’s 4.1 to be winner without the Mercedes, but only 2.4 for a podium, when they’re likely to be the same thing).

All four Ferrari and Williams drivers are 3 for a podium with Betfair. Vettel’s 3.3 for a podium with Betfair.

Force India are 2.5 to double score. I’m not sure about that, given Hulkenberg scraped in at the back of the top 10 and Perez didn’t reach Q3. It’s not unrealistic, but the odds are stingy.

Of those, perhaps Bottas to be winner without Mercedes at 4.1 appeals most, though it’s not a dead cert bet. So, I browsed the markets to see if anything leapt out.

The Lotus chaps (3.5 for Maldonado, 4.5 for Grosjean) not to be classified seemed a little long. I checked and here are the stats:
Australia – 2
Austria – 1, Grosjean
Canada – 0
Monaco – 1, Maldonado
Spain – 1, Maldonado
Bahrain – 0
China – 1, Maldonado
Malaysia – 1, Maldonado

Maldonado would seem value, perhaps Grosjean. But I’ll wait and see what else pops up.

And nothing did. So, potential bets are Bottas to be winner without the big two at 4.1 (not much available, though), and Maldonado/Grosjean not to be classified at 3.5/4.5. Given Lotus’ reliability, or lack thereof, the gravel traps, difficult corners and potential for hitting walls, I’ve gone for the two Lotus drivers (both Ladbrokes).

Maldonado, not to be classified, 3.5
Grosjean, not to be classified, 4.5

Tricky picking anything. The Williams-Ferrari fight should be interesting and I really don’t know who’ll end up getting the lower end of the points.

Morris Dancer

United Kingdom: pre-qualifying

The survey results are in. Over 215,000 fans from 194 countries completed the exhaustive question, which ran for a fortnight after the Monaco procession. I was one of them, and am slightly surprised how many finished it, given how enormous it was (took me about 30 minutes).

The findings, as reported by the BBC, are as follows:
Around 90% want the sport to be more competitive
A majority (60%) want refuelling to return
Technical rules should be relaxed for more diverse cars and technology (74%)
Tyre wars are desired (80%)

A couple of interesting findings there (for the record, I agree with all the above positions). Tyre wars are unlikely in the immediate future as I think Pirelli have the gig this season and next, and then it’ll be a decision between them and Michelin for 2017 onwards (NB Michelin will only do it if the wheel size is increased from 13” to 18” rims, which would have a substantial impact on car design, including suspension).

Refuelling is popular with fans, but not with teams, who seem set against it (due to safety and cost).

Technical changes are coming, though I forget if it’s in 2016 or 2017. Essentially, the front wing will be widened and the rear narrowed, which, it’s hoped, will reduce the impact of dirty air unsettling the aerodynamics of one car closely following another, allowing for closer racing and more passing without the nonsense gimmick of DRS (which should be banned, but I doubt it will be).

In other news, there are some rule changes coming. Electronic aids and team instruction via radio will be reduced, which should have an impact on the start. This change is effective from the Belgian Grand Prix. We’ll see how big an impact it has on starts. Engine performance might be one key factor, but perhaps tyre choice will also be more significant.

Anyway, to Silverstone. The circuit’s more about corners than the recent tracks in Canada and Austria, although there are a few straights so power isn’t irrelevant. I’d expect cars without a Mercedes in the back to do better here (Red Bull and Toro Rosso especially). Force India could be an exception as I think they’re due for a B-spec car and will finally get some upgrades.

It’s been very hot in Blighty over the last few days, and rain is forecast for Sunday, so that’s well worth keeping an eye on. Chaps who have shown good rain form include Button, Hulkenberg and Bottas.

The tyres are hard and medium.

In P1 Rosberg was fastest by a tiny margin ahead of Hamilton (but it was still very impressive given the German had an early hydraulic issue and spent most of the session having his car mended). Verstappen was third but over a second down the road, followed closely by Raikkonen, Sainz, Vettel, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Hulkenberg and Massa.

In P2 Rosberg was again fastest, a third of a second ahead of Raikkonen. Vettel was very close behind his team mate, with Hamilton only fourth (the Briton complained about his car’s handling and aborted what should’ve been a long run). Kvyat was four-tenths back in fifth, then came Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Massa.

Looking promising for Rosberg right now. The Mercedes has a massive advantage over the field, although potential rain on Sunday could throw the cat amongst the pigeons.

It also looks better, as expected, for Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. I think Williams have been keeping their powder dry, as is often the case. The Force India updates seem to be working, so they also stand a chance of Q3/points.

The McLaren continues to be as reliable as a French ferry worker.

P3 had Hamilton quickest, half a second up on his team mate, who was a couple of tenths up on Raikkonen. Vettel was three-tenths back, and followed by Verstappen and Sainz. Massa was a smidgen ahead of Bottas, with Kvyat and Maldonado rounding out the top 10.

Rosberg had a problem with his gearbox during P3 which prevented him doing much of a qualifying simulation run. He finally got in a last minute single flying lap. I’m not convinced the half-second gap is reflective of reality.

Alonso was unable to do a qualifying run because of hydraulics failing him.

Toro Rosso looked pretty damned tasty in P3. Lotus and Force India perhaps a little lacklustre. Aerodynamics are mattering more than having a Mercedes in the back.

Potential bets:
Rosberg pole [NB, came to mind prior to P3]
Verstappen Q3
Sainz Q3
Kvyat Q3

Rosberg’s 2.75 for pole with Ladbrokes, and 3.35 with Betfair. The latter is actually quite tempting. It’s clearly a two horse race, Rosberg’s in with a shot.

All the Q3 odds on Betfair were under 1.5, which is too tight (big circuit but twisty so getting stuck behind another car’s a serious issue, and there’s always potential for going off). It took a while for Ladbrokes to get their Q3 market up, but it did come up at 11.49am. Not that I was getting aggravated waiting. Anyway, it wasn’t worth the wait, 1.33 for Kvyat and 1.2 each for the Toro Rosso chaps.

The Rosberg bet is tempting. I went back to check if he had traffic (also causes aerodynamic issues) and he had some at least, particularly near the end of the lap. So, I’ve backed him for pole at 3.65, hedged at 1.8 [Betfair, obviously].

Morris Dancer