Sunday, 23 August 2015

Belgium: post-race analysis

In racing terms, not a classic, though there were a few interesting moments. Of the three bets I contemplated, only the one I actually backed ended up coming off, so that was pleasing (short odds, mind).

The start took a while to get going. Hulkenberg was giving a hokey-cokey instruction by his team (pit/do not pit) and ended up signalling from the grid that his car had failed, necessitating a second formation lap. At the end of that lap Sainz also went into the pits (he didn’t start, but did later emerge only to be retired as he was two laps down).

There had been much talk of how the revised start procedure might affect things. Hamilton started well but Rosberg (and, further down the field, Raikkonen) started badly, getting passed by perhaps 3 cars early on. Perez had a storming start, was up to 2nd immediately and very nearly passed Hamilton on lap 1, although subsequently the Briton simply drove off.

Early on Maldonado retired. No exciting crash or comedy cock-up, his engine just died. And lo, did I fluke a green bet.

The Mercedes pitted a bit later for the initial stop (standard strategy was 2 stops) than other cars, and Rosberg emerged 2nd to his team mate, and not too far behind. The pit stops had also enabled Ricciardo to leapfrog Perez.

However, Ricciardo’s delight must have been short-lived, because his car also dropped dead.

Bottas’ race was compromised by the spectacle of his team managing to fit three soft and one medium tyres to his car (sets must be uniform) and earning him a drive-through penalty.

Meanwhile, the old Mercedes 1-2 was leading the way. Vettel was 3rd, but on old medium tyres (the only chap trying a 1 stop) and being hunted down by the surprisingly fast Lotus of Grosjean. With a lap or two to go the German’s right rear tyre burst to pieces and he ended up a paltry 12th. Bad luck for the German (and more questions will be raised following two such tyre incidents this race weekend), but a great first podium for Grosjean since America 2013.

So, Hamilton, Rosberg and Grosjean comprised the podium. Kvyat follows up his great 2nd in Hungary with 4th here, Perez got a good 5th for Force India, and Massa was 6th (Williams have been a bit lacklustre this weekend).

Raikkonen rose to 7th, and Verstappen got 8th (it could’ve been the other way around, the Dutchman passed the Finn late on but was over-ambitious on the brake and lost it again). Bottas and Ericsson were the final points scorers.

As for McLaren, whose engine supplier Honda had claimed would have ‘Ferrari’ levels of power: both were lapped and finished behind Vettel, out of the points.

Drivers’ title:
Hamilton 227
Rosberg 199

Not over, but heading that way.

Constructors’ (3rd downwards):
Williams 161
Red Bull 108
Lotus 50
Force India 49
Toro Rosso 35

I was surprised Lotus passed Force India, but suspect the latter team will nab 5th in the end. If William don’t improve then Red Bull might be able to catch them.

After the race, Vettel gave an interview in which he was quite furious with Pirelli. It’ll be interesting to see if changes are made in the light of the two tyre failures this weekend. Eddie Jordan said that Pirelli had claimed a 1 stop was impossible (or words to that effect), and that it was therefore Ferrari’s fault.

The next race is Italy (for the last time?), in a fortnight. Power is the order of the day around Monza.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Belgium: pre-race

Qualifying went rather differently to my expectations. Well, I got the top two right (not exactly difficult this season), but Ferrari were a mile and a half away from competitiveness.

The first session went to script, with the Marussias exiting the stage followed (due to grid penalties) by the McLarens. Nasr may well be disappointed to have failed to escape this stage of qualifying.

In Q2, Raikkonen’s car broke down with engine trouble, so he starts 14th (assuming there’s no grid penalty, which there might well be if parts need replacing). Verstappen, who also has a penalty, didn’t set a time and ‘qualified’ 15th. It was very tight ahead of them, with Hulkenberg and Kvyat just missing out, and Ericsson the slowest man to set a time in Q2.

Q3 saw the status quo maintained as Hamilton got pole by a day and a half and Rosberg had to settle for 2nd. However, Bottas did well to get 3rd, and Grosjean and Perez were surprisingly quick in 4th and 5th (the top 5 all have Mercedes engines). The Frenchman won’t start there, though, as he has a grid penalty of five places. Ricciardo qualified 6th, just ahead of Maldonado (one does wonder of the potential for an immediate and massive crash). Vettel was strangely slow in 9th. Either the Ferrari has suddenly become rubbish or he had a serious problem, neither of which is good news. Sainz was 10th.

There is a chance of rain, but the forecast I looked at suggested it would be dry. It’s hard to tell at Spa, so the best thing is to try and have a bet with a credible chance of coming off in any condition.

Ferrari starting well down the grid should mean they have a bit of a charge, but Vettel’s rubbish time may reveal they’re not quite as quick here as they ought to be.

Initial bets that sprang to mind were:
Lay Hamilton lead lap 1
Massa top 6
Force India double score
Maldonado to not be classified (maybe Grosjean too)
Safety Car

1.49 was available to lay Hamilton to lead lap 1, but the back odds were 1.36, so I think it’s worth waiting to see if the gap closes.

Because of Grosjean’s penalty Massa starts in the top 6, so that bet is on him holding station. As such, 1.45 is measly.

Force India are evens to double score. Hmm. May be worth a look as I think they’re easily there on pace (Hulkenberg missed out on Q3 by a tiny margin after he cocked up his lap).

Maldonado is only 2.5 not to be classified. Hmm. Grosjean’s 3.5. I copied (and updated) the Lotus failure to be classified list I made earlier, and here it is:
Australia – 2
Austria – 1, Grosjean
Canada – 0
Monaco – 1, Maldonado
Spain – 1, Maldonado
Bahrain – 0
China – 1, Maldonado
Malaysia – 1, Maldonado
Britain – 2
Hungary – 0
On that basis, the average is almost 1 per race, usually Maldonado. So 2.5 might just be value.

Just 1.65 on the Safety Car is not tempting.

Of the initial batch, laying Hamilton to lead lap 1 at 1.49, backing Force India to double score at evens, and backing Maldonado not to be classified at 2.5 are all slightly tempting but none are eye-poppingly delightful.

A quick perusal found Lotus to double score at 3.5. Slightly tempting also, but I don’t trust Maldonado.

Decided against the Force India bet. Both drivers are good, but there is the potential for both weather and accident to foil one or both of them. Which leaves the question of whether I have more confidence in Hamilton to leave the handbrake on, or Maldonado to bugger things up...

So, just the one bet:
Maldonado, not to be classified, 2.5 (Ladbrokes)

Morris Dancer

Belgium: pre-qualifying

Before the race weekend began it was confirmed Raikkonen will stay at Ferrari in 2016. Must say I’m quite surprised. Bottas, Hulkenberg, Grosjean are all fast and would be keen to race for the reds. However, Raikkonen has a great relationship with Vettel (they appear to have a genuine friendship which is very rare for team mates) and that will add a harmony to the team which will make things a lot easier.

The tyres are medium and soft.

In P1 Rosberg was a quarter of a second up on Hamilton, who was narrowly in front of Ricciardo. Raikkonen, Vettel and Kvyat followed, with Verstappen, Sainz, Perez and Bottas rounding out the top 10.

In P2, Rosberg was again faster than Hamilton by a clear margin (three-tenths). Ricciardo was next, half a second down the road but a fair bit ahead of Kvyat, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg. Grosjean, Ericsson, Nasr and Vettel were next up.

Whilst watching the P2 summary video I heard that the Sauber now has the 2015 Ferrari engine for the first time, which may mean Sauber could be value for reaching Q3. Something to keep an eye on. [NB the Williams weren’t really playing in practice 1 and 2, so worth bearing their pace in mind].

The second practice session was more notable for Rosberg suffering a strange incident. For no apparent reason his rear right tyre decided exploding would be an appropriate course of action. It was reminiscent of when Hamilton’s tyre exploded at the British Grand Prix [I think] in 2013. However, it’s the first such incident since Pirelli rushed changes that season to make tyres more robust, so may have just been a freak incident.

The McLarens have substantial penalties due to engines. Verstappen also has a 10 place grid penalty.

Third practice was quite different, with Hamilton half a second up on his team mate. Vettel and Raikkonen were next, with Perez impressive in 5th. Ricciardo and Kvyat follow, with Hulkenberg, Bottas and Massa rounding out the top 10.

Potential qualifying bets:
Force India Q3
Vettel top 3

The two Force India drivers were a paltry 1.34 to reach Q3. Whilst I think both stand a good chance, it’s pretty tight and I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams, Red Bull and Toro Rosso are hot on the heels of Mercedes and Ferrari.

Vettel was 1.86 on Betfair to be top 3. Hmm. Not enough to tempt.

So, no bet on qualifying.

My guess is a two by two start (Mercedes, led by Hamilton, then the second row occupied by Ferrari). After that, it could be very competitive.

It may be worth laying whoever gets pole to lead lap 1, for two reasons. Firstly, the new start procedure may mean they get swamped. Secondly, it’s happened in the past that the lead car gets passed on the straight on lap 1. Pirelli believe it will be a 2 stop race. Laying the McLarens to finish may also be wise, but that’s something to consider in the pre-race piece.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 3 August 2015

2015 Mid-season Review

It’s been a bit of an odd first half of a season. Counter-intuitively, I’m actually slightly ahead on every measure (going by race weekends to date). Qualifying and race days are all slightly green.

Given the first six races were red (often marginally, but still) that’s quite pleasing. I think I suffered a little misfortune early on, which turned results (that might’ve otherwise been green) red, although I judged some things wrong too.

The three races before Hungary were a delightful patch of sound judgement and good fortune which meant I got 7/8 bets correct, including the best race weekend since Monza 2009 (on a hedged basis). Hungary was a double red weekend, one bet failing due to ill judgement, the other to ill fortune.

Things feel like they’re on a fairly even keel now. Although the pattern’s been extreme, H1 2015 has followed the traditional route of me being rubbish early on and then starting to get things right around the middle of the year.

In performance terms, Mercedes has been dominant throughout. On the two occasions the team failed to win, one was partly down to strategic cock-up, the other due to a bad start and small driver errors. On pace, the Silver Arrows maintain an almost comical degree of superiority. Hamilton is a strong favourite to win the title, but Rosberg is close enough that it’s not a certainty.

Things are more interesting behind them, however.

Ferrari has generally been best of the rest, although on slippery high speed tracks the Williams probably has the edge over the Prancing Horse. I was quite surprised that Red Bull were so competitive in Hungary (but for the contact with Rosberg, Ricciardo may have won the race). It’ll be interesting to see if that was due to a performance improvement or simply the aerodynamic nature of the circuit lending itself to the car.

Force India didn’t upgrade until their B-spec car a race or two ago, but (certainly at power circuits) that seems a pretty handy improvement. I expect them to be in and around the points from now until the end of the season, though more aerodynamic tracks will see them struggle a little.

The Lotus can sometimes be very competitive. It’s hampered by slightly dodgy downforce, Maldonado’s occasional tendency to try and occupy the same co-ordinates in space and time as other objects, and terrible reliability. I think only McLaren is worse in that regard. At circuits with a narrow track/close barriers and/or bad weather, it may be worth backing the Lotus to fail.

Toro Rosso is having a good year, and both their drivers are very talented (although Verstappen cocking up in Monaco was understandable he compounded that mistake by refusing to acknowledge it was his fault, which it was). The car’s good, and I expect them to rack up more points. Reliability is a serious issue, though, and I don’t think they’ll be able to get 5th (hope not, anyway, for political reasons. The 5th spot gets a team into a decision-making seat, and Red Bull already have one).

McLaren’s season has been awful. They had a much better result in Hungary, which was a combination of multiple accidents ahead of them, a performance improvement and a trouble-free race (for once). At circuits where power matters more, they may well slip back. Passing Toro Rosso must be their aim, and Sauber should be the minimal objective in the Constructors’. There’s also speculation about both drivers, with Button linked to Williams if Bottas goes to Ferrari (or even presenting Top Gear), and Alonso sounding less than enthused (understandably so).

Sauber had a great start, with Nasr finishing well into the points, but since then they’ve never really looked like finishing ahead of anyone save Manor and McLaren. Manor should be a given, but Sauber’s aim has to be to stay ahead of McLaren. That’s possible, but difficult. If anything, the Sauber has seemed to be getting relatively slower as the season goes on.

Manor achieved much simply by making the grid. This year, alas, was always going to see them trundling round at the back. What they need to do is work hard on next year’s car, and try to make progress in 2016.

So, how will the second half of the season unfold?

I can’t see beyond a Mercedes victory, because the car has a clear performance advantage on every type of circuit. They may not win every race, but they’ll certainly have a chance everywhere. If Ferrari could make a substantial improvement that could make the title race very interesting but I don’t think that’s very likely.

The top three are likely to finish where they currently stand, although Red Bull were very impressive in Hungary, and that may worry Williams. Further down the field, I expect McLaren to pass Sauber but going further may be beyond them.

Vettel’s said he’ll try to make the impossible possible (win the title). I think that very unlikely, simply because his car isn’t as good as the Mercedes. But, there may be a joker in the pack.

From Spa (next race) the starts will change. Essentially, drivers have to do more of it themselves, rather than relying as much on engineers/technology. If Hamilton/Rosberg are rubbish and/or Vettel’s excellent in this regard, it could prove decisive. We saw at Hungary that the Ferrari, on paper slower than the Mercedes (and, in the race, perhaps slower than the Red Bull of Ricciardo as well) had little trouble retaining the lead.

Hard to say how much difference the change will make. The ability of a driver to find the best clutch bite point himself, and to start the fastest, will both be crucial, as will traction and engine performance (the latter two mattering already, of course).

Morris Dancer