Thursday, 1 December 2016

A look back at 2016 and ahead to 2017

It was a bloody odd year.

From a betting perspective, it was my worst ever (been doing this since the latter half of 2009) if you count only the weekend tips included in these articles. If you count the fortuitous Verstappen tip (to win in Spain at 250/1) it’s the best ever. I got under a third of tips correct, but finished ahead by quite a long way.

Most of the weekend tips being wrong were due to misjudgement. I did have some bad luck too. The weather forecast I saw for Interlagos was 100% wrong and buggered both my bets there. Had they come off, the result would’ve meant a slightly red season rather than one redder than a baboon’s backside.

That said, at the six race weekends I offered three tips, one was properly green, one was essentially flat, and the other four were red. It’s not great when there’s an inversely proportional relationship between number of bets and sound judgement, and that’s almost entirely my fault.

I may try and make an effort to offer a few more Betfair/hedged tips. Unfortunately a few years ago I had a great run with Ladbrokes and terrible luck with Betfair, so the former account is in rude health and the latter is a bit anaemic (limiting my stakes quite a bit).

Four spread-betting suggestions were offered mid-season, as a first step towards potentially entering those choppy waters. My suggestions were (with confidence ratings):
Buy Bottas, low-medium, 93/99 (the price when I saw it/the price when I wrote the piece)
Sell Magnussen, medium, 11
Buy Verstappen, medium, 206
Sell Alonso, high, 53

Bottas I got entirely wrong. That was an 8 or 14 point loss. The others were all tight. Magnussen was 4 points to the good, Verstappen 2 points red and Alonso 1 point red. The main misjudgement was failing to recognise/recall Williams are often a bit pants at developing their car through the season. On the plus side, this was my first serious effort and most of the suggestions were very tight, with just one being rather wrong (and not by a calamitous amount).

I imagine such things will only be available after testing, but, for future reference, here’s the link:

In terms of racing, Mercedes were slightly reeled in by Red Bull over the course of the season. Red Bull developed well, whereas Ferrari were 2nd fastest (but unreliable) initially, and then fell to a distinct 3rd later on. Force India maintained their excellent in-season development, leapfrogging Williams to get 4th.

Development potential will be important when considering how things might go over the course of the next season.

Looking ahead to next year, I had planned on offering spread betting tips and dipping my toe into the waters. Not sure if I will do that, but, if not, I shall offer some suggestions as I did this year.

There are substantial technical changes to the regulations, meaning both aerodynamic changes and removing the restrictions on engine development. I think this stands to benefit Red Bull and McLaren disproportionately. The former has, I think, Adrian Newey returning from messing about on the river, and the latter has Prodromou[sp] (formerly Newey’s aerodynamic lieutenant) and the possibility of Honda delivering a great leap forward.

Renault should also improve, but I don’t believe they have the staff necessary, yet, to bounce all the way into podium-land. Hulkenberg’s reportedly very good at technical feedback, so that will aid their development, particularly for 2018.

I think Ferrari will go backwards. They’ve lost Allison, rumour has it Arrivabene may be tossed overboard, and whilst the engine is good, the aerodynamic performance this has year has been behind a few other teams.

Mercedes, obviously, have most to lose. When you have a dominant position any change represents a risk of losing that advantage. I don’t think they’ll fall off a cliff, but it is possible they’ll either be very closely matched to a rival team (or two) or clearly inferior. An intriguing possibility follows the well-sourced rumour Hamilton actually quit after Spain this year only to be persuaded to stay. It is possible he’ll go walkies sooner rather than later. (Maybe a 10% chance).

Williams have been a bit rubbish at aero recently. I think they recognise this, but would still expect them to be a bit too slippery.

Toro Rosso have been pretty impressive when it comes to aerodynamics. I don’t think they’ll challenge at the sharp end, but they could have a good season.

Haas are difficult to read. They had a stonking start to their d├ębut season, then fell off a performance cliff.

Manor and Sauber may struggle a bit due to lack of cash and starting from a low base.

At the moment, the most tempting bets for me revolve around Red Bull and McLaren (and their drivers). Very early to bet, however.

There are some Hamilton and Verstappen specials up on Ladbrokes, as well as early markets available for the two 2017 titles. Perhaps most intriguing is the 17 for Hamilton to not drive for Mercedes next year. He apparently quit after the Spanish Grand Prix, only to be persuaded to stay, and is very unhappy his mechanics were switched to Rosberg this year. I think Hamilton walking is likelier than the team axing him, and whilst it’s still odds against, 17 might be a little long.

The other bets for both chaps relate to long term things (mostly beating Schumacher’s title and race win tallies). None of those appeal, possibly excepting Verstappen to take next year’s title at 5.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis 2016

A tense race from start to finish, with the drama ramping up towards the end. Betting-wise, it was green, which is a nice way to end a very peculiar season (but I’ll blather about that in the season review). The race was characterised by three things: great drives from Verstappen and Vettel due to varying strategy, and Hamilton backing up Rosberg.

Off the line it was fairly straightforward, excepting that Raikkonen got the jump on Ricciardo. However, Verstappen had a slightly slow start (Red Bull perhaps compromised more than expected by starting on the supersoft when surrounded by ultrasoft-starters?) and was spun when he struck Hulkenberg slightly. At the end of lap 1, Verstappen was last.

Ahead, the Mercedes were a bit faster but not scampering away, and the Ferraris and Ricciardo were evenly matched. Verstappen set about cutting his way through the field.

After the first pit stops (two planned), Hamilton led, Verstappen (who alone had not pitted) was next, then Rosberg, who emerged just behind the Dutchman. Verstappen was going long on his supersofts, trying to eke out a single stop, contrary to all others. Rosberg struggled to pass him, particularly as the German could not afford to compromise his result.

Suddenly, Rosberg made a late lunge. Verstappen had left the door wide open then tried closing it. The two cars very nearly touched, but Rosberg got ahead with a daring overtake. Shortly thereafter, Verstappen pitted.

After the second (or only, in Verstappen’s case) round of pit stops Vettel, who was on a two stop but had yet to come in, led Hamilton, with Rosberg and Verstappen next. Ricciardo and Raikkonen were further back.

Vettel pitted and emerged with brand new supersoft tyres. He was over a second a lap faster than those around him, quickly catching and passing (with zero resistance) his team mate before reaching Ricciardo.

Mercedes were aware to the danger and alerted Hamilton, asking him to drive more quickly. The Briton developed selective deafness.

Hamilton was being deliberately slow in the twisting part of the circuit to back Rosberg towards Verstappen (and Vettel, who soon passed Ricciardo). He was given an instruction from Paddy Lowe (effectively co-team principal) to drive more quickly and refused.

Verstappen was being forced to up his pace to try and keep 3rd, but to no avail. Vettel pounced and snaffled the final podium spot, then close up on Rosberg. The top four were all covered by a few seconds.

Rosberg bore the stress. He kept 2nd, seeing off a final lap attempt by Vettel take the place, and winning his first constructor’s title. Hamilton won the race, and lost the title.

Verstappen and Ricciardo were 4th and 5th. After a strong early stint, poor strategy helped put Raikkonen down in 6th. Hulkenberg and Perez finished where they started, 7th and 8th respectively (having a bit of a mid-race ding dong, but it was all clean driving).

Massa scored in his last race, grabbing 2 points for 9th. Alonso got the last point. On this occasion, Massa was faster than him.

The two Haas cars just missed out on points, and just behind them were both Manors. Interestingly, the Saubers and Palmer’s Renault [Magnussen retired] were slower.

Button also had his last race and suffered a wishbone failure after a kerb took exception to being driven over, but he remained in good cheer. Both Toro Rossos and Bottas also retired.

So, by 5 points Rosberg is world champion. Within minutes of the result the BBC had a charming page up asking if he deserved it. Had Hamilton suffered a technical failure in 2014’s race instead of his team mate, Rosberg would’ve been world champion then. Didn’t see the same question being asked of Hamilton at the time…

Force India claimed 4th in the Constructors’, their best ever finish. The cash injection will be welcome for the team next year. They lose Hulkenberg and gain Ocon, retaining the services of Perez.

The No Safety Car bet came off. Short odds, but longer than they should’ve been. The advantage of varying strategy worked for both Vettel and Verstappen, so I wonder if we’ll see more of that next year rather than a two stop approach for the vast majority.

Will Hamilton’s behaviour has damaged his standing either with the team (for repeatedly refusing to obey an instruction) or with the public as a ‘racer’ who deliberately went slowly? His hero, Senna, rammed Prost off the track once to take a title (the reverse also occurring), and that’s clearly worse. Schumacher’s renowned for his on-track shenanigans.

Opinion is divided. Some online have criticised him for trying to make someone else lose, others saying it was fair enough trying to keep the title.

I’m glad Rosberg got the title. A bit of variety instead of the same chap always winning is a good thing.

Next year the regulations change a lot. The biggest potential beneficiaries are probably Red Bull and McLaren. The former will have (I think) Adrian Newey, back from his yachting adventures. The latter has Prodromou[sp], formerly Newey’s aerodynamics lieutenant, and with development restrictions lifted for engines Honda *may* be able to make a great leap forward.

I’ll witter more about such things nearer the time, and after testing. In a few days or a couple of weeks I’ll write the post-season review (which will be interesting as it’s both my best and worst ever season).

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Abu Dhabi: pre-race 2016

Well, qualifying ran pretty much to form with Hamilton easily on pole and Rosberg alongside him. The one real surprise was that the Red Bulls both went for the supersoft in Q2, which means they start on the slightly more durable tyre. The rest of the top 10 are on the ultrasofts.

Both Saubers and Toro Rossos (who are having a dreadful weekend so far) exited in Q1, as did Ocon and Magnussen.

Both Haas drivers failed to reach Q3, and were joined in the departure lounge of Q2 by Wehrlein (slowest in the session), Palmer, Button and Bottas (the last two behind ahead of the Haas).

Alas, Q3 was a bit predictable. Hamilton had daylight between him and Rosberg, a yawning three-tenth gap. That said, Rosberg was over half a second faster than Ricciardo. Raikkonen and Vettel split the Red Bulls (who, alone of the top 10, start on the supersoft rather than ultrasoft). After 6th-placed Verstappen, Hulkenberg leads Perez, and it turns out Alonso is faster than Massa, the pair making up row five.

It can be tricky to pass in Abu Dhabi. There’s a great big straight but that’s only an advantage if you’ve got roughly equal power and can get close enough. A car like the Red Bull will have great pace but it’s from the twisty bits so passing will be trickier.

It’s also worth considering how the supersoft gambit might play out. There are two potential advantages. Either one fewer pit stop is needed (giving Red Bull track position), or they might be able to go longer, enjoying a performance advantage whilst their rivals are on the soft tyre. Of course, neither may be true.

There tend not to be many retirements or a great shuffle from grid to flag, and there have been just two races from the seven to date which saw a safety car.

So, potential bets that sprung to mind:
Ricciardo win each way
Perez top 6
Few retirements
No Safety car
Ricciardo podium

Ricciardo is 15 to win each way (third the odds for top 2). That’s intriguing, especially if a bad start [though these haven’t happened for several races now], strategic woe or mechanical mishap occurs. Can he do it on pure pace, without relying on misfortune ahead of him? And are the Mercedes likely to collide? Difficult to say.

Perez is evens for top 6. Whilst he’s good at keeping the tyres going, and has a solid car, the odds are a little mean.

There’s 1.83 on Ladbrokes for over 18.5 drivers to finish. In the last two races at the circuit there have been 1 and 3 retirements. If either were matched, that would make the bet a winner. I’m pretty confident this will occur but the odds aren’t super.

No Safety Car is 1.8. Again, the odds look wrong to me. This is quite appealing. I think it’d take some misfortune for this to happen.

Ricciardo is 1.66 for a podium. Interesting to compare that against his win (each way) odds. Whilst eminently possible, I’d sooner go for the win bet, if I go for either (I think the No Safety Car and over 18.5 classified finisher bets are both likelier, as well as having slightly longer odds).

So a couple of low odds tempters and a slightly uncertain but interesting Ricciardo bet. I perused the markets to see if anything else appealed.

Verstappen win 23 – longer odds than Ricciardo but he starts 6th. He’s also been a bit clunky at Monaco (different circuit and he’s fine at Singapore, but it’s still a potential problem).

Raikkonen/Vettel, winner without Mercedes 5 each way – if the Red Bull gambit with tyres doesn’t work, Ferrari are next up. And if it does, one of them may still finish ahead of a Red Bull anyway. Odds aren’t enormous, however, and the gain off the start (according to Christian Horner) of the ultrasoft over supersoft is less than half a yard.

Rosberg win 5.9 (Betfair) – I do think Hamilton’s a hot favourite to win but there’s only two drivers in it, barring mishap. Is 5.9 too long for Rosberg? Hamilton’s had the beating of him for several races and has looked better this weekend. Plus, Rosberg knows a podium is enough. That said, 5.9 may be too long.

Of all those mentioned so far, the Ricciardo Win each way, Raikkonen/Vettel Winner Without Mercedes each way, No Safety Car and Over 18.5 Classified Finishers markets look most tempting to me.

That’s rather too many to bet on all at once.

The two short odds bet (No Safety Car and Over 18.5 Classified Finishers) seem quite closely related. Of those, No Safety Car is my preferred. Also, you have to go back to Italy (September) for the last time Ferrari beat Red Bull.

So, that leaves the potential for our old friend No Safety Car at 1.8 and Ricciardo at 15 to win (each way). I think the win unlikely but coming 2nd could happen. However, Abu Dhabi’s last two podium results were identical to the starting top 3. So, boring as it is, I’ve just gone for No Safety Car at 1.8.

Of course, if excitement, twists and turns and treacherous backstabbing is what you want, then check my new fantasy novel Kingdom Asunder, which came out two days ago.

My fear is, returning to F1, that the race may be a procession. Red Bull will probably be the most interesting team to watch.

Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying 2016

Well, here we are. The final race of the season, the title decider, the last race before the rules change.

A brief look to 2017, as it’s been confirmed Germany will not have a race due to financial problems.

Rain, which plagued my Brazil bets, is unlikely to be a complicating factor in Abu Dhabi.

In first practice Hamilton was nearly half a second ahead of Rosberg, who was just half a tenth up on Verstappen with Ricciardo close behind. Vettel, Perez and Raikkonen were next, with Sainz, Massa and Ericsson rounding out the top 10.

In second practice the same two were at the top, but Hamilton was just a tenth up, and Rosberg was two-tenths ahead of Vettel. Verstappen and Ricciardo came next, then Raikkonen, Bottas, Perez, Hulkenberg and Massa.

Third practice had a rather different set of chaps at the top. Vettel was fastest, two-tenths up on Verstappen, who was within a tenth of the Dutch Wunderkind. Hamilton and Rosberg were next (a tenth between them). Ricciardo, Perez, Hulkenberg, Bottas and Gutierrez rounded out the top 10.

Incidentally, Hamilton reported a problem with his front right brake not working properly towards the end of third practice.

No bet on qualifying. I think a Hamilton-Rosberg front row very likely. Interested to see if Ferrari can maintain their relative pace but I suspect they’ll be behind Red Bull.

However, those wanting to lighten their wallets in return for a cracking medieval fantasy, brimming with ruthless she-wolves and scheming traitors, should check out Kingdom Asunder, my new novel:

Morris Dancer  

Monday, 14 November 2016

Brazil: post-race analysis 2016

Neither bet was anywhere near coming off because the forecast I saw was the most wrong of any forecast I’ve seen since 2009, when I started regularly tipping on F1. Had it been more accurate, the bets I would’ve looked at would’ve involved Red Bull, Hulkenberg, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Button [Verstappen did well, the rest did not]. So, all red, but if the weather and the forecast are radically different it’s hard to feel I misjudged things because my own tips were based on flawed information.

Anyway. It was very wet before and at the start. So wet, in fact, that Grosjean lost control on his way to the grid.

The start was under the safety car. At the time, I thought this was typically limp-wristed weak-kneed nonsense, but in hindsight it was probably the right call (the start was delayed by 10 minutes but this appeared to make the conditions slightly worse). After trundling around behind the safety car for a few laps, the race began.

Verstappen pounced on Raikkonen like a mongoose tackling a scorpion. Hamilton pulled away from Rosberg with ease, and, though for a moment it seemed the young Dutchman would claim 2nd, the German managed to keep him behind and the top three settled down.

Ericsson crashed on the main straight, littering it with debris and his car coming to a rest in the pit lane entry. The safety was out and the pit lane closed (Verstappen was already committed to a tyre change, but Ricciardo came in late and got a 5s penalty).

Several cars had come in for intermediates, to the bafflement of both the Mercedes drivers.

The safety car came in, and shortly thereafter Raikkonen had a large crash (similar to Ericsson’s) and the race was red flagged. Hulkenberg was fortunate to avoid colliding with the Ferrari, and Ocon showed great reactions to avoid it too (also worth noting Ocon was wiping the floor with Wehrlein on wet weather pace, something worth considering for next year when Ocon’s at Force India).

The race restarted some time later under the safety car, and Hulkenberg (who was running around 4th at this stage) picked up a puncture, had to pit and came out around 15th. Rotten luck for the German, who’s a very talented chap yet has never had an F1 podium.

Another red flag, due to the weather, came out a few laps later, provoking Colosseum-style thumbs downs and boos from the crowd.

A short time later the race once again restarted under the safety car. When the safety car came in, Verstappen leapt upon the opportunity and passed Rosberg for 2nd. The Dutchman pulled away, creating a sufficient gap that he retained the position even after suffering a significant wobble (and making a fantastic save) on the main straight.

Massa crashed on the main straight, his car stopping in front of the pit lane (which was closed again). The safety emerged, and the tearful Massa, Brazilian flag in his hands, walked down the pit lane to the applause of teams and into the embrace of his wife and son.

This created a slight dilemma for Mercedes, who had only changed their tyres (to more full wets) at the red flag stoppages. They couldn’t pit, but if they did when the safety car came in (having closed up the field), they’d emerge probably behind Verstappen.

However, fortune smiled on them. Verstappen’s inters were failing to grip in the worsening conditions and he had to pit for wets. The Mercedes stayed out, and kept a 1-2 finish.

With about a third of the laps left, Nasr was in a position to get sufficient points not merely for Sauber to pass Manor, but Renault too. Perez was on for a podium. Sainz was in 4th, a career best.

Unfortunately for them, (and Vettel, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Kvyat), Verstappen was out there on new wet tyres, and really rather fast. He passed all of them to claim the final podium position. Had Red Bull not (unusually for them) cocked up on strategy, the win was possible and 2nd all but certain. Likewise, Ricciardo could’ve finished rather higher than the 8th he ended up with.

At the sharp end, it had looked like Hamilton’s win all day, and Rosberg will have to be happy with 2nd. If he’s on the podium in Abu Dhabi, he takes the title.

Perez got an impressive 4th, and even with his atrocious luck Hulkenberg still got 7th. With Bottas 11th and Massa DNF, that’s incredibly useful for Force India in their battle with Williams.

Vettel got 5th, which isn’t bad considering he was very far down the order at one point. Sainz’s 6th is another advert for the Spaniard’s skill. Hopefully when he leaves Toro Rosso it’s for another team rather than to leave the sport.

Nasr ended up 9th, enough for Sauber to leapfrog Manor. I imagine the team will be rather pleased with him. Alonso got 10th.

Rosberg has a 12 point lead over Hamilton. If Hamilton wins in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg needs only to be on the podium to take the title. Hamilton 2nd, and 6th would do it for Rosberg.

All else being equal, Rosberg should take the title. Rain had the potential to be a massive spanner in the works at the race, but the German remains in the best place for the title.

In the Constructors’, Force India now have a whopping 27 point lead over Williams. It’s very hard to see that being overturned.

McLaren are on 75, and Toro Rosso 63. That’s likely to remain as is, but it’s possible it could be rather close.

Renault, Sauber and Manor have 8, 2 and 1 points respectively. It’d probably take a lot of DNFs for that order to change.

So, my bets were utterly wrong, but my judgements were based on a totally inaccurate forecast. Obviously not pleased, but there’s not much that can be done about that. Rather sums up most of the season, to be honest (Spain aside), and is why only betting what you can afford to lose is The Golden Rule of betting.

The 2016 season has one more race. In a fortnight, we’re off to Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Brazil: pre-race 2016

In Q1 the Saubers were slowest, and right ahead of them were the Manors. Magnussen was 18th and the slight surprise departure was Button in 17th. He’d looked good in the hot/dry on Friday, but the colder conditions didn’t suit him at all.

In Q2, Palmer was slowest, with the Toro Rossos (suffering a bit with the 2015 Ferrari engine) just ahead. Gutierrez qualified 12th, the meat in a Williams sandwich (bit surprised both Williams left at this stage).

The final session was close. Initially, Hamilton was 0.16s ahead of Rosberg, but both men improved on the final run. Hamilton ended up one-tenth ahead of his rival, for yet another Mercedes front row.

Raikkonen was over half a second behind them, and less than a tenth ahead of Verstappen. Vettel was a hundred off the Dutchman, and Ricciardo half a tenth off Vettel. Rather close between Ferrari and Red Bull. In the dry, better tyre wear may help Ferrari, although bad luck and poor strategy could prove a problem.

Grosjean got a very impressive 7th for Haas. Coupled with Gutierrez’s 12th, it’s a good qualifying performance for the team. Whether it can be repeated in the race remains to be seen.

Hulkenberg and Perez were next up, both men ahead of both Williams, which is critical in determining who gets 4th in the Constructors’ title (worth $35m more than 5th). Alonso was 10th, a strong performance given where his team mate was.

The weather forecast is for it to be dry throughout the race. This is good for Rosberg, bad for Red Bull, Button and Hulkenberg. Helps Williams too.

Looking at the grid, my initial thoughts were:
Vettel/Raikkonen podium
Hulkenberg top 6
Lay Gutierrez points

Vettel is 3 and Raikkonen 2.62 for the podium. Of those, Vettel probably tempts me more (although Raikkonen has been driving well of late). Hmm.

Hulkenberg is 2.2 for top 6. Eminently possible but a bit short.

Gutierrez is only layable for points at 6.2. That may actually be value but there’s only a tiny sum available, so can’t be tipped.

As is traditional, I then perused the markets (mostly Ladbrokes) to see if anything leapt out at me. [NB I checked and the last two races only had two chaps fail to be classified each, so I’d avoid the Not To Be Classified market. It also makes it less likely someone down the field will rise up much].

Vettel is 26 (each way 1/3 the odds for 2nd) to win. I do think Ferrari will be better than Red Bull in the race, but this also requires him to beat his team mate and for a Mercedes to either get a DNF or have some sort of mishap.

There’s 15 at Ladbrokes for 0 retirements. At the Chinese and Japanese Grands Prix, there were no retirements. Not sure how a DNS would fit in. The last two races at Interlagos have had just two non-finishes, and last year one of those was a disqualification.

On a related note, there’s 2.2 for there to be over 18.5 finishers in the race. Barring a lap 1 disaster or comparable unpredictable woe, that looks very tempting.

On Betfair, there’s 3.15 for No Safety Car. In the last five races, I think there’s only been one safety car appearance and we now have the VSC (and it’s forecast to be dry).

Two tips:
Over 18.5 classified finishers, Ladbrokes 2.2
No Safety Car, Betfair, 3.15.

Tempted by the 15 for 0 retirements, but it’s a bit iffy (and I didn’t want to offer 3 tips, especially when they’re somewhat related).

The race starts at 4pm. The post-race piece will be tomorrow morning. And, after that, we have just one more race. The question is, will the title already have been decided?

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Brazil: pre-qualifying 2016

Off-track news first. To my surprise, Palmer has been confirmed as Hulkenberg’s team mate at Renault. I really did think he was a goner. Magnussen has jumped ship to Haas, so presumably Gutierrez will be off (perhaps to Sauber, if Nasr gets the vacant Force India seat).

Lance Stroll, the Canadian teenager, has been confirmed as Bottas’ team mate at Williams for next year (as widely expected).

Meanwhile, Esteban Ocon, who replaced Rio Haryanto at Manor halfway through the season, joins Force India as Perez’s team mate.

Do not underestimate the importance of the weather in determining both this race and the title. In the dry, Rosberg is looking good. If it’s very wet, Hamilton could be favourite for both.

In first practice Hamilton was fastest, a tenth ahead of Verstappen, and three-tenths up on Rosberg. Ricciardo, Bottas, Perez and Hulkenberg were next, with Massa, Vettel and Raikkonen round out the top 10.

In second practice Hamilton was a mere three-hundredths up on Rosberg, with Bottas nearly half a second down the road. Massa was next, then Ricciardo, Verstappen, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Button.

Third practice was initially drizzly (and a little later), unlike hot and dry P1 and P2. So, lap times may not be wholly representative.

In third practice, Rosberg was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton (NB the second flying lap was slightly faster so you may prefer to set up a hedge if you bet on pole). Vettel was a tenth further back, with Raikkonen, Verstappen and Ricciardo close behind. Bottas, Palmer, Massa and Alonso rounded out the top 10.

It probably isn’t going to rain in qualifying. I’ll check the race forecast later.

If dry, it’s likely a Mercedes duel for pole. Hulkenberg and Bottas are potential bets for Q3, odds permitting.

The odds on all that are terrible. However, something did raise my eyebrow: 2.25 for the winning margin being under 0.15s. In three of the last five years, that’s been the case. It’s also been the case with every practice session. The downside is we’re likely looking at a Mercedes duel so it only takes one of Hamilton/Rosberg to have a phenomenal/atrocious lap to screw the bet [and it relies on it being dry, but that’s quite likely].

In the end, I decided against it as the odds are too short, although I did contemplate it for a while.

My guess is it’ll be Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, Force India and Williams, but we’ll see.

The pre-race piece will probably be up tomorrow morning, rather than this evening.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 31 October 2016

Mexico: post-race analysis 2016

From a betting perspective, more post-mortem than post-race. Three tips, none came off. Obviously the Hulkenberg tip was unlikely (although credible, I think, given he was side by side with Verstappen on the straight and both Mercedes went off track). The other two tips were just poorly judged.

Pre-race, Grosjean had some issues and started from the pit lane. Palmer, whose cracked chassis prevented him qualifying, lined up 21st on the grid.

Off the line, Hamilton got away cleanly. Rosberg was side by side with Verstappen, Hulkenberg close behind. At the first corner Hamilton went off and only came back on some way down the road. Rosberg went off, squeezed out by Verstappen, at turn one, rejoined still 2nd and kept the place. Neither Mercedes was penalised which I found somewhat surprising (more leeway must be given at the start but I’m not sure that extends to making corners optional).

Further down the order Gutierrez, with the deft touch of a drunk wearing oven gloves, nudged Wehrlein’s rear wheel, putting the German into a Sauber and out of the race. The Safety Car emerged after a brief initial Virtual Safety Car period.

The major changes, that I recall, were Hulkenberg rising to 4th ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel slipping down the order a few places.

Then a long period of boredom ensued. It was a one stop race for pretty much everyone as the medium tyre could do the whole race distance (Raikkonen did two, I think Ricciardo as well, the Aussie having pitted very early under the safety car). After the pit stops, Hamilton was trundling around in 1st, Rosberg was about 5-10s further back. Verstappen had been released by Ricciardo under team orders to pursue the slower Mercedes, whilst the second pit stop had put the Aussie 5th, behind Vettel.

Verstappen got close but was being caught by Vettel, who was being caught by Ricciardo. The last few laps had all three running nose to tail. Verstappen left the circuit and didn’t hand over the place (Vettel would likely have passed had the Dutchman remained on-track), to the expletive-ridden frustration of the German (who made the not very wise move of telling the race director, Charlie Whiting, to go forth and multiply over the radio). Verstappen was given a penalty which relegated him to 5th but then Vettel got a penalty for a rule introduced to stop Verstappen moving under braking, so Ricciardo ended up 3rd.

Many handbags, and more after the race, including about whether the Mercedes should’ve had penalties for both going off at the first corner:

Raikkonen was 6th, with Hulkenberg unable to match the pace of cars ahead and having a rather dull but productive afternoon in 7th. Bottas and Massa were next, with Perez 10th.

Ericsson was a tantalising 11th. Had one car ahead dropped out, that would’ve been Sauber’s first point and put them ahead of Manor in the table (worth about $35m). Wehrlein was the only DNF.

Mr. Jessop, elsewhere, pointed me to the Mercedes ‘explanation’ for going off-track, arguing that if they hadn’t it would have caused the field to close up and have collisions down the line. That’s dross, in my book.

Notes to self for future:
Very hard to pass in Mexico. Thinner air reduces the effectiveness of DRS and slipstreams.
Stupid track surface which means degradation is minimal. One stops very likely.
Not a car breaker.

In the title race, this narrows Rosberg’s advantage over Hamilton to 19 points. If the German wins in Brazil, he takes the title. If Hamilton fails to finish and Rosberg is 6th or higher, the German takes the title. Interlagos is a fantastic circuit, probably my favourite, and rain often falls (the more the better for Hamilton who enjoys a substantial pace advantage over his team mate when it’s soggy).

In team terms, Force India are now 9 points ahead of Williams. Still very tight, but they should be favourites to finish 4th now. Every other place seems settle, perhaps excepting Manor/Sauber.

The next race is a fortnight away.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mexico: pre-race 2016

Qualifying was peculiar. Appeared very close between three teams then in Q3 Ferrari’s pace fell off a cliff. There was a bit of a jumbled up grid in the end, so hopefully that’ll present some betting opportunities. Remember that there’s a very long run to the first corner. Screw up your start and you’ll be staring at a Manor’s exhaust.

Oddly, Palmer got a cracked chassis in third practice. That sort of thing happens, but he didn’t know, kept running, and was fine. However, it did mean he couldn’t partake in qualifying and therefore starts last.

Dreadful Q1 for Haas, with both cars struggling and Grosjean slowest on track. Gutierrez was 17th (again out-qualifying his team mate), and between them were Kvyat, Nasr and Ocon. However, the Manor of Wehrlein just made it into Q2 [only five eliminated here due to Palmer not running].

Q2 went more predictably, the only slight surprise being that Perez was only 12th, behind Alonso. Following the Mexican was Button, Magnussen, Ericsson and Wehrlein.

Now, up to this point Hamilton had maintained a pace advantage over Rosberg, but any of the top three teams looked competitive for the front row, if not pole. Also worth noting the Mercedes and Ferraris are on the soft tyre for the start, but the Red Bulls are on the supersoft. This may help them off the line, but their tyres won’t last nearly as long. (A similar approach was taken by Ricciardo last time out and was looking good until he was a bit screwed by the VSC).

Q3 was a bit different. Ferrari’s performance fell off a cliff. After the first runs Hamilton was on pole, but both Red Bulls were ahead of Rosberg. Then came Hulkenberg, then the Ferraris. On the second run, nobody really improved, except Rosberg, who managed to defy the pattern of previous qualifying laps and bested the Red Bulls to claim 2nd on the grid. After how the rest of the hour went, I imagine he’ll be thrilled, and Hamilton mildly miffed, to line up on the front row.

The Red Bulls, on their supersofts, form up the second row, Verstappen ahead of Ricciardo. Hulkenberg was very impressive in 5th, which I think equals his best ever qualifying performance. Leaving aside implications just for the race, that’ll likely help Force India maintain the whip hand over Williams.

After so much promise in the practice sessions and earlier parts of qualifying, 6th and 7th for Raikkonen and Vettel respectively was pretty damned poor. The only positive (besides the potential for the soft tyre they start on to be an advantage, though Vettel only has his starting set which may hamper him in the race) is that Vettel didn’t get a penalty for a blatant block, because it wasn’t investigated by the race steward (this week it’s Stevie Wonder).

Bottas and Massa are next up, with Sainz performing well to get into Q3 at all (starting 10th).

My initial betting thoughts were:
Hulkenberg podium
First lap leader, either Red Bull, Hulkenberg
Red Bull top score
Both Red Bull drivers podium
Perez top 6

Hulkenberg has never had a podium in F1. He was all but guaranteed one, and had a good shot at the win, in Brazil one year (maybe 2012) but got a penalty for sliding in the wet and colliding with Hamilton. He’s a very good driver, though. Odds on a podium are 15 (17.5 with Betfair). If the Red Bull supersoft gambit fails, Hulkenberg’s next in line, and he won’t be easy to pass. I think this is worth considering.

The Red Bulls are 5.5 and 10 (Verstappen and Ricciardo respectively) to lead lap 1. Hulkenberg is 101. From 5th. Same odds as Vettel in 7th, longer than the 81 for Raikkonen in 6th. Ok, it’s damned unlikely. But 100/1 unlikely? Even if I don’t put a full stake on this, I may put down a couple of pounds.

Red Bull are 4.5 to top score. This happens in two conceivable ways. Either they have a winning car with the other chap 5th (shared with Mercedes if the latter are 2-3 and Red Bull are 1-6) or one of the Mercedes fails to finish and Red Bull have a decent result. Their race pace has been good all weekend and they were very close to Mercedes in qualifying which is not always the case. The supersoft strategem could go either way. I think this is pretty tempting.

Red Bull are 3.4 for a double podium. I think I’d prefer the top score bet. If they both beat one of the Mercedes then a Red Bull may win. If a Mercedes gets a DNF then this wins, but so would top scoring. So, personally I’d prefer the top score bet.

Perez is 2.62 for a top 6 finish. He’s a good driver in a good car but he starts 12th. Whilst a credible possibility, the odds look too tight given where he starts.

So, unusually rather a lot of tempting bets. I decided to give the markets a perusal anyway, just in case something was comically mispriced (I did like the No Safety Car in Hungary odds).

Something I should’ve thought of was the Haas cars not to be classified. As well as midfield shenanigans off the line, there’s scope for their brakes to fail, and they seem to lack grip. Gutierrez is 3.75, Grosjean 4. [Haas are planning to switch from Brembo to Carbon Industries as their brake supplier in Brazil. Brembo are reportedly pleased, as it’ll show the problem is with the car, not their brakes, which they supply to other F1 teams without problems].

Verstappen/Ricciardo are each 11 to win. (Rosberg is 3.75, Hamilton 1.44). A worthy alternative to the top score bet if you’re optimistic about Red Bull’s prospects.

Those are the potential bets that leapt out from idle browsing. As you can see, there’s actually rather a lot to consider.

The lead lap 1 market is interesting. If Hamilton screws up the start or the Red Bulls get an advantage from the supersofts, there’s the possibility they’ll be passed on one of the hefty straights (ie they’ll lead into turn 1 but not at the white line). If Rosberg leads into turn 1 he won’t have that problem, and nor will Hulkenberg. Going from 5th to 1st is a big ask. However, the run to the first corner is very long. A chap who hooks it up, especially if the frontrunners cock it up, could make up many places. Of these, Hulkenberg is the best value even though it’s unlikely to happen. He’s the same odds as the chap starting behind him. The chances of it happening are long but I don’t think they’re 100/1. So, odd and unlikely to win as this is, I’m backing Hulkenberg to lead lap 1 at 101. (There’s also 65 for Any Other Driver [excluding the top four] to lead lap 1 on Betfair if you want a collective Hulkenberg/Ferrari bet).

On reflection I think the varying strategy helps Red Bull. They’re going to find it hard passing on track due to their strength being in the twisty bits, but have good race pace and were very close even in qualifying. They’re also (last race notwithstanding) more reliable. I’m backing them at 4.5 to top score.

And, lastly, I’m splitting one stake between the two Haas drivers (3.75 for Gutierrez and 4 for Grosjean) to not be classified. They don’t have much grip and their brakes keep failing.

In all, I’d say those are two bets that have a pretty good chance of coming off, and one that doesn’t but is too long and therefore value.

In sum:
Hulkenberg, lead lap 1, 101
Red Bull, top score, 4.5
Gutierrez 3.75, Grosjean 4, not to be classified (one stake split evenly between the two)

I’ve tried to avoid three or more tips per race as, this season, that’s mostly led to bad results, but I know from experience it’s worse to feel pretty good about something then not back it because it might not happen. After all, it’s gambling, not investment.

The race starts at 7pm. The post-race analysis will be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Mexico: pre-qualifying 2016.

After some discussion on the impact of thinner air (higher altitude) on aerodynamics and whether this would minimise or exacerbate variance in aerodynamic performance, it was decided that Mexico is a power circuit. Accordingly, this harms Honda the most, then Renault. Ferrari, having weaker aero but a lovely engine, benefit (as do Williams versus Force India). The Toro Rosso also seems likely to struggle.

In P1, Hamilton was fastest, but less than a tenth ahead of Vettel, who was a similar margin ahead of Raikkonen. Perez, Hulkenberg and Bottas were next, with Rosberg only 7th. Ricciardo, Massa and Kvyat rounded out the top 10.

Second practice saw an even greater surprise with Vettel topping the timesheet four-thousandths ahead of Hamilton [that said, the Briton had a scruffy lap. On pure pace, the Mercedes was faster]. Rosberg was 3rd but half a second off his team mate and just three-hundredths ahead of Raikkonen. Ricciard, Hulkenberg and Verstappen were next, with Bottas, Sainz and Alonso following.

In P1, Verstappen’s rear brakes (both) were on fire. Also, plenty of cars were squirming due to lack of rear grip, and lock ups were pretty common.

At this stage the qualifying bet worth considering is Vettel for pole each way at 12 (or perhaps 1.8 for top 3 on Betfair).

In P3, Verstappen was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Next up was Ricciardo, another tenth back, then Rosberg (three-tenths), Bottas and Vettel. Raikkonen, Massa, Hulkenberg and Sainz round out the top 10.

Traffic for Mercedes and messed up laps for Ferrari means their times aren’t reflective of actual pace. Both the BBC radio commentary and Sky chaps thought that Red Bull have the legs on Ferrari (personally, I’m not sure it’s that clear cut).

Both qualifying and the race itself should be dry.

Pole may be a contest, although there are many reports that low speed trap times for Mercedes are indicative of their engines being turned down (ie they still have a substantial advantage over the field). It may also indicate that the likes of Williams and Force India may be more competitive than they might otherwise be.

My feeling is that Hamilton’s strong favourite for pole but seeing where Rosberg ends up will be altogether more interesting.

It’s quite easy to bugger up a lap around the Mexican circuit, though. This is because of a tricky twisty bit where rear grip can vanish, and traffic can be a serious problem. Plenty of locking tyres too (the supersoft appears good for two qualifying laps).

After a bit of a wait for the Ladbrokes’ markets, I’ve decided against betting. Hamilton’s odds for pole are too short to tempt and I can’t see value elsewhere.

Qualifying starts at 7pm. The pre-race piece will be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 24 October 2016

United States: post-race analysis 2016

It’s the morning after the night before. As usual, the Circuit of the Americas produced a very entertaining. It was neither profitable nor detrimental to finances, though, as the evens No Safety Car tip came off, but Hamilton selfishly hogged first place on the first lap. [Apologies for any slight errors in the order things happened, I tend to write race reports from memory].

Off the line, it seemed to be formation flying, but Rosberg couldn’t quite keep ahead of Ricciardo, and the Aussie slipped into 2nd. Further down the field, there was contact aplenty. Bunching of the field at the wide first corner meant Bottas and Hulkenberg made contact. The German was out and the Finn had a puncture. To make matters worse for Force India, Perez had contact with Kvyat, and the Mexican ended up more or less last, facing the wrong way, but was able to get going (Kvyat ended up with a 10s penalty).

Button, by contrast, had a flyer, rising from 19th to 11th on lap 1.

Meanwhile at the sharp end it was surprisingly close. The top four (Verstappen 4th) were all covered by a single camera shot, and Raikkonen was close behind too.

At the first round of pit stops Rosberg jumped a different way to everyone else. He pitted quite early to stop Raikkonen’s undercut getting the better of him, and slotted on the medium tyres. These were working really rather well, and he matched Hamilton’s pace when the Briton pitted for fresh softs. Ricciardo retained 2nd, but his soft tyres meant that Rosberg would be able to run longer.

A short way back, Vettel had been catching the racy Raikkonen. No team orders occurred, unless you count bringing Raikkonen in for fresh tyres.

Verstappen was getting very close to Rosberg, who found himself the meat in a Red Bull sandwich, the three cars covered by under 2s. For a short time it was close and then the gaps opened up just a little (roughly a second and a half each way).

Ricciardo pitted, then so did Verstappen. The Dutchman surprised his team [somehow he thought they’d called him in], who ran out and actually did a good job of slamming on some medium tyres despite being astonished to see him. However, woe was to occur. Halfway round the next lap his engine lost almost all power. He kept trundling around, passing marshal stations (at the team’s behest) until they ordered him to cross a gravel trap and park the car by a marshal post. However, they were unable to push the car through the gap (sounds like the wheels locked) so a Virtual Safety Car emerged.

This was ruinous for Ricciardo. The timing allowed both Mercedes to pit, effectively saving 10s on a pit stop, which put Rosberg easily ahead of the Aussie. I think it near certain Ricciardo would’ve been ahead of Rosberg after the final stops but for this, although the Mercedes did have better pace so he might have been passed anyway. But, we’ll never know.

Raikkonen suffered misfortune too. On the final stop he had a cross-threaded wheel nut and was ordered to stop immediately after leaving the pit lane. This probably stopped him getting a 5th, or perhaps a 4th.

There was some cracking action from 5th to 7th. Sainz, on ageing soft tyres, was pursued by Massa and Alonso, both on mediums. The wily young Spaniard was doing a great job keeping Massa behind him. The Brazilian overcooked things and locked up (fortunately a corner, otherwise he would’ve ploughed into Sainz’s rear). However, this allowed Alonso get a little bit nearer. Massa left the door open at a later corner, and Alonso, from some way back, dove down the inside and passed his former team mate in a wheel-banging manoeuvre. This appeared to give Massa a puncture, necessitating a very late pit stop.

Alonso then set about chasing down Sainz. On the final lap [I think] he pulled off another audacious/obnoxious manoeuvre to pass his younger compatriot.

After all that, it was another Mercedes 1-2, although Red Bull were closer on pace (if not fortune) than has been the case at some other circuits. Mexico, being quite slow and twisty (I think, need to check) could be rather splendid for the Red Bulls.

Hamilton narrows the gap from 33 to 26 points, but it’s still advantage Rosberg.

Ricciardo gets a well-deserved podium. Shame for Verstappen but these things happen. Vettel was in a race of one, effectively. Not fast enough to fight for a podium, but a day and a half ahead of Alonso.

The Spaniards had a lovely day, Alonso 5th, Sainz 6th. It’s worth noting both benefited from substantial luck due to retirements and misfortune for those ahead of them (Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg retired, Bottas and Perez suffered accidents that put them further down the order). But, opportunities are there to be seized. As an aside, this is terrible for my spread betting suggestion on Alonso, and a useful result as it’s indicative of how quickly a low points sell can turn wonky with one lucky result. That said, driver of the day would probably be between these two chaps (I’d give it to Sainz).

Next was Massa, despite his late puncture. Overall a good day for Williams in their contest with Force India, but it could’ve been better. Perez was right behind Massa, a strong recovery after a dreadful first lap. So, the gap narrows, but only by a couple of points.

Button and Grosjean got the last points. So, another double points finish for McLaren, and another point for Haas (Gutierrez had to retire due to his brakes, I believe).

So, Rosberg’s lead over Hamilton, with three races to go, is now 26 points. The next races are Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. For his own peace of mind, Rosberg could do with beating Hamilton at the next race. I still think Rosberg’s got the whip hand. If you believe Hamilton can yet win, he’s 3.75 on Ladbrokes. However, if Rosberg is 2nd at two races and 3rd at another and Hamilton wins all three, Rosberg still takes the title. If Rosberg wins the next race, Hamilton 2nd, it would take a near miracle for Hamilton to retain his crown.

To be honest, I hope Rosberg wins, for the sake of variety, if nothing else. And for those who say it’d be undeserved due to Hamilton’s technical woes, I would remind them of Singapore (where Rosberg out-drove Hamilton all weekend) and 2014, Abu Dhabi. There, Rosberg suffered a reliability failure that put him out of the points. If Hamilton had suffered that problem instead, Rosberg would’ve won that title.

Red Bull 400
Ferrari 347
Force India 138
Williams 130

I don’t think Ferrari can close that gap. The number wouldn’t be insurmountable but right now Red Bull has a performance advantage, particularly given the natures of upcoming tracks. If we were off to Monza, it’d be a different story. The 8 point Force India lead is pretty tenuous. However, if memory serves Perez is good at Mexico and Abu Dhabi, and Hulkenberg is very good around Interlagos (especially in the wet). Plus the Force India is better at the twisty stuff. I expected this lead to grow, but a particularly turbulent race could, perhaps, see it go the other way.

Next week we’re off to Mexico. Only had the one race there before, so limited information to go on. I might go back and re-read last year’s rambling.

A fortnight after that we’re in Brazil (thankfully rather further east, not a fan of late starts) and then two weeks later the season finale is in Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 23 October 2016

United States: pre-race 2016

After some hope of an upset, it was pretty much business as usual in qualifying.

In Q1, both Manors and Nasr failed to progress. Rather surprisingly (perhaps due to an initial run on soft tyres and then getting traffic in the form of Palmer when he was on supersofts) Button only qualified 19th). Grosjean and Magnussen also failed to go any further (both men have been out-qualified by their team mates a bit recently).

Unusually, Q2 saw six different teams get a driver eliminated. From fastest to slowest, we lost Perez, Alonso, Kvyat, Gutierrez, Palmer and Ericsson.

Ultimately, Hamilton got pole fairly comfortably, two-tenths up on Rosberg. However, most of the races at the circuit have been won from 2nd on the grid, we know Hamilton’s starts are sometimes ropey, and the first corner is an overtaking opportunity, so anyone who cocks it up will get passed off the line and probably at turn 1 as well.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are next. Interestingly, Verstappen and the Mercedes will start on the more durable soft tyre, whereas Ricciardo starts on the supersoft. It’s unclear whether this means the Aussie will have to make two stops to his rivals one, or if he’ll get an early undercut (but risk traffic problems). The others in the top 10 are on the supersoft.

Raikkonen out-qualified Vettel on the Ferrari third row. The Ferraris have looked distinctly outclassed by the Red Bulls all weekend. I do wonder if the team will end up going backwards next year.

Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa and Sainz round out the top 10. Hulkenberg was seven-tenths ahead of Perez in Q2 (bit odd, I wonder if the Mexican had traffic).

Raikkonen appears to have a new gearbox, but no penalty (I habitually check Twitter just in case something dramatic’s happened, like Verstappen getting moved to Red Bull mid-season).

Initial betting thoughts:
Hulkenberg top 6
Perez to score
Alonso to score

Hulkenberg’s only 1.66 to be top 6. Given it requires a problem for a car ahead (on pace, he’s 7th at best), this seems remarkably tightfisted.

Perez and Alonso are 1.4 and 1.72 to score. Too short to appeal.

Perhaps it’s because I’m half-asleep, but those were the only betting ideas I had off the top of my head. I had a quick look at the markets, but, frankly, nothing leapt out at me (possible I might’ve seen the below suggestions, which were made before I perused).

Mr. Sandpit of suggested No Safety Car, available at evens at Ladbrokes. And, Rosberg to lead lap 1 at 4.8 on Betfair, (Ricciardo is 5.5 on Ladbrokes).

After much contemplation, I decided No Safety Car at evens is value. There have been four races at this circuit. Half saw safety cars. However, one of those was wet (last year). The Virtual Safety Car and mostly good reliability (Hamilton’s engine woes have typically been in qualifying) plus the 1:3 in dry races makes evens value, I think.

Anyway, one and a half of these tips come from Mr. Sandpit, so do blame/praise him depending how they work out.

One stake split between Ricciardo (5.5, Ladbrokes) and Rosberg (4.8, Betfair) to lead lap 1.
No Safety Car, evens, Ladbrokes

The race starts at the somewhat irksome time of 8pm. The post-race ramble will be tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 22 October 2016

United States: pre-qualifying 2016

Hulkenberg is off to Renault. Makes Palmer’s situation look shakier than an octogenarian tightrope walker, and Magnussen’s not safe either (rumour has it Renault also want Bottas). The move also opens up a seat at Force India, with some speculating Wehrlein or Ocon could get the gig.

In the short term this may mean Hulkenberg not scoring as much but I think long-term it’s a wise risk to take. Force India really do punch above their weight but without a cash injection it’s hard to see them competing regularly for wins. In a couple of years, especially with new rules changes, Renault might.

In other intriguing news, machinations may be afoot at McLaren. Ron Dennis’ contract is up soon and may not be renewed due to shareholders. Of which there are three. One is him (25%), another is the Bahraini Royal Family (50%) and Mansour Ojjeh has the final 25%. It’s believed the latter two are intended not to renew the contract.

Excitingly, this could pave a way back for McLaren nice chap Martin Whitmarsh or, even better, Ross Brawn (who recently wrote in a book to be out for Christmas* that he left Mercedes because he couldn’t trust Wolff and Lauda). Another, more tedious, possibility would be Justin King getting the gig.

*Importantly, my own book Kingdom Asunder should be out before Christmas. And I need the money more, so buy mine first.

In first practice, Hamilton led Rosberg by three-tenths, with Verstappen over a second a half down the road. Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Bottas were next, with Ricciardo, Vettel, Kvyat and Sainz rounding out the top 10.

In second practice, things were rather tighter. Rosberg was two-tenths faster than Ricciardo, with Hamilton next up. Vettel was half a second back, ahead of Verstappen, with Hulkenberg, Perez, Button, Alonso and Raikkonen next.

At this stage, the Red Bull (especially on race pace) appears close to the Mercedes. If they qualify well or a Silver Arrow starts badly, then this could bode very well for the Red Bull. Ferrari seem very much in third place.

Worth also recalling that Hamilton has won three of the last four races here. If he cannot narrow the gap to his team mate here, of all places, things will look ominous for his title prospects.

Ahead of third practice, Mercedes broke curfew to work on Hamilton’s car, replacing the fuel system which had a minor irregularity.

Verstappen was fastest in third practice, three-tenths up on Ricciardo. Raikkonen was next, with Hamilton and Rosberg next up. Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Button and Alonso rounded out the top 10.

Rosberg didn’t set a qualifying simulation run, though. He did most of a lap (was slower than Verstappen in the first sector, purple in the second, but a little behind overall) before pitting. Hamilton was slightly held up by Nasr, who was also on a fast lap [prompted a radio comment to the pits: ‘really poor timing guys’]. So neither Silver Arrow set a representative lap time.

The gap between Hamilton and Verstappen (seven-tenths) is more or less the difference between the soft and supersoft tyres (the other being the medium). So... might we be in for a surprise?

The only potential bet of interest is a four-way split, (or two each way bets), backing Verstappen and Ricciardo to win qualifying each way at 13 (third the odds for a top 2 finish). I do think Red Bull are looking strong for the race but Mercedes has maintained a very powerful grip on qualifying all year. There’s also the small but plausible possibility that Hamilton’s engine might explode.

On balance, I decided against the bet. Too much split. And, if all runs normally, I still expect a Mercedes 1-2.

Qualifying is at 7pm and the race is at 8pm.

The pre-race piece will likely be tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Japan: post-race analysis 2016

Listened to this on the radio (unsure if I’ll bother with the highlights). From a betting perspective, red, but in a surprising way. No retirements at all must be unusual at Suzuka [edited: apparently it’s the second race in a row with no retirements, an F1 first. Should try and remember that for next time]. The race sounded reasonably entertaining, but we’ll see (I woke up before 5am and listened in bed) how much of it I can actually remember.

Raikkonen got a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. This shoved him down to 8th and Vettel ended up 6th. Both were on the slightly wet side of the track (only a little bit of moisture but enough to affect a start). Button started from the back, taking a ‘35’ place grid penalty to put new bits in his car.

Off the line, Hamilton had an atrocious start, falling all the way down to 8th. Perez had a cracker, storming to 3rd ahead of Ricciardo (Hulkenberg rose to about 6th), and the Williams both went backwards.

Vettel, Raikkonen and Ricciardo all made headway, whilst Hamilton seemed unable to get past whoever was 7th. At this stage, it looked abysmal for the reigning world champion.

Hamilton then started making progress. He passed the chap ahead of him and, during the first pit stops got lucky. Two chaps [perhaps Raikkonen and Ricciardo], with whom he was going to be nip and tuck, pitted first but got bottled up behind Palmer. This enabled him to get past both of them at once.

Hamilton was now up to 4th, and homing in on Vettel. The Ferraris and Red Bulls had been pretty competitive all weekend. Rosberg had a small but stable lead over 2nd-placed Verstappen.

Hamilton got very close to Vettel then pitted. Ferrari, oddly (having cunningly undercut Ricciardo with Raikkonen) left Vettel out. When the German finally made his pit stop, he was on soft tyres to Hamilton’s hard, but behind.

After a terrible start and a few laps of no progress, the Briton had climbed all the way to 3rd. Vettel got very close with his soft tyres but was unable to effect a pass and faded. Hamilton closed in on Verstappen and spent a good 10 laps or so damned close, but the Dutchman is a wily (and occasionally dubious) defender, and Hamilton was unable to get past.

It was a strong recovery drive, but this still sees Rosberg chalk up another win and extend his lead a little bit more.

Now, it may appear I’ve talked almost exclusively about Hamilton. That’s partly because his race was interesting and partly because he was what 90% of the radio coverage was about [perhaps understandable, but the joy of moving pictures is that you can ignore the commentary and see for yourself, with timings as well as the footage, what is going on].

Behind the podium places were Vettel and Raikkonen. Ferrari must be a bit irked to miss out on a podium, but finishing there after starting 6th and 8th is encouraging. On pace, the Ferrari was a little better than the Red Bull this weekend.

Ricciardo was next up. A slightly lacklustre result to be last driver of the top three teams. Perez and Hulkenberg were next, with another strong performance for Force India (for those wondering, the radio reckoned $3.5m is the difference between 4th and 5th in the Constructors’. Bit surprised it isn’t more).

Williams recovered to finish 9th and 10th, Massa leading Bottas, but they lose more ground to Force India in their tight inter-team battle.

As I mentioned before, there was not a single retirement. Not only that, but this is the second consecutive Japanese Grand Prix to achieve that, an F1 first. I’ve made a note for next year, and will try to remember to check the To Be Classified and Number of Total Classified Finishers markets in 2017.

Surprisingly, those just out of the points were Grosjean and Palmer. The Ferrari engine in particular seemed to do quite nicely at Suzuka. Worth mentioning the McLarens, who had a bloody awful race, finishing 16th (Alonso) and 18th (Button).

So, how are the standings?

Rosberg 313
Hamilton 280

Rosberg has a 33 point lead with four races remaining. If he finishes 2nd at all of them, he takes the title. If he wins the next two, he only needs one 8th place finish at one of the last two races for the title. If he has a DNF next time and Hamilton wins, the lead falls to 8 points. In short, Rosberg’s position is not unassailable but it is very strong.

A potential fly in the ointment, for one or both Mercedes drivers, is that Red Bull and Ferrari seem closer, which means their capacity to gum things up and get between Silver Arrows seems increased. That could help Hamilton. But if he’s on the receiving end, it could end his hopes of retaining the title.

Force India 134
Williams 124

Only included these two because I think the rest are largely settled. In the battle for 4th, Force India has a 10 point margin, equivalent to finishing 5th. The teams are, as suggested, the next best after the big three, with McLaren sometimes nipping at their heels. I think Force India has the legs on Williams, which has been sliding slowly down the competitive order since about 2014. I think it’ll end this way.

An aside: after the race, as usual, I logged on and checked the BBC livefeed. Mark Gallagher, BBC Radio 5 Live F1 analyst [apparently], reckoned the momentum had slightly fallen away from Hamilton.

…. do pay attention. Rosberg’s beaten Hamilton in the last five races, of which the German won four. The last time Hamilton beat Rosberg was in July.

The next race is in a fortnight, in the US (followed a week later by Mexico). The last two races are in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer