Sunday, 20 March 2016

Australia: post-race analysis

Thankfully the race was a lot more entertaining than qualifying. It was also red, by the narrowest of margins, alas.

Kvyat didn’t even have a dreadful start because a technical failure on his car required a second formation lap whilst his broken Red Bull was pushed into the pits. An uncommon DNS for the Russian.

Off the start Vettel and Raikkonen pounced like man-eating cougars on Hamilton and Rosberg. In fact, the Englishman had a dreadful start, slipping back to 6th, or thereabouts. At the back, Wehrlein had a tasty start, making up a quintet of places.

The two Prancing Horses galloped away, opening a gap between themselves and Rosberg, whilst Hamilton floundered behind Massa (the Brazilian being 5th, with Verstappen ahead).

Things looked bad for Hamilton. He did pass Massa after a few laps, but Verstappen was another kettle of monkeys. The Toro Rosso’s looking tasty, and the Mercedes just couldn’t get in a passing position.

Alonso and Gutierrez collided, with the Spaniard’s car barrel-rolling in a gravel trap and ending up on its roof. Thankfully, Alonso is completely fine. The crash brought out a brief safety car, and then a red flag.

And then Ferrari threw the race away. Raikkonen’s car was halted by a technical problem, and at the red flag which followed the substantial Gutierrez/Alonso crash the team inexplicably decided against changing Vettel’s tyres (which is permitted when a red flag necessitates a re-start). He was on his second set of the supersoft compound, and, in dry conditions, two different compounds must be run. A pit stop takes around 21 seconds.

Perhaps the team thought he could make that easily over Rosberg, who had a harder compound on. But, if so, they were utterly mistaken. When Vettel pitted, he came out behind Hamilton (who had bolted on some medium tyres at his one and only, and perfectly timed, pre-safety car pit stop). The German closed on him rapidly, but made a mistake pushing too hard and had to settle for 3rd. Hamilton, after an atrocious start, nabbed an unlikely 2nd, and Rosberg cruised serenely to take 1st.

Ricciardo made it a day of mixed fortunes for Red Bull, with an impressive 4th for the Aussie and Kvyat’s DNS. Massa didn’t get much radio coverage but must have driven well to retain 5th.

Driver of the day may well go to Grosjean, who got a great 6th for Haas (must admit, I feel a bit daft for not looking at his points/top 6 odds more closely). Very good start for him and the Haas team, and I did say they’d hit the ground running.

Annoyingly, this means Hulkenberg was 7th, so that bet was red by the smallest of margins. Still, losing’s losing, whether it’s by an inch or a mile. Bottas got 8th, with Sainz and Verstappen following close behind (indeed, Verstappen’s petulant bleating was all over the radio. To be fair, he was right to be pissed off about Sainz [then behind him] getting the advantage of the earlier final pit stop, but whined to excess to be let past).

Palmer’s debut was a good race. Unfortunately, he didn’t get points, finishing 11th, but he drove well (including in tight wheel-to-wheel encounters) and outraced Magnussen, who took 12th.

Perez was an oddly slow 13th, 18s down on Hulkenberg. Not sure why. Might just be he was unlucky with pit stop traffic.

Button, Nasr and Wehrlein were lapped.

I did smile wryly (or possibly swear) when Vettel leapt into the lead of lap 1 after I’d decided against backing that at 13. Still, if betting were easy everyone would do it.

Another gut instinct I mentioned in pre-qualifying was a feeling Raikkonen wouldn’t finish. My psychic Ferrari powers wax, it seems.

However, Ferrari should be gutted. Technical faults happen, but they made two errors with Vettel. The first, changing to the same compound at the first pit stop, was entirely understandable and may not have been an error had there been no red flag. But there was. The decision to leave the tyres on and force another pit stop was just plain stupid. I don’t know what they were thinking. Vettel had very little chance of winning after that.

Anyway, the title order for drivers is just the result of the race, of course, but here’s the Constructors’:
Mercedes 43
Ferrari 15
Williams 14
Red Bull 12
Haas 8
Force India 6
Toro Rosso 3

Worth noting Ferrari, Red Bull and Haas each had one car fail to finish (or start, in Red Bull’s case).

The next race is Bahrain, in a fortnight. My expectation is that Williams may do better, and Red Bull a little worse. Haas could be the most interesting team to watch.

In good news, the stupid new qualifying format has been dropped. Huzzah! The old approach will be used in Bahrain.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Australia: pre-race

Qualifying wasn’t merely a wet squib, the third session was damper than a dolphin’s codpiece. The first two sessions worked essentially as normal, and the latter half of Q3 had no interest whatsoever. What should have been a climax was more of a coma. Universal contempt leads me to hope it’ll revert to the old system for the next race, but we shall see.

In Q1 there were a few surprises. Wehrlein’s been much hyped but was outqualified by his team mate, Haryanto (Haryanto will start last, however, due to a grid penalty). Kvyat got caught out and was a surprise departure in 18th (both Haas drivers are between Kvyat and the Manors. Grosjean was on a fast lap but the instant cut-off meant he didn’t get to complete it). The Saubers also exited at this stage.

In Q2, it was generally a case of by the teams, with both Force Indias, McLarens and Renaults leaving (the exception being Bottas in 11th, who seems to have had a scruffy lap). Whilst not stellar for the McLarens, it’s a lot better than last year and they do have the hope of battling for points.

Q3 was tedious, an unwitting self-parody of F1’s decision-makers and their meddling idiocy. After an initial run, everyone except the two Mercedes didn’t bother with a second lap, and even the two Silver Arrows came in well before the end. There was absolutely no excitement or interest towards the end of qualifying.

Anyway. The ‘shake things up’ format change had Hamilton on pole, Rosberg second, then Vettel and Raikkonen. My gast was not flabbered.

After Raikkonen was a very impressive Verstappen (the Toro Rosso, despite having last year’s Ferrari engine, is looking rather racey), Massa, Sainz and Ricciardo.

Perez and Hulkenberg round out the top 10, although both were eliminated in Q2.

The weather forecast is for it to be dry.

Without looking at betting markets, and considering the possibility of changes from the grid, the first things that sprung to mind were:
Perez/Hulkenberg to be top 6
Alonso points
Lay Kvyat points

Hulkenberg and Perez are both 3.25 to be top 6. That tempts me. I can see everyone ahead of them (top four excepted) going backwards.

Alonso was just 2.1 for points. Bit tight.

Kvyat’s lay odds were 4.1 (though the market hadn’t got going), back odds about 1.7-1.8. Not worth it, either way.

I also saw that Raikkonen was 4 for a podium. Given his car and the other three being very tight (1.3 or under) that did make me wonder. A breakdown or accident or even a rubbish start [by one of the others] could be enough for the Finn.

Vettel to lead lap 1 at 13 caught my eye. He had a comparable start last year, and at such odds only twice a year is needed for value. He’s on the clean side of the track. That said, it relies on Hamilton starting badly and being unable to recover the situation. But then, that’s why it’s 13 and not 3.

Alonso has a good chance of points, but there’s still a question mark over reliability. Decided against the Vettel bet, as it’s essentially guesswork rather than a reasoned prediction.

So, here’s the tip:
Hulkenberg and Perez to be top 6, at 3.25 each (Ladbrokes). I split one stake equally, so this counts as one bet.

Let’s hope it’s green, and the race is rather better than the qualifying. The UK start time is a displeasing 5am.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 18 March 2016

Australia: pre-qualifying

From what I could glean about P1 and P2, nothing too significant occurred. It appears P2 was soggy and Rosberg had a minor crash, and that’s about it. Channel 4 doesn’t appear to have its online act together (fortunately, the BBC still provides the practice results).

The most important new thing about qualifying is the drastic change to the format. It’s still three session, but from Q1 we’ll lose 7 cars, from Q2 we’ll also lose 7 cars, meaning just 8 will participate in Q3.

The eliminations will not happen at (or just after) the chequered flag. Instead, the slowest driver every 90 seconds (a few minutes into each session) will go, even if they’re on a hot lap (excepting the final exclusion who can reach the chequered flag, if on a flying lap).

As you’ll have noticed, this means the pole position shoot-out will reduced from 10 cars to 2. It also means if someone buggers up one lap, they may not get a second chance.

From the limited data, Alonso’s look a possible points scorer, Hulkenberg may reach the top 6, and Toro Rosso are looking pretty racey too. Ferrari’s pace relative to Mercedes is still unknown, though I suspect Hamilton will (boringly) get pole.

I can’t tip this, because there isn’t enough liquidity, but if you’re quick or bet with very small stakes, I’d back the 2.5 on Betfair for Hulkenberg to be top 8 (reach Q3). Because of the diminutive liquidity, this won’t count either way as far as the records go.

Looking ahead to the race, two early bets (Ladbrokes) that caught my eye were Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 2.75, and Raikkonen not to be classified at 5 (can’t explain the latter, just gut instinct). Can’t advocate backing either at this stage, though.

Anyway, with any luck I’ll wake up in time to listen to the radio and see how well, or badly, the new qualifying format goes. And then I’ll see what’s worth backing for the race.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Pre-season F1 2016 predictions and rambling

Just a few weeks remain until we go to Oz and the new season begins. But what’s changed? Technical rules are similar (wider front wings, narrower rear rings, to try and decrease the aerodynamic disruption of closely following another car, thereby to increase overtaking opportunities), qualifying will change despite much grumbling, a few teams have new driver line-ups, Azerbaijan is added to the calendar, and the Haas team joins the grid.

Qualifying changes:

Contrary to earlier plans for a mid-season introduction, qualifying is set to be changed right from the off.

There will still be three sessions with cars eliminated (I think it’ll be 7-7-8) but this time the slowest driver will be knocked out every 90 seconds.

Even if a driver is on a hot lap, they’ll be eliminated, unless they’re the final elimination from a session when, as now, those on a hot lap when the chequered flag is waved will be able to complete it.

What happens if a driver gets blocked on a final chance to escape qualifying is unclear. It also may lead to the end of Q3 being rather tedious, compared to recent years.

I think the changes may increase (especially to reach Q3) the value of hedging bets.

Driver changes:

There have been surprisingly few of these, and none at the top teams. However, three have changed both drivers [well, two plus the new Haas team].

Renault lost Grosjean to Haas (due to uncertainty over the takeover of Lotus), and Maldonado due to his funding not coming through (the lively Venezuelan wishes to return to the grid next year). Instead, talented Briton Jolyon Palmer and ex-McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen will drive for the returned Renault.

As mentioned, Haas starts its first F1 season in the enviable position of having bagged a top driver. Grosjean’s a very swift chap, and having him on-board will help the fledgling team a lot. They also have Mexican eyebrow-enthusiast Esteban Gutierrez. Gutierrez had a year with Sauber in 2014, I think. He didn’t set the world alight with pace, but wasn’t reckless either.

Manor has also changed both drivers. Pascal Wehrlein is probably the de facto number one. The German driver tested for two teams last year (Force India and Mercedes, after a Silver Arrow driver was mildly ill, I think) and is reportedly very impressive. The team also has the sport’s first Indonesian driver, Rio Haryanto.

Testing mood music:

NB ignore headline times. The size of the fuel tanks means the fuel effect can alter a lap time by seconds. Variable tyres and weather conditions can make even more difference, as can fuel mixture to the engine (there are effectively go-slow and overtake modes, depending on available fuel).

Test 1:
Mercedes had rock solid reliability, to the extent they had to change their programme. To avoid fatiguing either driver, they split the last two (of four) days into two half-days for each driver, rather than having one driver in the car all day. Pace is hard to determine, but it’d be a surprise if they weren’t serial race-winners again and the car’s immensely reliable already.

Ferrari’s drivers were both positive about it, though they’ll only know if the gap’s been closed, or narrowed, when it’s raced in anger. There was a reliability issue (fuel pick-up, I think) which meant Vettel’s last session was slightly curtailed and Raikkonen lost some time the following day. May just be a teething problem.

I think Williams claim to have resolved their problem (not enough downforce, so they’re superfast on straights and a bit poor in twisty bits). We’ll see. Force India’s car is an evolution on last year. The team explained the modest improvements by citing the 2017 regulation changes, and it not making sense for them to spend resources make huge alterations to the car when they’d only have to change most of it next year.

Red Bull have a Renault engine badged as Tag Heuer. So, don’t expect them to be on the podium all the time. On street circuits they may do better. Renault itself (formerly Lotus) take over a cash-strapped team which had lacked development for a couple of years. The team should be in the midfield this year, but they aspire to victories.

Toro Rosso, weirdly, have a 2015 Ferrari engine. It’ll be interesting to see how they do (and perhaps entertaining, if they show up their big sister team). Sainz and Verstappen are talented chaps, and that’s eminently possible.

If I were Sauber, I’d be worried. Nasr and Ericsson are competent drivers, and the Ferrari engine may be (relatively) improved on last year, or not, but competition at the back end of the grid seems like it might hot up. Limited budgets and the short shelf-life of the regulations makes me suspect development will be restricted this year.

McLaren has made progress. How much? Not enough to be competitive at every circuit. The car reportedly looks good in the tight sections, but it’s still too slow on straights. Reliability appears improved, although a niggling water pressure problem robbed Alonso of hours on-track. At street circuits, the car might be a podium contender. At Monza, I think not.

Manor and Haas, the two teams that might be expected to be back markers, had solid testing. Reliability has improved for Manor, and Haas had a decent first test (Grosjean’s front wing fell off, but that’s not the first time such a thing has happened). Good engines and parts from other teams (Williams and Ferrari, respectively) should help them climb up the order.

Overall reliability was significantly better than last year.

Test 2: Test Harder

For reasons explained below, I couldn't give as much attention to this test, so the notes are far more concise.

The mood music suggests the Ferrari is still behind the Mercedes, but by a narrower margin. The de facto number one status of Vettel means he may have a realistic opportunity to challenge for the title this year (although, were this to be the case, Mercedes may resort to team orders). The Williams and Force India look pretty good.

Haas suffered some reliability issues, including a finickity brake-by-wire problem (which can increase cornering speed, but also decrease the number of wheels attached to the car). McLaren do seem a little improved, but I’m sticking with my Test 1 hypothesis that it’ll be rubbish at places like Monza, but fairly racy at street circuits.

Mercedes suffered a transmission problem during the second test. I think that’s the only problem during the entire pre-season testing period. The car is phenomenally reliable, or appears to be, at least. Do not count on breakdowns leading to non-Mercedes winners.

Morris Dancer’s expert predictions:

Sadly, I think we’re in for another Mercedes-dominant year. Unless Vettel’s Ferrari is up to scratch, and the gap was pretty big last year, it’s hard to see anyone else getting close.

In happier news, the McLaren appears to be less rubbish than last year, but still lacks power on straights. However, in twisty bits it appears (again, only had testing so can’t be sure) to be rather good. So, street circuits pave the way to McLaren glory. Expect the race in Australia to flatter them a little. At Monaco, it should be good. At Monza, rather less so.

Haas will hit the ground running. They’ve got a lot of parts from Ferrari, spent last year doing aero work that would’ve exceeded limits had they actually been on the grid, and have a great driver in Grosjean. I expect them to get points, perhaps at a quarter to a third of the races. Perhaps bullish, but that’s my feeling.

Manor will improve. Ok, last year was one of the worst I can remember for a backmarker team so improvement isn’t difficult, but they now have a Mercedes engine, bits and pieces from Williams and it sounds like Wehrlein, although a newcomer, might be quite fast. Points would not surprise me, although I think Haas will have their measure (and I’d be nervous if I were Sauber).

Also, the first four races this year have been rejigged, with Malaysia shunted back and Russia brought forward. The first fly-away four are: Australia, Bahrain, China and Russia. I expect Australia and Russia to have broadly similar results (Bahrain and China are a bit faster, from memory), and may favour the likes of Red Bull/McLaren at the expense of Williams/Force India [in relative terms].

Incidentally, I have a comedy-fantasy coming out on 31 March. The Adventures of Sir Edric (under the pen name Thaddeus White) will initially be available as a limited edition hardback and e-book, with paperback to follow. Do give it a look, as it means mirth for you and money for me, which will enable me to buy important goods and services, such as food and shelter. [If anyone reading this happens to be a blogger/reviewer and would like an ARC, do leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @MorrisF1].

Morris Dancer