Saturday, 30 April 2016

Russia: pre-race – 2016

My record of predicting things that very nearly but don’t quite happen remains intact, as Button was 12th by a tenth of a second. Glad the odds weren’t there now.

In Q1 it was no surprise to lose the Saubers and Manors, although Ericsson being last must be slightly alarming for the Swiss team. The Renaults, who remain woeful this year [but may bounce back fairly well next] also exited the stage here.

In Q2 Haas were the slowest to depart, the team continuing their terrible Chinese form after a great first two races to the season. Bit perplexing, to be honest. Both McLarens failed to reach Q3, though Button came close, and Hulkenberg and Sainz also failed to progress.

Hamilton suffered yet more bad luck. One can only imagine he killed a witch’s black cat with a mirror then made his escape under a ladder repair shop. His engine failed to work, meaning he starts 10th (unless there’s a penalty).

As you might expect, this made Q3 as climatic as an ascetic’s meditation chamber. Rosberg strolled to pole, Vettel seven-tenths behind him (the Ferrari starts in 7th, of course, due to a five place grid penalty for changing a gearbox). Bottas was next, surprisingly a tenth up on Raikkonen. Massa and Ricciardo complete row three, then come Perez, Kvyat and Verstappen.

I said in my pre-qualifying piece that the Sochi circuit is one where it’s hard to pass, so I expect changes from grid to flag to be relatively small. The major potential exception, of course, is Hamilton.

In addition, there’s very low wear on the tyres, so expect little tyre management and just one pit stop per driver.

Without checking any odds, bets that sprung to mind were:
Hamilton podium
Bottas podium
Lay Rosberg lead lap 1
Williams top score

Hamilton is a 1.57 for a podium. Now, his car is substantially faster than the others. However, it’s tricky to overtake in Sochi, he won’t make strategy gains (because everyone will one stop), and at times the barriers are very close, so getting caught up in an accident is possible (as is more bad luck).

Bottas is 3 for a podium, which is a bit shorter than I expected.

Oddly, there’s no Betfair market for the lap 1 leader. The Ladbrokes market has (from Rosberg to Bottas to Raikkonen) 1.36, 5, 8. Raikkonen might be worth a look, likewise Bottas (Rosberg, if he doesn’t get away well, will play it safely. He has no need for heroics).

Williams are 11 to top score. Now, this is a deserved long odds shot. There are three teams likely to be in with plausible victories here. Rosberg I expected to cruise to victory. If Bottas is second then Massa needs 7 points more than Hamilton for this to come off. There’s also Ferrari to consider (but Vettel also has potential reliability issues). Ferrari are 4.5. Hmm.

Perusing the markets reminded me that Raikkonen and Vettel are 6 and 6.5 not to be classified. Tempting. But then, when I gave in to temptation last time they had their first double finish of the year, the swine.

Perez is 3 to finish top 6. He starts 6th (Vettel’s right behind him). He also got a podium here last year, I think, when Bottas and Raikkonen collided.

After the (undeserved) confidence last time, I’ve returned to normal and have no idea what to bet on. Things that I’m still considering are:
Bottas, podium, 3
Raikkonen/Bottas, lead lap 1, 5/8
Williams, top score, 11
Perez, top 6, 3

The first one I’ll reconsider is the top score for Williams bet. They start 2nd and 4th. That’s 30 points, if they hold station (I think they’d be able to keep ahead of a Ferrari but not pass one). Rosberg starts 1st and is highly likely to win, although he may start badly. If he wins, that’s 25 points. So, if the top 4 hold station then Hamilton must finish 8th or lower (or not finish) for the bet to come off. And that’s assuming Raikkonen and Vettel don’t make monster starts. Must admit, I lack confidence in Williams to get things right.

I think Rosberg’s been passed twice at starts (could be wrong). That makes the first lap leader bet quite tempting.

Bottas for a podium is credible. But the odds are a bit short, and Williams seems to have had a history of going backwards more than forwards.

Perez for top 6 is a bit tricky. He’s got Vettel immediately behind him and Hamilton a few places further back. I rate Perez and he’s driven well around the Sochi circuit in the past, but I’m not sure his car’s up to the job.

So, by a process of being less confident in everything else, here’s my one tip (split equally between two options):
Bottas, lead lap 1, 5
Raikkonen, lead lap 1, 8

Wish I had something a bit better, but there we are.

Whilst not a fan of the circuit, it must be said every race so far this year has been pretty entertaining, so let’s hope the trend continues.

Morris Dancer

Russia: pre-qualifying – 2016

Ah, Russia. Where it’s easy to crash and hard to pass. Not a stellar circuit, and, unlike Singapore, doesn’t have a pretty backdrop either. Still, a race is on this weekend.

The circuit seems somewhat similar to Australia (not really high speed, bit stop-start, but with less of a natural flow, and rubbish right angle corners). I expect the final result to closely resemble the starting grid.

In P1 Rosberg was seven-tenths ahead of Hamilton, with Vettel and Raikkonen a few tenths back. Massa, Ricciardo and Bottas were next, with Kvyat, Perez and Sainz finishing off the top 10.

The second practice session had Hamilton seven-tenths up on Vettel, with Rosberg a little further back, followed by Raikkonen. Ricciardo, Bottas, Kvyat, Button, Massa and Alonso were next.

Bad news for Ferrari in second practice when Vettel’s car ran out of electricity. Given an early engine upgrade was brought for the Prancing Horse following poor reliability, this is deeply unwelcome for the team.

In more bad news for Vettel, he has a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change.

The final practice session had Hamilton less than a tenth ahead of Rosberg, Vettel half a second down the road and followed by his team mate. Massa and Bottas were next, with Verstappen, Button, Sainz and Perez rounding out the top 10.

Very hard to call pole between the two Mercedes. Which just leaves the gap and Q3 markets.

Without perusing them, the only potential bet that I’m thinking of is Button for Q3. But I’d want nice odds.

Unfortunately, the market didn’t go up in time on Ladbrokes, and on Betfair the odds are an unappealing 1.5.

So, no tip.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Williams or Red Bull qualifies better, as well as how McLaren and Haas do. Sauber were slowest in third practice, and a repeat on the grid would be awful for them (but nice for Manor).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 17 April 2016

China: post-race analysis 2016

A highly entertaining race which was terrible from a betting perspective.

The start was great, especially for Ricciardo who leapt into 1st. Rosberg slid, but only to 2nd, and Vettel found himself caught in a Raikkonen-Kvyat sandwich. He hit his team mate, which put Vettel back several places and lost Raikkonen a bunch more, not to mention his front wing.

As Raikkonen returned to the track, having narrowly evaded the gravel traps, Nasr had to take avoiding action which meant he hit Hamilton, breaking the Briton’s front wing (which was also trapped under his car for part of the trip back to the pits).

Mayhem, calamity, woe undsoweiter.

There was a slightly odd delay of a couple of laps before the safety car trundled out due to the extensive amount of carbon fibre strewn across the circuit. Can’t recall if this was before or after, but Ricciardo (either 1st or 2nd at the time) suffered a puncture which ended up with his tyre being torn off, shunting him well down the field.

Many cars came in for a pit stop at this time (lap 7, give or take), though Rosberg stayed out on his soft tyres. The Force Indias also stayed out as did Alonso (who started on the soft, unlike Button who started on the supersoft and dove into the pits). Hamilton made many stops as Mercedes decided to pit him again for the supersoft then return to the soft, eliminating the need to change (later in the race) onto another compound [as it happened, they did end up shifting to medium tyres late on].

There was much overtaking as Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hamilton fought through the field over the course of the rest of the race. The McLarens, sadly, slid inexorably backwards. I would’ve thought their pace, whilst not world-beating, would’ve been sufficient to get at least one car into the points (worth noting there were zero retirements, which is unusual).

Vettel caught Kvyat, then 2nd, but was unable to pass on-track. They both stopped for a final time and the Ferrari was able to pounce, after which Vettel pulled a small but secure gap (though Rosberg was half a minute ahead of him, cruising about, dreaming of home and possibly completing a crossword puzzle).

Hamilton, meanwhile, was passing cars and caught up to Massa (circa 5th). He couldn’t get past the wily Brazilian who was clearly a bit slower but driving well. In fact, Ricciardo managed to get past Hamilton and Massa, with relative ease. Being slowed by the Brazilian also enabled Raikkonen to catch up, and pass both Hamilton and Massa.

Rosberg cruised to victory, with Vettel a respectable 2nd, and Kvyat picking up a great 3rd (debate will rage about whether he was right or wrong to dive past Vettel and play a role in the subsequent collision). Ricciardo recovered very well from his puncture to secure a 4th place hat trick, with Raikkonen doing likewise for 5th and Massa driving defensively well to retain 6th.

Hamilton was a lacklustre 7th, potentially due to car damage. Or maybe he had an off day. Verstappen and Sainz were next and Bottas nabbed the final point.

Haas was weirdly off the pace, 14th for Gutierrez (his first finish) and 19th for Grosjean. Not sure why. Could open betting potential if the car is racy in some conditions and rubbish in others. McLaren should perhaps be disappointed with 12th and 13th, but they didn’t really seem to do anything wrong.

Both Force Indias failed to score, and the Renaults look rubbish. Wehrlein was 18th, ahead of Grosjean, Nasr, Haryanto and Palmer.

In terms of judgement, I got Hamilton utterly wrong. It’s theoretically possible the hedge for the win may’ve been matched had he not been run into by Nasr (who was taking avoiding action from Raikkonen) but my own view is that’s unlikely. Not only did Hamilton fail to get a podium, he wasn’t even top 6, which is really surprising. Maybe the damage to his car when he had half a lap with the wing broken/under the floor was more extensive than it might have been.

I feel a little unluckier about the Ferrari/Alonso bets. The Ferraris collided on lap 1. Raikkonen was a few feet from gravel trap hell. If neither had been able to continue, this would’ve been one of my best race results (as their absence would also have propelled Alonso to 10th). If one had failed to continue, I would’ve been neutral or made a small loss (a quarter of a stake or suchlike). But, both continued, and all bets failed (unlike the Ferraris which, annoyingly, had their first double finish of the season). Still, that’s the way things go. Sometimes luck is helpful. Sometimes it isn’t.

Anyway, here are the standings for the drivers:
Rosberg 75
Hamilton 39
Ricciardo 36
Vettel 33
Raikkonen 28
Massa 22
Kvyat 21
Grosjean 18

Is it Rosberg’s title to lose? Yes. On the nine previous occasions a driver has won the first three races, he’s always gone on to take the title. However, it’s worth remembering this season is the longest in F1 history (21 races), and Hamilton has 18 races to make up a 36 point deficit. If he finishes an average of 2 points ahead, that’ll do it. However, as Mercedes 1-2 finishes seem likelier, if he beats Rosberg in 12 of the remaining 18 races, that would probably be sufficient. However, Rosberg’s driving nicely. Hamilton needs a good start next time.

Ferrari think their turbo upgrade (due around Canada, I think) will give a substantial boost. If it does, Vettel and Raikkonen could yet be in contention (worth noting they both only have 2 finishes from 3 races, unlike those ahead of them).

Mercedes 114
Ferrari 61
Red Bull 57

I do think this slightly underplays Ferrari’s strength as they’ve had a couple of failures to score. On pace, this is the clear pecking order, I think.

So, I’m a bit displeased about more bad luck and my own ill-judgement, but these things do happen. The next race is Russia in a fortnight. I think the performance may be comparable to Australia there, so Haas may be worth watching.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 16 April 2016

China: pre-race 2016

Qualifying was interesting, if prolonged by two red flags.

In Q1, Wehrlein discovered that a bump in the road plus a damp patch minus rear downforce (due to the DRS being open) equals a slightly embarrassing crash on a straight. The stewards then spent about half an hour faffing about trying to mop almost the only damp part of the track, which had the impact of annoying everyone and achieving nothing.

The red flag period gave more time for the Mercedes team to try and fix a power deficit Hamilton had reported immediately before Wehrlein’s mistake, but to no avail. Lacking ERS and 160bhp down, the Briton was forced to return to the pits after a brief foray onto the circuit, and will start 22nd out of 22 runners (Wehrlein being 21st). Ahead of Wehrlein is Haryanto, Palmer, Gutierrez and Magnussen, who starts 16th. A bad day for Renault, and a bad circuit for Haas.

In Q2, there was another red flag, this time a late one. Hulkenberg’s left wheel fell off, which will likely see him/Force India heavily penalised (it rolled off harmlessly but had it taken a different course then it could’ve been a severe risk to other cars/drivers). This prevented drivers with a hope of making Q3 with a second run (Massa and the McLarens) from doing so. Massa, Alonso and Button were the fastest to fail to escape, with Grosjean, Ericsson and Nasr bringing up the rear. Hulkenberg qualified 10th, but may be penalised.

Also worthy of note is that Rosberg set his Q2 time on soft tyres (on which he will start the race). The Mercedes dislikes the supersoft as it can’t make them last. The Ferrari seems slower but is kinder to supersofts, which both Vettel and Raikkonen will have on at the start.

Q3 seemed quite close. Unfortunately, both Ferraris cocked up their final laps so we can’t be sure whether or not they would have gone on to beat Rosberg. As it was, Ricciardo nabbed a surprise 2nd (the Aussie’s been rather good this year), with Raikkonen 3rd and Vettel 4th. Bottas and Kvyat are next up, with Perez, Sainz, Verstappen and Hulkenberg finishing off the top 10.

The race is forecast to be dry, and perhaps warmer which could help the Ferraris.

My first thoughts, without checking odds or markets were along the following lines:
Raikkonen to lead lap 1
Hamilton podium (I’d want fairly tasty odds, though)
Alonso points
Ferrari to top score

Hulkenberg got a 3 place grid penalty for the unsafe release (front left tyre not fixed on properly). I therefore decided to back Alonso at 2.62 for points. His car is faster than that, probably (a final flying lap was prevented by the Q2 red flag). My only real concern is that Alonso’s got a fractured rib, but I think he’s committed enough that he’ll race to the end if there’s any hope of scoring (and, if there isn’t, the bet would lose anyway).

Raikkonen’s a surprisingly short 5 to lead lap 1. From 3rd, that doesn’t tempt me (entirely possible but I think the true odds are longer than that).

Hamilton is just 2.62 for a podium. His odds on making up 19 places and rising from 22nd to 3rd are the same as Alonso’s of rising from 11th to 10th. Now, he’s a great driver and the Mercedes is a super car, but there are all sorts of potential problems, not least that Hamilton’s engine might fail again, or he could get caught up in a mid-field car crash at the first corner. And even if those things don’t happen, if the Ferraris and Rosberg have a clean get away, Hamilton may struggle to catch up. It’s a perfectly realistic scenario, but there are too many potential pitfalls for me to back it. To be honest, I’m more tempted by the win odds at 10, (each way), or 14 on Betfair.

Ferrari top score is at 2.1. Given they have a 50% finishing rate (25% DNF, 25% DNS), and start 3rd and 4th, this does not appeal.

I had a quick perusal of the markets. Something which I noted, but didn’t act on, in Bahrain was the Not To Be Classified market. Ferrari has been unreliable recently (two failures from four starts [if we count the DNS]) with Raikkonen 5.5 and Vettel 6 Not To Be Classified.

Also, McLaren are 5.5 for a double points finish. That seems a bit long. They start 11th and 12th and have odds of 2.62 and 2.75 to individually score points. Hmm.

Unusual for me to have difficulty picking from a bevy of bets, normally I struggle to find even one that looks appealing.

Today’s tips for China 2016:
Alonso, points, 2.62 (Ladbrokes)
Hamilton, win, 14.5 (hedged at 6) Betfair
One stake split in two for: Vettel, Not To Be Classified, 6; Raikkonen, Not To Be Classified, 5.5 (Ladbrokes)

The reasoning behind the Hamilton bet is not that I’ll think he’ll win, but that I think his odds will come in a lot. The ideal would be if the Mercedes is the faster car but Rosberg makes a terrible start. Hamilton’s also likely to be on a different strategy which could see things play to his advantage. Whilst he starts 22nd, lots of those will be ‘free passes’ (how long will the Manors hold him up?).

So, an unusual triple bet race. Gosh. Let’s hope Raikkonen and Vettel drive into one another, and Rosberg laughs so much he stalls the car.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 15 April 2016

China: pre-qualifying 2016

The poison dwarves have retreated. Todt and Ecclestone have buckled, the team principals have won, and the qualifying format returns to the sanity of the 2015 approach. Huzzah!

Alonso has fractured ribs, but that won’t stop him racing. He has been told, however, that if his situation worsens he has to stop immediately.

Hamilton has another sort of pain, taking a five place grid penalty due to a gearbox change. If he makes another bad start from there, it may not be as terrible because the super long straight should play into the Mercedes’ hands.

Rain is a possibility for both the third practice session and qualifying. Could be light, could be heavy. The race is likely to be dry.

Because of early start times, the pre-qualifying piece is up today.

Both Friday practice sessions were entirely dry.

In P1, Rosberg was top, a tenth up on his team mate, with Vettel half a second down the road and Ricciardo half a second off the German. Raikkonen, Kvyat and Sainz were next, with Button, Hulkenberg and Verstappen rounding out the top 10.

The second practice session had Raikkonen fastest, a tenth ahead of Vettel. Rosberg was a tenth back, with Hamilton two-tenths off his team mate. Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Perez and Bottas completed the top 10.

So, when betting on qualifying we need to consider how cars will perform in the wet and the dry. Cars with better aerodynamics will have superior (relative) grip in the wet.
So, I anticipate the Red Bulls getting a relative performance boost, and Williams (and maybe Force India, as well as Manor) going backwards in the wet. McLaren may benefit from wet conditions.

Alonso and Button were 11th and 12th in P2, and 8th and 12th in P1, so a McLaren making P3 is not impossible, although I’d want tasty odds.

As for pole, I think the Mercedes probably still has the edge. Rosberg has been consistently faster than Hamilton (although the same was true last weekend and Hamilton snatched pole by a tiny margin).

Sainz or Verstappen for Q3 is another bet worth contemplating, if the odds are right.

Rosberg’s odds for pole are just 2.6. Given the potential for rain and the fact he couldn’t get it in Bahrain, a strong track for the German, I am not tempted.

Button and Alonso had Q3 odds of just 2.34, which is bloody tight. I’d want 4 or so, at least.

Sainz and Verstappen at 1.33 is likewise too damned short.

So, no bet on qualifying.

Of course, if you simply want to relax with a book that’s funnier than a mongoose wearing a fez, then buy my excellent new comedy The Adventures of Sir Edric.

Or, if you prefer the fear factor, enjoy The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel horror anthology, in which I have a short story.

[NB both are under my pen name Thaddeus White].

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Bahrain: post-race analysis

A cracking race to watch, bit mixed on the betting front. One came off. The other didn’t due to a DNS (some mishap caused the engine to explode on the formation lap, which hampered Vettel’s chances of winning the race quite substantially).

The formation lap was interesting, as it featured two retirements. Vettel’s hopes and engine faded in a puff of smoke, and Jolyon Palmer pulled into the pits due to a reliability failure. With Magnussen (Palmer’s team mate for Renault) starting from the pit lane anyway, a mere 19 cars were on the grid.

The start and first corner were dramatic. Raikkonen had a slightly dodgy start, Hamilton likewise. Rosberg had a clean get away and passed Hamilton. The Williams cruised past Raikkonen. At the first corner, Bottas struck Hamilton, and the Briton fell to around 7th or 8th.

Raikkonen took a while to get past the Red Bull of Ricciardo and the Williams, and this allowed Rosberg to scamper away. Although the Finn (later on) closed within 6s or so, Rosberg was never truly under threat.

Hamilton had suffered some damage to his car, but how much this affected things is difficult to guess. It didn’t look major, to be honest. However, he had even more early traffic to clear than Raikkonen. Late on in the race he got close to Raikkonen, but the final pit stops (he was inexplicably kept out whilst 2-3s a lap slower than the Finn, due to old tyres) ended any prospect of him attaining 1st or 2nd.

There was more change behind. The Williams had briefly been 2nd and 3rd, but inexorably drifted down the order (Bottas got a drive-through for the first lap collision). The pace was pretty unimpressive, to be honest.

Ricciardo did better than expected in the Red Bull, and was the best of the rest, with Kvyat climbing to 7th.

Grosjean adopted an odd approach. He three-stopped, but did the first three stints on the supersoft. This may have been a strategic master stroke, and he fully deserved his excellent 5th finish. Gutierrez failed to reach the race’s end (I think it was a reliability failure).

Sainz also retired in the pits, but Verstappen got a good 6th. Massa and Bottas ended up 8th and 9th. In relative terms, the Williams has definitely gone backwards.

A great 10th was had for Stoffel Vandoorne on his debut (Button’s ERS died and he retired). I would not be at all surprised if the Belgian replaced Button for 2017.

Worthy of an honourable mention is Pascal Wehrlein for a very fiesty race. He was only 13th, but that’s a step up for Manor and he was mixing it with Renaults, Force Indias and Saubers. I would be unsurprised if he scores a point or two this year.

The Force Indias were terrible. They finished 15th and 16th, despite Hulkenberg having started 8th. I’m not sure why this was.

The result leaves the Drivers’ title race, after 2/21 events, like this:
Rosberg 50
Hamilton 33
Ricciardo 24
Raikkonen 18
Grosjean 18
Vettel 15
Massa 14

However, worth noting both Ferraris have only finished one race apiece. If they sort the reliability they may well be a match for Mercedes. If they can’t, the Silver Arrows will win. Again.

Constructors’, after 2/21:
Mercedes 83
Ferrari 33
Red Bull 30
Williams 20
Haas 18

On the bets: the Grosjean bet was well-judged. He was 1.9 for points and ended up 5th, having started 9th. It’s quite hard to judge the Vettel bet. It was obviously unlucky, losing due to a formation lap engine death, but had he run normally it’s certainly a viable possibility that he could’ve won, or gotten close enough for the hedge to be matched.

The overall result, with a £10 stake per tip, was a loss of £1. So, not the end of the world, if a bit disappointing.

The Chinese Grand Prix is in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Bahrain: pre-race

In protest at the qualifying shambles, I decided not to watch qualifying. I did follow the BBC livefeed instead, however, and will watch the race tomorrow.

Worth noting Magnussen will start from the pit lane tomorrow, because he missed a mandatory weight check yesterday.

In Q1, Nasr was eliminated first, then Haryanto (Manor driver). Palmer was next and then Magnussen (so, pretty atrocious for Renault). Perez was out next. Ericsson and Wehrlein were the last to be eliminated (great performance from Wehrlein).

In Q2, Kvyat was eliminated first. Then Button, Gutierrez and then Stoffel Vandoorne, standing in for the injured Alonso (great d├ębut performance). Sainz, Verstappen and Grosjean were eliminated next.

Q3 saw Hulkenberg eliminated first. Then Massa was out, Bottas and Ricciardo. The pole position went to Hamilton, less than a tenth ahead of Rosberg. Bit irked I went for the wrong bet, but there we are. Vettel lines up third and Raikkonen fourth.

After the qualifying, Hamilton was investigated for reversing in the pit lane, but was allowed to keep pole.

Several bets present themselves (before checking the amrkets)
Ferrari top score
Grosjean points
Vandoorne points

Ferrari are 4.33 with Ladbrokes to top score. Top scoring, if all four of the starting grid finish, requires a team to have the winning car. First and fourth outscore second and third. However, if one team has only one car finishing, then second and third (or even third and fourth) is enough to top score. It’s intriguing but the odds on Vettel or Raikkonen winning (maybe each way) might be more tempting (6 and 17 with Ladbrokes).

Grosjean is 1.9 for points, and Vandoorne is 2.75. I think Vandoorne’s odds are tight. He’s two places off points in his first F1 race, although he has (I think) enjoyed success at Bahrain in other vehicles. Grosjean’s odds may underestimate him. But they’re also not all that long.

After idly perusing the market to see if any value leapt out at me, a few things were worth considering:
Vettel, win 7.4 (hedged 3.4), Betfair
Massa, top 6, 2.37, Ladbrokes

Several of those bets revolve around Ferrari potentially being a match for Mercedes, and trying to calculate the best value if that’s the case. There’s also a small reliability question mark over the Prancing Horse, whereas the Silver Arrows, by testing and the first race, appear to be bulletproof.

In the end, after quite a lot of time to trying to work that out, I went for two bets:

Vettel, win, 7.4 (hedged at 3.4), Betfair
Grosjean, points, 1.9, Ladbrokes

Australia had a cracking start and a topsy-turvy race, which was entertaining but also made direct comparison between the top two teams tricky. The reason I’m relatively confident about Ferrari’s prospects is that Mercedes has almost always had a massive edge in qualifying. If that’s gone, it’s possible that the Ferrari will actually be the faster car.

For Grosjean, I think his car is nicely placed. He has free choice of tyres, the highest starting car to do so, a good engine, a good driver and his pace is probably better than starting ninth suggests (had he done another lap he may have beaten Hulkenberg).

The race starts at 4pm.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bahrain: pre-qualifying

Two big pieces of off-track news to get out of the way. First off, from 2019, UK live coverage will be limited (until 2024) to Sky (pay TV). Lovely.

On a more positive note, my book, The Adventures of Sir Edric, came out yesterday. And you should buy it. Not only will this enable me to buy items such as food, clothing and shelter, but it will also keep you thoroughly entertained. Besides, if you’ve been putting £10 on each of my tips since 2009, they’ve made you over £1,000. Just think of all the profit you’ll lose if low sales make me too miserable to post any more ;)

Leaving aside the vileness of exclusive pay TV live coverage or the splendiferousness of my book, we have a race which requires our attention.

Bahrain’s much faster than Australia, and straight line speed is more important. This should, relatively, advantage Williams and disadvantage the likes of Red Bull, Renault and McLaren (and perhaps Toro Rosso, who have last year’s Ferrari engine). Haas and Manor may benefit.

It’s some time ago, when he was racy at Ferrari, but Massa’s had some good results in Bahrain in the past. And, of course, there was a classic two years ago when Hamilton and Rosberg had a race-long duel (not to mention lots of overtaking throughout the field).

That said, I have vague memories of that race also being an indicator the car was the critical component. I do think McLaren will struggle (later, at Monaco, they may be alright).

It was interesting to see the comparable pace of the Mercedes and Ferrari in Australia, and will also be intriguing to observe how they match up in Bahrain. I expect Mercedes to retain a qualifying edge, but that may not translate to a race pace advantage. There may be opportunity backing Ferrari for two podium places.

A reminder that the qualifying rubbish of last time has been dropped and we’ve returned to the sanity of the old format. Or so we thought...

Sadly, after writing the above line, it emerged F1 bosses didn’t even offer that as an option for team principals when they meet on the 24th. Instead, the choices were sticking with the elimination system, or having that for Q1 and Q2, and an old style Q3. The sport’s trying to kill itself. I’m tempted to boycott qualifying altogether (in terms of viewing it) just to depress the viewing figures (ok, by one, but others may well feel likewise).

It’s also worth, for the race, considering the divergence in qualifying and race pace. The Prancing Horse looked like a lame pony on Saturday, and a racy thoroughbred on Sunday. Even if the Ferraris are well off the Silver Arrows for qualifying, they could still enjoy a good race.

In P1 Rosberg was fastest, a full half second ahead of Hamilton. Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Kvyat were next, with Hulkenberg, Sainz, Verstappen, Grosjean and Massa rounding out the top 10.

Second practice also had Rosberg leading Hamilton, this time by two-tenths. Button was third, which seems odd to be typing nowadays. Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel are next, with Kvyat, Bottas, Ricciardo and Massa taking us to tenth place.

After the second practice it emerged that Ferrari (2016 engine, so not affecting Toro Rosso) appears to have a problem and can’t fully deploy the turbo on the straights. It doesn’t appear to be big enough to cripple Ferrari or its customers but is a detriment and will give an edge to Mercedes-powered cars (Renault and Honda are still behind).

In P3 Vettel and Raikkonen were less than half a tenth different at the top, four-tenths ahead of Rosberg. I smell something fishy. Hamilton was less than a tenth behind his team mate. Bottas was half a second behind the Briton, with Grosjean an impressive sixth (however, many, including the low-ranked Toro Rossos and Force Indias, were on the slower soft tyre [we’ve got medium, soft and supersoft this weekend] and it looks very close in the midfield). Kvyat was seventh, followed by Gutierrez, Massa and Ricciardo.

Now, the question is whether we believe Ferrari are four-tenths faster than Mercedes. And the answer (for me) is no. Even if the race pace gap has narrowed substantially, and I think it has, the Mercedes had massive dominance in Australia come qualifying and, given the Ferrari engine issue, it’s hard to believe they’re four-tenths up. [That said, Mercedes were inexplicably rubbish at Singapore last year, so this is not an impossible scenario].

I think Rosberg’s likeliest to get pole. His odds on Ladbrokes are 2.37. Interestingly, the winning margin odds (which I don’t usually consider) are 3.75 for 0.15s or less. Given the Ferraris and Mercedes in P3 were covered by this, that may actually be the better bet.

I checked my last two Bahrain articles and Rosberg got 2014 pole, Hamilton 2015. Not sure of the 2014 margin (a few years ago I would’ve checked the excellent records on the official F1 site but they’ve done away with those due to a redesign), but in 2015 it was about four-tenths (over Vettel, Rosberg two-tenths further back from his countryman).

Tricky, but I’ve decided to back Rosberg at 2.37. The other bet tempts me, but a screwed up lap or someone putting in a stonker (or even traffic getting in the way) could ruin it, especially as the last four minutes is expected to be very quiet.

The pre-race piece may go up either this evening or tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer