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)
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.