Sunday, 29 May 2016

Monaco: post-race 2016

An interesting race, and an interesting result. After the rather good Spanish race, back into the red for this weekend (although only marginally).

It was wet at the start, which necessitated a safety car (as Mr. Sandpit said elsewhere, the VSC was used a lot, and but for the soggy start we would not have seen a safety car, an event which had odds of 8).

As usual, the safety car stayed out too long. A few cars dove into the pits for intermediate tyres immediately, but most stayed out.

Kvyat had problems with his speed limiter being stuck on. He tried to resolve it by pitting and left for the circuit (down over a lap) but it couldn’t be mended.

Ricciardo streaked away from Rosberg, who looked a bit out of sorts. When the gap was about 13s, the team made a call and the German gave way to his British team mate (it later emerged Rosberg’s car had brake issues. These were later resolved, but did screw his race).

Hamilton set off in hot pursuit of Ricciardo. He was faster, but the gap was large and there were 60 odd laps left.

The track was drying and most went for intermediate tyres. Some went early (like Button) others later (Alonso, who gained a relative advantage to his team mate thereby). Eventually it was just the two leading cars on full wets. Ricciardo pitted for intermediate tyres. Hamilton stayed out and inherited the lead, but Ricciardo was soon right behind him.

The Aussie couldn’t pass, however, and Hamilton was able to stretch out the stint and pit for the ultra-soft dry tyre.

Ricciardo’s in-lap was fantastic, easily enough to retake the lead. Except his team (who called him in) didn’t have the tyres ready. He was waiting, and waiting, and waiting until finally the supersofts got stuck on. He would have, and should have, been in the lead. Instead, he was a short distance behind Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the change to dry tyres had harmed Rosberg too. He’d been leapfrogged by Vettel in the pit lane, and passed by Perez and Alonso as they’d pitted earlier (I think) and achieved the undercut. Rosberg was now down in 6th.

Ricciardo was on a charge. He was within a second of Hamilton, very close indeed, and tried a few times to pass, but the Briton was wily. There was, however, a questionable moment. Just past the chicane after the tunnel, Hamilton was a bit slow. Ricciardo was clearly faster, and almost wholly alongside, when Hamilton closed the door. The Aussie was, understandably, not impressed.

From there, it seemed inevitable. There were some virtual safety car appearances as the idiotic Sauber drivers squabbled over 15th and collided, and when Verstappen hit the wall (again). But Ricciardo never got close. It finished Hamilton 1st, Ricciardo 2nd.

Further back, Perez, in a surprisingly good 3rd, was closing the gap, but never really had a shot of climbing higher (he was on soft, as was the chasing Vettel). Behind him, Vettel seemed like he’d be close enough to challenge for the last podium spot, but locked a brake, lost a few seconds, and had to settle for 4th.

Alonso, meanwhile, was some way back from the leading quartet but got McLaren’s best finish of the year, with an impressive 5th. Rosberg and Hulkenberg were next… except they weren’t. Whether there was a lingering issue with Rosberg’s car or perhaps Hulkenberg was inspired, the Force India driver pipped the Mercedes at the post to claim 6th by a few tenths of a second. We’ll see whether that couple of points proves critical at the season’s end.

Sainz was anonymous again, but impressive in 8th, Button got 9th, and Massa 10th.

So, a fantastic day for Hamilton (aided by his team mate obligingly getting out of his way), bad for Rosberg, disappointing for Ricciardo, great for Force India, and good for McLaren. Sauber, Haas and Williams were all poor, and Ferrari are in danger of becoming the third team (that said, the next four races include three fast ones, and we’ll see how Red Bull do around Canada, Austria and the UK).

Raikkonen failed to finish after a small crash (second part of it was due to Massa hitting him at low speed and knocking him into a wall). Both Renaults failed to finish, Magnussen being retired and Palmer hitting a wall.

Here’s how the Drivers’ title race stands:
Rosberg 106
Hamilton 82
Ricciardo 66
Raikkonen 61
Vettel 60

A tight battle for 3rd. However, at the sharp end it’s hard to call. Seeing how Rosberg bounces back and how Hamilton does at Canada will be interesting.

Mercedes 188
Ferrari 121
Red Bull 112
Williams 66
Force India 37
Toro Rosso 30
McLaren 24
Haas 22

McLaren have made a leap forward in the Constructors. Whilst the top four will stay in place (with Red Bull and Ferrari perhaps swapping), the battle for 5th and 6th could be close. Force India have been a bit lacklustre this year but had a very good race.

Next race is one of my favourites: Canada. F1 goes there in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Monaco: pre-race 2016

Well, qualifying was a cracker. The hedge for Rosberg got matched, so the tip’s green or redness depends on whether you hedged or not. Whilst I thought (and, indeed, said) Ricciardo had a chance of pole I didn’t expect the confident dominance in Q3. Clever tactics in Q2 as well.

Q1 wasn’t two minutes old when Nasr’s engine started smoking like Cruella de Vil. Once the Sauber was winched away, the session restarted. Verstappen introduced his front right to the wall, which broke the suspension and meant he had no choice but to collide head-on with barriers, littering the track with carbon fibre and bringing out a second red flag. After that was tidied away, the two Manors were slowest (Haryanto ahead of Wehrlein), under pressure Palmer was 18th and Ericsson was 17th.

Q2 saw cunning tactical shenanigans from Ricciardo. The Aussie set a perfectly fast lap on the purple ultrasofts, but then went out on supersofts and set a faster time. This means he starts the race on the more durable supersoft, so (if it’s dry, which is a big if) he can go longer before his first pit stop and suffer, presumably, fewer traffic issues.

Magnussen, despite having the new Renault engine [Ricciardo also has one], was slowest in this session, with a lacklustre Grosjean and Massa right ahead of him. Bottas just missed out on Q3, ahead of Gutierrez, who outqualifies his team mate for the first time this year, and Button.

Q3 saw drama. Hamilton peeled off to the side of the pit lane before leaving it. Later it emerged he had high fuel temperature (Rosberg had likewise but it delayed rather than prevented his initial exit from the pits). Hamilton was wheeled back to the pits and was able to get going later.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo had put in a fantastic lap, and Rosberg was about three-tenths behind. It seemed Hamilton had terminal speed issues, but at last he put together a flyer. The lap was only enough for 3rd, but given how it could’ve gone, I imagine he’ll take that. Ricciardo got his first pole, and mightily deserved it was too. Rosberg lines up alongside him.

Hamilton and Vettel (who was grumpy, again, on the radio) form row two. Hulkenberg and Raikkonen were next fastest but the Finn has a five place grid penalty, so row three will be Hulkenberg and Sainz. Perez and Kvyat are next, then Alonso and Bottas.

Impressive speed from Hulkenberg given Force India have been generally underwhelming this year (shade surprised he’s ahead of Perez on a street circuit). Sainz and Kvyat also looking tasty.

With Ricciardo on pole and Verstappen almost dead last, the grid looks very appetising. But there’s a potential fly in the Aussie’s ointment. Rain seems eminently possible. Likely, even.

Now, Red Bull’s downforce (and Mercedes’, for that matter) means they’ll still have an edge in the wet, but on a circuit with as much room for error as keyhole surgery on an ant, slippery conditions could make for mayhem.

Initial betting thoughts were:
Safety Car
Verstappen top 6
Force India/Toro Rosso to double score
Gutierrez not to be classified
Alonso points
Ricciardo/Hamilton win

Safety Car is 1.06. It is near certain. But I’m not risking money for a 6% gain. It’s just too feeble.

Verstappen is 4 for a top 6 finish. That seems about right to me, so it might be something I go for if nothing else pops up (that said, he does have a [small] history of crashing at the circuit).

Weirdly, Force India are second favourites (1.66) after Mercedes to have a double points finish. Toro Rosso are next at 1.8.

Gutierrez is just 2.37 not to be classified. Too short. Last year only about three cars failed to finish and there’s been one race this year where everyone reached the end.

Alonso is 1.61 for points. Given reliability issues for McLaren, potential rain and the track’s tightness, this does not tempt me.

Ricciardo was just 1.72 to win. With weather, traffic and ease of crashing, that’s not remotely appealing. Hamilton’s 4.33. Bit more tempting.

So, one or two things worthy of consideration, but nothing that leapt out at me. As is unfortunately common, I decided to peruse the markets and see if anything seemed like value.

Rosberg, win, 3.75 (perhaps each way, or 4.3 hedged on Betfair). He’s on great form, and has a good record at Monaco.

Hulkenberg podium, 9. (Betfair 10, could hedge). The Force India is surprisingly quick, and probably has the edge, just, on the Toro Rosso. There seem to be reliability question marks over the Mercedes and Vettel, as well as the potential for new engine gremlins for Ricciardo.

According to Wunderground, there’s a 60-70% chance or so of rain in the first hour, and a solid chance of it persisting throughout the race. Monaco’s got a bit of a weird micro-climate so precise forecasts can be tricky, but rain seems very probable (at some point). That does raise the first lap leader market (if it’s a safety car start, Ricciardo’s guaranteed to get it). Just 1.2, however.

After a very quick qualifying bet, I’m a bit more hesitant about the race. Right now the ones I’m looking at are:
Hamilton, win, 4.33
Rosberg, win, 4.4 (hedged)
Hulkenberg, podium, 10 (hedged)

I decided to back Rosberg for the win on Betfair at 4.4, with a hedge set up at evens. Whilst I think the grid’s pretty interesting, no value leapt out at me.

Anyway, let’s hope the race is thrilling and the bet is green.

Morris Dancer

Monaco: pre-qualifying 2016

There have been some mutterings of the driver markets for next year. An entertaining but unlikely suggestion was that Rosberg could get Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari, with Alonso moving to Mercedes. Perhaps likelier is Vandoorne taking Button’s place at McLaren, Button going to Williams, and Massa retiring.

Palmer’s seat seems under threat already.

In more serious news, the family of Jules Bianchi are suing multiple organisations for the driver’s death, citing it as ‘avoidable’. The story is here:

This race is the first where we see the purple ultra-softs. It also sees an upgraded Renault engine (worth 0.5s on a normal circuit, bit less at the slow Monaco), but limited supply means only Ricciardo and Magnussen get it.

The final bit of news is that an idiotic new rule banning visor-strips from being thrown away (they’re torn off when they get dirty, so the driver can still see) has been axed, presumably because the bigwigs finally realised it was stupid. There is a risk of a strip getting trapped in an airbox or suchlike, but it’s a small risk, and asking drivers to keep half a dozen strips of plastic in the cockpit is mad.

In first practice, Hamilton led his team mate by a tenth. Vettel was further back, followed by Ricciardo, Verstappen, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Perez, Raikkonen and Sainz.

The first practice session was most notable for a drain cover coming loose. It gave Rosberg a puncture and then collided with Button’s car. Thankfully it merely damaged a front wing, but had it flipped left rather than right it could have severely injured or killed the Briton. This isn’t the first time F1 has come to Monaco and this sort of nonsense absolutely should not be happening.

In P2, Ricciardo was six-tenths up on Hamilton (I think that was due to tyre choice, though), with Rosberg three-tenths further back. Verstappen, Kvyat and Sainz were next, followed by Raikkonen, Perez, Vettel and Button.

At this stage I would’ve expected McLaren to be looking a bit racier. Power deficits mean less here, and the car was third fastest in the twisty final sector of Spain. Toro Rosso is looking quite good, and I think Perez has a good record on street circuits, so I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

Vettel was fastest in third practice, less than a tenth ahead of Hamilton (who did have a tiny spot of traffic on his fast lap). Rosberg was a tenth down the road, followed very closely by Ricciardo. Verstappen and Kvyat were next, followed by Sainz, Perez, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.

In third practice Verstappen went into the wall and damaged the right hand side of his car. At the time of writing I’m unsure if he’ll be ready to go out in qualifying. May well be ok [update: actually got out again at the very end of qualifying]. The end of qualifying had little in the way of simulation due to traffic and so forth. Magnussen’s car stopped near the end, which didn’t help. So, P3 may not be that useful for assessing qualifying pace.

A bet leapt out at me on Betfair. Backed Rosberg for pole at 6, hedged at 2.5. Pole is likely his or Hamilton’s (outside shot of Ricciardo), he’s been within a tenth, and the odds are just too long, I think.

We’ll see how that turns out in qualifying.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Spain: post-race analysis 2016

Today was quite good.

The race was thrilling, up there with the likes of Canada 2011 and Bahrain 2014. It was also a profitable race, the first this year, as the Ricciardo bet came off (the Ferrari one did not, but as the former was 8, it was still very green). The Verstappen bet I mentioned earlier in another place, which was not available by the time I wrote my race weekend pieces, will not count in my records. It was, however, nice to get a 250/1 winner, even though I put on only a tiny sum.

The start, which even at 3.12pm feels like a year ago, was dramatic. Vettel started well, Raikkonen poorly, slipping down a few places. Rosberg passed Hamilton very early on but when the Briton tried to come back, Rosberg moved across the track [or held the racing line, as you like], Hamilton went onto the grass, lost control and struck his team mate. Both cars were out on lap one.

The safety car emerged, guaranteeing Ricciardo the lead of the first lap.

At this stage the order was Ricciardo, Verstappen, Vettel and Raikkonen. (Or thereabouts. Sainz was up to 3rd at one stage, I forget precisely when, but slid a few places simply because his car wasn’t fast enough).

The safety car came in and the order remained unchanged. Ricciardo built up a small gap over Verstappen but wasn’t galloping away. The Ferraris looked faster but Spain is a circuit that doesn’t make overtaking easy.

The first set of pit stops were much of a muchness, the top four all shifting to medium tyres, but the second stops were where things became very interesting. Ricciardo went for three stops, as did Vettel, Verstappen (then leading ahead of Raikkonen) and Raikkonen stayed out on a two stop strategy.

It was unclear if the medium tyres would be able to do the 30 odd laps Verstappen and Raikkonen would need to reach the finish without another stop. Meanwhile, Vettel and Ricciardo were catching rapidly. Then oddness occurred. Vettel pitted much earlier than expected. Ricciardo pitted later, and then started catching Vettel rapidly, who was reeling in the Verstappen-Raikkonen duel at about half a second a lap, on course to more or less catch them by the last few laps.

Raikkonen was within a second of Verstappen and could close the gap on the Red Bull to almost nothing on the straight, but the Dutchman was unflappable and his car supreme in the twisty third sector, ensuring the Ferrari wasn’t quite close enough.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo was homing in on Vettel, who was perhaps 5s behind the leading duo. The Aussie got the gap down to DRS range, then lunged, overcooked it, and failed to retain the place. The tussling stopped Vettel narrowing the gap to the leaders, and ensured the Dutchman or Finn would take the race.

Ricciardo had another go, but debris or wear got the better of him. Kvyat, ironically, passed him as a puncture struck the Aussie’s car. He trundled to the pits for a final fourth pit stop, and such was the gap to Bottas he retained his position of 4th.

Could Raikkonen pass Verstappen after 20 laps of trying?


Verstappen became the youngest man to get a podium, win a race and the first Dutchman to win. An incredible performance of skill, speed and icy calm. In his first race with Red Bull.

I said earlier I was shocked by the in-season driver change, but if anything ever vindicated a decision, this was it. An unbelievably exciting race with an incredible result.

Bottas was anonymous due to the duels ahead of him, but got a solid 5th for Williams, Massa climbing to 8th. Not really a Williams track, so they’ll be pleased with that.

Sainz was impressive to get 6th, and Kvyat got 10th, so that’s a good result for Toro Rosso.

Perez’s 7th is only the third points score for Force India this year. Hulkenberg failed to score points, but his excuse (his car burst into flames) is quite persuasive.

Alonso’s McLaren lost power. A shame, as the team was on for a double points finish (Button got 9th).

Haas just missed out with Gutierrez 11th (Grosjean retired), and Sauber were better than expected with Ericsson 12th.

All in all, a bloody exciting classic of a race that was greener than a jealous Kermit the Frog.

So, the standings:
Rosberg 100
Raikkonen 61
Hamilton 57
Vettel 48
Ricciardo 48
Verstappen 38
Massa 36
Bottas 29

Still very much Rosberg’s to lose. His car’s the class of the field and he’s 43 points ahead of his team mate. Not impossible by any stretch for Hamilton to come back, but if they finish 1-2 in the next seven races (Hamilton winning) the Briton would have a lead of just 6 points.

Mercedes 157
Ferrari 109
Red Bull 94

At the moment, I think this flatters Red Bull. Bear in mind the Ferrari DNFs and that the Prancing Horse was faster today (not all circuits are so difficult for overtaking). However, Renault have an engine upgrade coming, and it’s possible the Red Bull may end up finishing second in the Constructors’. The Ferrari chassis isn’t as good. Monaco, Singapore etc will be tasty for the Red Bulls.

Got very lucky today, and the race was fantastic. The next race is in a fortnight, in Monaco.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Spain: pre-race 2016

Qualifying was quite interesting. No staggering shocks, but a number of surprises which add up to an intriguing grid for the race tomorrow (although worth noting hardly anyone wins from anywhere but the front row).

As expected, the Saubers and Manors exited in Q1 (Ericsson and Wehrlein beating their team mates), and it wasn’t a shock for Palmer to fail to progress in this year’s lacklustre Renault. What was a shock was Massa being only 18th, over half a second slower than his team mate. A Williams’ technical chap (on the radio speaking to Channel 4) effectively blamed Massa for being slow. In an interview, Massa blamed the team for sending him out into traffic.

A good mix of cars failed to escape Q2. Both Haas drivers (the car’s looked rickety again this race) were slow, with Magnussen between them in 15th. Hulkenberg, Button and Kvyat were all outqualified by their team mates. Not good for the Russian, in particular. Perez seems generally better than Hulkenberg at street circuits (the German has the edge at more flowing circuits, like Interlagos).

Excitement in Q3! No, really. Hamilton beat Rosberg, which is good for the title race. For a while, after Hamilton buggered up his initial run, he was 3rd, behind Rosberg and Verstappen. The Dutchman ended up being outpaced by Ricciardo (not by a huge margin), with the Red Bulls on the second row of the grid. Ferrari were unimpressive, both cars on row three, with Vettel, surprisingly, behind Raikkonen.

Bottas was 7th, which isn’t bad considering this isn’t really a Williams circuit. Next is Sainz, Perez, and Alonso.

The initial bets that sprung to mind were:
Red Bull top score.
Safety car.
Sainz top 6.
Lay Massa points.

Red Bull are just 6 to top score. That seems bloody tight to me given the pace advantage for Mercedes and top scoring means either Red Bull need to win or have a Mercedes fail to finish.

A Safety Car is 2.25. Checking from 2011 onwards reveals a very low chance of a safety car, so decided against this.

Sainz is 3.25 to be top 6. That requires him to make up two places. I think he’s got the potential to beat Bottas outright, but the extra place requires some cocking up ahead of him. Eminently possible, not sure if it’ll happen. Checking the four races so far reveals he’s had one DNF and gone backwards in the other three races, which doesn’t engender confidence. On the other hand, if he goes backward again that’s advantage Alonso/Perez…

There’s only a tiny sum to lay at 4.1 for Massa getting points, so not much to tip there.

So, time to idly browse the market and see what emerges.

Alonso, top 6, 4.33
Gutierrez, not to be classifed, 2.75
Raikkonen/Vettel, not to be classified, 5.5
Ricciardo, race leader after lap 1, 8

The Alonso bet came to mind because I have confidence Williams will bugger up strategy, and all the cars ahead of the Spaniard have a habit of going backwards. He’s very reliable (sometimes the car isn’t, but those ahead, particularly the Ferraris, have worse records) and quick.

Gutierrez has a 50% finishing record. Not really his fault, on the first occasion he was hit by Alonso, on the second (I think) his car stopped working.

Ferrari have 3 DNFs out of a possible 8, two for Vettel. Starting where they do, there’s also the opportunity for lap 1 shenanigans to occur. I think a pair of them were reliability issues, the other was when Kvyat auditioned for a seat at Toro Rosso.

Starting 3rd isn’t so bad. Clean side of the track (although that’s not as big an advantage in Spain as the track isn’t as dirty off-line), and possible to get a run on the pole-sitter, who may well be distracted by Rosberg. If Ricciardo did get past at the start I think he’d have a strong chance of retaining the lead throughout the first lap.

Of those, the Ferrari and Ricciardo bets seem the most tempting. I rate Alonso highly, but his car isn’t the quickest or most reliable so I’m not sure he’ll climb all the way to 6th. Gutierrez has a decent chance of failing to finish, but the odds compared to the Ferraris seem a bit short.

So, tips [Ladbrokes]:
Ricciardo, lead lap 1, 8
Raikkonen/Vettel, not to be classified, 5.5

As per usual a single stake will be shared between Raikkonen and Vettel, so it counts as a single tip in the records.

Let’s hope Ricciardo gallops off the line and the Ferraris smash into each other at turn 1. It’s been a pretty horrendous season so far, (mostly ill-judgement but with a small slice of bad luck too), so a change in fortune would go down nicely.

Morris Dancer

Spain: pre-qualifying 2016

Fireworks on the 5th. Kvyat, after a very bad race in Russia, was demoted to the Toro Rosso team, with Verstappen promoted to Red Bull.

Must say I’m shocked. Yes, Kvyat had a horrendous Russian race. He also got a podium in China at the preceding event. Everyone has bad races, and whilst Kvyat damaged his own race, Ricciardo’s and (most blatantly) Vettel’s, his offences were ill-judgement rather than being outright dangerous (as per Grosjean at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix).

Red Bull’s drastic reaction, many calling it over the top, may be more about Verstappen than Kvyat. The Wunderkind is at contract with Red Bull until 2017. However, he’s very highly rated and the team may well fear the likes of Ferrari or Mercedes tempting him away. Promotion to the main Red Bull team could be a way of trying to sink hooks into Verstappen.

However, that doesn’t mean Kvyat’s getting fair treatment. He was 100% at fault in Russia, but one bad race leading to immediate, in-season demotion is harsh. It also comes after Red Bull’s unedifying whining about Renault in 2015. The team’s looking a shade flighty.

Before Ladbrokes changed the odds, Verstappen was 251 to win (for comparison, Ricciardo and Kvyat were 34 and 67 respectively). After, he was 41 (interesting to compare that with Kvyat’s 67). I put a tiny sum on him to win each way (1st or 1/3 odds of 2nd) at the longer odds. Whilst it’s still very unlikely, the Red Bull is the third best car and the top two have dodgy reliability. Plus, the circuit may well suit the Red Bull.

The Prancing Horses may gallop a little faster this weekend as, apparently, they had an engine upgrade but didn’t turn it to full power (for reasons of caution) in Russia. They will this weekend.

In the first practice session the Ferraris ruled the roost with Vettel just a tenth ahead of his team mate. Rosberg was four-tenths back, a small margin ahead of Hamilton. Ricciardo and Verstappen, the new team mates, were next, with Bottas, Sainz, Massa and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

P2 had the natural order restored, mostly. Rosberg was top, two-tenths up on Raikkonen. Hamilton, weirdly, was half a second back from the Finn, and Vettel was nearly a second behind his team mate. Sainz was next, ahead of Ricciardo (one imagines the Spaniard smiled to see that), with Alonso, Verstappen, Perez and Hulkenberg following.

At this stage, it’s look good for Rosberg for pole, a strong start for Verstappen and points eminently possible for Alonso (Button’s engine died during P2, not sure why). On the negative side, Renault suffered two punctures (same car but different drivers as Ocon[sp] stood in for Palmer in P1), Button’s engine failed and Kvyat needs to get a move on or his demotion could be a stepping stone to being tossed overboard.

In P3, Rosberg was fastest, a couple of tenths ahead of Hamilton, who was closely followed by Vettel. Verstappen was next, a tenth ahead of Ricciardo, with Raikkonen three-tenths back. Bottas, Perez, Kvyat and Alonso round out the top 10 (interesting the last four are all from different teams).

Rosberg had an issue in the third practice session which led him to return to the pits late on, which makes me a bit nervous of betting on him. He subsequently got going without further issue. Raikkonen was held up by a Manor on his fast lap, so the time is not representative.

Rosberg’s evens for pole, Hamilton 2.25. Too close to call, I think.

So, alas, no bet for qualifying.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Verstappen does, whether Haas can pick up the pace, Alonso make Q3 and if Palmer gets another back left puncture.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Russia: post race analysis – 2016

A bit frustrating to have another red weekend. Shades of Murphy’s Law about the start of the season for my betting, but these bad patches do happen. Rosberg got away cleanly and retained the lead not only for the first lap, but all the laps.

The start was dramatic. Vettel got away well. Hamilton also had a nice start. Very early on the first lap, Kvyat struck Vettel from behind (just ran into him), possibly giving the German a puncture. To make things worse, the Russian then hit Vettel again, this time putting him into a barrier and ending his race.

Vettel’s radio transmission, replete with words with which I shall not sully your pure and innocent ears, accurately summed up the rightful anger he felt towards the situation. In China it was a 50/50 racing incident. In Russia, Kvyat was 100% to blame, twice [he subsequently got a 10s stop and go penalty].

Hulkenberg was also involved in carnage and knocked out on the first lap, although I’m not sure who was responsible.

A virtual safety car was soon replaced with an actual safety car. Several drivers pitted (Perez had to pit at some point due to a puncture), but the frontrunners (at this stage Rosberg, Bottas, Raikkonen and Hamilton) did not.

The timing of the safety car meant that a few drivers found themselves in better places than expected. Alonso was 6th, and in and around the points were the Renaults, Grosjean and Button. Ricciardo was hamstrung by a failed strategy (adopted by Red Bull for both cars) of moving to the medium tyre, but the grip was so dire and the pace so feeble another stop was soon necessary.

Hamilton managed to pass a seemingly napping Raikkonen, and then breezed past Bottas. Later, due to pit stops, Raikkonen passed his compatriot. However, the gaps between the top 6 (Massa being 5th) just stretched out. For a time Hamilton narrowed the gap to Rosberg, but the Briton suffered a water pressure issue and his chase for the win was effectively over.

However, 7th to 12th were practically covered by a pit straight and there was some close racing. Ricciardo tried passing Magnussen, failed, and was in turn swept past by Grosjean.

Magnussen ended up 7th, followed by Grosjean, Perez and Button. With Alonso 6th, it was a double points finish for McLaren, Renault punched well above expectations to grab 6 points, and Haas will be relieved that they recovered to 8th. That said, Red Bull had a rubbish weekend, with a grand total of zero points. Williams were a little lacklustre but I thought they’d go back rather further than the 4th and 5th they got in the end.

So, a red race, an entertaining start but a little boring in the top half of the points positions. But then, that’s the nature of the circuit.

Here are the driver standings:
Rosberg 100
Hamilton 57
Raikkonen 43
Ricciardo 36
Vettel 33
Massa 32

Can Hamilton catch Rosberg? Again, yes. But if Hamilton wins the next six races and Rosberg is second each time, the German will have a lead of 1 point. Over the next six races or so Hamilton needs to at least stop the rot and preferably narrow the gap. If it grows again (say by race eight’s conclusion they’re on 200 and 114) that’s almost game over.

Ferrari simply lack the pace. It’s a shame, but, once again, this is a private Mercedes duel.

Constructors stand thusly:
Mercedes 157
Ferrari 76
Red Bull 57
Williams 51

From eight starts, Ferrari only have five finishes but they’re still 2nd. Barring something weird, I expect them to stay there easily. The Red Bull/Williams battle could be tasty.

On the betting front, I have a grand total of 1 winning bet from 8 tips. It’s a pretty bad start to the season. I’ve managed to back Hulkenberg for 6th or better and he got 7th, and the only race Ferrari had a double finished I backed them not to be classified (and they even collided on lap 1) [this also would've made another bet a winner]. It’s a bit frustrating, but that’s why it’s important to only bet what you can afford to lose (and why my stakes are smaller than a gnome’s doll house).

The next race is in Spain, in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer