Saturday, 14 May 2016

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

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