Monday, 31 October 2016

Mexico: post-race analysis 2016

From a betting perspective, more post-mortem than post-race. Three tips, none came off. Obviously the Hulkenberg tip was unlikely (although credible, I think, given he was side by side with Verstappen on the straight and both Mercedes went off track). The other two tips were just poorly judged.

Pre-race, Grosjean had some issues and started from the pit lane. Palmer, whose cracked chassis prevented him qualifying, lined up 21st on the grid.

Off the line, Hamilton got away cleanly. Rosberg was side by side with Verstappen, Hulkenberg close behind. At the first corner Hamilton went off and only came back on some way down the road. Rosberg went off, squeezed out by Verstappen, at turn one, rejoined still 2nd and kept the place. Neither Mercedes was penalised which I found somewhat surprising (more leeway must be given at the start but I’m not sure that extends to making corners optional).

Further down the order Gutierrez, with the deft touch of a drunk wearing oven gloves, nudged Wehrlein’s rear wheel, putting the German into a Sauber and out of the race. The Safety Car emerged after a brief initial Virtual Safety Car period.

The major changes, that I recall, were Hulkenberg rising to 4th ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel slipping down the order a few places.

Then a long period of boredom ensued. It was a one stop race for pretty much everyone as the medium tyre could do the whole race distance (Raikkonen did two, I think Ricciardo as well, the Aussie having pitted very early under the safety car). After the pit stops, Hamilton was trundling around in 1st, Rosberg was about 5-10s further back. Verstappen had been released by Ricciardo under team orders to pursue the slower Mercedes, whilst the second pit stop had put the Aussie 5th, behind Vettel.

Verstappen got close but was being caught by Vettel, who was being caught by Ricciardo. The last few laps had all three running nose to tail. Verstappen left the circuit and didn’t hand over the place (Vettel would likely have passed had the Dutchman remained on-track), to the expletive-ridden frustration of the German (who made the not very wise move of telling the race director, Charlie Whiting, to go forth and multiply over the radio). Verstappen was given a penalty which relegated him to 5th but then Vettel got a penalty for a rule introduced to stop Verstappen moving under braking, so Ricciardo ended up 3rd.

Many handbags, and more after the race, including about whether the Mercedes should’ve had penalties for both going off at the first corner:

Raikkonen was 6th, with Hulkenberg unable to match the pace of cars ahead and having a rather dull but productive afternoon in 7th. Bottas and Massa were next, with Perez 10th.

Ericsson was a tantalising 11th. Had one car ahead dropped out, that would’ve been Sauber’s first point and put them ahead of Manor in the table (worth about $35m). Wehrlein was the only DNF.

Mr. Jessop, elsewhere, pointed me to the Mercedes ‘explanation’ for going off-track, arguing that if they hadn’t it would have caused the field to close up and have collisions down the line. That’s dross, in my book.

Notes to self for future:
Very hard to pass in Mexico. Thinner air reduces the effectiveness of DRS and slipstreams.
Stupid track surface which means degradation is minimal. One stops very likely.
Not a car breaker.

In the title race, this narrows Rosberg’s advantage over Hamilton to 19 points. If the German wins in Brazil, he takes the title. If Hamilton fails to finish and Rosberg is 6th or higher, the German takes the title. Interlagos is a fantastic circuit, probably my favourite, and rain often falls (the more the better for Hamilton who enjoys a substantial pace advantage over his team mate when it’s soggy).

In team terms, Force India are now 9 points ahead of Williams. Still very tight, but they should be favourites to finish 4th now. Every other place seems settle, perhaps excepting Manor/Sauber.

The next race is a fortnight away.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mexico: pre-race 2016

Qualifying was peculiar. Appeared very close between three teams then in Q3 Ferrari’s pace fell off a cliff. There was a bit of a jumbled up grid in the end, so hopefully that’ll present some betting opportunities. Remember that there’s a very long run to the first corner. Screw up your start and you’ll be staring at a Manor’s exhaust.

Oddly, Palmer got a cracked chassis in third practice. That sort of thing happens, but he didn’t know, kept running, and was fine. However, it did mean he couldn’t partake in qualifying and therefore starts last.

Dreadful Q1 for Haas, with both cars struggling and Grosjean slowest on track. Gutierrez was 17th (again out-qualifying his team mate), and between them were Kvyat, Nasr and Ocon. However, the Manor of Wehrlein just made it into Q2 [only five eliminated here due to Palmer not running].

Q2 went more predictably, the only slight surprise being that Perez was only 12th, behind Alonso. Following the Mexican was Button, Magnussen, Ericsson and Wehrlein.

Now, up to this point Hamilton had maintained a pace advantage over Rosberg, but any of the top three teams looked competitive for the front row, if not pole. Also worth noting the Mercedes and Ferraris are on the soft tyre for the start, but the Red Bulls are on the supersoft. This may help them off the line, but their tyres won’t last nearly as long. (A similar approach was taken by Ricciardo last time out and was looking good until he was a bit screwed by the VSC).

Q3 was a bit different. Ferrari’s performance fell off a cliff. After the first runs Hamilton was on pole, but both Red Bulls were ahead of Rosberg. Then came Hulkenberg, then the Ferraris. On the second run, nobody really improved, except Rosberg, who managed to defy the pattern of previous qualifying laps and bested the Red Bulls to claim 2nd on the grid. After how the rest of the hour went, I imagine he’ll be thrilled, and Hamilton mildly miffed, to line up on the front row.

The Red Bulls, on their supersofts, form up the second row, Verstappen ahead of Ricciardo. Hulkenberg was very impressive in 5th, which I think equals his best ever qualifying performance. Leaving aside implications just for the race, that’ll likely help Force India maintain the whip hand over Williams.

After so much promise in the practice sessions and earlier parts of qualifying, 6th and 7th for Raikkonen and Vettel respectively was pretty damned poor. The only positive (besides the potential for the soft tyre they start on to be an advantage, though Vettel only has his starting set which may hamper him in the race) is that Vettel didn’t get a penalty for a blatant block, because it wasn’t investigated by the race steward (this week it’s Stevie Wonder).

Bottas and Massa are next up, with Sainz performing well to get into Q3 at all (starting 10th).

My initial betting thoughts were:
Hulkenberg podium
First lap leader, either Red Bull, Hulkenberg
Red Bull top score
Both Red Bull drivers podium
Perez top 6

Hulkenberg has never had a podium in F1. He was all but guaranteed one, and had a good shot at the win, in Brazil one year (maybe 2012) but got a penalty for sliding in the wet and colliding with Hamilton. He’s a very good driver, though. Odds on a podium are 15 (17.5 with Betfair). If the Red Bull supersoft gambit fails, Hulkenberg’s next in line, and he won’t be easy to pass. I think this is worth considering.

The Red Bulls are 5.5 and 10 (Verstappen and Ricciardo respectively) to lead lap 1. Hulkenberg is 101. From 5th. Same odds as Vettel in 7th, longer than the 81 for Raikkonen in 6th. Ok, it’s damned unlikely. But 100/1 unlikely? Even if I don’t put a full stake on this, I may put down a couple of pounds.

Red Bull are 4.5 to top score. This happens in two conceivable ways. Either they have a winning car with the other chap 5th (shared with Mercedes if the latter are 2-3 and Red Bull are 1-6) or one of the Mercedes fails to finish and Red Bull have a decent result. Their race pace has been good all weekend and they were very close to Mercedes in qualifying which is not always the case. The supersoft strategem could go either way. I think this is pretty tempting.

Red Bull are 3.4 for a double podium. I think I’d prefer the top score bet. If they both beat one of the Mercedes then a Red Bull may win. If a Mercedes gets a DNF then this wins, but so would top scoring. So, personally I’d prefer the top score bet.

Perez is 2.62 for a top 6 finish. He’s a good driver in a good car but he starts 12th. Whilst a credible possibility, the odds look too tight given where he starts.

So, unusually rather a lot of tempting bets. I decided to give the markets a perusal anyway, just in case something was comically mispriced (I did like the No Safety Car in Hungary odds).

Something I should’ve thought of was the Haas cars not to be classified. As well as midfield shenanigans off the line, there’s scope for their brakes to fail, and they seem to lack grip. Gutierrez is 3.75, Grosjean 4. [Haas are planning to switch from Brembo to Carbon Industries as their brake supplier in Brazil. Brembo are reportedly pleased, as it’ll show the problem is with the car, not their brakes, which they supply to other F1 teams without problems].

Verstappen/Ricciardo are each 11 to win. (Rosberg is 3.75, Hamilton 1.44). A worthy alternative to the top score bet if you’re optimistic about Red Bull’s prospects.

Those are the potential bets that leapt out from idle browsing. As you can see, there’s actually rather a lot to consider.

The lead lap 1 market is interesting. If Hamilton screws up the start or the Red Bulls get an advantage from the supersofts, there’s the possibility they’ll be passed on one of the hefty straights (ie they’ll lead into turn 1 but not at the white line). If Rosberg leads into turn 1 he won’t have that problem, and nor will Hulkenberg. Going from 5th to 1st is a big ask. However, the run to the first corner is very long. A chap who hooks it up, especially if the frontrunners cock it up, could make up many places. Of these, Hulkenberg is the best value even though it’s unlikely to happen. He’s the same odds as the chap starting behind him. The chances of it happening are long but I don’t think they’re 100/1. So, odd and unlikely to win as this is, I’m backing Hulkenberg to lead lap 1 at 101. (There’s also 65 for Any Other Driver [excluding the top four] to lead lap 1 on Betfair if you want a collective Hulkenberg/Ferrari bet).

On reflection I think the varying strategy helps Red Bull. They’re going to find it hard passing on track due to their strength being in the twisty bits, but have good race pace and were very close even in qualifying. They’re also (last race notwithstanding) more reliable. I’m backing them at 4.5 to top score.

And, lastly, I’m splitting one stake between the two Haas drivers (3.75 for Gutierrez and 4 for Grosjean) to not be classified. They don’t have much grip and their brakes keep failing.

In all, I’d say those are two bets that have a pretty good chance of coming off, and one that doesn’t but is too long and therefore value.

In sum:
Hulkenberg, lead lap 1, 101
Red Bull, top score, 4.5
Gutierrez 3.75, Grosjean 4, not to be classified (one stake split evenly between the two)

I’ve tried to avoid three or more tips per race as, this season, that’s mostly led to bad results, but I know from experience it’s worse to feel pretty good about something then not back it because it might not happen. After all, it’s gambling, not investment.

The race starts at 7pm. The post-race analysis will be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Mexico: pre-qualifying 2016.

After some discussion on the impact of thinner air (higher altitude) on aerodynamics and whether this would minimise or exacerbate variance in aerodynamic performance, it was decided that Mexico is a power circuit. Accordingly, this harms Honda the most, then Renault. Ferrari, having weaker aero but a lovely engine, benefit (as do Williams versus Force India). The Toro Rosso also seems likely to struggle.

In P1, Hamilton was fastest, but less than a tenth ahead of Vettel, who was a similar margin ahead of Raikkonen. Perez, Hulkenberg and Bottas were next, with Rosberg only 7th. Ricciardo, Massa and Kvyat rounded out the top 10.

Second practice saw an even greater surprise with Vettel topping the timesheet four-thousandths ahead of Hamilton [that said, the Briton had a scruffy lap. On pure pace, the Mercedes was faster]. Rosberg was 3rd but half a second off his team mate and just three-hundredths ahead of Raikkonen. Ricciard, Hulkenberg and Verstappen were next, with Bottas, Sainz and Alonso following.

In P1, Verstappen’s rear brakes (both) were on fire. Also, plenty of cars were squirming due to lack of rear grip, and lock ups were pretty common.

At this stage the qualifying bet worth considering is Vettel for pole each way at 12 (or perhaps 1.8 for top 3 on Betfair).

In P3, Verstappen was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Next up was Ricciardo, another tenth back, then Rosberg (three-tenths), Bottas and Vettel. Raikkonen, Massa, Hulkenberg and Sainz round out the top 10.

Traffic for Mercedes and messed up laps for Ferrari means their times aren’t reflective of actual pace. Both the BBC radio commentary and Sky chaps thought that Red Bull have the legs on Ferrari (personally, I’m not sure it’s that clear cut).

Both qualifying and the race itself should be dry.

Pole may be a contest, although there are many reports that low speed trap times for Mercedes are indicative of their engines being turned down (ie they still have a substantial advantage over the field). It may also indicate that the likes of Williams and Force India may be more competitive than they might otherwise be.

My feeling is that Hamilton’s strong favourite for pole but seeing where Rosberg ends up will be altogether more interesting.

It’s quite easy to bugger up a lap around the Mexican circuit, though. This is because of a tricky twisty bit where rear grip can vanish, and traffic can be a serious problem. Plenty of locking tyres too (the supersoft appears good for two qualifying laps).

After a bit of a wait for the Ladbrokes’ markets, I’ve decided against betting. Hamilton’s odds for pole are too short to tempt and I can’t see value elsewhere.

Qualifying starts at 7pm. The pre-race piece will be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 24 October 2016

United States: post-race analysis 2016

It’s the morning after the night before. As usual, the Circuit of the Americas produced a very entertaining. It was neither profitable nor detrimental to finances, though, as the evens No Safety Car tip came off, but Hamilton selfishly hogged first place on the first lap. [Apologies for any slight errors in the order things happened, I tend to write race reports from memory].

Off the line, it seemed to be formation flying, but Rosberg couldn’t quite keep ahead of Ricciardo, and the Aussie slipped into 2nd. Further down the field, there was contact aplenty. Bunching of the field at the wide first corner meant Bottas and Hulkenberg made contact. The German was out and the Finn had a puncture. To make matters worse for Force India, Perez had contact with Kvyat, and the Mexican ended up more or less last, facing the wrong way, but was able to get going (Kvyat ended up with a 10s penalty).

Button, by contrast, had a flyer, rising from 19th to 11th on lap 1.

Meanwhile at the sharp end it was surprisingly close. The top four (Verstappen 4th) were all covered by a single camera shot, and Raikkonen was close behind too.

At the first round of pit stops Rosberg jumped a different way to everyone else. He pitted quite early to stop Raikkonen’s undercut getting the better of him, and slotted on the medium tyres. These were working really rather well, and he matched Hamilton’s pace when the Briton pitted for fresh softs. Ricciardo retained 2nd, but his soft tyres meant that Rosberg would be able to run longer.

A short way back, Vettel had been catching the racy Raikkonen. No team orders occurred, unless you count bringing Raikkonen in for fresh tyres.

Verstappen was getting very close to Rosberg, who found himself the meat in a Red Bull sandwich, the three cars covered by under 2s. For a short time it was close and then the gaps opened up just a little (roughly a second and a half each way).

Ricciardo pitted, then so did Verstappen. The Dutchman surprised his team [somehow he thought they’d called him in], who ran out and actually did a good job of slamming on some medium tyres despite being astonished to see him. However, woe was to occur. Halfway round the next lap his engine lost almost all power. He kept trundling around, passing marshal stations (at the team’s behest) until they ordered him to cross a gravel trap and park the car by a marshal post. However, they were unable to push the car through the gap (sounds like the wheels locked) so a Virtual Safety Car emerged.

This was ruinous for Ricciardo. The timing allowed both Mercedes to pit, effectively saving 10s on a pit stop, which put Rosberg easily ahead of the Aussie. I think it near certain Ricciardo would’ve been ahead of Rosberg after the final stops but for this, although the Mercedes did have better pace so he might have been passed anyway. But, we’ll never know.

Raikkonen suffered misfortune too. On the final stop he had a cross-threaded wheel nut and was ordered to stop immediately after leaving the pit lane. This probably stopped him getting a 5th, or perhaps a 4th.

There was some cracking action from 5th to 7th. Sainz, on ageing soft tyres, was pursued by Massa and Alonso, both on mediums. The wily young Spaniard was doing a great job keeping Massa behind him. The Brazilian overcooked things and locked up (fortunately a corner, otherwise he would’ve ploughed into Sainz’s rear). However, this allowed Alonso get a little bit nearer. Massa left the door open at a later corner, and Alonso, from some way back, dove down the inside and passed his former team mate in a wheel-banging manoeuvre. This appeared to give Massa a puncture, necessitating a very late pit stop.

Alonso then set about chasing down Sainz. On the final lap [I think] he pulled off another audacious/obnoxious manoeuvre to pass his younger compatriot.

After all that, it was another Mercedes 1-2, although Red Bull were closer on pace (if not fortune) than has been the case at some other circuits. Mexico, being quite slow and twisty (I think, need to check) could be rather splendid for the Red Bulls.

Hamilton narrows the gap from 33 to 26 points, but it’s still advantage Rosberg.

Ricciardo gets a well-deserved podium. Shame for Verstappen but these things happen. Vettel was in a race of one, effectively. Not fast enough to fight for a podium, but a day and a half ahead of Alonso.

The Spaniards had a lovely day, Alonso 5th, Sainz 6th. It’s worth noting both benefited from substantial luck due to retirements and misfortune for those ahead of them (Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg retired, Bottas and Perez suffered accidents that put them further down the order). But, opportunities are there to be seized. As an aside, this is terrible for my spread betting suggestion on Alonso, and a useful result as it’s indicative of how quickly a low points sell can turn wonky with one lucky result. That said, driver of the day would probably be between these two chaps (I’d give it to Sainz).

Next was Massa, despite his late puncture. Overall a good day for Williams in their contest with Force India, but it could’ve been better. Perez was right behind Massa, a strong recovery after a dreadful first lap. So, the gap narrows, but only by a couple of points.

Button and Grosjean got the last points. So, another double points finish for McLaren, and another point for Haas (Gutierrez had to retire due to his brakes, I believe).

So, Rosberg’s lead over Hamilton, with three races to go, is now 26 points. The next races are Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. For his own peace of mind, Rosberg could do with beating Hamilton at the next race. I still think Rosberg’s got the whip hand. If you believe Hamilton can yet win, he’s 3.75 on Ladbrokes. However, if Rosberg is 2nd at two races and 3rd at another and Hamilton wins all three, Rosberg still takes the title. If Rosberg wins the next race, Hamilton 2nd, it would take a near miracle for Hamilton to retain his crown.

To be honest, I hope Rosberg wins, for the sake of variety, if nothing else. And for those who say it’d be undeserved due to Hamilton’s technical woes, I would remind them of Singapore (where Rosberg out-drove Hamilton all weekend) and 2014, Abu Dhabi. There, Rosberg suffered a reliability failure that put him out of the points. If Hamilton had suffered that problem instead, Rosberg would’ve won that title.

Red Bull 400
Ferrari 347
Force India 138
Williams 130

I don’t think Ferrari can close that gap. The number wouldn’t be insurmountable but right now Red Bull has a performance advantage, particularly given the natures of upcoming tracks. If we were off to Monza, it’d be a different story. The 8 point Force India lead is pretty tenuous. However, if memory serves Perez is good at Mexico and Abu Dhabi, and Hulkenberg is very good around Interlagos (especially in the wet). Plus the Force India is better at the twisty stuff. I expected this lead to grow, but a particularly turbulent race could, perhaps, see it go the other way.

Next week we’re off to Mexico. Only had the one race there before, so limited information to go on. I might go back and re-read last year’s rambling.

A fortnight after that we’re in Brazil (thankfully rather further east, not a fan of late starts) and then two weeks later the season finale is in Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 23 October 2016

United States: pre-race 2016

After some hope of an upset, it was pretty much business as usual in qualifying.

In Q1, both Manors and Nasr failed to progress. Rather surprisingly (perhaps due to an initial run on soft tyres and then getting traffic in the form of Palmer when he was on supersofts) Button only qualified 19th). Grosjean and Magnussen also failed to go any further (both men have been out-qualified by their team mates a bit recently).

Unusually, Q2 saw six different teams get a driver eliminated. From fastest to slowest, we lost Perez, Alonso, Kvyat, Gutierrez, Palmer and Ericsson.

Ultimately, Hamilton got pole fairly comfortably, two-tenths up on Rosberg. However, most of the races at the circuit have been won from 2nd on the grid, we know Hamilton’s starts are sometimes ropey, and the first corner is an overtaking opportunity, so anyone who cocks it up will get passed off the line and probably at turn 1 as well.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are next. Interestingly, Verstappen and the Mercedes will start on the more durable soft tyre, whereas Ricciardo starts on the supersoft. It’s unclear whether this means the Aussie will have to make two stops to his rivals one, or if he’ll get an early undercut (but risk traffic problems). The others in the top 10 are on the supersoft.

Raikkonen out-qualified Vettel on the Ferrari third row. The Ferraris have looked distinctly outclassed by the Red Bulls all weekend. I do wonder if the team will end up going backwards next year.

Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa and Sainz round out the top 10. Hulkenberg was seven-tenths ahead of Perez in Q2 (bit odd, I wonder if the Mexican had traffic).

Raikkonen appears to have a new gearbox, but no penalty (I habitually check Twitter just in case something dramatic’s happened, like Verstappen getting moved to Red Bull mid-season).

Initial betting thoughts:
Hulkenberg top 6
Perez to score
Alonso to score

Hulkenberg’s only 1.66 to be top 6. Given it requires a problem for a car ahead (on pace, he’s 7th at best), this seems remarkably tightfisted.

Perez and Alonso are 1.4 and 1.72 to score. Too short to appeal.

Perhaps it’s because I’m half-asleep, but those were the only betting ideas I had off the top of my head. I had a quick look at the markets, but, frankly, nothing leapt out at me (possible I might’ve seen the below suggestions, which were made before I perused).

Mr. Sandpit of suggested No Safety Car, available at evens at Ladbrokes. And, Rosberg to lead lap 1 at 4.8 on Betfair, (Ricciardo is 5.5 on Ladbrokes).

After much contemplation, I decided No Safety Car at evens is value. There have been four races at this circuit. Half saw safety cars. However, one of those was wet (last year). The Virtual Safety Car and mostly good reliability (Hamilton’s engine woes have typically been in qualifying) plus the 1:3 in dry races makes evens value, I think.

Anyway, one and a half of these tips come from Mr. Sandpit, so do blame/praise him depending how they work out.

One stake split between Ricciardo (5.5, Ladbrokes) and Rosberg (4.8, Betfair) to lead lap 1.
No Safety Car, evens, Ladbrokes

The race starts at the somewhat irksome time of 8pm. The post-race ramble will be tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 22 October 2016

United States: pre-qualifying 2016

Hulkenberg is off to Renault. Makes Palmer’s situation look shakier than an octogenarian tightrope walker, and Magnussen’s not safe either (rumour has it Renault also want Bottas). The move also opens up a seat at Force India, with some speculating Wehrlein or Ocon could get the gig.

In the short term this may mean Hulkenberg not scoring as much but I think long-term it’s a wise risk to take. Force India really do punch above their weight but without a cash injection it’s hard to see them competing regularly for wins. In a couple of years, especially with new rules changes, Renault might.

In other intriguing news, machinations may be afoot at McLaren. Ron Dennis’ contract is up soon and may not be renewed due to shareholders. Of which there are three. One is him (25%), another is the Bahraini Royal Family (50%) and Mansour Ojjeh has the final 25%. It’s believed the latter two are intended not to renew the contract.

Excitingly, this could pave a way back for McLaren nice chap Martin Whitmarsh or, even better, Ross Brawn (who recently wrote in a book to be out for Christmas* that he left Mercedes because he couldn’t trust Wolff and Lauda). Another, more tedious, possibility would be Justin King getting the gig.

*Importantly, my own book Kingdom Asunder should be out before Christmas. And I need the money more, so buy mine first.

In first practice, Hamilton led Rosberg by three-tenths, with Verstappen over a second a half down the road. Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Bottas were next, with Ricciardo, Vettel, Kvyat and Sainz rounding out the top 10.

In second practice, things were rather tighter. Rosberg was two-tenths faster than Ricciardo, with Hamilton next up. Vettel was half a second back, ahead of Verstappen, with Hulkenberg, Perez, Button, Alonso and Raikkonen next.

At this stage, the Red Bull (especially on race pace) appears close to the Mercedes. If they qualify well or a Silver Arrow starts badly, then this could bode very well for the Red Bull. Ferrari seem very much in third place.

Worth also recalling that Hamilton has won three of the last four races here. If he cannot narrow the gap to his team mate here, of all places, things will look ominous for his title prospects.

Ahead of third practice, Mercedes broke curfew to work on Hamilton’s car, replacing the fuel system which had a minor irregularity.

Verstappen was fastest in third practice, three-tenths up on Ricciardo. Raikkonen was next, with Hamilton and Rosberg next up. Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Button and Alonso rounded out the top 10.

Rosberg didn’t set a qualifying simulation run, though. He did most of a lap (was slower than Verstappen in the first sector, purple in the second, but a little behind overall) before pitting. Hamilton was slightly held up by Nasr, who was also on a fast lap [prompted a radio comment to the pits: ‘really poor timing guys’]. So neither Silver Arrow set a representative lap time.

The gap between Hamilton and Verstappen (seven-tenths) is more or less the difference between the soft and supersoft tyres (the other being the medium). So... might we be in for a surprise?

The only potential bet of interest is a four-way split, (or two each way bets), backing Verstappen and Ricciardo to win qualifying each way at 13 (third the odds for a top 2 finish). I do think Red Bull are looking strong for the race but Mercedes has maintained a very powerful grip on qualifying all year. There’s also the small but plausible possibility that Hamilton’s engine might explode.

On balance, I decided against the bet. Too much split. And, if all runs normally, I still expect a Mercedes 1-2.

Qualifying is at 7pm and the race is at 8pm.

The pre-race piece will likely be tomorrow morning.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Japan: post-race analysis 2016

Listened to this on the radio (unsure if I’ll bother with the highlights). From a betting perspective, red, but in a surprising way. No retirements at all must be unusual at Suzuka [edited: apparently it’s the second race in a row with no retirements, an F1 first. Should try and remember that for next time]. The race sounded reasonably entertaining, but we’ll see (I woke up before 5am and listened in bed) how much of it I can actually remember.

Raikkonen got a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. This shoved him down to 8th and Vettel ended up 6th. Both were on the slightly wet side of the track (only a little bit of moisture but enough to affect a start). Button started from the back, taking a ‘35’ place grid penalty to put new bits in his car.

Off the line, Hamilton had an atrocious start, falling all the way down to 8th. Perez had a cracker, storming to 3rd ahead of Ricciardo (Hulkenberg rose to about 6th), and the Williams both went backwards.

Vettel, Raikkonen and Ricciardo all made headway, whilst Hamilton seemed unable to get past whoever was 7th. At this stage, it looked abysmal for the reigning world champion.

Hamilton then started making progress. He passed the chap ahead of him and, during the first pit stops got lucky. Two chaps [perhaps Raikkonen and Ricciardo], with whom he was going to be nip and tuck, pitted first but got bottled up behind Palmer. This enabled him to get past both of them at once.

Hamilton was now up to 4th, and homing in on Vettel. The Ferraris and Red Bulls had been pretty competitive all weekend. Rosberg had a small but stable lead over 2nd-placed Verstappen.

Hamilton got very close to Vettel then pitted. Ferrari, oddly (having cunningly undercut Ricciardo with Raikkonen) left Vettel out. When the German finally made his pit stop, he was on soft tyres to Hamilton’s hard, but behind.

After a terrible start and a few laps of no progress, the Briton had climbed all the way to 3rd. Vettel got very close with his soft tyres but was unable to effect a pass and faded. Hamilton closed in on Verstappen and spent a good 10 laps or so damned close, but the Dutchman is a wily (and occasionally dubious) defender, and Hamilton was unable to get past.

It was a strong recovery drive, but this still sees Rosberg chalk up another win and extend his lead a little bit more.

Now, it may appear I’ve talked almost exclusively about Hamilton. That’s partly because his race was interesting and partly because he was what 90% of the radio coverage was about [perhaps understandable, but the joy of moving pictures is that you can ignore the commentary and see for yourself, with timings as well as the footage, what is going on].

Behind the podium places were Vettel and Raikkonen. Ferrari must be a bit irked to miss out on a podium, but finishing there after starting 6th and 8th is encouraging. On pace, the Ferrari was a little better than the Red Bull this weekend.

Ricciardo was next up. A slightly lacklustre result to be last driver of the top three teams. Perez and Hulkenberg were next, with another strong performance for Force India (for those wondering, the radio reckoned $3.5m is the difference between 4th and 5th in the Constructors’. Bit surprised it isn’t more).

Williams recovered to finish 9th and 10th, Massa leading Bottas, but they lose more ground to Force India in their tight inter-team battle.

As I mentioned before, there was not a single retirement. Not only that, but this is the second consecutive Japanese Grand Prix to achieve that, an F1 first. I’ve made a note for next year, and will try to remember to check the To Be Classified and Number of Total Classified Finishers markets in 2017.

Surprisingly, those just out of the points were Grosjean and Palmer. The Ferrari engine in particular seemed to do quite nicely at Suzuka. Worth mentioning the McLarens, who had a bloody awful race, finishing 16th (Alonso) and 18th (Button).

So, how are the standings?

Rosberg 313
Hamilton 280

Rosberg has a 33 point lead with four races remaining. If he finishes 2nd at all of them, he takes the title. If he wins the next two, he only needs one 8th place finish at one of the last two races for the title. If he has a DNF next time and Hamilton wins, the lead falls to 8 points. In short, Rosberg’s position is not unassailable but it is very strong.

A potential fly in the ointment, for one or both Mercedes drivers, is that Red Bull and Ferrari seem closer, which means their capacity to gum things up and get between Silver Arrows seems increased. That could help Hamilton. But if he’s on the receiving end, it could end his hopes of retaining the title.

Force India 134
Williams 124

Only included these two because I think the rest are largely settled. In the battle for 4th, Force India has a 10 point margin, equivalent to finishing 5th. The teams are, as suggested, the next best after the big three, with McLaren sometimes nipping at their heels. I think Force India has the legs on Williams, which has been sliding slowly down the competitive order since about 2014. I think it’ll end this way.

An aside: after the race, as usual, I logged on and checked the BBC livefeed. Mark Gallagher, BBC Radio 5 Live F1 analyst [apparently], reckoned the momentum had slightly fallen away from Hamilton.

…. do pay attention. Rosberg’s beaten Hamilton in the last five races, of which the German won four. The last time Hamilton beat Rosberg was in July.

The next race is in a fortnight, in the US (followed a week later by Mexico). The last two races are in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Japan: pre-race 2016

By and large, Noah’s ark was the order of the day, with many drivers qualifying two-by-two. An interesting session which sets up the race quite intriguingly. Shame Vettel has a three place grid penalty, though.

The first session went largely to script, with the Saubers and Manors at the back. Magnussen was 18th and the (small) surprise departure was Button in 17th. He’s struggled a bit with set-up and the McLaren has been a bit disappointing on pace.

The second part of qualifying saw Alonso and Palmer at the back end, with the Toro Rossos (suffering now from the 2015 Ferrari engine they’ve got) in the middle. Surprisingly, Bottas and Massa both exited at this stage as well, pushed down by the Force Indias and the unexpected pace of the Haas (both Grosjean and Gutierrez making Q3 for the first time).

Throughout the first two sessions Rosberg had been fastest. But in the first runs of the third session, Hamilton was top dog, Rosberg two-tenths down. Although the Ferraris were next and then the Red Bulls, all top 6 were covered by half a second, and 3rd-6th (after the first runs) were covered by a tenth of a second.

On the second run, Rosberg improved, and Hamilton was unable to match him (barely a hundredth of a second adrift). However, Rosberg’s had a few poles at Suzuka, Hamilton’s had none [weirdly] but does have a number of wins.

Raikkonen and Vettel were next, but remember the German has a three place grid penalty so will start 7th. Must say I’m a little surprised just how tasty the Ferrari was looking.

Verstappen and Ricciardo are next. Red Bull may also contend for the podium on race pace. Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez round out the top 10.

The Ferrari engine seems to be working very nicely, aided by the Mercedes being turned down a notch. Seeing the Haas ahead of both Williams and pretty much matching the Force India was quite a surprise (also highlights that the Mercedes team itself has great aerodynamic strength to still be faster than all rivals).

Checking the weather forecast reveals the race is very likely to be dry.

Potential bets:
Raikkonen podium
Red Bull top score
Grosjean not to be classified

Raikkonen is 2.37 for a podium. He’s been driving well and the Ferrari looks nice but the odds are a bit stingy given there are likely four chaps in the hunt for the solitary non-Mercedes podium place.

Red Bull are 6 to top score. It’s a bit tricky to try and work out value here. If the Mercedes get around ok with neither reliability nor collision, it’s hard to see them being beaten on raw speed. That said, the Red Bull is reportedly good on race pace and both their drivers are vying to be number one within the team. I think Ferrari less likely to take advantage of any Mercedes weakness because Vettel’s been off the boil this year and strategy calls have often been wrong.

Grosjean is 3.5 not to be classified. This is seriously tempting. He’s failed to be classified in two of the last three races, and he’s worried about the Haas’ brakes. Not only that, Suzuka’s an old style circuit with a combination of close barriers and gravel traps. A mistake, reliability failure or collision could easily be terminal.

Of those, the Grosjean bet appeals to me most. I had a quick perusal of the markets and saw the following:
Vettel to win, each way, 34 (1/3 the odds if he is 2nd).

The Red Bulls and Raikkonen are 15 to win. Vettel starts behind them (and Perez) in 7th. However, his starts have usually been either catastrophic (cf last week) or rather good. The Ferrari will be superior to the Red Bull on top speed and has the edge on tyre wear. Vettel also has a very good record in Japan, finishing on the podium in all races from 2009 to 2015. Against that is the excellent driving of the Red Bulls, superior strategy, possible superior overall pace and the potential for Vettel’s first lap to also be his last. However, I do think his odds are out of kilter with the 15s for the other three.

It also requires either a Mercedes to screw up in some way or great fortune (perhaps with safety car timing) for Vettel. But then, the odds are long.

In the end, I can only tip Grosjean not to be classified at 3.5. Given the track’s limits, its tightness, and his car, I think there’s a pretty good chance he won’t make the finish. Any mistake or reliability issue or collision has a high probability of ending his race, and his car is not the sturdiest.

The race, joyously, starts at 6am, UK time. I’ll see if I can manage to wake up in time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 7 October 2016

Japan: pre-qualifying 2016

Due to the earliness of all the sessions, I’m posting the pre-qualifying piece today rather than Saturday. Rain had been forecast for qualifying but now seems to be drifting off (of course, if forecasts are wrong both or one of qualifying and the race could still be affected, making predicting outcomes trickier).

Worth noting all Mercedes engines will be running in a lower mode than its best, following Hamilton’s flaming disaster last time out. This will obviously impact performance, but I expect it to be marginal, rather than dramatic.

Also, remember Vettel has a three place grid penalty for his ill-judged first lap in Malaysia.

In first practice Rosberg was two-tenths up on Hamilton, who was nearly a second faster than Vettel, with Raikkonen next. The Ferraris were followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen, with Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso and Bottas rounding out the top 10.

Second practice again had Rosberg fastest over Hamilton, but this time by less than a tenth. Raikkonen was a couple of tenths down the road, with Verstappen half a second further back. Vettel, Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Bottas and Sainz finished off the top 10.

At this stage, the Force Indias and Alonso look to be the best outside the big three teams. Word is the Red Bull looks tasty on race pace but seems outmatched (though practice is not a flawless guide) for qualifying by the Ferrari.

Ahead of qualifying a few potential bets came to mind:
Hulkenberg to reach Q3
Alonso to reach Q3
Rosberg pole

Hulkenberg and Alonso are just 1.55 and 1.4 respectively to make Q3. Whilst I think both have a great chance and I’d be unsurprised if both did it, with the potential for wet weather and Alonso’s less than stellar mechanical reliability this year, both are too short to tempt.

Rosberg is just 2.1 for pole, same as Hamilton. Not going for it.

Qualifying starts at 7am, and the race at 6am. Neither is live on Channel 4, so best of luck avoiding spoilers if you’re waiting for the highlights (there’s radio for those without Sky, of course, but that’s clearly inferior).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Malaysia: post-race analysis 2016

A cracking race, with drama from the first lap almost to the last. Strategic cunning, mishap, great drives and grave misfortune. And the bet even came off, despite three or four Virtual Safety Cars.

At the instigation of the formation lap, Massa discovered his throttle was being disobedient and had to be wheeled into the pits. Whilst Williams managed to get his car working, it meant a pit lane start in last rather than a 10th place start.

Off the line it seemed to be more or less formation flying. But Vettel miscalculated into the first corner. He tagged Rosberg and spun his compatriot around, and, in the process, ruined his own left front suspension, ending his race. Clumsy, and not for the first time this year from Vettel. He was out, and Rosberg was last (a Virtual Safety Car came out here, neutralising the race for a couple of laps). At the end of lap 1 Alonso had leapt up to 12th and Perez had risen to around 3rd.

Several cars took advantage of the VSC to pit and lose relatively less time (because the field was moving more slowly than it would normally), including Rosberg.

Meanwhile, Massa’s misfortune continued unabated as he almost immediately got a front puncture on his hard tyres and required an extra pit stop.

Verstappen, just ahead of Raikkonen (Hamilton leading, Ricciardo 2nd) pitted early, shoved on some soft tyres and was racing around rapidly. However, as the hard tyre was mandatory the Dutchman was guaranteed to require another pit stop. When Hamilton and then Ricciardo pitted for hard tyres with about 35 laps to go, it was unclear whether they’d be able to make it to the end. Verstappen pitted a few laps later for hard tyres.

Raikkonen had slid back a bit, unable to keep up with Hamilton or the Red Bulls. Rosberg had risen swiftly through the field, and was now 5th, right behind the Finn.

Magnussen suffered some damage on lap 1 and, some time later, was retired as his pace was woeful. Grosjean retired when his rear brakes didn’t work and a corner became a straight (another VSC came out here). The other Haas of Gutierrez was left with three wheels after one of them went walkies after a pit stop.

At this stage the biggest questions were whether Rosberg could pass Raikkonen and if team orders would be used at Red Bull. Verstappen had caught Ricciardo (running 2-3 at this point) and was clearly faster, yet the Aussie fended off the talented Dutchman with some fantastic driving. It was reminiscent of Hamilton and Rosberg in Bahrain 2014.

And then Hamilton’s engine burst into flames, with 15 laps or so to go.

The Briton lamented his fate over the radio and peeled off the track. Both the Red Bulls pitted. Despite his best efforts, Verstappen was unable to get close enough to attempt a pass. They were both racing properly, although with a couple of laps to go Verstappen appeared to ease off.

Ricciardo scored a first win of the year and, after the Spanish strategy not going his way and Monaco tyres going missing, it must have been especially sweet. He dedicated his triumph to the late Jules Bianchi.

A little way down the road, Rosberg pulled a dodgems move to get past Raikkonen. The stewards took a dim view and handed the German a 10s time penalty for causing a collision, but as Rosberg finished more than that ahead of Raikkonen he retained 3rd.

Raikkonen got 4th which, I think, was the most he could’ve achieved given his car. The Ferrari just wasn’t a match for either Red Bull or Mercedes, which must be concerning. In relative terms they’ve gone backwards since last year. Vettel also needs to calm down a bit.

Bottas ended up 5th and Massa 13th. Can’t blame Massa for that, as he had two slices of horrendous misfortune (pit lane start and then a puncture on a new set of tyres). Good from Bottas to finish ahead of both Force Indias (although the latter team outscored Williams overall).

Perez was 6th and Hulkenberg 8th, two more solid points finishes from a very good driver pairing (although rumours circulate Hulkenberg might be sought by Renault, and perhaps Perez by Haas).

Alonso’s 7th is quite fantastic given he started last (well, last but one as Massa started from the pit lane). It's also a testament to the improving pace of the McLaren. Button’s 9th means he scores in his 300th race start and that McLaren gets a nice double points finish. Still a long way to go, but progress is being made.

Palmer’s 10th is the first point he scores in F1, and nice to see after he threw away a comparable finish (Hungary, I think) with a spin. That said, I still think he’ll be thrown overboard for next season.

So, Rosberg’s race swung from total disaster to actually extending his title lead by a hefty margin. Here’s how things stand:
Rosberg 288
Hamilton 265

A 23 point gap with five races to go is not yet comfortable. Much better than Rosberg could’ve hoped for after lap 1 (or even before qualifying) but if Rosberg’s engine blows up at the next race and Hamilton wins, that becomes a 2 point Hamilton lead. However, I’ve got to say Rosberg is the favourite for the title right now.

Mercedes 553
Red Bull 359
Ferrari 313
Force India 124
Williams 121
McLaren 62
Toro Rosso 47
Haas 28
Renault 8
Manor 1
Sauber 0

I think all those places will stay as they are. McLaren have further cemented their 6th position, and Force India have very slightly increased their lead over Williams. It’ll be very tight between those teams, but I suspect Force India will bag 4th.

I switch off after the racing finishes but do check to see if anything interesting emerges. Hamilton’s post-race comments about engine failures only happening to him and the situation not sitting right with him may be indicative that the psychological pressure is getting to him. After all, a driver can alter his style or learn new circuits and rely on his skill and judgement to improve performance, but nobody can defend against his engine exploding. It is undeniable that Hamilton has had atrocious luck this year, and fought back brilliantly to turn a deficit into a small lead, only to lose it again and have the deficit extended by sheer misfortune.

It's worth recalling that a McLaren reliability failure (one, after a spate) helped persuade Hamilton to jump ship. I'm not suggesting he'll leave Mercedes, just that poor reliability might be the thing he finds hardest to handle.

Next weekend, we’re in Japan at the rather good Suzuka circuit. Hamilton will be hoping to bounce back rapidly, and he has an excellent record at the track. If Rosberg extends his lead again, things will start looking ominous indeed for Hamilton, and very promising for the German.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Malaysia: pre-race 2016

In third practice Hamilton looked to have the whip hand, with Red Bull closer to Ferrari than I expected.

The first session of qualifying was very much as you might expect. Alonso, now with a 45 place grid penalty, did the bare minimum, and the Manors, Saubers and Palmer also left at this stage.

There weren’t many surprises in Q2 either. The biggest was that Button escaped to Q3 and Bottas (starting 11th) did not. Behind the Finn are the Haas drivers, Magnussen and the Toro Rossos.

In Q3 things looked a bit odd after the first runs. Rosberg was only fastest for the third row, a mile behind his pole-sitting team mate, the Red Bulls and, I think, a Ferrari. On the second run, however, normal service was resumed and we have another Hamilton-Rosberg front row. Verstappen and Ricciardo are next and, reportedly, the Red Bull has been rather quick on the long runs.

Must say I’m surprised Ferrari are only on the third row. Whilst the gap to Ricciardo (for Vettel) is just a tenth of a second, it’s still a shade disappointing for the Prancing Horse.

Punching above their weight on the fourth row are the two Force Indias, with Perez ahead of Hulkenberg. Tasty grid slots for the team battling with Williams. Button did well to get 9th, whilst Massa could manage only 10th.

The weather forecast has a small chance of rain, but likely to be dry.

I had been hoping for rain, as I think some interesting Red Bull, Hulkenberg and Button bets could’ve been opened up by soggy conditions (it also would’ve drastically hampered Rosberg, I think).

Bets that sprang to mind:
Rosberg to lead lap 1
Ricciardo podium
No Safety Car

Rosberg is 3.25 to lead the first lap. Hmm. Not value. There’s the potential for the Red Bulls to start very well, Hamilton to do ok or Rosberg to cock it up.

Ricciardo’s just 2.2 for a podium. Not remotely tempting.

No Safety Car is 2.25. Whilst not super tasty, with the extra gravel traps, it is worth considering.

As is now traditional, I then perused the markets hoping to find some ludicrous value. Here’s what caught my eye, to a greater or lesser extent:
Rosberg, win, 4.8 (Betfair), hedge 2.4

That’s pretty much it. Rosberg was out of sorts in qualifying, but the Mercedes has been very good in clear air. If he can get the jump at the start he has a strong chance of winning and the hedge may be matched immediately. There’s also the safety car bet.

On balance, I decided the No Safety Car bet at 2.25 was the better value. Rosberg's been a bit off-kilter this weekend and Red Bull may be a threat. 

Just the one tip: No Safety Car, 2.25, Ladbrokes.

The race starts at 8am. Intrigued to see how Red Bull and Force India do.

Morris Dancer