Sunday, 26 March 2017

Australia: post-race analysis 2017

Listened to the race on the radio, but I do plan on watching the highlights on Channel 4. The first half sounded exciting, the second half settled (or boring, perhaps). From a betting perspective, it was quite nice as my three tips came off. Credit also to Mr. M for his 10 tip on Raikkonen for fastest lap (I got on but only at 8), and commiserations for those bets that didn’t come off.

Even before the start, there was drama. Ricciardo’s Red Bull stopped on the way to the grid, some sort of electrical fault. In the end, it was mended, but he had to start two laps late and from the pit lane.

There was also an odd false rumour that Kvyat wouldn’t be able to start because his fire extinguisher had gone off and regulations dictate every car must have one in working order.

Off the line, it was mostly formation flying at the sharp end. Grosjean lost a place to Massa, and further down the field Stroll gained several places with a splendid start. Magnussen and Ericsson (unsure if this was right at the start or a smidgen after) came together, which forced Magnussen to pit for new tyres (commentary believed it was the Dane’s fault).

The front two charged off, leaving Bottas and Raikkonen in their wake. Contrary to expectations, Vettel spent the first few laps very close behind Hamilton, who couldn’t (initially) break free of the DRS gap. However, a few laps later the Briton managed to eke out a gap. It was nip and tuck, Hamilton faster this lap, Vettel the next, but the gap gradually rose to a couple of seconds.

Then, a strange thing happened. Mercedes panicked. Hamilton did seem to be struggling a bit more on tyres (both men on ultrasofts, of course) but pitted earlier than expected. The undercut may still work in theory, but that theory presupposes not coming out right behind Verstappen on a circuit where passing is very hard. The Mercedes was trapped behind the slower Red Bull, and Vettel, as yet unpitted, was driving between half and one second a lap faster.

Ferrari almost contrived to cock it up by pitting Vettel a little earlier than necessary. It was close, but the German just about emerged ahead of the Flying Dutchman to retain (effectively) the lead. He then drove off into the sunset whilst Hamilton struggled in vain to pass Verstappen.

Remarkable to consider the Prancing Horse took full and cunning advantage of a daft strategic error by the Silver Arrows. [It emerged at the press conference that Hamilton made the tyre call, but the team must have known the risk].

Late on, Verstappen was closing on Raikkonen, and Bottas on Hamilton, but neither could get past (Bottas finished just over a second behind his team mate). There is a suggestion there might have been floor damage on Hamilton’s car, which would explain why he was utterly unable to stop Vettel extending and maintaining a large gap.

The best latter stage battle was Alonso fighting to defend 10th from Ocon, with Hulkenberg right behind (the three entering a corner abreast at one point). Ocon got it in the end, and Alonso was forced to retire shortly thereafter as the McLaren kept pulling left.

Further down the field, cars were dropping like flies. Grosjean had been in 7th, when his engine decide to billow smoke like a chimney. Later, his team mate Magnussen had to retire, making it a horrendous first race for Haas.

Ricciardo, pretty much doing extra testing given how he started, had to retire with a separate issue from the one that had afflicted him before reaching the grid.

Palmer had brake issues (they kept sticking on) and had to retire, as did Stroll, and Ericsson.

The top five were Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen. Sixth was Massa, who had a splendid day not being retired. It’s a shame Stroll didn't finish as it would’ve been interesting to see where he would have ended up.

Force India had a strong start to the season, Perez performing well to claim 7th, with his team mate Ocon getting 10th. Given Perez was saying post-testing that the team had some problems but had identified solutions and would be bringing them to the first few races it’s possible that Force India will soon be the fourth fastest team.

Toro Rosso also had a great race, with a double points finish. Sainz was 8th and Kvyat 9th. Fast car, competitive drivers, and a strong result.

Renault must be disappointed. The race had its usual high attrition rate but Hulkenberg could only manage 11th. He wasn’t miles away from nabbing the final point, but you don’t get points for near misses.

Giovinazzi had a very impressive debut. He finished 12th, didn’t really put a foot wrong all weekend (if we’re being ultra-harsh then he did cock up a fast qualifying lap and perhaps should’ve been ahead of his team mate on the grid), but for a newcomer who only learnt he’d be racing on the morning of qualifying day, he performed extremely well. If I were Sauber, I’d be wondering whether or not to give Wehrlein a few more months to get himself better.

Vandoorne was the last of the finishers. Given McLaren’s reliability, maybe they would’ve taken one car reaching the end of the race intact. But the season of 2012, when they had the fastest car for much of the year (albeit hampered by poor reliability) feels a very long time ago.

So, a very good race in betting terms. Three tips offered, and all came off, as did Mr. M’s long odds suggestion of Raikkonen for fastest lap.

We should be wary of drawing firm conclusions from a single race. Australia is a particular type of circuit, not as fast as many, not as downforce dependent as some other street circuits. However, we do have a much clearer idea of the pecking order.

I also wonder if Mercedes’ old tyre problems are back. Both their drivers lacked a bit of grip and were sliding about. On race pace, I think Vettel is better than Hamilton (in Oz, at least). The German could stick to the Briton fairly closely, the reverse was not true (I may amend this view if it turns out the Silver Arrow did have floor damage).

Red Bull is in a clear third, but there’s a massive gap between the top three and the midfield. Williams, Toro Rosso and Force India appear to be the chaps likeliest to scrap for the back end of the points.

An interesting thing I realised some time after the race was a slight pattern of the start. Verstappen got close to passing Raikkonen, Vettel was a little sluggish against the Mercedes, Grosjean lost a place to Massa and Stroll leapt up the order. Maybe the Mercedes engine is a bit better at starts than the Ferrari? Might just be coincidence, but something to think about.

I have seen some grumbling about lack of overtakes, and it’s true there weren’t many. However, it’s too early to say if this will be a season-long problem, and it’s worth noting there are never that many at this particular circuit.

Anyway, very nice to see a more competitive sharp end of F1, and bets coming off is always good.

The next race is in a fortnight, in China.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Australia: pre-race 2017

What a difference a day makes. I listened to qualifying on the radio and was quite intrigued. Before I get to what happened in qualifying, some things occurred beforehand worth mentioning.

In third practice Stroll continued his mission to take on the mantle of Maldonado by crashing once again. This meant the team had to race to get his Williams ready in time (they succeeded) but also that the gearbox needed changing which incurs a five place grid penalty.

A more surprising turn of events was that Wehrlein deciding not to race. You may recall he had a substantial crash before the first pre-season test (which meant he couldn’t attend it). His neck is fine in terms of injury, his concern is that six weeks lost from the gym meant he wouldn’t be in shape. Seems a bit odd given he was fine for testing and to practice yesterday. Anyway, this means that Ferrari’s third driver, Antonio Giovinazzi, leaps into the hot seat. It’s nice to see an Italian back racing in F1.

In the first session of qualifying, every driver to drop out came from a different team. At the bottom was Palmer, who ended up over 3s behind Hulkenberg. Whilst I do think the German has a clear edge, that margin suggests a car issue. Stroll was 19th, although he’ll be at the back due to the gearbox change. Then we have Vandoorne and Magnussen, both a long way off their team mates, and Giovinazzi in 16th, the fastest man eliminated (worth noting he may have been fast enough to proceed, but for fluffing his last lap).

The second session had three team leaders as the fastest chaps out (Perez, Hulkenberg and Alonso). Ocon is 14th, but he was half a second off Perez, and Ericsson was last, which is probably a pretty solid indicator of where Sauber is.

Throughout these sessions Mercedes had looked to have an edge (Hamilton, at least) over Ferrari. Could the gap be closed?

Yes and no. Hamilton did get pole by just under three-tenths (I recall contemplating the 1.9 on a three-tenths or more gap then dismissing it. About 3 was available for the actual gap). But Vettel was 2nd, a few hundredths ahead of Bottas, who was half a second ahead of Raikkonen.

Red Bull seem to be in a clear third place in pace terms. However, Ricciardo cocked up in Q3 and crashed, so he starts 10th (assuming there’s no penalty for changing a gearbox or suchlike). Verstappen duly got 5th, but, perhaps surprisingly, Grosjean was the chap who grabbed 6th for Haas, four-tenths ahead of Massa. Not bad considering Magnussen, Grosjean’s new team mate, is starting 17th.

Very close behind Massa were the Toro Rosso pairing of Sainz and Kvyat. Whilst many teams seem to have one driver a mile faster than the others, these two seem pretty close (Sainz with a slight edge).

So, there we are. A very intriguing grid for a potentially tasty first race. It seems a two horse contest at the front, with Red Bull a clear third, then quite some gap but a competitive midfield.

On the long runs yesterday, before Ferrari sorted themselves out, the Silver Arrows looked faster than the Prancing Horse. However, if the habit of recent years whereby Mercedes turn up the wick for qualifying is true, then maybe Ferrari is the team to beat on race pace.

Just looking at the grid, considering the start and the probable dry race and single stop, the bets that first leapt to mind were:
Toro Rosso, double points finish
Ricciardo, top 6
Hulkenberg, points

Pretty tempted by Toro Rosso at 2.5 for a double points finish. The two drivers are quick, the car looks good. Odds could be tastier, perhaps.

Ricciardo is 1.66 to be top 6. Now, I do think the Red Bull is significantly faster than all save Ferrari and Mercedes, but if there’s a lap 1 pile-up, starting 10th (possibly lower, contingent on gearbox) means he could well be in the middle of it. He also has to make that up on track, most likely, as a single stop is expected per team, limiting the scope for strategic shenanigans. Bit short to tempt, even though it’s entirely possible.

Hulkenberg is 1.61 for points. Although I rate him highly and the Renault seems pretty good, the odds are a bit too short. The usually high attrition rate in Oz does mean he could get there simply by finishing, but that high retirement rate also means he might not finish himself.

Idle browsing revealed some other potential bets:
Vettel, lead lap 1, 3.25
Vettel, win (each way?), 4.33
Ferrari, double podium, 2.87
Ferrari, Constructors’, 5

Hamilton was a bit rubbish at starting last year. If this persists, and (I forget the reasons why, but did mention it in an earlier article) starting is harder for everyone this season, he may well screw up the start. Vettel’s first in line to benefit (in fact, all three drivers immediately behind Hamilton regularly had flying starts in 2016). However, with the new start rules and short odds, I’m going to give this a miss.

Vettel to win each way looks more promising. If he leads lap 1 then he’ll be favourite for the race, but the odds are longer. Each way is a third the odds (just over evens) for him to be top 2. I quite like the look of this, the downside being it’s very tight between the top four and a starting cock-up could sink it. Hmm.

The Mercedes and Ferraris are a bit faster than Red Bull and those three are a day and a half ahead of the midfield. The odds are the podium will be three of the Silver Arrows/Prancing Horse drivers. Raikkonen and Bottas have a bit of previous, you may recall. I think 2.87 may be value, though it’s tight.

The Constructors’ surprises me. With a grid mixed between the two top teams, it would seem the Constructors’ is a two-horse race, yet one is 1.25 and the other (Ferrari) is 5. I may be jumping the gun, but it looks to me like that figure is too influenced by last season. Vettel and Raikkonen are a very solid pairing.

Apologies for the length, again, but there’s quite a lot to contemplate.

Looking at the race bets and considering the two tips already offered (I’m slightly regretting the No Safety Car bet, but feeling more confident of there being 15 or fewer classified finishers), of the above, the most appealing race bet is Vettel to win at 4.33, each way. An alternative is to back on Betfair at 5.1, and set up a hedge at evens.

In the end, I opted for the following, which is today’s tip:
Vettel, win each way, 4.33 (Ladbrokes, each way = third the odds for top 2)

The race begins at 6am UK time, but don’t forget that the clocks go forward tonight.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 24 March 2017

Australia: pre-qualifying 2017

Well, F1 is back. But the points spread markets are not, and neither were the practice results on the BBC (had to use the official site to find them). Bit lax.

After all the murmuring of Ferrari resurgence, Hamilton was fastest in the first practice session by half a second. Bottas was second, but under a tenth ahead of Ricciardo with Verstappen four-tenths further back. Raikkonen and Vettel were next, then Massa, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Perez.

[Normally I’d stop there but as it’s the first race under new rules, the next 10 were: Sainz, Kvyat, Stroll, Alonso, Ericsson, Ocon, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Palmer and Vandoorne].

In second practice, Hamilton was against fastest by half a second, this time over Vettel. Bottas was a hundredth back, with Raikkonen four-tenths down the road. Ricciardo was close behind, with Verstappen again a surprisingly large margin further back (either here or in P1 the Dutchman lost his best time to an error so the true gap may be significantly smaller). Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Kvyat finish the points positions.

Further back we had: Perez, Alonso, Ocon, Massa, Ericsson, Stroll, Vandoorne, Wehrlein, Magnussen and Palmer.

So, early on, some clear dynamics have emerged amongst new driver pairings. Obviously, Hamilton is a day and a half ahead of Bottas.

Perez is significantly faster than Ocon.

Grosjean is substantially quicker than Magnussen.

Hulkenberg was more than 2s faster than Palmer in both sessions.

Alonso is much faster than Vandoorne.

Massa is quicker than Stroll but by a smaller margin than some differences above.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ericsson is faster than Wehrlein.

This may mean that the car is actually a bit less important than usual in determining the race result. Still critical, but we’re seeing, in practice, admittedly, large gaps between team mates. This could have implications for some bets, but, even if not, it’s intriguing in itself.

Now, the cars. Still the dominant factor. Practice is not a perfect indicator, and that should be considered for both the driver observations above and the team observations below. As of now:
Mercedes look the fastest.
Ferrari appears to be second, very evenly matched with Bottas but some way behind Hamilton.
Red Bull in a comfortable third.

Haas, Renault and Force India look very close, with Williams probably in the mix too. Toro Rosso aren’t far off. In short, the midfield is clustered and that may well mean the top drivers in each team will be contesting for points, whilst the slower drivers languish further back.

As expected, Sauber and McLaren appear to be at the back of the grid.

Based on the current information, I’d predict Hamilton for pole, then a very close contest for the three spots behind him, a Red Bull third row, and then probably (not necessarily in this order) Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Perez and Massa [possibly Sainz].

In short, most of the top places to be team-by-team but the midfield to be more mixed.

It’s also worth contemplating the start (I’ll do this after qualifying in more detail, of course). The new systems mean that it will probably be easier to screw up the start, and this could be more painful than in previous years (unfortunately, I’ve forgotten why this is the case, but it is). There’s also reliability, who might break down (McLaren) and whether this will bring out a full safety car, or not. Crashing (Stroll) is another potential pitfall, especially off the line.

As far as pit stops go, there’s likely to be just the one, as the tyres are more durable. This should be the case for the first few races as Pirelli were understandably conservative before they knew for sure how enduring the compounds would be. That also decreases the chances of screwing up strategy.

Weather forecast is currently overcast, but dry.

Potential qualifying bets:
Hamilton, pole, 1.28
Raikkonen, top 3 qualifying, no price
Grosjean/Hulkenberg, top 10 qualifying, 1.01

Obviously the latter two have no odds to speak of. Hamilton is clear favourite for pole, but if he cocks up the critical lap or has a reliability problem then it’s lost. The odds are too poor for me to back.

Potential race bets:
Toro Rosso double points finish
Raikkonen, podium, 2.37
Vettel/Raikkonen, lead lap 1, 4.5/13
Alonso/Vandoorne, not to be classified, 1.66/1.57
Stroll, not to be classified, 2.62
No Safety Car, 3.25

Unfortunately, the double-points market wasn’t up. However, as the race is on Sunday there’s plenty of time. My reasoning behind thinking of it was that, unlikely most (outside the top three) teams, the Sainz/Kvyat pairing are pretty closely matched. There’s no vast yawning chasm between them, although Sainz does have a small edge.

Although the odds are short, Raikkonen for a podium may be worth considering. The odds on Alonso/Vandoorne are too low. It’s entirely possible they’ll both fail but still. Stroll’s odds are a little more tempting.

The lead lap 1 market is interesting. If all goes as expected then both Ferraris should be top four, possibly top three. Hamilton is sometimes ropey at starting and last year the Ferraris regularly bounded ahead. Worthy of consideration.

No Safety Car is an intriguing bet. Despite the VSC’s existence, there was a proper safety car last year. There’s also a danger of a car breaking down on-track (though I think it’d take a very bad location or a crash/bad start to bring out the safety car).

Browsing whilst waiting for the double-points market to appear, I also saw that Hulkenberg and Grosjean were 4.5 and 7 respectively to be top 6. Now, that does require one, or more, of the top chaps to crash or have some sort of problem, but may be value (Massa’s only evens, and Sainz is 3.5, both looking too short to me).

Also, there’s 1.61 for under 15.5 classified finishers (out of 20). In two out of the three most recent years, this would’ve happened despite having more cars, and if one looks at the retirements/crashes and subtracts that from the starting 20, it would’ve happened every year. Short, but probably value (requires five or more retirements/crashes).

Grosjean is 2.1 for points. Given he was comfortably in the top 10 in both practice sessions this looks rather good.

So, that’s a huge number of potential bets. Running through the list, the ones that seem to have the best chances of offering value are:
No Safety Car, 3.25 [Ladbrokes]
Under 15.5 classified finishers, 1.75 [Betfair]

At this stage I’ve decided to only back the No Safety Car and Classified Finisher bets. The Grosjean/Hulkenberg bets are tempting, but dependent on qualifying.

I may or may not add to these tips following qualifying, but will definitely write a pre-race article as usual. The points spread market suggestions will come just as soon as the market itself springs into life.

Qualifying starts at the unhelpful hour of 6am. I shall endeavour to wake up in time and listen to it on the wireless.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 10 March 2017

Testing times, part two

It must be said, testing has proved rather more interesting than it might have done. I should reiterate that the times must be taken with a boulder of salt, but the mood music can be a more reliable guide.

Before we get to potential pace, let’s examine the various gremlin infestations.

McLaren is the worst. This is down to the Honda engine, which, as well as being under-powered, seems to quite like going on strike. I’ll be checking the Not To Be Classified market for Australia, but I think the odds may be very short. Speaking of strikes, a Honda engineer, Gilles Simon, has left Honda, reportedly because he felt his ideas on the engine were not being implemented.

With intra-season development now possible, Honda could recover. But even if they did so and made an engine equal to the fastest, they would have lost so much ground it’s hard to see them in the mix this year.

Renault and Force India have both had some problems too. However, Renault sound confident they can fix things for Oz. Force India are also confident of mending the problems but think it’ll take a bit of time, so we could see a fairly rapid improvement in pace/reliability for Force India over the first few races.

Red Bull has had some reliability woe, largely on the turbo/MGU-K elements of the engine. An F1 car can run without all/part of the ERS system but it will cost seconds per laps, as well as buggering up the brake balance (kinetic energy from the brakes is recycled into horsepower).

Ferrari have also hit a few snags in the second test. I’d say more than Mercedes but fewer than Red Bull.

Haas is looking for a brake improvement (still having problems from last year), and has had a few wonky moments.

Meanwhile, Williams and Mercedes are looking pretty solid. Not sure I can remember much Sauber woe, either. Toro Rosso have had one or two problems but nothing too major, I think.

Now, onto pace. As mentioned previously, this is half-guesswork, half-Mystic Meg mumbo-jumbo. I’m focusing on mood music rather than times.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull seem quite similar. Right now, I think the first two are very close to one another (Mr. B’s bet on Ferrari for the Constructors’ title may be looking good, my each way on Bottas for the title looking a little ropey). My feeling is Red Bull are a small margin back but will be the team to beat at high downforce circuits (whilst being murdered at Monza).

Behind them, it could be pretty tasty between Williams, Renault and Force India. Haas might be up there, not sure. Toro Rosso are a bit difficult to tell, but Sainz is impressive and they had a pretty nice car (albeit underpowered) last year. The midfield could be tight indeed.

I think Sauber will score a few more points than last year, but I’m rather worried for McLaren. Right now they look like the slowest team on the grid.

If my vague musings are accurate, we could see things competitive at both the sharp end and in the midfield. However, a word of warning. Mercedes are the champion sandbaggers. Both they and other teams will probably have hidden some true pace. We’ll only know for sure when Australia’s done and dusted.

So, bets I will have an eye on for Australia (NB these are only things I’ll check/consider, not tips at this stage):
Alonso/Vandoorne, not to be classified
Ferrari, top score
Safety Car (due to possibility of some cars breaking down)
Raikkonen, podium
Hamilton, pole

There are no spread markets available yet. Although I’m not betting on them this year, I want to try and get my eye in for possible betting in 2018, so I will be offering some suggestions either in a stand-alone article or as part of the Australian race weekend articles. The first race of the year is in just over a fortnight.

It was announced today that the 1964 world champion John Surtees has died. RIP.

Morris Dancer

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Thoughts on the first pre-season test

There are just two tests ahead of the 2017 F1 season. The first has just finished, the second runs from 7-10 March.

I would strongly caution against paying attention to headline times. Back in 2009, with Bridgestone tyres and small fuel tanks, there was far less variability. In the modern era, with crumbly Pirellis (more on those later), massive fuel tanks and many engine modes, it’s very easy to sandbag.

However, mood music can be somewhat useful, and reliability can be assessed to at least some degree.

McLaren had a torrid first two days. Both Alonso and Vandoorne suffered engine failures which severely curtailed their running, though both got more time on the track in the latter half of the test. Even leaving aside the engine issues, there is a concern the car might be a bit slow. Australia, the first race, has historically been one at which the team has punched above its weight.

Mercedes, by contrast, had a very good test, laying down more laps than anyone else. The only reliability failure (Hamilton’s car, the day after Rosberg visited... [some are are suggesting that as a conspiracy theory. Don’t be silly]) was an electrical fault that was investigated early on the final day, which prevented Hamilton taking to the track. They’re looking very strong.

Ferrari also had very good reliability, with just a single failing, and a large number of laps put down. Hard to assess pace, but it’s looking better than expected for the Prancing Horse.

Red Bull had a couple of reliability failures but no catastrophes. Over the four days the murmuring seems a little bit less confident, perhaps, than I’d expected. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Of the other teams, Force India and Renault initially put down slightly fewer laps than I’d expected. Haas seemed more solid than I would’ve guessed. Lance Stroll, the new Williams driver, had a few offs, the last of which prevented Massa getting any running done on the final day. Maldonado comparisons have been drawn. Sauber are looking a bit better (and not just the livery).

Now, pre-test, my assumption had been that Mercedes would be dominant, with Red Bull the only genuine rival at certain races, with the rest bickering over third. That’s still possible, but I’d feel a bit more confident if I were Ferrari, and perhaps a bit less if I were Red Bull. But, as I said, don’t take the times too seriously.

Overtaking has seen some contrary murmurings. A few drivers have said they were able to run closely fairly easily, but Hamilton found the traffic more difficult. This may simple be a matter of the car itself, with the Mercedes historically ropey in traffic. At some circuits (those impossible like Monaco, and easy like Canada) this will make less difference, but at a circuit like Hungary it could make a significant difference, assuming the Mercedes aren’t just at the front.

The tyres seem more durable, and when they do go off they can be brought back. We’ll have to wait and see if this means we get one-stoppers throughout, and how easy/hard overtaking is.

Early thoughts on Australia (these aren’t tips, more of a note-to-self to check come the time) revolve around lack of reliability. The market would be Not To Be Classified, looking at the McLarens, and Stroll. Also, considering a Safety Car appearance (although the VSC does reduce the chances of that).

On the title, really need to see how the first race weekend goes, but if somebody forced a tenner upon me on condition I backed a driver, the chap likeliest to get it is Hamilton.

Morris Dancer