Sunday, 30 April 2017

Russia: post-race analysis

Must admit, not my favourite race of the year. The first lap or two was dramatic, the final few were tense, the intervening fifty were tedious. And the tip I offered failed (particularly irksome given the other two I was contemplating, at longer odds, both came off). Still, that’s why it’s called gambling rather than incredibly safe investment planning.

Alonso saved time by having his car break down before the race began. This led to a second formation lap.

Off the line, the Ferraris were slow. Bottas passed both of them and Hamilton nearly got past Raikkonen, who fought back well.

Grosjean knocked into Palmer, who spun, taking out both cars. A safety car emerged, and a few backmarkers (I think Vandoorne and Wehrlein) came in for a lap one pit stop, so they could run ultrasofts for the rest of the race, but everyone else stayed out.

A few laps after the safety car came back in, Ricciardo’s brakes failed. He was able to return to the pits, but his race was done. With four chaps out within five laps, I only needed one more for the tip to come off.

It never happened. But then, not much of anything happened. On the supersofts, after the pit stops, Vettel was clearly faster than Bottas but the nature of the circuit (tedious) made it difficult for him to get close enough to even attempt a pass, although the last few laps were quite tense. The Finn held on for his maiden triumph. Hamilton was off the pace and miles behind 3rd-placed Raikkonen. The Englishman will be pleased his title rival didn’t get the full 25 points, but Vettel still extended his lead.

Verstappen was 5th. Massa had to have a second pit stop due to a slow puncture. This elevated Perez and Ocon to 6th and 7th respectively and put Massa behind Hulkenberg (8th). Nice to see the Renault be ok, if not stellar, on race pace. Still a deficit from qualifying, I think.

Sainz got the last point, Stroll finishing 11th (probably pleased just to finish).

So, a mostly boring race that was also red. Humbug. Kudos to whoever it was (perhaps Mr. B?) who suggested Bottas for the win each way. I did give it serious thought, but my judgement betrayed me. With the short odds pole tip coming off, the weekend as a whole has been mildly red. More Chinese burn than shark attack.

We did learn that the Mercedes may be better on the ultrasoft, and have confirmed the excellence of the Ferrari on the supersoft.

Vettel 86
Hamilton 73
Bottas 63
Raikkonen 49

Not ideal for Vettel but he stretches his lead. Hamilton will be disappointed to have been lacklustre all weekend, but to only lose six points to his title rival, rather than 13, may perk him up a little.

Mercedes 136
Ferrari 135

Although the drivers’ points tallies have spread a bit, the teams remain locked together. The next race is in a fortnight, in Spain.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Russia: pre-race 2017

Qualifying was tighter than a miser’s purse strings, and very exciting. The Vettel tip came off but, to be honest, it was fortune over judgement. Whilst the Ferrari was faster (marginally) than the Mercedes, Raikkonen could’ve and should’ve beaten his team mate. That he didn’t was due to an error, so the greenness of the bet was due to luck (I’m not complaining, I just think it’s important to realise when a winning bet is wise, and when it’s a fluke). 

In the first part of qualifying Grosjean simply couldn’t get his Haas to be fast. The car’s peculiar, very up-and-down. He was slowest (he won’t start last because Vandoorne and Palmer both have grid penalties). As might be expected, the two Saubers and Vandoorne were ahead of him, with Palmer also failing to escape Q1 (Wehrlein and Palmer both also buggered up their last laps and went off the circuit, Palmer damaging his car a little).

The most remarkable surprise of Q1 was Alonso not only escaping, but being complimentary about his car [normality was resumed in Q2, when he exited and was disparaging about it].

In addition to the irate Spaniard, both Toro Rossos left at this stage, (Sainz 11th, Kvyat 13th), as did Stroll, who was the meat in the Toro Rosso sandwich. Magnussen was 14th, but still significantly faster than Grosjean. However, Q2 also saw the Ferraris be outpaced by the Mercedes by quite a margin, raising fears of sandbagging and my tip looking really stupid.

In Q3, the gloves were off. And so were the table manners, as Hulkenberg and Hamilton squabbled a bit over track position on their out laps. Once that was done, Raikkonen was fastest, a tiny margin ahead of Bottas. Vettel was close behind with Hamilton, who had buggered up part of the lap, a second down. All was not proceeding as I had foreseen.

It was also surprisingly close between the Red Bulls and Hulkenberg/Massa, who really have been punching above their weight.

On the second runs, Raikkonen put in a great lap, until he fluffed the final corner. Vettel improved to grab pole but, quite frankly, it should’ve been his Finnish friend’s. Bottas ended up 3rd, and Hamilton a lacklustre 4th (as an aside, Bottas has a great record at Russia and Hamilton seems to struggle in qualifying here). If it finishes like that that, Vettel would stretch his title lead by 13 points.

After them is Ricciardo, who had been beaten by his team mate in earlier sessions but nailed the lap when it counted. Massa, Verstappen and Hulkenberg were next up, with Force India enjoying their first double top 10 qualifying of the season (Perez 9th, Ocon 10th).

In the pre-qualifying ramble I wrote: “For the race, one stop is eminently likely. A safety car is also highly probable. Therefore, teams will likely be trying to make the two coincide, as stopping during the safety car will effectively cost less time, as the racetrack traffic will be circulating at a slower pace. Teams with high tyre wear may suffer, or those prone to trying the undercut.”

Now, this may or may not have a bearing (the two events coinciding) but it is very plausible and it will be something teams are looking at.

It’s also worth noting that Ferrari have had slightly tardier starts than Mercedes. If the Prancing Horses can trot off 1-2 after the first corner, it could be a very long day for the Silver Arrows.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Perez, top 6 [tyres]
Force India, double points
Stroll, points
Bottas, podium
McLaren, not to be classified

My thinking on Perez is that he’s a good driver who particularly excels on this sort of circuit (I’ll have my eye on him in Monaco too), and he’s very good at making tyres last. Therefore, he’s least likely to be screwed by an ill-timed safety car. In addition to that, Hulkenberg’s Renault has habitually gone backwards from the grid (they are trying to correct this, however) and the Force India had a strong qualifying. The odds are 3, which is a little mean.

I backed, with a small sum, Force India to get double points at 3 prior to the race weekend (I did mention it elsewhere). Now they’re down to evens, and given potential crashing problems (tight circuit), safety car and the tightness of the midfield, those odds do not appeal.

Stroll has had a DNF at every race. I think his first was reliability, his second was being hit by Perez and his third was being hit by Sainz. However, his car is perfectly good (well, except for that one spot of poor reliability) and he’s generally made progress from the grid. But his odds of evens for points are too short for me to want to back it.

Bottas for a podium is more interesting than it sounds, because if he’s 3rd and Hamilton’s 4th, recent murmurings suggest he’ll be politely asked to move aside. So, it’s less likely than it sounds and I was hoping that would mean the odds would be excessively long (Mercedes have started better this year and if he leaps into 2nd from the grid I’d be unsurprised if he stayed there). However, his odds are 1.5, which appears to be somewhat taking the piss.

McLaren have had 1 out of 6 potential finishes. It’s pretty bloody dire. And there’s not much room for forgiveness in Russia. Against that is the surprisingly good test performance they recently enjoyed. However, their odds are just 1.61 (Vandoorne) and 1.8 (Alonso) not to be classified. Again, just too tight for me. I’d be more tempted by the fact that Williams, Haas, and Sauber each have a 50% DNF rate so far, and Red Bull has had 2/6 DNFs as well, but their odds are much longer [perhaps not Williams, as that’s mostly Stroll being crashed into by other people].

Hmm. So, a maybe bet on Perez.

Perusing the markets, the following appeared of interest:
Under 15.5 finishers, 1.8
Bottas, lead lap 1, 8.5
Bottas, win each way, 9 (Betfair Sportsbook)

There’s been quite a few reliability problems so far this year (perhaps to be expected), and Russia’s a tight circuit. Plus, several drivers have been skidding and making mistakes. On the other hand, under 15.5 classified finishers it is a bit of a lucky sort of bet rather than a cunning bet of judgement. Hmm.

The idea of Bottas leading lap 1 is quite appealing, he’s started well and doesn’t have a title bid to lose so can be a little bolder, but the odds are mean.

The odds on the three behind Vettel winning are unusually long on Betfair, probably because nobody can work out the value. Bottas has been good all weekend, and has also driven well here in the past, with a podium, a DNF and a fourth place. Backing him each way (top 2, third the odds) at 9 is quite tempting. The downside is that if he has Hamilton running right behind him he’ll be politely asked to move aside.

So, the three bets currently in mind are:
Perez, top 6, 3 (Ladbrokes)
Under 15.5 finishers, 1.8 (Ladbrokes)
Bottas, win each way, 9 (Betfair Sportsbook)

The Bottas bet tempts me greatly, but I do think the Ferrari has the edge in race pace.

Perez has a good record here and it’s his type of circuit. I think him passing Hulkenberg (impressive driver, less impressive car) is all but guaranteed, but I’m not sure he’ll get much further without luck (3 to make up three places, especially when one at least must be against a car notionally much faster, and another against a car roughly equal, is tight).

Therefore, I’m tipping there to be under 15.5 finishers at 1.8 (Ladbrokes). This has been the case at every race this year, and most of those have had rather more run-off areas than Russia. Three teams have a 50% DNF rate, one has a DNF rate exceeding 80%, and the circuit is pretty tight (and has seen much sliding around).

Not very exciting, I’m afraid. The race itself, however, is intriguingly poised.

Incidentally, another potential bet, albeit for the title, did spring to mind. Raikkonen is 34. Backed each way (top 2 for a third the odds) may be worth considering. If the Ferrari gets the whip hand (which may become clearer after tomorrow’s race) this could be worth having, either in itself or for trading.

This race is the first of the year on at a normal time. It’s looking rather tight.

Morris Dancer

Russia: pre-qualifying 2017

Ah, Russia. A pretty rubbish track. Hard to pass on, and the compounds this weekend are the three softest yet it’s still expected to be a one stop race. However, the tightness at the top and within the midfield means we should have a competitive race. The tyre compounds are the softest (ultrasoft, supersoft and soft) which may favour Ferrari.

In another place (so it won’t count in the graphs) I tipped backing Force India for a double points finish with Ladbrokes at 3 before practice began. It has since declined to 2.5 (that’s a maybe bet). Likewise, I contemplated Vettel for pole at 4.5, but after P2 it slumped to 2.87.

Renault have brought some new parts. Apparently their strength in qualifying (or weakness in racing, as you like) is because they work the tyres too hard, knocking race pace down a peg.

On engines, the FIA has conducted analysis and now believes the top three (ie not Honda) engines are covered by 0.3s. That’s pretty damned close, and I suspect the majority of the gap is Renault behind Mercedes/Ferrari.

Last but not least, the FIA is to ban oil-burning (which, apparently, is illegal) to stop teams *cough*Mercedes*cough* [and maybe Ferrari] benefiting, particularly in qualifying. If this alters the playing field in qualifying to Ferrari’s advantage, then it could remove a key strength for the Silver Arrows.

In P1 there was a Finnish 1-2, Raikkonen half a tenth ahead of Bottas, with Hamilton half a second further back. Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo were next, with Perez, Massa, Stroll and Ocon rounding out the top 10.

I don’t always watch/listen to practice, but I did see much of P2, and the Ferraris looked rather impressive.

Vettel led P2, a quarter of a second ahead of Raikkonen. Bottas was four-tenths further back, with Hamilton a whisker off his team mate (worth noting the ultrasoft can, after a cooling off lap, put in a second quick time). Verstappen was seven-tenths down the road, with Ricciardo, Massa, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Perez behind him.

Following an engine failure, Stoffel Vandoorne has received a 15 place grid penalty. Given McLaren currently has a 1/6 finishing rate, this is unlikely to unduly impact his race, alas (that said, McLaren reportedly had a good intra-season test, but we’ll see if that actually leads to improvements).

At this stage, Ferrari seem to have an edge (and if they get the whip hand in qualifying then they’re looking good for the titles), with Williams and Force India tussling to see who can top the midfield.

In the final practice session, Vettel topped the time sheet, a third of a second ahead of his team mate. Bottas next up, less than a tenth off his compatriot, and two-tenths up on Hamilton. Verstappen was nearly a second down the road, and followed by Massa and Hulkenberg. Ricciardo was next, with Sainz and Magnussen completing the top 10.

In third practice, Palmer’s engine failed and changing it will put him further down the grid.

For the race, one stop is eminently likely. A safety car is also highly probable. Therefore, teams will likely be trying to make the two coincide, as stopping during the safety car will effectively cost less time, as the racetrack traffic will be circulating at a slower pace. Teams with high tyre wear may suffer, or those prone to trying the undercut.

Anyway, back to qualifying. Whilst confident Ferrari will be faster in race terms, it remains to be seen whether they can match or beat Mercedes over a single fast lap.

I was a bit surprised to see that Hamilton was at 3.5 to win Q3 on Betfair, with Vettel just 1.8. Bottas is 7.4.

Upon checking, Bottas has beaten Hamilton in every practice session so far. Those three (Raikkonen’s not that good a qualifier even when he’s racing well) are all quite tempting. Hmm.

Tricky to tell, so I went back in time to check the gap between Mercedes’ poles and nearest competitors, looking at the third practice and Q3 times. The gaps in P3 were almost identical to those in Q3, suggesting third practice might be a rather good indicator of how practice will go.

Maybe this’ll look silly, but I’m backing Vettel for pole at 1.8 (Ladbrokes).

It’s going to be quite intriguing.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bahrain: post-race analysis 2017

The race was exciting from start to finish, and green as well. Better not to have hedged, of course (this is the first race I’ve offered a hedged bet). Given I was uncertain how things would play out, relieved and pleased with the result, and it was good to watch too.

Off the line, surprisingly, Vettel passed Hamilton, and Verstappen passed both Raikkonen and Ricciardo.

We then had a sight reminiscent of a Trulli train. Vettel could run within a few tenths of Bottas, but couldn’t pass. The German’s pace was clearly constrained. Hamilton was right behind him but trying to compare their relative pace was impossible because both were stuck behind Bottas, and Verstappen was right behind Hamilton.

After perhaps eleven laps of this Vettel pitted, swapping supersofts for supersofts. Verstappen got on the radio asking for likewise, and got what he wanted. However, Verstappen then suffered a brake failure. He was fine but out of the race (damned shame because he was looking rather swift).

Shortly thereafter, Sainz emerged from the pits and attempted to occupy the same co-ordinates in time and space as Stroll. The Canadian, who must’ve slapped a witch before the season began, was taken out (the Spaniard tried blaming Stroll, but it was entirely Sainz’s fault), and a safety car emerged (relatively rare in Bahrain, had odds of 2.62). Sainz will have a three place grid penalty next time.

Vettel had been freed to drive much more swiftly and I was worried this would ruin his strategy. However, Bottas and Hamilton both had slow stops (the former because he had to wait whilst the world and his dog pitted, the latter because it was just a bit slow and he had to wait for his team mate to be serviced). Vettel claimed the lead, and Ricciardo came out ahead of Hamilton, but behind Bottas.

Upon the restart, Bottas had great speed and very nearly passed Vettel. However, the German kept the Finn at bay and then opened up a gap. Hamilton passed Ricciardo with consummate ease, the Aussie sliding inexorably down the order to about 6th (he was not pleased with his soft tyres, Hamilton also opting for that compound whilst Bottas and Vettel were on the supersoft).

Vettel was building up a lovely gap and Hamilton couldn’t pass Bottas. The Briton was also under investigation for deliberately impeding Ricciardo in the pit lane by driving slowly, and got a 5s time penalty (personally, I think this was a little harsh).

Vettel stayed out a long time, Ferrari wary of trapping him behind Ricciardo. The Prancing Horse, which appears to have replaced their Jar Jar Binks-led 2016 strategy team with one led by Tywin Lannister, timed Vettel’s pit stop to perfection, emerging ahead of Ricciardo.

Further down the field, Palmer, Kvyat and Alonso were having a prolonged ding-dong, the Spaniard bemoaning his lack of power, but it was all very tight until Alonso’s engine decided to stop working altogether.

Vettel set about, on his soft tyres, reeling in Hamilton. The Briton had to pit, putting on used softs and questioning that choice (but the team was right to reassure him they were a good selection). He drove phenomenally swiftly, caught Bottas and was allowed past (albeit at a strangely awkward spot) and was catching Vettel by a second a lap. But, there were not enough laps.

The German got his second win of the season, Hamilton and Bottas getting the rest of the podium. Raikkonen, who had been trundling around ahead of Ricciardo but well behind Bottas, actually closed the gap to a few seconds but was still 4th (Raikkonen had some sort of issue which affected him for quite a bit of the race).

Ricciardo ended up 5th, ahead of Massa. Perez and Grosjean were next, with Hulkenberg 9th and Ocon in his customary position of 10th. Wehrlein (whom I’d considered for points at 11) was 11th.

Ericsson and Magnussen also had DNFs, and Vandoorne had a DNS. McLaren has had one car reach the chequered flag out of six possibles this season. No wonder Alonso’s off to the Indy 500.

So, what did we learn?

Perhaps surprisingly given they’ve both finished every race, we still haven’t seen Vettel and Hamilton properly toe-to-toe and we still don’t know who is fastest. Today, Hamilton was catching Vettel very quickly late on. But Hamilton had to push, and Vettel may well have simply been managing the gap. If the safety car hadn’t emerged and closed everything up, we might’ve seen them both in clear air driving at maximum speed. But the safety car did close everything up.

Personally, I think the Ferrari just a touch faster, and has the edge on strategy. The Mercedes has slightly better reliability and a clear edge in qualifying. We also don’t know how Verstappen would’ve done had he not suffered brake failure, and that would’ve been interesting to see.

Force India maintained their double points finishes, and Renault continued to slide backwards from qualifying. Hulkenberg’s a good driver but the race pace of his car is not great. Perez’s Force India seems to work the other way around (he finished 10 places higher than he started).

Also, Hamilton drove Bottas into the ground today. He was a day and a half ahead of his team mate (which is making Rosberg look rather more impressive).

Here’s how the title races stack up. Drivers first (the two Red Bull drivers each have had one DNF):
Vettel 68
Hamilton 61
Bottas 38
Raikkonen 34
Verstappen 25
Ricciardo 22

Ferrari 102
Mercedes 99
Red Bull 47

Very, very tight. The race was tense from start to finish, and the season’s looking like it’s going to be nip and tuck. As for Red Bull, they *can* still challenge for the Constructors’ but they need to win the development war quickly.

Further down the field, Williams and Force India are very close, and Toro Rosso’s not far off. It’s all set up rather nicely.

I’ve included a couple of graphs, a bar chart of Points, Pointless Finishes and DNS/DNF by team, and a line graph of the top three teams showing running points totals. I’m keeping those stats largely for my own interest, to keep track of the development race, but let me know if they’re tedious or interesting as graphs, and I can post more or fewer.

Overall, the weekend was green (obviously better not to have hedged the Vettel bet). Quite pleased, given I was unsure how the race would unfold and the qualifying failure was perhaps a little unfortunate.

The next race is Russia, in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Bahrain: pre-race 2017

Well, I didn’t do that very well, did I? Bottas got his first ever pole, and Hamilton’s run of pole positions came to an end. However, the grid is rather tasty.

The first session of qualifying saw the surprising departure of Perez, who qualified only 18th (imagine he must have had some sort of technical woe). This definitely afflicted Sainz, who posted the fastest first sector time before his car failed him (worth recalling he also had engine woe in practice). Also out were Vandoorne, Ericsson and Magnussen.

Alonso reached Q2 but didn’t run in it. Ahead of him Kvyat was the fastest of those eliminated, followed by Stroll, Wehrlein (who drove well on his return), and Ocon. So, a pretty rubbish qualifying for Force India.

The final session saw Hamilton half a tenth ahead of Bottas after the first run, with the Ferraris a large margin behind, followed by the Red Bulls. On the second run, Bottas improved to go fastest, but Hamilton buggered up his middle sector and ended up a few hundredths behind.

Vettel retained 3rd on the grid, albeit half a second off the Mercedes, but Ricciardo managed to squeeze ahead of Raikkonen.

The Ferrari Finn is 5th, ahead of Verstappen, but Raikkonen and the Red Bulls are covered by one and a half tenths.

Behind them, Hulkenberg did very well to get within two-tenths of Verstappen, a similar margin ahead of Massa.

Grosjean is a whopping seven-tenths down the road, starting alongside Palmer, who qualifies in a career best 10th, but over a second behind his team mate. Very good qualifying for Renault, but one suspects they may be looking for a new driver for next season.

With Mercedes doing better in qualifying due to better engine modes, the race pace itself should be tighter. That being so, this is quite intriguingly poised (Channel 4’s pundits reckoned the Mercedes qualifying mode may be worth half a second. That would put Vettel and the Silver Arrows level, with the Red Bulls and Raikkonen not far off either).

Added to that, we have Force Indias weirdly off the pace, Williams perhaps going backwards, dubious reliability for Haas, Toro Rosso and Ferrari. It’s all set up very nicely.

Ferrari also tend to be kind to their tyres, and a two or one stop strategy is viable. Passing is possible but tricky.

Bets that came to mind were:
Hulkenberg, top 6
Lay Massa, points
Wehrlein, points
Ricciardo, podium
Verstappen, podium
Raikkonen, not to be classified

Hulkenberg is 1.9 for a top 6 finish. Given this appears to require someone ahead of him to break down, it doesn’t tempt me.

Couldn’t get odds to lay Massa (was a bit of a long shot).

Wehrlein is 11 for points. This requires, essentially, he stays on the circuit, doesn’t suffer technical woe and those ahead of him do. It’s possible, especially given technical woe that has affected several teams, but is contingent on luck.

Ricciardo is 3.25 for a podium. That’s quite intriguing. He starts 4th, and in the first few races the Red Bulls have started nicely and the Ferraris have been a bit dodgy (we’ll see tomorrow whether this is an odds and evens sides of the track factor).

Verstappen is 4.5, the same odds as he was when he started 17th in China, which may reflect the difficulty of overtaking in Bahrain. I’d probably prefer Ricciardo in the circumstances.

Raikkonen is 5.5 not to be classified. He’s suffered an engine problem in practice and Vettel also had some problems. However, there’s mostly good run off so a small off-track excursion probably wouldn’t do it.

Of those, the Ricciardo bet looks most interesting to me.

A perusal of the markets threw up the following:
Bottas, win, 3.5
Vettel, win, 3.75 (4.9 Betfair)
Red Bull, top scoring team, 15

Bottas starts on pole and has started races well. He was very close to Hamilton throughout qualifying, and will get first call on the strategy. But can he beat Hamilton? 3.5 is quite long for a pole-sitter in what is probably the fastest car (although that is open to question).

Vettel’s Ferrari should be more or less on pace with Mercedes and kinder to its tyres in the race, although he has started a bit tardily of late. This could lead to a separate strategy (perhaps two stop for Silver Arrows, one for the Prancing Horse). Backing at 4.9 and hedging at evens may be worth considering.

Ferrari have had engine woe. If that happens again they are almost certain to be outscored by Red Bull. Probably too much of a long shot to back Red Bull to top score, though.

Although the grid’s intriguingly set up for the race, I’m not sure what will happen. It’s hard to tell which of the three teams will be fastest, and there’s likely to be some varying strategies too.

I backed Vettel at 5 with Betfair to win, with a hedge set up at evens (in case the odds decline due to strategical shenanigans and/or the Ferrari decides to expire after he gets in a good position).

The Ferrari’s fast, he’s driving very well, his team mate is unlikely to bother him, and I’m slightly surprised his odds are longer than both the drivers ahead of him.

Next morning I waited impatiently for the markets to be added (surprised they weren’t already all up). Only two new bets looked of interest, the first of which was Hamilton to lead lap 1 at 3.6 (on Betfair). So far, the Mercedes has started better than the Ferrari, and Bottas may be nervous. Hamilton will absolutely be gunning for him into the first corner and he knows how important it is to get past early. On the other hand, Bottas has identical machinery and has also had good starts.

The other is Sainz not to be classified at 4.5. I rate Sainz as a driver, and think he might be the most overlooked chap in F1, but his car has broken down twice already. Bahrain doesn’t have many close barriers so a DNF largely depends on reliability failure, collision or pit stop tomfoolery. Tempting but decided against it.

So, after all that waiting, still just the one tip:
Vettel, win (Betfair), 5, hedged at evens.

The race starts at 4pm UK time. I’ll get the post-race analysis up this evening.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Bahrain: pre-qualifying 2017

Before we get to practice, Alonso has announced he’ll be racing in the Indy 500. He’ll be replaced for Monaco, with which the aforementioned race clashes, by Jenson Button. There’s a special on Ladbrokes for Button to be top 10 there at 4. Possible, but the car is unreliable, though I thought it worth mentioning in case anyone disagreed.

Also, this marks the first full race weekend for Pascal Wehrlein, who resumes his place (that had been occupied temporarily by Antonio Giovinazzi).

I put a small sum on Red Bull for the Constructors’ at 46 about a week ago. My reasoning was that they’ve got two very good drivers, whereas the teams ahead of them have one number one driver and one chap slightly off the boil. With new regulations there’s lots of room for development which has historically been a Red Bull strength. It’s still odds against, of course, I just think 46 is far too long.

In first practice Vettel was fastest, four-tenths ahead of Ricciardo. Verstappen was half a second down the road, followed by Perez, Massa and Stroll. Ocon, Alonso, Grosjean and Hamilton rounded out the top 10.

Mercedes didn’t have any problems, they just weren’t going for fast times, probably because the daytime first and third practice sessions aren’t that much use when qualifying and the race are twilight/nocturnal affairs.

Raikkonen’s engine went kaput in this session.

In second practice, things were quite tight. Vettel was fastest again, less than half a tenth ahead of Bottas, with Ricciardo two-hundredths off the Finn and Hamilton a tenth off the Aussie. Hulkenberg was next, with Massa, Verstappen, Grosjean and Kvyat following.

Sainz’s engine (Renault, I think) also broke in a puff of blue smoke. Seems overheating is a problem for more than one team. Vettel had a reliability problem on track and his car seemed stricken, but he managed to get out later in the session.

There’s a suggestion Red Bull may have brought some upgrades (and I think Ferrari has a new front wing). With new regulations, there will be an almighty development war over the course of the season.

At this stage, it’s looking very tight at the top, with Red Bull seemingly having narrowed the gap. Ricciardo was half and almost one second faster than Verstappen. If there’s only one set of new parts, that could explain the difference (or it could just be the usual practice nonsense).

Reliability may be weaker than usual due to overheating, as well as the new regulations bedding in.

Raikkonen took on a new engine, although Ferrari are hoping they’ll be able to mend the wonky one and get it working later in the season. If things stay very tight between the top two teams this year, reliability could be the deciding factor. In that area, Mercedes seems to have a slight edge.

In the latter half of third practice, Grosjean crashed into the barriers. The Frenchman sounds to have been grumpy about his car before this as well.

Rather unexpectedly, Verstappen was fastest in third practice, a tenth ahead of Hamilton (who reportedly had a pretty scruffy lap). Vettel was almost half a second back, but just four-thousandths up on Bottas, who was three-hundredths ahead of Raikkonen. Massa was two-hundredths off the slower Finn. Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Kvyat round out the top 10.

After the good Red Bull pace in second practice I did contemplate backing them for this and that (both drivers were 29 to lead lap 1 and 34 to win, but only 3.5 for the podium) but decided against it. They were a long way back in the first two races. If they actually have closed the gap that would be an astonishing rate of progress, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

So, bets that sprang to mind:
Hamilton, pole
Massa, Q3
Kvyat, Q3

Hamilton was 1.72 for pole. I think he should be more like 1.4, so I’ve backed this. The third practice lap was poor but he had the pace in the car to top the timesheets and he’s both an excellent qualifier and has a car that seems to give just a little bit more than others in single lap pace. Might end up looking silly, but the odds were significantly longer than I expected.

The other two potential bets had no odds of which to speak.

So, one tip:
Hamilton, pole (Betfair), 1.72

Qualifying is at 4pm UK time. I’ll perhaps have the pre-race article done this evening, or perhaps tomorrow morning. The race is at 4pm tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 April 2017

China: post-race analysis 2017

An interesting race, although not quite the classic it might have been due to the timing of an early safety car. From a betting perspective, bad, as none of my tips came off and the derided (by me, and others) Verstappen podium odds of 4.5 did. Still, that’s the nature of gambling.

It was wet at the start. Not raining, and not soaking, but enough dampness for all save Sainz (supersoft) to start on intermediate tyres. At that stage, I was feeling quite confident that attrition might be substantial.

Off the line, Sainz was passed by everyone then spun at the second corner. Elsewhere, the Ferraris were tardy again, Vettel just about holding off Bottas and Raikkonen losing a place to Ricciardo. Hulkenberg passed Massa (the pattern I noted at Australia was pretty much repeated). Verstappen flew up the order like a hawk with its tail on fire.

Perez struck Stroll from behind, punting the unfortunate Canadian into the gravel and out of the race. (The Mexican received no penalty. To be honest, I would have given him a minor one, it was clearly his fault and ended Stroll’s race). The VSC emerged and around the same time Vettel and Hulkenberg pitted. Hulkenberg promptly spun, and his mistake was compounded by misfortune when Giovinazzi crashed on the starting straight, debris strewn across the track.

The safety car emerged, and everyone and his cat pitted. This dreadful timing plunged Vettel down to 6th and Hulkenberg to 18th (the Renault driver subsequently got a 5s penalty for passing under the VSC and a 10s penalty for passing under the actual safety car).

Unfortunately, this meant Hamilton was never really challenged at the sharp end. However, there was a very good tussle between the Red Bulls and Ferraris (particularly Raikkonen). Bottas spun following the safety car and went down to 12th.

Ricciardo was holding up Verstappen, Raikkonen and Vettel. The Dutchman scythed past and went chasing Hamilton, but the Ferraris had a tougher time of it. Eventually Vettel passed and went steaming off, but Raikkonen spent a long time bottled up (he complained of lack of power at turn 12, onto the long straight).

Speaking of which, there was a fair amount of passing but it was usually in corners rather than the tedious DRS nonsense. Indeed, identical cars (Red Bulls and Ferraris often running in pairs) found it very difficult to get past on the straight, which is quite different to recent history.

After the second pit stops (contrary to fears of tyres lasting forever, even though almost everyone started on intermediate tyres they also needed two dry sets to finish the race), Hamilton was cruising to victory, Vettel was in 2nd but too far back to make a fight of it, and the Red Bulls were fighting over the final podium spot.

Verstappen was ahead and had been miles faster in soggier conditions, but in the dry Ricciardo clearly had the pace advantage. However, the Aussie was unable to pass his team mate and had to settle for 4th. Behind them was a disgruntled Raikkonen and a disconsolate Bottas.

Worth noting that Red Bull were 40s behind Vettel, and Sainz, 7th, was nearly half a minute behind Bottas. Magnussen, Perez and Ocon were next, meaning another double points finish for Force India. Haas will be glad to score. Toro Rosso may have had the pace for a double points finish but Kvyat’s car failed him.

Also out were Alonso and Vandoorne. Not a great day for McLaren. Alonso had been in a points position, some way ahead of Perez.

Grosjean and Hulkenberg finished 11th and 12th, Palmer was 13th. Massa was a surprisingly poor 14th. One prediction I did get right was that the Williams would not like wet conditions, and even though the circuit was only a bit a damp, Massa was helpless to stop himself slipping down the order rapidly. Ericsson was 15th.

So, why did the bets fail?

Hulkenberg was a misjudgement on my part. I thought (and they did say there was a 90% chance of rain…) it’d be a lot wetter, the drivers would matter more, and he’s a skilful chap in the wet. However, even if the safety car hadn’t come out at the worst time for him *and* he hadn’t spun, it was clearly not on for him to be top 6 without cars ahead retiring. Maybe 7th. At best.

Maybe a little unlucky that none of the quarter-stakes chaps I backed to DNF suffered a failure, particularly given a quarter of the field retired. Again, had it been wetter things might have been different, but weather can help or hinder and there’s not much one can do (beyond sacrificing goats to appease almighty Zeus, obviously).

A tricky race to call, but still disappointing to have lapses of judgement. On the other hand, normal service is resumed after a rather lucky first race.

A few interesting things emerged from the race. For a start, DRS and long straights are no longer dead cert passes unless you have a massive speed difference. Identical cars or even vaguely similar cars find it hard to get past. I’m sure we’re all really looking forward to Azerbaijan, even more than we were before.

Speaking of starts, the Ferraris are laggards. Now, that may be related to an increased difference due to starting on the dirty side (Massa was on that side, and his Mercedes-powered car lost a place quickly) or be due to the engine.

Hard to say because there wasn’t a proper fight at the front, but I believe the Mercedes had a pace advantage here, as I believe Ferrari did in Australia. Who does that favour, over the course of a season? Hard to say. Lots of tight street circuits, lots of Tilke identikit tracks too.

The Red Bull is tasty in the wet. In the dry, it’s in a sort of third-place No Man’s Land, a mile ahead of the midfield but a long way off the Silver Arrows and Prancing Horse. But in the wet the Red Bulls (especially Verstappen) are at least competitive and arguably fastest. Can’t draw too strong a conclusion because the race was only damp at the start, but that’s my feeling.

I’ve been keeping slightly more detailed records this year, including running tallies of points for teams/drivers (to better assess momentum/development) and a basic total of finishes divided into points/no points/failure to finish. So far, only Mercedes, Ferrari and Force India are without a DNF, and all those teams have also had two double points finishes.

I’ll probably post the graphs in the mid-season and end-of-season reviews, and perhaps now and then, but with just two races gone it seems a bit daft to put one up now.

Here are the Drivers’ standings:
Vettel 43
Hamilton 43
Verstappen 25
Bottas 23
Raikkonen 22
Ricciardo 12
Sainz 10
Massa 8
Perez 8
Magnussesn 4
Kvyat 2
Ocon 2

All the rest are on 0 (I won’t normally go that far down, but I thought it’d be interesting at this stage of the season). Bottas and Raikkonen lost a lot of points today by a spin and poor strategy (the Ferrari was left out too long), and possibly an engine issue as well. The tight midfield is starting to shake out a bit, with Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams at the top, and Renault, Sauber and McLaren at the bottom (Haas in the middle).

Mercedes 66
Ferrari 65
Red Bull 37
Toro Rosso 12
Force India 10
Williams 8
Haas 4

Tight at the top, but if Red Bull develop rapidly, could they be in contention? Ferrari and Mercedes taking points from one another makes the gap (in points) smaller but there is a substantial pace difference to overcome for Red Bull. I wouldn’t put money on it at this stage.

So, a bit annoyed with myself for some clear ill-judgement, but these things do happen.

Bahrain is the next race, and we’re off there next weekend.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 April 2017

China: pre-race 2017

Well, after the doom of yesterday, qualifying went perfectly well and the race seems set for tomorrow (7am UK time), although there’s a 90% chance of rain.

In the first part of qualifying a number of chaps dropped out who ought not due to a (second consecutive) last lap cock-up by Giovinazzi, this time losing control on the final corner’s astroturf, ploughing his Sauber into the barrier and forcing those behind (including Ocon, Palmer and Grosjean) to abort their final laps. Vandoorne also failed to escape (16th) and Verstappen qualified 19th, but that was due to his engine software being disobedient. Giovinazzi, ironically, qualified for Q2 but was unable to compete in it due to his car not being MOT compliant.

Second qualifying ran a bit more to form. Despite impressive driving, Alonso could only manage 13th, with Magnussen just ahead and Sainz 11th. Ericsson was 14th, just ahead of his team mate.

It was very tight between the top four going into the last session, and so it proved. Hamilton nabbed pole by two-tenths, ahead of Vettel who was just a thousandth up on Bottas. Raikkonen, who had looked good in Q2, was a couple of tenths further back (same two rows as Australia).

Ricciardo was 5th but nearly a second off Ferrari. Worryingly for Red Bull, as well as Verstappen’s car being naughty, Williams have been very close to them. In the end, Massa was half a second down the road, but in the race, especially with the super long straight, Red Bull may struggle to hold onto 5th. Hulkenberg was a short way behind Massa, and rather better than I thought Renault might do. Perez was a tenth or so further back, Kvyat a hundredth off, and Stroll reached Q3 but was half a second off the Russian and seven-tenths off his team mate. However, the Canadian was ropey in Australian qualifying but raced impressively until his car stopped working.

As mentioned above, there is a high chance of rain. Ninety percent, and it could be all race.

We also have a number of drivers out of position. Verstappen’s the stand out fellow, but there’s also Grosjean and Ocon.

Looking at that, some bets that spring to mind are:
Verstappen, podium
Toro Rosso, double points finish
Vettel, win
Ferrari, top score
Alonso, points

Verstappen is just 4.5 for a podium. Frankly, the 34 each way to win appeals more than that. In mostly dry conditions, he’d be struggling to be top 6. There needs to be a lot of rain and probably some luck too.

Toro Rosso, unlike many other midfield teams this year, have a closely matched pair and a pretty good car. I think they’re likelier than most to double score. They’re 2.75 for a double points finish, which is somewhat tempting.

Vettel is 2.5 for the win. Hmm. I do think he has a great chance. The Ferrari appears superior on race pace but the Prancing Horse had a slightly dodgy start in Australia.

Ferrari are 2.37 to top score. Given this likely requires a victory, and that Raikkonen seems relatively unlikely to get it, this doesn’t appeal.

Alonso is 2.25 for points. I think he has a credible chance but given (with limited data) McLaren has a 50% DNF rate so far this year and wet conditions are uncertain, it doesn’t appeal.

So, everything’s pretty tight. Nothing leaps out (I expected others to have the same thought as me on Verstappen, but 4.5 is too damned short). As is traditional now, I decided to have an idle browse and see if anything leapt out at me.

Verstappen, win each way, 34
Hulkenberg, top 6, 3
Perez, top 6, 4.33
Grosjean, not to be classified, 2.62
Hulkenberg, not to be classified, 3.5
Massa, not to be classified, 4.5
Ricciardo/Verstappen, not to be classified, 4.5
Lap 1 leader, Bottas, 10
Williams, double points finish, 3

Just in: Grosjean and Palmer have 5 place grid penalties for speeding after Giovinazzi crashed.

If Verstappen can rise from 17th (promoted two places due to the aforementioned penalties for Grosjean and Palmer) to 3rd, at 4.5, then to be 2nd at 11 seems like relatively good value. The question is whether he can. Worth remembering the conditions at Interlagos where he drove faster than the rest by miles, was incredibly wet (so much so the safety car kept coming out). A little drizzle won’t do it. If it’s mostly dry, his car simply isn’t fast enough. May be an element of getting a bit giddy about Verstappen when it comes to the odds.

Red Bull seem to have lost some pace compared to those snapping at their heels. I think, on pace, they’re still ahead but more likely to get bottled up behind others due to being faster in twisty bits than on the straight. There’s also a reliability question mark (Ricciardo had woe in Oz, in qualifying at China a similar problem has afflicted Verstappen). So, 6th and perhaps 5th is up for grabs. Massa’s odds are only 1.66, and given Stroll had a reliability failure DNF last time, and I suspect the Williams (historically being weak on downforce) will suffer more than most if it is wet. Hulkenberg’s a skilful wet driver (though his car may also be fragile) and next in line. Then there’s Perez, right behind his former team mate. Hard to call, but I’d probably favour Hulkenberg. Odds of 3 aren’t stonking, though.

There are a slew of not to be classified bets up for consideration due to a combination of rubbish reliability last time, and the potential for much rain. The least reliable last time was Haas. Grosjean starts second to last, so there’s scope for immediate woe off the start line. However, 2.62 is a bit tight. Hulkenberg is a good driver but has had some first lap problems in the past (not horrendous, but enough to perhaps shorten his odds). He’s good in the wet but his team mate’s car failed last time. Massa may be the most tempting. Not only did his team mate’s car fail in Australia, but I suspect the Williams will be weaker in the rain than others, and that also increases the chance of sliding around and into a wall. Of course, this sort of bet is largely down to luck, although contributing factors can be considered (it also overlaps quite a bit, in the reverse sense, of the top 6 bet I was looking at).

Ricciardo and Verstappen at 4.5 each not to be classified are quite similar to the Massa bet.

I’m a little bit tempted to just slice one stake into little pieces and spread it across the field. I’m undecided whether that would be indicative of wisdom or immense cowardice.

Readers may recall I noted a slight pattern at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, with Ferrari a little sluggish, and Mercedes/Red Bull rather tastier (also, Stroll making up ground and Grosjean going backwards). If they general trend is repeated here, then the start, and the first few corners in China have plenty of scope for crashing and embuggerance, could be good for Bottas. Hamilton is also likely to be strongly focused on Vettel. Odds of 10 are fairly long. However, if it’s a wet start, they’ll trundle round after the safety car and Hamilton will only lose the lead if he manages to slide off the track.

Williams for a double points finish at 3 looks good, if the race is mostly dry. If it’s wetter, I think the Toro Rosso bet at 2.75 looks better.

Anyway, the uncertainty means that bets that could come off in either the wet or the dry are the ones to go for, otherwise weather could easily turn them red. Current forecast is for heavy rain around the start of the race.

So, two tips, both Ladbrokes:
Hulkenberg, top 6, 3
One stake split equally between Grosjean, Ricciard, Massa and Verstappen (2.62, and 4.5 for the latter three) not to be classified

Between the rain and reliability, I’d be quite surprised if they all finished. I was quite tempted by Verstappen each way for the win at 34 (that seems out of kilter with the 4.5 for a podium).

Anyway, the race is intriguingly poised. It starts at 7am UK time, so hopefully I’ll remember to wake up in time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 7 April 2017

China: pre-qualifying 2017

There has been less running at this stage than perhaps for any race weekend I’ve seen. Smog, or fog, meant that the medical helicopter was unable to safely take off from the circuit and land at the hospital, which meant that running almost didn’t happen at all. In three hours of time set aside for practice, there were a pair of five minute windows during which we didn’t learn much at all.

McLaren did top the time sheet in second practice, though, so if you backed that, good for you.

So. Not much to base this article on and a real chance that qualifying and perhaps the race might simply be cancelled.

On Twitter, Hamilton suggested running three practice sessions tomorrow, with qualifying Sunday morning and the race Sunday afternoon. Interesting idea, although qualifying would then be at a horrendous time in the UK.

If the race does go ahead, there is a chance of rain, and that also applies to qualifying (if held on Sunday, Saturday should be overcast but dry).

There’s also a rumour both might be held on Saturday (qualifying earlier than usual to fit both in).

I did, on PB, suggest backing Wehrlein not to be classified at 2.75 (after learning Giovinazzi will take his place again), but that’s 99% likely to be made void even if the race goes ahead.

The massive level of uncertainty means I can’t offer a tip. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are simply too many unknown unknowns.

The pre-race article will probably be up tomorrow, but it’s possible the race will have started before I’m even out of bed, so we’ll see. I would advocate checking to see if there’s any news on a change to the schedule.

Morris Dancer