Sunday, 30 July 2017

Hungary: post-race analysis 2017

Overnight a thought struck me: what if Kvyat and Vandoorne’s odds were the wrong way round. This morning the group C market had been taken down by Ladbrokes. I checked the bet and, as of 7.30am (give or take) the bet remained open, at the odds I’d tipped.

The race had little passing but a lot of tension and was eminently enjoyable, as a spectator, for that reason. The bets were dire, as I’ll discuss below. One-third foolish misjudgement, two-thirds terrible luck.

Off the line it was formation flying at the sharp end. Then Verstappen cocked up and went wide, Ricciardo passed him, the Dutchman locked a brake and struck his team mate, putting the Aussie out of the race, bringing out a safety car, and (after an investigation) getting Verstappen a 10s time penalty, which he served at his pit stop.

First time there’s ever been a safety car on lap one.

Sainz had made an annoyingly good start and was ahead of Vandoorne by a couple of places.

When the safety car buggered off the Ferraris scampered into the distance, clearly faster than Mercedes and with Raikkonen sticking with Vettel very nicely.

There was only one pit stop each, almost everyone going from supersoft to soft. However, late into the first stint Vettel had steering problems (he had to steer to the left to go in a straight line). Raikkonen was catching him. After the first round of pit stops the German narrowly retained the lead over his team mate, but with the two Mercedes catching up.

Raikkonen clearly wanted to be let past (and was obviously faster). Ferrari prioritised the title over the race and kept them as they are. It was to prove a canny (or cynical, as you like) call. Meanwhile, Mercedes yielded to Hamilton’s pleas and let him past Bottas to have a crack at Raikkonen, on condition that he swapped back if he couldn’t pass the Ferrari.

But it's very hard to pass at Hungary due to the nature of the circuit (turbulent air). Hamilton was faster than bottled-up Raikkonen (in turn, faster than Vettel but forbidden to try passing him), but the Briton couldn't effect a pass.

Verstappen, in 5th, was catching Bottas at a rate of knots, but the Mercedes drivers skilfully managed to swap positions just before the line. Interesting contrast of team styles, and to note that Bottas is held in more equal esteem at Mercedes than Raikkonen at Ferrari (although the points situation is drastically different).

Vettel got the win, Raikkonen 2nd, then Bottas. Hamilton and Verstappen were 4th and 5th. Hamilton swapping back lost him 3 more points to Vettel. Alonso was 6th, a great result for McLaren who have looked strong all weekend (Vandoorne finished 10th for their first double points finish of the year).

Sainz was 7th, the rotter, Perez and Ocon 8th and 9th despite their poor qualifying. Grosjean, Di Resta and Hulkenberg all retired, Grosjean due to a cross-threaded wheel nut in his pit stop (which was itself early because of a slow puncture).

Got to say I’m pretty aggravated by the Vandoorne tip. Losing out at the start was unfortunate, but these things happen. But for Sainz not to get a penalty [for driving Alonso wide, though I haven’t seen the incident with my own eyes] when Magnussen and Verstappen did (particularly the latter, who collided with his team mate on the first lap) sticks in my craw. It was a good value bet, and it should’ve come off. Maybe it’s my own fault. I did consider backing Sainz as well. But Vandoorne should’ve won. …

The Bottas bet was a clear misjudgement. As for No Safety Car, it was the first time there’s ever been one on lap one. Another significant stroke of bad luck.

All in all, a pretty bloody horrendous race. I screwed up on Bottas (my own fault, especially given I knew it’d be a better circuit for the other top teams), but the two other bets were damned unlucky.

I did enjoy the race in sheer sporting terms and it’s set up the rest of the season (after a long break) nicely, but, from a betting perspective, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong. These things do happen (and other days I’ve had flukes) but it’s never pleasant.

On a less grumbly note, Mr. M suggested a midfielder for fastest lap, and, whilst I disagreed with Perez, Alonso did get it. Not sure what the odds were on that but 50/1 or longer seems eminently possible. I didn’t back it myself, alas, but a clever thought nevertheless. (He also picked Ricciardo as both a DNF and first DNF. I was tempted by the former but considered it too much of a pot luck bet, but that shows what I know).

Anyway, to the title standings:
Vettel 202
Hamilton 188
Bottas 169

Still a three horse race. Bottas needs to close the gap or he’ll be have to become a rear gunner and abandon his title hopes. The next two races (Belgium and Italy) will suit Mercedes, especially the latter. After that is Singapore, which will be more difficult for them.

Mercedes 357
Ferrari 318
Red Bull 184
Force India 101
Williams 41
Toro Rosso 39
Haas 29
Renault 26
McLaren 11
Sauber 5

Ferrari take a chunk out of Mercedes’ lead but I think the top four are likely to finish in that order. Meanwhile, tighter in the midfield. McLaren have leapt off the bottom sport and consigned Sauber to the foot of the table.

Sometimes you win undeservedly due to good luck (once I backed Perez to be top 6 without realising his good odds were due to a penalty, and then he actually achieved it), and sometimes Satan urinates in your kettle. Today was an example of the latter, but I’ve had some good fortune in the past and there are nine races left, so hopefully there’ll be some better results ahead.

It’s four weeks until the Belgian Grand Prix.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Hungary: pre-race 2017

An intriguing session of qualifying. Mildly miffed by not backing/tipping Raikkonen for pole each way at 6.5, but these things happen. If anybody did back the early Vettel tips but held their nerve better than me ahead of qualifying, the lay value on Betfair is now 1.6 (his back odds had been 5 to 6 or so earlier in the week).

Di Resta was thrown into the deep end, climbing into a car he’d never driven and getting to learn it in qualifying. Given that, he did extremely well to qualify 19th, just 0.7s off Stroll’s time. Both Williams failed to escape the first part of qualifying, as did both Saubers. Magnussen was fastest of those ejected at this stage.

It was tight to get the last place in Q1, but Sainz just edged out Palmer (whose days increasingly appear to be numbered). In a poor show for perhaps the best midfield team, both Force Indias failed to progress, Ocon qualifying 12th and Perez 14th. Kvyat and Grosjean also left in Q2.

At the sharp end, it was looking like Red Bull might be able to challenge, certainly for the second row, and that Hamilton might be pretty similar to Vettel. In the end, it was not so, and the first three rows are Noah’s Ark style. Vettel got pole and Raikkonen 2nd, then came Bottas and Hamilton. Verstappen and Ricciardo are next up.

Hulkenberg qualified 7th but due to angering the gods of Olympus his gearbox broke earlier in the week, meaning he has a 5 place grid penalty. Great qualifying for McLaren, with Alonso and Vandoorne next (I shall be keeping a beady eye on Alonso’s 2018 title odds if McLaren returns to Mercedes). Sainz was last of the top 10, though, of course, he’ll start 9th due to the Hulkenberg penalty.

A few notes before contemplating the race. The forecast remains 100% dry, and I’m still relatively comfortable with the early no safety car bet. It’s very hard to overtake in Hungary. Not impossible, but not easy. Everyone knows this, so strategic options are limited. The start is critical but if it’s formation flying then I’d expect the grid and the final result to bear close resemblance to one another. Contact is not common, and the first lap is the only time it seems likely (possibly a safety car restart too, although this is the circuit least likely to see one).

Also, given I already offered the No Safety Car tip, I might not have another.

Also also, just learnt Kvyat has a 3 place grid penalty for impeding someone or other. He also gets another penalty point, bringing him to 10 (hit 12 and it’s a one race ban).

With that in mind, here are my early betting thoughts:
Ocon points
Alonso top 6
Hulkenberg points
Verstappen podium

Ocon is 1.66 for points, Hulkenberg 1.53. Whilst quite possible, the odds are tight (especially on Hulkenberg given Renault’s patchy reliability).

Alonso is just evens for a top 6 finish. Bearing in mind his DNF rate is 78% those odds are not appealing. It is plausible, hence my considering it, but those odds are just too tight.

Verstappen is 3.5 for a podium. That’s interesting. I think he stands a decent chance of a good start and benefiting from strategy (because the two teams ahead of him may run into one another a little in that regard, and there’s a decent chance Raikkonen’s race will be compromised to use him as a rear gunner for Vettel).

Of my initial thoughts, only Verstappen has odds that appeal. The downside to that bet is that, leaving aside his car being only third fastest, he’s got a pretty rubbish DNF rate himself.

Browsing the markets, some things I saw of potential interest were:
Bottas, win each way, 11
Alonso, win each way, 501
Verstappen/Ricciardo, not to be classified, 3.75/4
Hulkenberg to win group B, 4
Vandoorne/Sainz to win group C, 10/2.25

The Bottas win idea is simply based on the fact he usually starts well and is a good, solid driver. He also, surprisingly, has the longest odds of the top four to win. His odds are probably too long.

The Alonso win each way bet is a silly idea, but bear with me. Usually there are a few 50/1 or 200/1 type odds between the frontrunners and lower midfield. But there’s a vast yawning chasm from 26 to 501. I’m not tipping this seriously, but might be worth flinging 50p on it. [I reserve the right to cite this in future if it happens].

Red Bull have had wonky reliability all year, and Ricciardo suffered a breakdown in practice. Little bit of a shot in the dark, but worth considering.

Group B includes, besides Hulkenberg, Alonso, Ocon and Perez. Hulkenberg has been substantially faster than all of them. Due to his penalty he’ll start behind Alonso and one place behind Ocon, but ahead of Perez. On the downside, passing is hard and his car can be a little unreliable. I think this is interesting but perhaps not quite long enough.

Group C includes Vandoorne, Sainz, Kvyat (who is demoted three places) and Grosjean. Vandoorne starts first of this group, albeit with Sainz right behind him, and has been the fastest of them all weekend. But his car is a bit fragile. If it holds, then 10 is far too long. Betting on him to DNF could be a way to hedge, albeit an imperfect one. On the other hand, if he doesn’t win it, Sainz looks very likely, so you could just back both. However, they both have a 40% DNF rate, so…

This is a bit weirdly aggravating, because I was quite ready to simply sit on the No Safety Car bet (and the early Vettel win tip). But both the Bottas and Vandoorne odds just look wrong to me.

In the end, I decided to back Bottas at 11 each way for the win.

And Vandoorne at 10 to win group C. If everyone finishes then he and Sainz should be a long way up the road from Grosjean and Kvyat (whose odds of 2.1 are frankly silly). But Sainz’s odds are barely above evens whereas Vandoorne’s look too long (they have the same DNF rate). In my view they should both be about evens.

I do habitually peruse the markets to see if anything jumps out at me, but it’s quite rare (and disconcerting) when it actually happens. Anyway, let’s hope the race is greener than a jealous Kermit the Frog.

Morris Dancer

PS For those wondering, I put a tiny sum on Alonso.

Hungary: pre-qualifying 2017


Sauber’s confirmed a deal for Ferrari engines next year, having axed a planned move to Honda. This may be good news for McLaren, as Mercedes can only supply one more time and there was a suggestion they might go for Sauber. If McLaren ditch Honda, they can (if Mercedes agree…) get the best engine. Keep an eye on Alonso and Vandoorne’s odds on the title next year.

Also, the halo has been confirmed for next year. This has been largely derided by fans and is opposed by 9/10 teams. I’m largely neutral, although the revelation this ‘safety’ feature will see cockpit evacuation times increased from 5s to 8-10s hasn’t exactly persuaded me it’s a great idea. And the fact it’s coming in for F1 but not other categories is a bit weird, if it’s a supremely safe and important addition.

Before the weekend commenced, on, I tipped Vettel for the win each way (odds varied a bit, but it was 4 when I mentioned it, later 5.5), and No Safety Car at 1.61 (1.79 was briefly available). Hungary is the circuit least likely to see one, and the weather forecast is 100% dry.

In first practice there was a surprise. Ricciardo was fastest, nearly three-tenths up on Raikkonen, who was a small way ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen was next, seven-tenths off his team mate, then Bottas and Vettel some way off the pace (he reportedly had oversteer problems). Alonso and Vandoorne were next, then Hulkenberg and Palmer.

First practice also had Ricciardo topping the timesheet, with Vettel a couple of tenths back. Bottas, Raikkonen and Hamilton were all within a tenth or so of the German, Verstappen a small way down the road. Hulkenberg, Alonso, Sainz and Vandoorne rounded out the top 10.

At this stage, McLaren are looking good, as are Red Bull. I am perplexed, though, by the odds. Hamilton’s scarcely over evens whereas Vettel’s over 6 on Betfair, last I checked. This is only practice, but if it’s moving the markets then it should be tightening them, not making Vettel’s odds longer. (NB Mr. G mentioned that Hamilton was compromised by red flags in second practice and otherwise would’ve been faster).

Hulkenberg’s also looking quite good. Renault’s new floor is worth 0.2s and Palmer having a few offs may have damaged his (last race only Hulkenberg had it). So far, Force India and Williams are looking a little ordinary.

Hulkenberg’s got a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Damned shame.

In third practice Vettel was fastest, nearly half a second ahead of his team mate. Bottas was a similar distance further back, likewise Verstappen then Hamilton (scrappy lap, he was 1.4s off his German rival). Then came Vandoorne, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Alonso and Palmer (NB Palmer does have the new floor).

Red Bull’s aero upgrades seem to be working nicely. They’ll prove effective at slower circuits, but at Monza they’ll still, probably, have a rough time. Just after writing this Ricciardo suffered a reliability failure in P3. A pity, he’d looked rather good this weekend.

Massa was unwell after second practice but was given the all-clear (Di Resta was ready to step in).Still possible that switch might happen. Tricky for Di Resta to jump in for qualifying having had zero practice.

As an aside, there’s an unusually enormous jump in odds from sixth favourite to win (Verstappen, 13) to seventh (Alonso, 501).

As mentioned, I tipped Vettel at 4 before (also 5.2/5.5 depending on timing), he now has a lay value of 2.32 which I’ve taken to be flat/a smidge green. Won’t count in the records but if you backed that then the opportunity for guaranteed greenness is available.

Incidentally, for the record, I am tipping No Safety Car (currently 1.98 on Betfair).

Raikkonen at 6.5 (each way) for pole is tempting. He was four-tenths off Vettel but ahead of Bottas in third practice, and pretty good in both prior sessions (available at 8.6 on Betfair but obviously that’s just for pole). In the end, I decided against it. Very tempting, but Hamilton had a problem on his lap so we don’t know his true pace. I’m also very pushed for time so can’t spend as long thinking about it as I’d like.

That third practice session has set up qualifying very nicely indeed.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Mid-season review 2017

In betting terms, this season started brilliantly, and then gradually declined. At the moment, you’re up a whole tenth of a stake on a hedged basis, and down just over three stakes on a bet-and-forget basis. However, that’s only counting the weekend tips, not early ones (last race had a 3 and 8 winner, as well as an early loser).

Some of this was just misjudgement by me. Some of it was misfortune (Button’s needless idiocy in Monaco cost me a lovely 6.5 winner). So, not thrilled, but it could be worse. I’ve also, on the winning side, had some good judgement but also some fluky moments (particularly with early bets, not all of which I mention due to lack of liquidity or instant buyer’s remorse). My own current result is a little better than the official record. As usual, the graph indicates the results based on a standard £10 stake on every tip offered in the weekend articles.

This year, as I mentioned earlier, I’m collecting more data on race-by-race points tallies and a breakdown of finishes by points, pointless and DNS/DNF categories. I think this is useful information.

As might be expected, Mercedes and Ferrari are very solid, with strong reliability and a very high points finishing tally.

We can see from the bar chart that as well as the big two, the other team that’s very reliable is Force India. Red Bull do have clearly better pace but much worse reliability.

Perhaps surprisingly, Williams have slightly under a 50% points finishing record. That’s mostly down to poor luck/reliability early on for Stroll. The car is behind the Force India and, as most years, lacks aerodynamic grip. I expect it to be tasty in Italy (that said, I expected the same in Austria).

Sauber aren’t too bad on reliability but the top pointless finishers. Haas and Toro Rosso are quite evenly split, Renault too (although Hulkenberg and Sainz have quite a large points gap, whereas Grosjean and Magnussen are a bit closer).

McLaren’s obviously least reliable. Alonso has an atrocious 7/9 DNF rate (I think one of these was a first lap crash that wasn’t his fault, but even so, a two-thirds reliability DNF rate is appalling).

Moving to the points tally at the sharp end, this graph shows how things have shaped up over the first 10 races. Vettel currently has a 1 point lead over Hamilton (after two races they were equal).

It’s also worth noting neither of the top two has had a DNF yet. If they each had one and Bottas stays on one, then he’d be right in the mix. Further down, Verstappen’s been hamstrung by his 50% DNF rate. Ricciardo’s only had two (one at the first race, hence only one flat part of his line). Raikkonen’s also had a couple of DNFs. He’s not driving terribly but I do think he’ll be replaced.

There are two key questions on the title front. Is Bottas a title contender? How will Mercedes approach this?

At the moment, it is a three horse race, and I’m surprised the odds (around 16 or so) remain so long on Bottas. Yes, Hamilton is favourite, and Bottas deserves to be longer odds than his team mate or Vettel, but he’s within a win of taking the lead, and has one DNF to zero for the other two drivers.

Mercedes are in a slightly tricky position. Closer to the time, if Bottas is edged out, he’ll help Hamilton. But if he’s in credible contention, would he give up perhaps his only chance at a title? The team has him on a one year contract and staying is a pretty big carrot.

My guess is things will stay close but that when there are only a few races left the team will offer him a three year contract on condition he help out Hamilton. If Bottas is level or ahead, that may make things a bit more difficult for both Bottas and Mercedes.

More broadly, how will the season develop? Mercedes and Ferrari’s development war is critical. Historically, Ferrari have developed in a slightly clunkier way. That doesn’t make it certain it’ll happen this time, and their car appears more flexible than their rival’s, but it’s a possible factor.

Looking down the order, Force India and Red Bull are both strong developers (although not quite in the same league). Red Bull are out of the title races but it’ll be interesting to see how much, if at all, they can narrow the gap to the top two. Force India will remain in a similar league of one, but the interest there shall be whether the two drivers collide again. Ocon’s doing rather well in his first full season in the sport.

After a brief resurgence around 2014, Williams have settled back into the midfield (although well above the nadir of preceding years). Massa and Stroll are a reasonable pairing but the car has the same fundamental problem – not enough aerodynamic grip. Could be tasty in Italy, but will struggle on street circuits like Singapore (NB Azerbaijan was a bit of a dodgems race and, weirdly for a street circuit, has an enormo-straight).

The Toro Rosso looks quite good on pace but has some reliability issues and the Torpedo needs to calm down. Haas is essentially quite fast but a car with serial brake issues does need some mending.

Renault are interesting. Their upgrades last race seemed to work (only available to Hulkenberg, their de facto number one) although reliability, especially for Palmer, remains a bit dubious. Undoubtedly this is a rebuilding year and it’s not clear how good/bad they’ll be when it comes to developing. If they want to return to winning ways they need to be able to improve strongly.

Sauber are cash-strapped and have a year old Ferrari engine. If they can retain 9th the extra cash will help them next year, but I suspect treading water is the most they can hope for.

McLaren’s tasty aerodynamically but has all the power of a maimed gnat. Not only that, the engine is as reliable as a promise from Honorius. The development that counts here isn’t of the car but the engine. Sadly, I don’t think they’ll make any progress. Honda has been varying shades of dire since its return and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this were the last year it’s in the sport.

Anyway, the next race is Hungary. As always, check the weather forecast, and, if dry, do consider backing No Safety Car. Importantly, my new book, Traitor’s Prize, is out on 28 July. And you should buy it, because it’s entertaining and marvellous and I’d like to be able to afford little luxuries. Like food.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 16 July 2017

United Kingdom: post-race analysis 2017

Well, that was a race. The bet was red and fundamentally misjudged by me, (early tips were rather nicer), but the race itself had an interesting end and a final few laps that turned everything on its head.

On the formation lap Palmer’s brake-by-wire (BBW) system broke, and then his hydraulics went too. This prevented him from even reaching the pits/grid. Whilst he is being outdriven by his team mate, Palmer can’t really fight back when his car breaks down.

Off the line Vettel started poorly and was passed by Verstappen. He wrestled the place back only to lose it again (Raikkonen, who retained 2nd, preventing both drivers behind him from taking ideal lines at different times).

This would prove race-defining.

Further down, Bottas made a great start, and Perez had an oddly poor one, dropping a few places. Kvyat reminded everyone of his new nickname (the Torpedo) by clumsily side-swiping and wiping out his team mate Sainz.

This brought out the safety car for a few laps.

After it left and racing resumed, Ricciardo, who had been slicing his way through the field, left the track and much ground, and had to do it all over again.

Vettel was clearly faster than Verstappen but couldn’t make it past the wily Dutchman. The highlight of the racing was their multi-lap battle, neither one giving an inch. In the end, Vettel pitted early (lap 15 of 51, or so) to change from supersoft to soft (save Bottas, all the top 10 started on the supersoft).

Verstappen pitted one lap later but emerged behind Vettel, the undercut working well.

Meanwhile, Hamilton had finished the Financial Times crossword and moved onto the Telegraph’s, pausing occasionally to check he was still 1st and to wave to the crowd. Behind him, Raikkonen was also pulling away from the field but wasn’t in a position to challenge for the lead.

A big surprise was Hulkenberg, who was in 6th and had kept the place on pace. He was aided by the Force Indias becoming stuck behind Magnussen (the Haas going on a very long first stint) but still drove perfectly, and the Renault seems to have much better pace than anticipated.

In news that shouldn’t be surprising, Alonso had to retire with a car failure (in retrospect, if I was going for a bland bet I should’ve gone for this).

Late on, the order was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel and Bottas. Bottas being so close to Vettel meant that Ferrari couldn’t swap their cars even if they wanted to. The Mercedes has looked a bit faster all weekend, and on supersofts against old softs, the Finn passed the German. It seemed that would be that. Bottas was a second a lap faster than Raikkonen, but with an 8s gap and about 6 laps left, it wasn’t enough.

Then, with two laps to go, Raikkonen’s left front tyre went. He managed to return to the pits for fresh rubber but had dropped to 4th, a cruel fate after driving a very good race.

But, to quote Khan Noonien Singh, the game isn’t over yet.

Vettel’s front left also had a puncture, and practically came apart. He also had time to pit, just, but dropped all the way down to 7th. Raikkonen was restored, albeit in 3rd, to the podium, in a final late twist of Ferrari torment and Mercedes delight.

Hamilton had the victory and Bottas a very impressive 2nd. Verstappen (who was pitted late on before a puncture happened) was 4th, ahead of Ricciardo.

Hulkenberg ended up 6th, and scooped up a bevy of points for Renault. Ocon and Perez were a lacklustre 8th and 9th, unable to pass Magnussen for half the race or to close on Hulkenberg when the Dane wasn’t there. The final point was Massa’s, although Williams looked a bit slow all weekend.

Vandoorne finished 11th, alas.

An interesting note is that the Ferrari has typically been better on its tyres than the Mercedes, but here the reverse was true.

Vettel’s poor start and losing a place to Verstappen cost him time early on and a strategy that ultimately pushed him down to 7th. Had it been Raikkonen who had started poorly, a Hamilton-Vettel 1-2 seems eminently possible. But, it didn’t work out that way. Bottas also had a great race and I’m confounded by the length of his odds now. For the title he’s still available at 17 on Betfair. He’s 23 points off the lead in a three horse race. I’m not saying he should be anything other than third-placed in the odds, but I do think he’s being underestimated.

Vettel 177
Hamilton 176
Bottas 154
Ricciardo 117

Ricciardo’s too far back. If Bottas won the next event and the other contenders had a DNF each, he’d lead the title race. He’s also the only one of the top three to have a DNF. I still think Vettel is likeliest to win, but a major factor is the behaviour of Mercedes. Do they stick to their no team orders approach, or throw their weight behind Hamilton?

Mercedes 330
Ferrari 275
Red Bull 174
Force India 95
Williams 41
Toro Rosso 33
Haas 29
Renault 26
Sauber 5
McLaren 2

I think this is effectively done and dusted now (top four slots, at least). Raikkonen being 4th of the top four has cost the Prancing Horse this title. The 8 points Hulkenberg bagged today have dragged Renault into contention with the tightly fought ground from 5th to 8th.

The next race is in a fortnight, and between now and then I’ll probably put up a mid-season review to look at the rather rubbish trend of recent bets following a great first race, and to assess how the racing is going and might continue to develop. Is Bottas really a contender? How will Mercedes handle the situation? Will Kubica make a return?

A weird race weekend. I finished ahead, but as only the article tips count, it was technically red. Hungary is in a fortnight (check the weather, if dry back No Safety Car), but, as I said, the mid-season review will likely emerge before then.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 15 July 2017

United Kingdom: pre-race 2017

Qualifying was thoroughly entertaining, and it was also nice the early Raikkonen bet (tipped each way at 26 for pole, but it lengthened, weirdly, to 34 after third practice) came off. Doesn’t count in the records and another early tip (Ricciardo podium at 3.5) looks eminently improbable, but still good stuff (the last early tip, Raikkonen podium at 3.3, is eminently layable at around 1.7).

Contrary to weather forecasts, it was drizzling quite a bit in Q1. Inters were the order of the day, as early runners on the slicks had all the grip of a lubricated Mister Blobby. Late on, Alonso, who had nothing to lose with his 30 place penalty, switched to slicks. He barely made it across the line to begin a hot lap, and was fastest of all, earning the rightful applause and cheers of the crowd. It was less happy for Ricciardo, who was initially fastest but whose turbo decided not to work any more. Joining Ricciardo in the drop zone were both Saubers, Magnussen and Stroll.

Things dried off rapidly in Q2 (not fully dry but steady enough for dry tyres). This meant Palmer, Kvyat and Alonso were knocked out, ahead of Sainz and Massa. Not a good day for Williams or Toro Rosso. Great day for Vandoorne, though, who was simply faster than his illustrious team mate (for perhaps the first time in qualifying).

The first runs in Q3 went pretty much as expected (Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen). The second, however, were a bit surprising. Hamilton retained his dominance with a huge margin of victory (over half a second) but is currently under investigation for impeding Grosjean and could face a penalty. Raikkonen was the surprise, rising to 2nd (or pole, if Hamilton gets a grid penalty), two-tenths up on Vettel, who was furious about his position on the out lap. Bottas was only two-hundredths behind the German, but coupled with a five place grid penalty he’s going to be barely in the top 10. Big test to see if his title aspirations are the real deal or a pipe dream.

Behind, in No Man’s Land, was Verstappen. Miles faster than Hulkenberg (who was hugely impressive to qualify 6th) and a long way off Bottas, the Red Bull may be tastier in the race. It’d have a better time in the wet, but given the erratic nature of British weather who knows if the forecast will end up right.

Perez and Ocon are next, just a tenth or two between them, followed by Vandoorne and Grosjean (close together but some distance behind the Pink Panthers).

With Hamilton under investigation and the weather changing all the time, I’m loath to bet early. It has emerged, however, that Hamilton will receive no penalty at all. Got to say I disagree with that. He blocked Grosjean, apparently unwittingly, on a hot lap. This decision smacks of favouritism.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Ricciardo, top 6
Force India, double points

Ricciardo is only 2.5 for a top 6 finish. It’s entirely possible but those odds are tight given the pace of Force India etc and his own team’s dodgy reliability.

Force India are a measly 1.53 to double score. It’s very likely but those odds are too damned short for a double finish in the points.

So, as is traditional, I commenced a general perusal of the markets, and saw absolutely nothing that leapt out at me. I had planned to wait, both for the weather forecast and for the match bets, but it’s possible I might not have had the time to post this tomorrow.

So, instead I went for a boring tip. Perez, top 6, 1.83. He starts 6th, but is likely to lose a place to Bottas. However, I think he has the beating of Hulkenberg on pace, and Verstappen’s got a solid chance to break down. Not to mention potential Mercedes-Ferrari shenanigans off the line. Ricciardo’s a potential fly in the ointment. Not a dead cert but I think Perez has a good shot.

Let’s hope the race is green and great.

Morris Dancer

United Kingdom: pre-qualifying 2017

I offered a couple of early tips on Tuesday (Ricciardo for a podium 3.5, Raikkonen each way for pole at 26) on, and we’ll see how that pays off. In the future it’s possible I’ll expand my F1 ramblings beyond the usual format, but that’s for another day.

Some Sauber news emerged between the Austrian and British races. Monisha Kaltenborn, the first female team principal in F1 (though Claire Williams is the day-to-day de facto boss at the Williams team), left suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. She has now been replaced by Frederic Vasseur, former team principal at Renault.

This year, Sauber are using year-old Ferrari engines. It had been announced they’d switch to Honda (probably more for finance than performance) next year but that deal may have fallen through. If so, and McLaren return to Mercedes, that could be curtains for the Japanese engine manufacturer. Their return to F1 has not been an episode of undiluted glory.

An interesting addition to the above scenario was observed by Benson, the BBC reporter. He suggested Vasseur, being close to Wolff, might move Sauber’s engines from Ferrari to Mercedes. However, Mercedes can only supply one more team. If they supply Sauber, they cannot supply McLaren.

Speaking of McLaren woe, Alonso, shockingly, is going to have at least a five place grid penalty for gizmo replacement. My gast was not flabbered by this revelation.

As ever, the weather forecast is quite important. The weekend is currently expected to be light rain for qualifying and dry but overcast for the race. I’m going to check that nearer the time, though.

In first practice Bottas topped the timesheet, less than a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen and Ricciardo were next, then Raikkonen and Vettel. Best of the rest were Kvyat, Alonso, Massa and Vandoorne.

Second practice was practically identical at the top, Bottas again leading his team mate by a tiny margin. Raikkonen was next, then Vettel, with Verstappen and Ricciardo following. Hulkenberg, Massa, Alonso and Ocon round out the top 10.

At this stage Massa’s looking tasty and McLaren also.

It was also announced that Bottas has a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. On Saturday, the forecast changed to dry qualifying and light rain immediately after the race. I may delay the pre-race article to get a firmer view of the weather, depending how it goes, but try and keep in mind how bets will play out in the wet or the dry.

Alonso’s grid penalty has been increased to 30 places. Given there’s 20 cars on the grid, this is yet another numerically intriguing aspect of the rules. And Ricciardo has a five place grid penalty. Given that, I put a little (pre-third practice, so can’t count as a tip for the records, though I did mention it on PB) on Raikkonen at 3.3 or so for a podium (3.25 Ladbrokes, 3.35 Betfair).

The latter part of third practice was wet, so late qualifying simulations didn’t happen. If it’s wet in qualifying that will relatively benefit Red Bull and Alonso, and harm the likes of Williams. Vandoorne headed out on intermediates, briefly, as did others for the last few minutes. That said, the third practice result was:
Hamilton fastest, less than half a tenth ahead of Vettel, Bottas a similar minuscule margin behind and Raikkonen a slightly odd six-tenths back (probably due to rain). Hulkenberg and Ricciardo were next up, with Grosjean, Verstappen, Massa and Vandoorne rounding out the top 10.

I think Hamilton looks nailed on for best pace, but the potential for rain (it’s supposed to clear for qualifying, but then, there wasn’t meant to be any in practice) could make it a lottery. He’s only 1.6 which is too short.

No tip on qualifying, although it could be rather entertaning.

Of course, if you want a risk free way to enjoy hours of entertainment then what could be better than buying my new and deliciously epic fantasy novel Traitor’s Prize?

It’s possible I’ll delay the pre-race article to get a better idea of the weather. Not sure yet.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Austria: post-race analysis 2017

An exciting end and eventful start, but not a thrilling race in between. Also, not profitable. It’s especially irksome when the two things you considered but didn’t back (Vandoorne to beat Alonso, Verstappen not to be classified) come off and the things you did back don’t come off. Still, this sort of thing happens (the weather being dry didn’t help).

Off the line Verstappen’s clutch failed, anti-stall engaged, he barely moved and, to add insult to injury, Kvyat smacked into Alonso who struck Verstappen, taking out the Spaniard and the Dutchman. Sacre bleu!

The two Williams selfishly, maliciously, and in a quite beastly manner, negotiated the carnage ahead of them expertly, both of them making up the best part of 10 places on the first lap. Raikkonen lost out a little, with Ricciardo starting very well and troubling Vettel, who managed to retain his position off the grid.

Hamilton rose to 6th or thereabouts, having a brief swap of places with Perez, then passing Grosjean (the Haas is very good for a car that can’t decide whether its brakes are there for ornament or function).

Then the cars got strung out. And not much happened. Palmer started on the soft, and Hulkenberg was pitted fairly early on for the tyre. It turned out not to be a master stroke as this may be the first race this year that saw the German beaten by his team mate (13th and 11th). Odds of about 4.5 on that pre-race, for those curious.

One pit stop was the order of the day, and there was no rain of which to speak, which makes things relaxing for race strategists and not terribly exciting for viewers. Raikkonen did briefly annoy Bottas by taking the lead when the Mercedes pitted (and the Ferrari had not), but on fresher tyres Bottas simply passed his countryman with ease.

However, the tail end of the race was exciting. On the final laps Vettel was catching Bottas, whose tyres seemed very worn, at a great rate of knots. Another lap or two and he would’ve done it, but it’s a 71 lap race and Bottas won it. Similarly, Hamilton was giving Ricciardo a very hard time, but the Aussie managed to keep ahead of the Briton.

Behind them, Raikkonen had a slightly underwhelming 5th, and Grosjean scored great points for Haas in 6th. Perez and Ocon got 7th and 8th, With Massa and Stroll 9th and 10th. Sainz and Magnussen had to be retired. Not sure of the Spaniard’s problem, the Dane had an engine or gearbox failure.

All told, it could’ve been worse for Hamilton. He started 8th and rose to 4th whereas Vettel started and finished 2nd. But the table is intriguing for another reason:
Vettel 171
Hamilton 151
Bottas 136

Is Bottas becoming a contender? He’s outscored Hamilton in most recent races and is closer to his team mate than Hamilton is to Vettel. After the silly spin in China (he’d be practically level-pegging with Hamilton but for that), Bottas has been assured, securing his first two victories, both under immense pressure.

The problem Mercedes have now, having not had a clear number one driver in Hamilton from the start (probably under the assumption he’d win by miles and be a de facto number one) is that Bottas is pretty damned close. If he won the next race and the other two DNF he’d be 10 points off the lead and 10 points ahead of Hamilton. Recently, the Briton’s had his headrest problem and then a gearbox change. If that continues, (a bit like the 2016 nightmare of gremlins) then Bottas may be better placed, ultimately.

And even without the gearbox, the Finn got pole on merit. It’s a question, not a conclusion, but one worth considering seriously.

Mercedes 287
Ferrari 254

Another lacklustre performance from Raikkonen. I think he’ll be on his way out. This is close, and it isn’t done and dusted, but Ferrari is on the back foot. The equality of Hamilton and Bottas, which is harming their title chances and helping Vettel, is having the opposite impact on the Constructors’.

Must say I’m a little disheartened by the absence of rain, and also my own judgement. Should’ve bet against Verstappen (the Vandoorne/Alonso bet was misfortune). These things do happen, but it’s still a bit tiresome when they do.

The next race is next weekend, in the UK.

Morris Dancer

Austria: pre-race 2017

Must admit to being annoyed with myself for not backing Bottas for pole. I thought he had a decent chance of second, but never thought he’d actually get the fastest time (I thought Hamilton was nailed on). Ah well. These things happen.

Incidentally, a shield (bit like an updated aeroscreen) will be tested at the next race.

In the first part of qualifying we saw the unsurprising departure of both Saubers and Palmer. More surprising was a shocking result for Williams, both of which failed to advance. It seems the aerodynamic upgrade has unbalanced the car and is seriously compromising performance. This should be a strong Williams track, instead they’re second slowest.

In the second session Hulkenberg was the fastest to depart, ahead of Alonso and Vandoorne. Kvyat was slowest but still ahead of Magnussen who reached Q2 but who couldn’t run due to suspension damage. A shame, as the Haas looked a handful, but with good pace. Worth also noting Hamilton set his Q2 time (and therefore starts the race) on the supersoft tyre, whereas all around him will be on ultrasoft. This will cost him a little at the start but allow him to run longer into the race. Assuming wet weather doesn’t affect the start or first round of pit stops.

The final part of qualifying did not go as I’d expected. On the initial runs, Bottas was a tiny margin ahead of Vettel, who was a tenth up on Hamilton. Both the title contenders had slightly iffy runs, but I thought they’d improve. They didn’t, and the last attempt was foiled when Grosjean stopped on track bringing out yellows with just a few seconds left. Accordingly, Hamilton was third fastest and will start eighth. If he starts poorly due to the supersoft, he could be at risk of midfield entanglements.

Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen are next, with Grosjean, Perez, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top 10. I wonder what odds there are on the Pink Panthers mauling one another off the start line.

Weather forecast as of 3.40pm is that tomorrow thunderstorms are more likely than not. I fear this will further harm Williams’ prospects. But it might help out Verstappen, and also Hulkenberg and Alonso (if their cars keep working). I’d also guess it’ll marginally benefit Ferrari relative to Mercedes.

With that in mind, the first bets that sprang to mind were:
Verstappen, win
Verstappen, not to be classified
Hulkenberg/Alonso, points
Massa/Stroll, not to be classified

Verstappen is 17 to win. If it does piss it down, that might well be worth a look (each way). Or, could back and hedge. Either way, worth considering. Annoyingly, even before most of the markets were up, this got cut to 13.

Hulkenberg and Alonso are each 1.66 for points. Too tight.

The not to be classified market was oddly slow in appearing on Ladbrokes, I decided to have a browse of the others in the meantime.
Verstappen, win, 18.5 (Betfair), hedge at 4
Ferrari, double podium, 4
Classified finishers, under 15.5, 1.66
Safety Car, 1.36

Verstappen at 18.5 to win (hedged at 4) would be good. If it’s very wet. That does tally with the probable forecast, but in the dry his car is the third fastest, and it’s failed more often than not in recent races.

A double podium is most probably realistic only for the top two teams (barring something odd). However, Raikkonen has looked like the fourth fastest of them all weekend. Over the season to date, Ferrari have had two double podium finishes, so 4 is not long enough to tempt.

Five or more DNFs at 1.66 could come off. There’s been a lot of sliding, reliability failures and there are barriers and gravel traps coupled with the highest average cornering speed on the calendar (over 100mph). And potential thunderstorms. Not a fan of low odds bets generally, but this is a bit tempting. In the three preceding events, retirements (of a 22 rather than 20 car field) have been six, six and three.

A safety car has appeared at the last two events and with thunderstorms its price of 1.36 might be value. Very short odds, though.

Looking at the Betfair Sportsbook odds on Verstappen, Massa and Stroll not to be classified produces odds of 3, 3.75 and 2.375 respectively (pain to work that out from ye olde odds of 11/4 and 11/8). I think they’re intriguing, Verstappen due to reliability woe and the Williams because their cars are sliding around horrendously.

Advice: if you’re thinking of backing Verstappen on Ladbrokes, back the winning nationality market. ‘A Dutchman’ is 15, rather than the 13 for ‘Verstappen’ on the to win market (NB you can’t back each way on nationality).

After waiting overnight, the classified markets still weren’t up on Ladbrokes. I can only imagine that the errors last time (Vettel 8, Bottas 7, Perez 5) have put them off, but I hope the markets return.

Anyway, having just gotten up the two(ish) bets that look most appealing are Verstappen to win and some combination of not to be classified on Betfair Sportsbook (NB when it’s the exchange I’ll just call it Betfair for brevity).

I did a quick check to see if anything had changed. Vandoorne is 3.25 to beat Alonso, which is slightly tempting on a reliability basis but wet weather may even that out a bit and I’m not backing it. On Ladbrokes, the winning nationality odds remain longer for a Dutchman (15) than Verstappen’s in the winner market (13) but there’s no each way and it’s still some way off the 18.5 on Betfair.

The Williams looks a handful and will be worse than others in the wet. So, I’ve backed both (half a stake each and thus counting as a single tip) on Betfair Sportsbook not to be classified (Massa 3.75, Stroll 2.375).

Verstappen to win 19 (Betfair’s odd just increased a smidge), hedged at 4. If his car makes it, and it’s as soggy as forecast, he stands a good chance. Also, if he’s going quickly and his car breaks but the hedge is matched, that covers off the not to be classified aspect.

So, let’s hope it pisses it down, Verstappen wins, and both Williams take an early bath.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Austria: pre-qualifying 2017

No further action will be taken against Vettel after the handbags of last race. I am not consumed by surprise at this news. It also sounds like there’s some disagreement between Ocon and Perez as to the blame for their needless collision in Azerbaijan (Ocon saying he and the team think it was 50/50, Perez blaming Ocon). Both men are good drivers, and I’ve been very impressed with Ocon, but there does come a point when intra-team rivalry becomes damaging. Force India could’ve had a maiden win, even a 1-2, last race. Instead they had a shockingly poor result.

There’s the potential for scattered thunderstorms on race day. Both Hamilton and Vettel are very good in the wet. Verstappen is too, as is Hulkenberg, though both of them have cars that will likely be a little off the pace in the dry, as the circuit is one where straight line speed is most useful. Accordingly, I expect Mercedes to triumph.

My betting’s been a bit wonky lately. Not superbad, some was just misfortune (damn you, Button!), but I’m unlikely to offer a qualifying tip unless something really leaps out at me. Both qualifying and the race start at the civilised hour of 1pm.

In first practice Hamilton topped the time sheets, ahead of Verstappen and Bottas. Vettel was half a second off his rival, ahead of Ricciardo and Raikkonen, with Vandoorne, Kvyat, Alonso and Ocon rounding out the top 10.

In second practice Hamilton was again quickest but the gap to Vettel was just one and a half tenths. Bottas followed close behind, Verstappen and Ricciardo next up and Raikkonen, Magnussen, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Grosjean following.

At this stage, I’m immensely surprised the McLaren (albeit with an upgraded Honda engine) seems to be doing well. Austria’s all about straight line speed, so either Williams and Force India are keeping their powder dry or the upgrade’s pretty tasty. If McLaren are competitive for points, there could be some value there (although reliability remains to be seen).

Surprising news came on Saturday morning. Hamilton’s going to have to replace his gearbox, which entails a five place grid penalty. Mercedes’ reliability has been rock solid, best of all the teams so far this year. However, he’s looking good for pole so don’t count him out just yet (as of 7.30am he’s 3 and Vettel 2.87 for the win, Ladbrokes).

I occasionally check the Ladbrokes Exchange and did so on a whim pre-qualifying, to discover a few specials. I’ll try and remember to check it more in the future. Nothing seemed value to me but there were some interesting ideas.

It also seems that Alonso has to revert to his old-spec, slower Honda engine. I’m also bamboozled by the seeming lack of pace from Force India and Williams. Hamilton appears to have suffered a brake disc problem late in the latter stages of final practice. Seems the disc disintegrated upon locking. According to F1 journalist Adam Cooper, the disc itself was fine but it wasn’t fitted properly (reducing the chance of the problem recurring).

In third practice, Vettel was quickest, two-tenths up on Hamilton, with Bottas a similar distance further back. Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Grosjean were all a tenth off the chap in front, Kvyat and Sainz rounding out the top 10.

Given Hamilton’s pace so far but also reliability problems I’m not inclined to bet on pole/fastest Q3 time. The only bet that caught my eye was Bottas each way at 6. But I decided against it (I think the each way has a reasonable chance, but the odds are short).

So, no qualifying tip.

Qualifying should be good. Intrigued to see how McLaren, Williams and Force India do.

Morris Dancer