Saturday, 26 August 2017

Belgium: pre-qualifying 2017

A minor piece of housekeeping, but with offering more tips ahead of race weekends I’m going to start recording them. My focus will still be on the weekend tips, but given the last two race weekends have seen very green early bets but very red weekend bets, it’s producing a rather misleading picture and I want to correct that. I’ll continue to always offer at least one race bet per weekend in a pre-race article, and early bets will continue to be subject to value (I won’t always offer them).

During the break it was announced that Perez will continue driving for Force India in 2018 and Raikkonen likewise for Ferrari. Not hugely surprised and expect Bottas to get a multi-year deal at Mercedes. The most interesting question right now is whether or not Kubica will come back. My own guess is he’ll replace Palmer (and that Leclerc will join Sauber). More interesting is whether Alonso will leave the sport (I’d guess that he will if McLaren stick with Honda).

Vandoorne has also been confirmed to be staying at McLaren. In less welcome news, the Honda upgrade this weekend means he gets a grid penalty too. At the current time of writing he’s got a 40 place grid penalty. On a 20 car grid. I like F1 but certain aspects are rather silly. [Edited extra bit: this then rose to 65].

Just before qualifying it emerged Vettel has signed a new three year deal at Ferrari. Not too surprising, but significant nevertheless.

My only early tip (I may start writing concise early articles here) was for Raikkonen each way at 17 to ‘win’ qualifying. Some good news also emerged with the minor but helpful change to Ladbrokes’ markets, whereby ‘classified’ (or not) has been replaced by ‘finish’. This is useful as it’s possible for a driver to be classified even if they don’t finish the race, so it adds clarity.

First corner can create some carnage, but that also means opportunity for those who avoid it.

In first practice the headline times are a shade misleading because the Mercedes were on the soft (other tyres being supersoft and ultrasoft). Raikkonen was fastest, a tiny margin ahead of Hamilton, who was a tenth up on Vettel. Verstappen, Ricciardo and Bottas followed, with Sainz, Ocon, Kvyat and Vandoorne rounding out the top 10.

Second practice was curtailed by rain, and Massa was unable to run following a chassis change from an early crash in first practice. However, everyone had time for qualifying simulation and between half and one dozen ultrasoft/high fuel early race simulation laps.

Hamilton topped the time sheets, a quarter of a second ahead of Raikkonen, who was almost two-tenths up on Bottas. Verstappen and Vettel followed close behind, then came Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Ocon, Sainz and Palmer.

My own feeling right now, assuming it’s dry for qualifying (I’ll check nearer the time) is that Hamilton is very likely to get pole but behind him it’ll be close and any of the other three could line up alongside him. Obviously if it’s wet that helps Red Bull, and if it’s very wet or changeable the ultimate grid could be a lottery.

In third practice, Raikkonen was fastest, just shy of two-tenths up on his team mate. Vettel was 0.001s ahead of Hamilton. However, there was nearly a second between the Briton and Verstappen, with Bottas, Ricciardo, Palmer, Perez, Sainz and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

Tricky to decide whether laying Hamilton at about 1.5 (looks like a three horse race and he’s only one of them) or backing Vettel and Raikkonen at around 6-7 makes more sense. Also got to consider how to marry a tip here with the early Raikkonen tip (not a dead cert but content with third practice).

Also worth noting Bottas was miles off the pace in third practice. Unsure if that was due to a mistake, so it’s possible he might yet be in the mix (though I suspect not).

In the end, I laid Hamilton at 1.54. He’s certainly a credible pole contender but things were very tight amongst three drivers in third practice.

If you did back the early Raikkonen bet, you may want to set up a hedge. I went for a small one at 1.4 (on the short side, but there we are). Let’s hope the Iceman can stay cool in qualifying.

Morris Dancer

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