Sunday, 29 April 2018

Azerbaijan: post-race analysis 2018

As expected, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was mostly tedious with startling bursts of crashing excitement. Betting-wise, because I screwed up and split one stake evenly rather than to equalise profitability, it was very mildly red (with £10 stakes, it was down £1.25). Personally, I finished slightly ahead thanks to an each way tip from Mr. Sandpit on Raikkonen for the win (at 26). Also personally, I had a small bet on Perez to win each way (top 2) at 401. He finished third. I suppose the plus side is that it means I was thinking on the right lines. But it’s still a bit frustrating to get so close...

Anyway. Off the start line, as per the last two races, the pole-sitter (Vettel) retained the lead. There was small carnage behind, however, with Raikkonen and Ocon colliding (Ocon’s fault, and he paid for it with a DNF). Hulkenberg looked to have clumsily tagged Sirotkin, who then hit Alonso. The Spaniard was ok, the Russian was not, and also left the race.

We had a lap 1 safety car.

Vettel made the restart very slow, bunching up the pack, and then we were underway again. In the meantime, Raikkonen and Alonso had both pitted. Behind the leader we had Hamilton and Bottas, then the two Red Bulls.

Hulkenberg, who was just one place behind Sainz (roughly 7th), made a mistake as took himself out. Disappointing, frankly.

Verstappen got past Ricciardo, banging wheels but causing no damage. Some time later, after much dicing, Ricciardo passed his team mate. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was one place but ended up over 20s behind the Red Bulls as the Ferrari struggled on the soft tyre (tyre temperatures were a problem all race, with Red Bull and Mercedes struggling early on to get temperatures up).

Behind the Finn, Sainz and, surprisingly, Leclerc were doing well.

Hamilton pitted for the soft tyre, and immediately struggled. Vettel pitted a little while later for the same tyre, but Hamilton’s slow pace meant Bottas might be able to come in and emerge ahead of his team mate, though it would be tight.

The two Red Bulls pitted, and the tyre temperature problem meant that Ricciardo, ahead on track and with first call, emerged behind Verstappen. The two were close together and the Aussie closed up on the very long straight. Verstappen weaved about, which he isn’t meant to do (and for which I’ve criticised him in the past). Ricciardo closed up a lot, locked up, and ran into the back of his team mate, taking out the pair of them.

A second safety car emerged. Just as it seemed about to come in, Grosjean embarrassed himself and annoyed every spectator by crashing into a wall in an awkward spot, adding about five laps (and leaving a similar number to be raced) to the safety car period.

Under the safety car the top four (Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen) all pitted for the ultrasoft tyre. Behind them were Perez, Sainz (promoted thanks to Grosjean’s mistake), and Leclerc.

Bottas repeated Vettel’s slow strategy, but on the long straight Vettel went for the pass and locked up hugely, putting him down to 4th, and then 5th behind Perez. The win was Bottas’... until with just a few laps to go he ran over debris, got a puncture and was out of the race.

Out of nowhere, and as undeserved as his loss in Australia was unlucky, Hamilton won. Raikkonen, who had cocked up in qualifying, had an early collision and not made much progress all race, was 2nd. Perez, who dropped back early on but thereafter drove very well indeed, got 3rd (and has more Azerbaijan podium finishes than any other man).

Vettel’s 4th means he suffered damage to his title hopes but it could’ve been a lot worse. A bit unlucky that he went for the win and paid a significant price, but that was down to him. Sainz got 5th, a great result for the Spaniard and his team, locked as it is in a tight battle to be best of the rest.

But driver of the day must be Charles Leclerc, the newcomer from Monaco who got 6th in a Sauber. Excellent stuff.

Behind him, Alonso fought back from a very early pit stop to claim 7th, Stroll ended up 8th to get Williams their first points of the year, Vandoorne nabbed 9th, making it yet another double points finish for McLaren, and Hartley scored his first ever point in 10th.

So, a tumultuous start, and an eventful finish, with the odd moment of farce. Red Bull were a bit slow early on but later showed decent pace and should’ve been 4th and 5th. Whose fault was the crash? Whilst Verstappen shouldn’t be weaving about, and I’ve criticised him for that in the past, it was Ricciardo’s fault, in my view.

Just remembered the Raikkonen/Ocon incident is under investigation. A 10s time penalty would cause Mr. Sandpit's tip to become a loser, but my tip on Perez to become a winner.

For what it's worth, I think they'll just have no further action. Giving a time penalty in such circumstances would be very controversial and probably unfair (the matter should've been settled during the race and I have no idea why it wasn't).

Because the Constructors’ has changed so much, here’s the full list:
Ferrari 114
Mercedes 110
Red Bull 55
McLaren 36
Renault 35
Force India 16
Toro Rosso 13
Haas 11
Sauber 10
Williams 4

Just consider how many points Red Bull and Haas have thrown away. Red Bull now has a 50% DNF rate. Haas had a great double position in Australia, and today Grosjean would’ve ended up about 5th, all else being equal. For all the crisis talk at McLaren, they’re currently best of the rest, though it’s very close with Renault. Meanwhile, Perez’s podium lifts Force India from being second to last all the way to 6th. Whilst Sauber remain near the foot of the table, Leclerc’s great result means they’re within fighting distance of the teams ahead. Indeed, Haas are just 1 point away.

At the sharp end, it’s also very close. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have a single DNF apiece.

Hamilton 70
Vettel 66
Raikkonen 48
Bottas 40
Ricciardo 37
Alonso 28

Very tight at the top. But for that late puncture, Bottas would be there, ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, who would be separated by a single point. But there we are. The Finns have 1 DNF each, Ricciardo has 2, and Alonso 0.

Anyway, the next race is Spain, in a fortnight. Probably be a bit less work for the marshals there.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Azerbaijan: pre-race 2018

Qualifying was certainly interesting. Incidentally, apologies for a minor error in the previous blog, Mr. Sandpit referred to F2, not F1. My finger slipped, which may explain why I don’t work on a nuclear submarine.

In the first session, Grosjean’s gearbox decided not to play (incidentally, Hulkenberg has a five place grid penalty for changing his) and he didn’t get to set a time. The two Toro Rossos almost had a massive crash after Hartley was mindlessly trundling around the quickest part of the track, and only Gasly’s swift reactions prevented a huge collision. Both Toro Rossos failed to advance, Hartley taking full responsibility. Ericsson and Vandoorne also left at this stage.

In the second session the top three teams sent everyone out on the supersoft tyre, which should be better for the race. However, Ferrari only had one set. Raikkonen ended up ruining his pair and so had to set his fast lap on the ultrasofts, which it’s believed will be detrimental in the race (although much the same was said in China and the Red Bulls, starting on the same tyre, did perfectly well). Further down the order, Magnussen was the slowest, beaten by Leclerc by a full seven-tenths. Either it was an astounding lap by the Monegasque or Magnussen cocked up. Ahead of them was Alonso (he’s regularly been qualifying around 13th, then rising to score in races), with Sirotkin and Stroll ahead. Not too bad for Williams given their recent performances.

Q3 had the top six plus the Force India and Renault pairings. On the first run, Vettel was fastest and Raikkonen cocked up. On the second run, Hamilton improved to leapfrog his team mate, but couldn’t match the German. Vettel made an error but his first lap was enough for pole. Raikkonen was on for pole, with two purple sectors, then made another mistake and ended up a lacklustre 6th. Ricciardo and Verstappen line up 4th and 5th, Ricciardo within a tenth of Bottas and his team mate a similar margin behind.

The two Force Indias (disregarding Raikkonen’s unnecessarily slow lap) were half a second off the frontrunners but separated by just two-hundredths. I hope they don’t repeat the mistake of last year. They were also half a second ahead of the Renaults (Hulkenberg qualified 9th, Sainz 10th, but the German takes a five place penalty for a gearbox change). If that’s remotely indicative of actual pace, then the Force Indias stand to inherit the win should the top dogs spectacularly fail.

The bets that sprung to mind for me were:
Ricciardo, win
Many drivers, not to be classified
Safety Car (odds probably comically low, but we’ll see)

Ricciardo is 7 to win with Ladbrokes. Hmm. But longer with Betfair. The latter is pretty tempting. He’s been racing extremely well and the prime strategic focus of Red Bull’s rivals will be one another rather than him/Verstappen. [He’s 8 on Ladbrokes for ‘win only’].

Not to be classified has a variety of interesting options. Hamilton and Vettel are 7 each, Raikkonen 6 (but even more tempting given where he starts), Ricciardo is 4.33 and Verstappen 3.75. It’s tempting to slice up one regular stake into five slices. Another option is to pick a couple and back those. Hmm. Worthy of consideration.

The safety car is available at 1.16 (1.25 on Betfair). That’s a bit of a weak-kneed, bed-wetting sort of bet (I don’t like short odds) although it will probably come off.

Some possibilities above, but, as always, I had a general wander through the markets (though, like Socrates, not necessarily with anything in mind).

The top scoring team market is back, which is ironic because I like it a lot, but not for this sort of race which could well have a high number of DNFs.

Bottas is 10 to lead lap 1. The enormo-straight could be quite helpful for those behind Vettel, as he doesn’t have a rear gunner to protect him from the Mercedes pair.

Mr. Sandpit had an interesting suggestion of Raikkonen to win with a contra-strategy at 23. That’s worth considering (if I back it, I’ll hedge at something like 5 or so, I think).

Nothing stands out as fantastic, but there are quite a few possibilities worth weighing up.

I quite like both Ricciardo and Raikkonen to win (9.6 and 23 respectively at the time of writing). And the many DNFs bet. (There is also 1.72 for there to be under 16 classified finishers). There’s likely to be a safety car, and that will only harm Vettel’s hopes, as he starts in the lead. Raikkonen may be compromised by strategy. Hmm. Knotty.

I think Red Bull may be the team to beat. But also tempted by Verstappen to DNF at 3.75. He’s made a mistake at every race so far, and there isn’t a huge margin of error around the circuit in Azerbaijan.

Two tips for this weekend (or one and two halves, to be precise):
I’ve backed Ricciardo to win at 9.6 (Betfair), hedged at 3. He’s driving well, the car’s looking good, and the Mercedes/Ferrari teams will be more concerned with one another than Red Bull.

I’ve also backed Verstappen at 3.75 and Raikkonen at 6 not to be classified, splitting one stake between them. Both have looked a bit scruffy during the weekend. I accidentally split the stake evenly, normally I try and make it so each outcome is equally profitable, but never mind.

Anyway, the race is likely to be a procession broken up by sudden bursts of crashing excitement. Let’s hope it’s thrilling and green.

Morris Dancer

Azerbaijan: pre-qualifying 2018

Using the immense power of the internet, I set up a couple of polls (one midfield, one frontrunner) to see what people thought of Azerbaijan’s possible outcomes. Haas, McLaren and Renault were all very close for the midfield, with Toro Rosso unloved. The frontrunner poll had Ferrari get half the vote, Mercedes get a smidgen less, and Red Bull in a distant third.

The FIA announced it was clamping down, with immediate effect, upon exhaust blowing for aerodynamic gains, something many are seeing as likely to adversely affect Ferrari the most. Little surprised as I hadn’t heard too much wibbling about this. It may also compromise Renault, who have apparently been doing much the same.

Azerbaijan is an interesting circuit (to consider, at least) in that it’s a very tight and twisty track, akin to Monaco, but has one long straight as well. This makes it quite hard to assess which teams will do well. That said, I think Haas will top the midfield, as they were quick in Australia and also have a Ferrari engine which seems rather good in a straight line this year. Earlier, (elsewhere), I tipped [with tiny stakes] Magnussen and Grosjean to win each way (third the odds, top 2), on Ladbrokes at 501 and 651 respectively. A similar bet, at 201, on Perez last year almost come off, and would have, if he and his team mate hadn’t been too busy playing dodgems to actually race. After FP1 this stretched to 1001 each, and I again backed and tipped them with very small odds (less than bus fare).

The weather forecast is for both qualifying and the race to be dry, with temperatures a few degrees cooler on Sunday (rain chance for qualifying is very low, a little higher for the race but still odds against). This may have implications for the race, as a safety car restart would see teams, perhaps especially Mercedes, struggle to get sufficient heat into their tyres.

Speaking of tyres, this weekend we have the soft, supersoft, and ultrasoft. On imagines the ultrasoft might make things more difficult for Mercedes in qualifying, if the last race is anything to go by. May be worth looking at Raikkonen for pole.

First practice had Bottas just edge Ricciardo, with Perez a surprising third (albeit nearly a second off the pace). Hamilton and Ocon were next, followed by Verstappen (who crashed), Alonso, Sirotkin, Gasly and Vettel.

There was some suspicion Ferrari and maybe Haas were sandbagging.

In second practice, Ricciardo was fastest, with small gaps to Raikkonen and Verstappen (which made me feel like a fool because I’d decided against backing Ricciardo on the basis Ferrari was likely sandbagging). Bottas was six-tenths off Verstappen, and a short way ahead of Hamilton. Alonso, Ocon, Sainz, Magnussen and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

At the moment, things look pretty good for Red Bull. They could be the team to beat, but I still wonder if Ferrari have something in reserve. Feeling less confident about Haas’ prospects, alas. On the other hand, it’s tiny change at 1000/1, so my hopes were not high (though I do think the ‘true’ odds are significantly shorter, maybe around 81).

Vettel was fastest in third practice, a third of a second ahead of Hamilton. Raikkonen was next, half a tenth behind Hamilton and two-hundredths ahead of Verstappen. Bottas was half a tenth off Verstappen (tiny bit tight for the quartet behind Vettel). Perez was next but four-tenths off Bottas. Magnussen, Stroll, Ocon and Sirotkin (despite the crash, mentioned below) round out the top 10. Ricciardo screwed up his final lap and ended up twelfth.

Sirotkin crashed during third practice, thoroughly buggering his car. May be tricky for him to make qualifying. The crash meant, post-red flag, there was just a couple of minutes on the clock (the Red Bulls hadn’t set fast laps at this stage so their quickest times may or may not reflect real pace).

Right now, Ferrari look tasty for qualifying and race, Mercedes good for qualifying (little less for the race) and Red Bull pretty strong too. Force India are surprisingly competitive. Mr. Sandpit, elsewhere, reported that F1 was a demolition derby with the safety car leading a quarter of the race.

I was tempted to back Raikkonen each way for fastest qualifier, but he’s just 5.5 (third the odds, top 2) and with it being so tight, that does not represent value, for me.

I also think Red Bull might stand a good chance in the race but their odds are relatively short and I think they’ll get longer after qualifying.

Perez/Ocon have been looking faster, unexpectedly. Perhaps the (with Ladbrokes boost) odds of Perez at 326, each way, and Ocon at 401, each way, to win is worth a tiny amount (NB not counting this as a ‘proper’ tip because I’m putting on such tiny sums).

Qualifying looks intriguing, and the race more so.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 15 April 2018

China: post-race analysis 2018

Alas, the Hamilton bet not only failed, it never looked close, so red with or without the hedge. In half-annoyance and half-delight, I learnt late on that a one stop (ultrasoft-medium) was considered viable after all, and put a tiny sum on the Red Bulls to win (26 Verstappen, 31 Ricciardo). Smaller stakes but one came off, though I learnt of it too late for a blog tip. I ended up ahead overall for the race.

Off the line, Raikkonen started well, and Vettel squeezed him. This kept the German his place but enabled Bottas and Verstappen to get past Raikkonen.

Whilst there was much to-ing and fro-ing in the midfield, the race settled down, with small gaps emerging between the top 6. And, to be honest, it became a little worrisome, the race seemingly destined for a boring result. But boring it was not.

Red Bull pitted first, slotting on the mediums. Mercedes reacted pretty quickly, but this time it was Ferrari caught napping. They needlessly left Vettel out a few laps too long, and when the pit stops had shaken out, Bottas was effectively leading Vettel (both on medium tyres). Raikkonen was kept out to act as a roadblock for Bottas, backing him into Vettel. This put (after pitting) the Iceman back into 6th. Whilst Vettel was within a second of Bottas, he was unable to effect a pass.

Further down the field there was much intra-team grumbling. Grosjean was a grumpy goose at being asked to let Magnussen through, Ocon was saying naughty words about his team mate, and the two Toro Rossos clashed when Gasly tried to pass Hartley with all the finesse of a drunk wearing boxing gloves. The hairpin was covered in debris, which brought out the safety car (and ultimately seems to have caused Hartley’s retirement, the race’s solitary instance of such).

Red Bull dove into the pits for soft tyres. And it proved to be genius.

Behind the safety car, the top four were struggling for heat in their mediums, and when the race resumed the Red Bulls had fresher, faster, grippier rubber. Verstappen and Ricciardo set about their mission to pass the field, but the young Dutchman (again) recklessly tried a move that just wasn’t on against Hamilton. There was the minor consequence of Verstappen taking a scenic route, which allowed Ricciardo to get ahead of him.

The Aussie then set about carving up every driver ahead of him like a half-starved shark feasting on a capsized boatload of tourists. Undoubtedly aided by his superior tyres, he nevertheless was excellent, being bold yet measured (Verstappen’s got the first of those but he really needs to learn when discretion is the better part of valour). From 6th to 1st, Ricciardo passed the lot and then pulled away for his first victory of the season.

Verstappen passed Hamilton and then closed in on Vettel (3rd, at this point and still close behind Bottas). The Dutchman tried another move that wasn’t on, and both men spun, letting past Raikkonen (whose late stop now meant his fresher tyres had helped him past Hamilton) and the Briton. It was 100% Verstappen’s fault. Worse still, either damage or tyre problems meant Vettel’s pace vanished. He was passed by Hulkenberg and then Alonso, barely holding on for 8th against Sainz (the pair recorded identical times).

Verstappen got a 10s time penalty, which seems unduly lenient given the impact upon the title race. He has taken responsibility for the incident, and Vettel was restrained his post-race comments, whilst attributing blame to the Dutchman.

Nevertheless, Verstappen soon got past Hamilton and closed up on Bottas and Raikkonen, but was unable to effect a pass. The penalty put him behind the Briton so the final order at the sharp end was Ricciardo, Bottas, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Verstappen.

Hulkenberg got a strong 6th, just half a second off Verstappen come the chequered flag and 9s clear of Alonso. As mentioned above, Vettel and Sainz were very close indeed, with Magnussen nabbing the final point. Ocon and Perez were 11th and 12th and may have suffered from the safety car’s timing (as Red Bull and Alonso benefited), but that’s how things go.

All in all, a very eventful and exciting race, just a week after a similarly eventful and exciting race. Sadly both were red (Bahrain due to bad luck and this one because of poor judgement).

Vettel 54
Hamilton 45
Bottas 40
Ricciardo 37
Raikkonen 30

Only a few races in, so it’s tight at the top. Worth noting Ricciardo and Raikkonen both have one DNF each (neither their fault). Vettel was very unlucky today, and Hamilton, whilst being rather lacklustre all weekend, narrowed the gap quite a bit. Unless Hamilton improves, he may be at risk from his team mate. The Englishman has been unusually downbeat as well. I wonder if off-track distractions are affecting him. Vettel is in a stronger position than the result today indicates. I think he’s in good shape for the title.

Mercedes 85
Ferrari 84
Red Bull 55
McLaren 28
Renault 25

I still think Red Bull could get this title. But perhaps Ferrari will. Tricky. In the midfield contest, it remains tight between Renault and McLaren, with the bumblebees reducing the sunburnt smurfs’ advantage [good/bad nicknames?]. Both are quick and reliable, though I think the odds favour Renault, simply because their driver pairing is better and their qualifying likewise. McLaren are good at coming through the field but that won’t work as well when we’re at places like Monaco. Or Azerbaijan, which is in a fortnight.

Azerbaijan is an interesting circuit in terms of it being very tight and then having a ridiculous straight. Last year we had a comedy nonsense (which very nearly had a 201 shot come off, but for the Force Indias attacking each other). High attrition can happen. In that circumstance it favoured Ricciardo and Stroll, suggesting top line speed is the way for an outsider to do well. May be worth keeping an eye on Haas (who were also tasty around the tight Australian circuit).

Three races in, we’ve had two cracking races, and the title races are tightly contested. Azerbaijan starts on the 27th.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 14 April 2018

China: pre-race 2018

The ‘qualifying’ bet for Raikkonen to be top 3 in third practice came off. He was 2nd, again, though I was slightly surprised it was his team mate rather than a Mercedes that pipped him.

For the sake of completeness, third practice had Vettel almost half a second up on Raikkonen, with Bottas three-tenths of his countryman. Verstappen and Hamilton followed, with Magnussen, Perez, Ocon, Sainz and Sirotkin rounding out the top 10. (Magnussen this year seems to have the measure of Grosjean, early on, at least).

Before qualifying commenced there was drama. It turned out Ricciardo needed a new engine but there was no complete engine to be plugged in. His engineers has most of the engine and then had to scavenge parts from the dud unit, forcing them to work flat out and only just get the Aussie out in time. One imagines Red Bull will not be thrilled with Renault.

Out Ricciardo went, just making it for a fast lap in Q1. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to see him through. The same could not be said for the Saubers, who remained rooted to the foot of the table. Stroll was scarcely faster and his team mate Sirotkin also exited at this stage. So too did Gasly, qualifying 17th. One imagines his fantastic 4th last weekend feels rather a long time ago.

In Q2 was lost the second Toro Rosso, and both McLarens. Ocon also failed to escape and so, somewhat surprisingly, did Magnussen. Despite Ocon’s departure this circuit is looking a little better for Force India. And they need that, after a surprisingly weak start to the season. Initially, Ferrari had been well ahead of Mercedes (all on soft tyres, unlike everyone else), but the Silver Arrows did a second run and were about a third of a second ahead. Was the Ferrari goose to be cooked in Q3?

After the first runs in the last session Raikkonen led his team mate, the Ferrari pair a clear margin ahead of Bottas and Hamilton. The Red Bulls were next, a tenth or so off the Briton. The second runs swapped the order of the Ferraris (it was damned close, though), whilst keeping Bottas and Hamilton as they were (the Englishman aborted his lap after a lacklustre first two sectors). Verstappen outqualified Ricciardo to lead the third row. Hulkenberg and Perez comprise row four, with Sainz half a tenth ahead of Grosjean.

Worth noting it was unusually cold in Shanghai, just 15 Celsius or so. Similar temperature is forecast for tomorrow, though it’s expected to be sunny rather than overcast. Given it seems the Ferrari is tastier in the hot and Mercedes handier in the cool, this may not bode well for the Silver Arrows. That said, the Mercedes weakness is the stickiest tyre which they probably won’t use at all in the race, so I’d expect race pace at the sharp end to be rather close.

How long will medium tyres last? Will starting on the ultrasoft require an extra pit stop? That won’t affect the top four and is, therefore, unlikely to alter how the podium looks. However, it could lead to more churn at the lower end of the points than we’ve seen in recent years. That may play into McLaren’s hands, although with a straight a mile long (almost literally) they may not have a fun time at the race. Magnussen and Ocon, however, could benefit from tyre choice in 11th and 12th.

With that in mind, early thoughts on bets were:
Renault double points
Hamilton podium

Renault are 1.9 for a double points finish, starting from 7th and 9th. I am a bit concerned that they could suffer from losing out due to starting on the ultrasoft tyres.

Hamilton is 1.44 for a podium. Highly likely, but the first corner can be tricky, and it’s rather short.

Perusing the markets led me to consider:
Raikkonen, first lap leader, 7
Hamilton, win (only), 5 [5.3 on Betfair]

The Raikkonen bet is simply because he starts 2nd, and that side is reportedly grippier. Also, the Mercedes may suffer from the Red Bulls starting on the ultrasoft.

The race pace is difficult to assess at this stage. Relatively, harder tyres should favour the Mercedes, but we just don’t know. If it does favour them, Hamilton has a great record in China. But 5 from 4th could be better.

To be honest, nothing really grabs me at this stage. One of those situations where I’d probably sit it out if I didn’t offer a tip on every race since the latter part of the 2009 season. Anyway.

After wandering with the hound a few more specials had appeared. One was Hamilton, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, and Sirotkin to each win their respective groups at 13. Looks quite interesting, although with four contingencies plenty of scope for it to go wrong.

Struggling quite a bit, so decided to check the qualifying result again. It’s intriguing for the race but frustrating for betting because the Mercedes start on the soft, which may save them a pit stop, but they’re at risk from the ultrasoft-shod Red Bulls behind them, but that likely compromises the Red Bulls for the win/podium. The race pace of the top three teams could all be very tight.

After a lot of prevarication, I’m tipping:
Hamilton, win, 5.4 (Betfair), hedged at evens

Hamilton has a great record in China, the Mercedes looks good on race pace, he starts on the grippier side of the track and should have the chance of a good duel with Vettel. Can’t pretend to be Captain Confident about this, unlike some other race bets, but it’s the best value that I can see.

Anyway, race starts at a little after 7am, UK time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 13 April 2018

China: pre-qualifying 2018

I checked the last few years’ results and noticed something odd. In 2017, the finishing top 10 were identical to the top 10 in the grid. In 2016, the only points scorer not to start in the top 10 was Hamilton (who started last). In 2015, with minor variance from grid to flag, the starting top 10 all scored points.

In 30 points finishes, only one was for a chap who didn’t start in the top 10. That’s quite the pattern.

In the two races to date, one had two cars outside the top 10 score [both McLarens], and the other had three [both McLarens and Sauber’s excellent result for Ericsson].

Renault are reportedly allowing the teams for which they supply engines to unlock more performance, following good reliability in the opening two races of the season. [Although one cynical chap who shall not be Mr. Sandpit reckons it’s because they’re upset at being beaten by Honda last time].

I had tiny bets at long odds on Williams/Sauber to top first practice, based on an early weather forecast (which improved, but there we are). As it happened, Hamilton was fastest, nearly half a second quicker than Raikkonen. Bottas, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Vettel followed, with Magnussen, Sainz, Grosjean and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

Second practice had the same top three (Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas), but the top two were separated by seven-thousandths and the top three by three-hundredths. Vettel was less than a tenth off Bottas. Verstappen was a few tenths back, with Hulkenberg half a second off the Dutchman. He was followed by Magnussen, Sainz, Ricciardo and Alonso.

This session also saw another pit stop failure. Vandoorne, this time, ended up with three wheels on his wagon. After the double Haas failure in Oz and similar in Bahrain for Raikkonen, this is looking like a rather worrying pattern.

At this stage, Haas and Renault appear to be best of the rest, although in races to date McLaren has improved from qualifying. Weather forecast for qualifying is 50/50 wet or dry [but probably just very light rain if it happens], but the race is expected to be dry.

Tyre compounds are ultrasoft, soft and medium. The ultrasofts appear to be giving up the ghost very quickly, so using them might necessitate an extra pit stop.

Tyres in Q2 may, therefore, be soft for the top teams. I suspect Mercedes and Ferrari could get through, and maybe Red Bull as well. However, this presents a problem for Haas, Renault and McLaren. To have a hope of Q3 they need the best tyres. But this could hamstring them in the race. Could we see everyone leaping onto the yellow, rather than the purple, tyres?

If it rains, this becomes a moot point. I hope it’s dry, just because it’s an interesting variable.

Back to Q3 (if dry): this could favour Ferrari, which is a touch kinder on its tyres. But, of course, odds would need to be right.

I’ve backed Raikkonen at 11 each way (12 with boost, and fifth the odds for top 3) to be top 3 in third practice. He was 2nd in the first two and, on pace, it’s very close between Mercedes and Ferrari.

I’m counting this as a qualifying tip, as it’s in an ‘official’ blog rather than just mentioned elsewhere, even though it’s practice. Qualifying and the race both start at 7am UK time, so the pre-race and post-race analysis will probably be up a bit earlier than usual.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 9 April 2018

Bahrain: post-race analysis 2018

The bet didn’t come off. Ricciardo almost immediately had a gearbox failure which put him out of the race. Frustrating but also the sort of thing that can’t really be foreseen (as an aside, this and Hamilton’s gearbox change for this race indicates some fragility. If Ferrari don’t have this weakness it could be a rather helpful advantage, although Vettel is already on the second [of two permitted] electronic control units). Annoyingly, this also means we still have no idea of the race pace of the Red Bull, as Verstappen exited at practically the same time. It’s the first double DNF for Red Bull since Korea 2010, or thereabouts.

The race itself, however, was really rather good.

Off the line, most chaps on the evens (dirty) side struggled. Ricciardo lost a place to Gasly, and Raikkonen being passed by Bottas. There was minor contact and Perez suffered an involuntary pirouette.

Hamilton and Verstappen made swift progress carving through the field, and were side by side. The young Dutchman cut across Hamilton, and ended up giving himself a puncture a long way from the pits. Verstappen did get there and out again, eventually, but had lost a chunk of time and had to retire a very short time later.

At almost exactly the same moment, Ricciardo’s car decided two laps was fine and he lost all power. The Aussie had been part of the quartet (the Ferraris and Bottas being the rest) pulling away from the field quite comfortably. Unlike Australia, passing was eminently possible in Bahrain, which means we still have little idea of the real race pace of the Red Bull. I think my bet (best of the rest) could have come off but the early retirement made it both impossible to happen due to bad luck, and impossible to tell how likely it would have been to come off. Only three cars retired from the race, and Ricciardo’s was the only one wholly due to a reliability failure. Bit irksome.

The Virtual Safety Car ensued whilst the Red Bulls were removed from the circuit, which didn’t take too long. Hamilton continued to slice through the field like a xenomorph through a colony of humans, and Alonso was also making some progress. The Williams were looking as slow as an asthmatic snail.

First pit stops occurred around lap 11 of 57. It was some time later before the frontrunners took to the pits, with Ferrari stopping both their cars first and swapping the supersoft red tyres for the soft yellows. And then Mercedes did something cunning. They’d seen the likes of Alonso et al. pit for the white medium tyre and do rather well. The Silver Arrows have suffered all weekend with the red tyres (overheating them rapidly) and decided to opt for the medium. Their pace was good, and durability (35 or so laps required) was fine. Suddenly, it looked like Ferrari had thrown away the race. Vettel either had to make another pit stop and potentially emerge behind Hamilton, or to make the soft tyres last 39 laps (30 was the estimated range, from a race start. With lighter fuel loads later in a race, more is possible).

Behind this strategic conundrum, Pierre Gasly was having a magnificent race. Yes, he was a day and a half behind the top four, but he was clear of Magnussen and Hulkenberg and driving flawlessly. Ericsson was in the lower end of the points and being passed by a few cars, but points seemed possible for Sauber.

Ferrari brought in Raikkonen to put on fresh soft tyres. But the stop was a disaster. The left rear wasn’t changed but the traffic light switched to green. Raikkonen went (as he should when the light goes green), and ran over his own mechanic, fracturing his leg. The tyre wasn’t changed so he had to retire.

This left Vettel in the lead, but without a wingman. Hamilton was simply too far back to trouble Vettel on pace, but Bottas was homing in, taking a second a lap out of the German for the last couple of laps. He got within DRS range, but Vettel had seemingly both done a lot of fuel-saving in earlier laps, allowing for the thirstiest and fastest engine mode later on, and saved up as much ERS power as he could to fend off the Finn. But the Mercedes was clearly faster.

But not fast enough. To my surprise, Vettel managed to hold on for a great victory. Mercedes can’t complain too much about a double podium finish, but for Vettel to keep Bottas behind him was immensely impressive.

As was Gasly’s 4th. Thoroughly deserved, and a welcome change for Toro Rosso after last time’s double DNF. Magnussen got 5th, and Hulkenberg 6th. Behind him came the two McLarens. The team has had double points finishes at both races so far, but with Gasly just one position off the podium, questions are being asked.

Ericsson managed to retain 9th, getting some points for Sauber which could prove critical in the contest with Williams and the other backmarkers. Ocon got 10th. Who would have thought this would be a pleasant surprise for Force India after two years of being the best of the rest?

A really good race, I thought, although the Ricciardo situation was rather unfortunate. Here’s how the Drivers’ stack up:
Vettel 50
Hamilton 33
Bottas 22
Alonso 16
Raikkonen 15
Hulkenberg 14
Gasly 12
Ricciardo 12
Magnussen 10

I’ve used advanced technology to put the drivers with one DNF in bold. Given that, you’d expect them to move up the order if they can improve reliability. Worth noting that for all the question marks above McLaren’s head right now, Alonso is 4th in the title race. Obviously it’s advantage Vettel, but he’s benefited from fortune in Australia and Hamilton’s gearbox misfortune in Bahrain. And we still have no idea about the Red Bull pace.

Ferrari 65
Mercedes 55
McLaren 22
Red Bull 20
Renault 15

This time, I’ve emboldened those with no DNFs so far. Mercedes are lucky Raikkonen had an inexplicable DNF. Red Bull could easily be on 40 odd points. They need to get their act together rapidly. Verstappen’s made mistakes in both races so far, which isn’t great.

I think what we’ve learnt so far is that the Ferrari is kinder to its tyres and likes/can cope with hotter temperatures. The Mercedes chews up rubber via thermal degradation (overheating) more rapidly but is very good on harder compounds.

The next race is China, in just a week’s time, then we’re on the fortnightly schedule for a few months. China, historically, has been a good track for Hamilton, so he’ll be hoping to make up some ground on Vettel.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Bahrain: pre-race 2018

The Raikkonen bet came off, but only the each way aspect so the profit was modest. But it’s still much better than being red. As an aside, the Betfair hedge also came off.

In Q1, Verstappen lost control and his front left suspension when he crashed into the barriers. He’d already set a time fast enough to proceed, but (all else being equal) he’ll start 15th. Eliminated in Q1 were the two Williams, with Stroll slowest of all, both Saubers, and, very surprisingly, Grosjean in the much-fancied Haas. A stark turn around for the Williams team, which a few years ago was very much a frontrunner.

In Q2, it was McLaren that underwhelmed, with both cars failing to proceed. Hartley and Perez also left at this stage, with just over a tenth covering the Kiwi, Mexican and Alonso.

And so to Q3. All through qualifying it had looked very close between Ferrari and Mercedes, with the Prancing Horse seemingly just ahead of the Silver Arrows. Would the Mercedes engine get turned up and enable Bottas to steal pole? Would Hamilton get the time but not the position? Would Ferrari get their first pole in Bahrain in over a decade?

Yes, but only for the last one. After the first runs, Raikkonen was a tiny margin ahead of Vettel, who was a tenth ahead of Hamilton. In the second runs, Bottas improved to grab 3rd, and Vettel achieved pole, though Raikkonen was unable to go faster and had to settle for 2nd.

Hamilton qualified a mere 4th, and with his grid penalty will start 9th. It may be a long day tomorrow for him. Ricciardo was a couple of tenths back but about a second ahead of the midfield. Gasly, who put in a cracking performance in his Honda-powered Toro Rosso, will feature on the third row, with Magnussen alongside him.

The fourth row will be Hulkenberg and Ocon, whilst Sainz starts in 10th.

Hamilton and Verstappen start 9th and 15th respectively. But passing may (shockingly) be rather difficult. A one or two stop strategy could work. Clear air will be the best friend of a driver.

Before checking the markets, the bets that appealed to me most were:
Lay Hamilton, podium
Ricciardo, podium

I think Hamilton will struggle to pass cars like the Haas, Red Bull or his team mate (possible Mercedes will have a helpful strategy, though). His lay odds are around 2.48, and I was expecting something a bit shorter.

Red Bull’s pace looks good and they’re always better in the race, relative to others, than in qualifying. Also worth noting the Mercedes looked very good on the soft (yellow) tyres but struggled much more with overheating the supersoft (red). Ricciardo is 2.1 for a podium, which looks reasonable but not outstanding.

Perusing the markets, a few things caught my eye.
Ricciardo, winner, 13
Bottas, to beat Hamilton, 1.95
Ricciardo, winner (without Ferrari), 3.75

I think the Red Bull is going to be tasty in the race. Coming through to win would be significant, but those on pole have a weird tendency to fail to win in Bahrain. In the last four races it’s happened just once. That said, Ferrari have the front row locked out. I do think if anyone can beat them, it’s Ricciardo. Bottas has looked ok this weekend but the Mercedes tends to excel in qualifying, whereas the Red Bull has better (relative) pace in races. 13 is not as long as I’d like.

Bottas to beat Hamilton is simply based on them starting 3rd and 9th respectively. On-track, Hamilton may struggle to pass the upper end of the midfield. But not super long odds.

The winner without Ferrari market is an interesting addition to Ladbrokes’ usual assortment (I still want Top Scoring Team back, though). It is available each way but for 3.75 (third the odds, top 2) it doesn’t make much sense. Given Ricciardo’s 2.1 for a podium, this is quite a similar bet for nicer odds.

Unfortunately, whilst a few bets look interesting. Nothing really grabs me. But, I’ve offered a tip on every race for a long whilst now, so, the one that appeals most is:
Ricciardo, winner without Ferrari, 3.75 [3.9 with boost]

I think he’s driving very well, the Red Bull will be impressive in the race and he stands a good chance of passing Bottas. I’d like longer odds, but there we are.

Post-race may be delayed a bit, could be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Bahrain: pre-qualifying 2018

From PB:
“F1: Bahrain and China next, back-to-back races. Will be interesting to see if the Ferrari advantage on the straights is maintained. If so, that'll be indicative of an actual edge, if not, the advantage over Mercedes in Australia will be down to differing set-up. [The straight line speed advantage was proven by Karun Chandhok when he looked at Hamilton and Raikkonen’s qualifying laps side-by-side].

Also, if they have such an edge that will make roadblock strategies (Raikkonen holding people up for Vettel, mostly) viable. Being faster in the twisty bits only works when you're ahead or corner passing is possible. At many circuits now, that's tricky. Also, the Mercedes still looks rough in traffic.”

I don’t normally divert from F1, but congratulations are due to Billy Monger, the 18 year old racer who last year had both legs amputated. He made his British F3 d├ębut recently, and finished 3rd. His ultimate objective is to reach F1, so we’ll see how he gets on.

Anyway, back to F1. Liberty revealed their vision for the future of the sport on Friday, which included a more level and meritocratic financial playing field. One imagines the bigger teams, especially Ferrari, will be less than delighted at the sound of that. There’s also a desire for a cost cap and more overtaking, amongst other things. However, there’s not a huge amount of detail, which is mildly surprising.

In first practice, Ricciardo was fastest, ahead of Bottas and Raikkonen. Vettel was next, then came Hamilton, who had somewhat fluffed his quick lap. Grosjean and Gasly followed, with Sainz, Magnussen and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

Second practice had Raikkonen top, leading his team mate by a hundredth. Bottas was next, half a second down the road, just ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen and Ricciardo were very close to one another, but a quarter of a second adrift of the Mercedes (Verstappen complained of being slow on the straights). Hulkenberg, Gasly, Alonso and Vandoorne followed.

If straight line power matters, then it’s advantage Ferrari at the sharp end (but will it be enough to overcome the Mercedes’ pace advantage?) and Haas in the midfield.

Hamilton has a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change. It could be worse, though, as it could’ve conked out during the Australian race. That said, these penalties are damned tiresome. I read a comment on the BBC suggesting that instead of grid penalties there should be a points cost in the Constructors’, which seems like a good idea.

In third practice, Raikkonen was fastest by over half a second (although it’s worth noting Vettel wasn’t able to have a crack at a quick lap due to engine trouble). Verstappen and Ricciardo were next, separated by less than a tenth, with Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas some way back. Hulkenberg and Sainz led the midfield, with Gasly and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

Right now I’m thinking of backing Raikkonen for pole, and maybe laying Hamilton for a podium. He might qualify around third, and end up starting 8th. The Mercedes struggles in dirty air more than other cars.

Ladbrokes seemed to take a little while to get the pole market up, but when it did the Finn’s odds were 4.33, which is about what I anticipated. That’s a third the odds for top 2, and I think is value. [He’s also available at 4.8 on Betfair if you prefer a bet-and-hedge approach. Worth noting the red tyre has only one good lap in it so I’d set the hedge around evens].

Raikkonen’s been top three all weekend, was comfortably fastest in third practice (not always representative, of course), Hamilton’s got a grid penalty and may set the car up for overtaking to gain ground rather than pure pace, and Vettel had some engine difficulties.

Because of the timing (qualifying is 4-5pm UK time) I might put up the pre-race article in the evening, or Sunday morning.

Morris Dancer