Sunday, 20 June 2021

France: post-race analysis 2021

Well, I feared It would be boring. In the event, the race was a slow burn with a nail-biting finish. Far better than I’d expected (although Murphy’s Law continues to apply to my betting this season. Sainz was nowhere but the Aston Martin bet I decided against came off).

From the line Verstappen held the lead only to lock up in the second corner and allow Hamilton to seize the lead. That order remained at the sharp end, with small gaps. In the initial pit stops, Bottas went first (of the frontrunners), but Verstappen was next and he was close enough to be able to pass his title rival (just barely) by undercutting.

Perez, meanwhile, stayed long on his mediums, the Aston Martins (having started on hards) doing likewise. The undercut also worked very well for both McLarens, Norris staying out longer than Ricciardo. Both looked far sharper in the race than the Ferraris, whose pace fell off a cliff (possibly due to chewing up tyres or the recent tyre pressure regulation changes). Sainz was the lead Ferrari but neither troubled the scorers.

The Aston Martins went long and thereby managed to haul themselves both into points positions (9th and 10th) having both started in the lower half of the grid.

At the sharp end the top three, Ver-Ham-Bot, were covered by about a second a half and the Mercedes looked faster than the Red Bull. But first Bottas and then Hamilton fell a couple of seconds back. Everyone was moaning about their tyres.

Then Red Bull did something that was going to look very clever, or very stupid. From the lead, they boxed Verstappen for a fresh set of medium tyres and had him chase down Hamilton, to whom he had just gifted the lead. Perez obligingly let his team mate through and the pair first of all went for Bottas, Verstappen gaining 2s a lap.

The Finn had earlier complained of his tyres and said they wouldn’t make it to the end. Their lack of performance meant he couldn’t hold the Dutchman back for even a single lap, and, in the end, he also lost out to Perez and lost his podium spot. Bottas did not hold back his views on the radio.

Verstappen still had 5s and several backmarkers to pass and just a handful of laps to do it. At this stage, I thought it’d be a case of close but no cigar. Verstappen had saved enough of his tyres that it was almost anticlimactic how easily he passed Hamilton on the penultimate lap before cruising away to a glorious victory that extends his title lead. And with Perez 3rd, Red Bull also increase their Constructors’ lead.

Should Mercedes have pitted? Problem is that once Verstappen had done it, they would’ve lost time to the undercut and have to close the gap *and* pass him too. They’ve pulled this trick themselves in the past, but this time were on the receiving end of some smart strategy.

Norris and Ricciardo ended a very strong 5th and 6th, although there was some wheel-to-wheel action and I wonder if there’s some tension there. The Aussie seems to be getting to grips with the car now, and taking a chunk of points over Ferrari is worth a lot in the battle to be best of the rest.

Gasly once again put in a solid performance in his AlphaTauri for 7th, and Alonso’s 8th is pretty good too (neither of their team mates scored).

Verstappen 131
Hamilton 119
Perez 84
Norris 76
Bottas 59
Leclerc 52

Perez has, like Ricciardo and Vettel, gotten to know his car now and it’s really starting to bear fruit for Red Bull. A 12 point lead for Verstappen is decent but the season’s still way too close to call.

Red Bull 215
Mercedes 178
McLaren 110
Ferrari 94
AlphaTauri 45
Aston Martin 40
Alpine 29
Alfa Romeo 2
Williams 0
Haas 0

A series of sub-battles here, beneath the title fight. McLaren and Ferrari tussling to be king of the midfield while AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, and Alpine try to outdo one another. I think Red Bull, McLaren, and Aston Martin will win their respective contests.

Next race is next weekend, in Styria. It’s one of two races on the trot in Austria.

Morris Dancer

France: pre-race 2021

Red flags are becoming something of a bad habit in qualifying. There were two this time, both in the first session. Tsunoda’s put him out of Q1, and Schumacher’s, ironically, came after he’d made it to Q2 for the first time. However, Schumacher’s also meant that Stroll was unable to improve (he had a lap deleted for exceeding track limits) and he starts 19th. Also eliminated were Mazepin and Raikkonen, with Latifi out by two-thousandths (beaten by his team mate.

As already mentioned Schumacher was ‘in’ the second part of qualifying but with three wheels on his wagon he didn’t set a lap time. Interestingly, both midfielder and frontrunners put on the medium tyre (not too much slower than the soft and reckoned to be much better for the race). Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, and Russell exited at this stage.

And so the scene was set for another titanic battle for pole. Verstappen had looked good all weekend but could Mercedes snatch the top slot for themselves? No. They got close, and Hamilton, who had been on the back foot, did very well to haul himself up into 2nd, but it was the Dutchman who was fastest of the lot. Row two is Bottas and Perez, so the inter-team battle is going to be fun off the line. Advantage Red Bull in the title fight, given this was seen as a Silver Arrows circuit?

Sainz was the best of the rest and has looked impressive throughout qualifying and practice, handily faster than his team mate. Starting alongside the Spaniard is a Frenchman: Pierre Gasly, who’s having a rather good 2021 so far. Leclerc and Norris comprise row four, followed by Alonso and Ricciardo.

The medium tyre of the frontrunners should reduce the potential of those behind them to engage in strategic shenanigans.

Weather should be similar to qualifying, with no penalties I can see at the time of writing.

Early betting thoughts:
Red Bull/Ferrari top score
Stroll points
Alonso top 6

Well, I thought Ferrari might pick up the pieces if the top two take one another out but this market isn’t even up, so shan’t be betting on that…

Stroll starts 19th with choice of tyres, so I’m guessing likely hard. He’s got a decent race car (Vettel’s 12th is about par) and a contra-strategy could work out for him. Reasonable chance but far from a dead cert. The odds are 4.5, which is in the area of neither terrible nor fantastic.

Alonso’s been slowly getting back into the groove, and his racing has improved more rapidly than his qualifying. He starts 9th, and outqualified Ocon (starting 11th). Similarly to Stroll, this is far from a dead cert. His odds are 3.25 (4.3 with Betfair Exchange). Same deal, basically.

So, time to eyeball the markets and see if anything looks nice.

Sainz, winner without big 4, 3
Ferrari, winner without big 2, 1.73
Aston Martin, double points finish, 9

The first two are highly similar and rely on Sainz (and possibly Leclerc) continuing to do well. Of the two men, the Spaniard has had the edge on the Monegasque this weekend, although Leclerc’s tendency to be good to his tyres does make me wonder if he might finish ahead in the race. Reasonable chance of it happening, not amazing odds.

The Aston Martin bet would be more optimistic and might depend on some chaps ahead screwing up. Vettel’s coming off the back of two good race performances, and Stroll might benefit from fortuitous pit stop timing if there’s a late safety car after others have made their (more time-expensive) stops. Not sure 9 is enough, though.

Not terribly heroic, but I decided to back Sainz to be winner without the big 4 at 3 (3.1 with boost). He’s been driving well all weekend whereas Leclerc’s looked out of sorts.

Race start is 2pm, UK time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 19 June 2021

France: pre-qualifying 2021

We’re off to France, whose Grand Prix circuit isn’t stellar. Or wasn’t last time. We shall see how it goes in 2021.

The running order in first practice had Bottas top (he’s been fastest in this session a lot this year, I regret not taking the 3.25 on him doing it again), a third of a second ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen was next, a tenth off his rival which isn’t too bad if reflective of real pace. Perez followed but was three-tenths behind his team mate and just a tenth ahead of Ocon. Ricciardo, Alonso, Gasly, Norris, and Tsunoda rounded out the top 10.

Second practice was interesting, with Verstappen edging Bottas by a whole eight-thousandths of a second, and Hamilton a quarter of a second back. Alonso was fourth, two-tenths off, followed by Leclerc, Ocon, Gasly, Sainz, Raikkonen, and Norris. (Perez was 12th).

At this stage it’s looking nice and tight at the top, with the midfield typically competitive as well. So qualifying may be tricky to predict but entertaining. Worth noting that Mercedes have swapped chasses between their drivers which may benefit Bottas.

Third practice and Verstappen looked in a league of one at the top, three-quarters of a second ahead of Bottas. Sainz was a tenth behind the Finn, followed closely by Perez and then Hamilton, who has looked second best to his team mate all weekend long so far (concerning for him given everyone thought this was going to be a strong circuit for Mercedes). Norris, Alonso, Ocon, Gasly, and Ricciardo followed.

Worth noting track limits saw quite a few times deleted in the final practice session.

Bottas at 3.75 for pole would be tempting but hard to go against a 0.7s margin. No tip from me.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Azerbaijan: post-race analysis 2021

As a neutral, that was dramatically exciting. From a betting perspective, a long odds bet failed because of a large slice of bad luck, which is aggravating. (Not the first time I’ve had bad luck this year, unlike 2020 when I fluked my way to many a win).

Off the line it was formation flying with the top set, while Perez and Vettel made good starts further back. Perez charged up and was soon running right behind his team mate.

Leclerc held off Hamilton for a lap or two before getting passed by the Briton, and a few laps later Verstappen did likewise. As suspected, the Ferrari chewed its tyres a bit and was one of the first in.

The Red Bulls kept pace with Hamilton, whose slow stop (Gasly pitted at the same time, delaying the Mercedes’ release) enabled the fast Red Bulls to pit on successive laps and emerge, both of them, ahead of the reigning world champion.

Hamilton got close to Perez but could not pass.

Everyone else pitted, except the Aston Martins, and Gasly managed to leapfrog Leclerc for effectively 4th (Vettel was leading the race due to not pitting).

As a nice old man once almost said, everything was proceeding as I had foreseen.

And then it wasn’t.

Stroll’s rear tyre exploded on the straight and a safety car came out. Upon the restart, Vettel’s fresher tyres enabled him, annoyingly, to pass Leclerc and then Gasly, relative positions which remained until the end.

The formation flying Red Bulls retained their lead, Hamilton unable to make an impact upon them. Until it happened again. This time, Verstappen’s rear tyre disintegrated, putting him into the wall and out of he race, robbing him of a 10 point benefit over Hamilton and a certain victory. A safety car followed, then gave way to a red flag so everyone could change their tyres.

And so it was advantage Hamilton, with every point he scored a guaranteed dent into Verstappen’s lead, and likely making the Briton title leader once more.

They lined up on the grid for a restart. Hamilton’s brakes were cooking, steaming hot. And then he screwed it up, having a double lock up on the first corner and putting himself out of the points, promoting Vettel to 2nd and Gasly to 3rd, with Perez taking a fantastic maiden win for Red Bull.  

Tsunoda’s 7th (passed last lap by Alonso who got 6th) makes it a very good day for AlphaTauri, with a podium and double points result.

Leclerc ended up 4th and Sainz 8th. That’s not too bad for Ferrari given they had to put early. Norris and Ricciardo both scored too, with 5th and 9th respectively, just behind their best-of-the-rest rivals. Raikkonen nabbed the final point in 10th.

I’m glad that we didn’t see Hamilton retake the lead on misfortune for Verstappen, and while his lock-up was vaguely comical, keeping things as they were between the two men (4 point lead for Verstappen) feels fair, and it’s closer than if Hamilton had finished on the podium.

Bottas failed to score, so Perez increased Red Bull’s constructors’ lead from 1 to 26 points. Ferrari overtook McLaren by 94 to 92, but I think over the year the McLaren will likely finish ahead. AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, and Alpine are in something of a three way battle, on 39, 37, and 25 points respectively. Vettel’s resurgence is nice to see.

Perez was very good throughout too, and with Bottas 12th this should be a positive Verstappen can take away. If the Mexican can repeat that kind of performance, Red Bull are near guaranteed the constructors’ title, and it’ll make things a lot easier for Verstappen too.

So, the race was dramatic, dangerous, sometimes farcical. Azerbaijan saw passing and pace, incident and surprise. It was a lot of fun to watch (unlike Monaco). In bad news, we’re off to France in a fortnight. I can’t remember the last race there but I do remember being bored at the end of it.

Let’s hope it’s entertaining. And green.

Morris Dancer

Azerbaijan: pre-race 2021

Rare to see a quartet of red flags in qualifying, but that’s what we got. Chaos, bordering on farce, though the grid ended up intriguingly poised for the race.

The first session was notable for having a pair of red flags by Stroll and, later, Giovinazzi, putting both chaps out. Especially unfortunate for Stroll who may have aimed for Q3. As might be expected, the Haas drivers and Latifi also exited at this stage.

For the most part, Q2 was more normal, although a late Ricciardo crash brought out a third red flag and robbed many, including an understandably frustrated Vettel (11th by three-hundredths), of the chance to improve. The German was joined by Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, and Russell.

The first run of Q3 pretty much settled things as a late double crash (two solo incidents at the same place) by Tsunoda and Sainz foiled second runs. Leclerc ended up a not-really-surprise top dog, benefiting from a huge tow from Hamilton to finish on pole with an impressively large margin of two-tenths. Mercedes bounced back in some style with Hamilton (aided by Bottas’ tow) 2nd, a tenth ahead of Verstappen. Gasly had a cracking lap to be just two-thousandths off the Dutchman, with row three consisting of Sainz and Norris. However, the Briton may be in trouble for red flag infringements (accelerating and not immediately pitting).

The fourth row, as things stand, is Perez and Tsunoda, with Alonso and Bottas, who served as a tow-machine for his team mate, bringing up the rear.

Norris seems likely to get a penalty and Sainz and Tsunoda might as well. There’s also a suspicion the Ferrari might be fast but also chew through its tyres. With Hamilton in the mix from the start, the Mercedes’ high straight line speed might put him in the best place to win, and if Norris retains his starting slot then the McLaren (similarly) might be able to carve its way to a podium.

I’d thought this would be another Red Bull-Ferrari battle, with Norris also involved, but Hamilton’s got a great chance to retake the title lead. It’s going to be spicy. And this is one race I won’t be betting on a high number of classified finishers.

Norris ended up with a 3 place grid penalty, and thus starts 9th on the grid.

Early thoughts:
Norris podium/win
Gasly podium
Alonso top 6
Vettel points

My Norris bet idea was before his penalty was known. His win odds are 85 on the Betfair Exchange (41 with Ladbrokes but each way is available). Podium odds are 5.5. Ninth is a rough place to start, though. But he’s driven well all year and the straight line speed of the McLaren could be handy for carving through the field. Perhaps too improbable.

Gasly is another chap who has been driving well in 2021 and put in a cracking lap to start 4th. Perhaps lacks the car to directly challenge those ahead of him (unless Leclerc’s wheels fall to bits) but if they crash he could still be there to pick up the pieces. His podium odds are 5.

Alonso’s been a little lacklustre on Saturdays but has shown flashes of his old self on Sundays. He starts 8th and has odds of 2.87 to be top 6 with Ladbrokes but 4.5 with Betfair, which seems pretty tempting to me. Alonso’s fast, reliable, and while his car isn’t quite as quick as it might be he also tends to make few mistakes, which could pay dividends in Azerbaijan.

Vettel should’ve been in the top 10, but the Ricciardo crash thwarted his efforts. The car’s been adversely affected by inter-season rule changes but performed well in Monaco and was looking good in Baku. He’s 1.83 with Ladbrokes and 1.92 on Betfair. My only concern would be short odds betting on a circuit where crashing, either through the fault of oneself or another, is obviously riskier than at somewhere like Hungary.

Anyway, in accordance with the principles laid down by Antigonus Monopthalmus I then perused the markets to see if anything leapt out at me.

Gasly, winner without the big four, 11

Under 15.5 classified finishers, 2.3

Gasly starts with only the Ferraris near/ahead of him (outside of Red Bull/Mercedes). A concern I heard in qualifying coverage was that the skinny wing of Ferrari provided a lot of speed at the cost of severely chewing up the tyres. Unsure how strategy will play out, the undercut seems powerful but if an extra stop is required that could easily negate the advantage. Aside from his Bahrain DNF, the Frenchman has scored at every race to date, including holding onto 6th in Monaco.

The last three events at the circuit have seen non-classified numbers of 6, 6, and 4 (DNF numbers are 7, 7, 4). That’s an average exceeding 5, we’ve seen plenty of crashing already, so 2.3 on 5 or more chaps failing to be classified is some value.

The bets that appeal the most to me are Alonso to be top 6 at 4.5, Gasly to win without the big four at 11, and under 15.5 classified finishers at 2.3.

On reflection, I think Alonso could be at risk from Norris and Bottas behind him. Likewise, Leclerc will be gobbled up by Hamilton and Verstappen, I believe, on the straight. This may make Gasly’s odds of 11 too long.

So, after some prevaricating, I’ve backed:

Under 15.5 classified finishers (2.35 with boost)
Gasly to be winner without the big four (12 with boost)

The race starts at 1pm, UK time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Azerbaijan: pre-qualifying 2021

Singapore has been cancelled (you can guess which Horseman of the Apocalypse is responsible). At the moment, alternatives under consideration include Turkey, and a second race at the Circuit of the Americas, but we’ll have to wait and see.

And so to Azerbaijan, a weird circuit that’s 95% Monaco tedium but 5% wacky races comedy crashing and farcical restarts.

In first practice Verstappen was fastest, but only just, less than half a tenth ahead of Leclerc. Sainz was next but a third of a second further back, with Perez, Ricciardo, and Gasly in close contention. Hamilton, Norris, Alonso, and Bottas rounded out the top 10.

Second practice had Perez top, a tenth ahead of his team mate. Sainz was less than three-hundredths off the Dutchman and two-tenths ahead of his Monegasque team mate. Gasly and Alonso were separated by intervals of a tenth, with Giovinazzi, Norris, Ocon, and Tsunoda all lagging a bit.

Third practice was very choppy, with an early red flag after Verstappen crashed and umpteen yellows plus a VSC meaning many struggled to get in proper laps. Gasly ended up fastest (a full second ahead of Tsunoda), ahead of Perez by a third of a second. Hamilton was surprisingly good to be next, but was aided by a huge tow from Perez on the straight worth perhaps six-tenths (seems likely everyone will try that come qualifying). Leclerc and Sainz were both good in 4th and 5th. Norris was surprisingly close to Sainz, and Alonso did well to put his Alpine right behind the Briton. Tsunoda, Ocon, and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10. But with so many struggling to find space for a lap it’s hard to say how much this reflects real pace.

Many drivers had difficulty getting a lap in which may see some surprise exits and struggles in qualifying.

The chaotic nature will make it entertaining but highly unpredictable and no post-practice odds appealed (I did make some tiny bets before third practice).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Monaco: post-race analysis 2021

Well, that was a procession. But a green one. And there was a smidgen of strategic interest among the hour and a half or so of televisual Horlicks.

Before the race even began Leclerc was out. His drive shaft had not survived fully intact and failed, apparently, during the formation lap. This lead to a DNS and the odd fact that Verstappen still started from the number 2 slot on the grid.

Off the line Bottas went well but Verstappen aggressively (but fairly) cut across to hold onto the lead. A lead he never truly relinquished.

Cue the procession.

Bottas ended up DNFing in the weirdest of ways. He came in for a pit stop only to have a nut so crossthreaded it was irreparable and his car could not resume racing. Bizarre.

Aston Martin get bonus points for being very smart. Hamilton was brought in for a pit stop, but his swapping of soft tyres for slower hard tyres left him open to other cars banging in hot laps (as most were cruising to conserve the rubber the majority of the time). Both Gasly and Vettel did this. It enabled the Toro Rosso driver to stay ahead of Hamilton and Vettel to leapfrog the pair of them. Not only that, Stroll was out for ages on his tyres (I forget if they were medium or hard) and simply waited until he had a pit stop window to retain his 8th (at the time of writing he’s under investigation for crossing the pit lane on exit but it looks like he should be ok).

Verstappen achieved a flawless victory, and Sainz was impressive in 2nd. Norris seemed nailed on for 3rd but his second set of tyres were not to his liking and Perez, who had leapt ahead of about four cars by being able to bang in hot laps when everyone else pitted, put him under pressure, but the Briton and Mexican kept their places.

Vettel scored his first points with easily his best performance at Aston Martin, and Gasly got 6th in an assured drive.

Hamilton should be grateful for the two big hitters who failed to score because he ended up 7th and really should’ve been 9th. He got the fastest lap but otherwise looked like an also ran this weekend.

Stroll is 8th but that may change if he gets lumbered with a penalty. Ocon got 9th, with Giovinazzi 10th.

Ricciardo was lapped by Norris, which isn’t a great look. Like Hamilton, a talented driver who had a weak weekend.

Kudos to both Mr. Sandpit and Mr. B for no safety car and Ferrari bets respectively.

However tedious the race was (very), it does have significant implications for the title battle.

Verstappen 105

Hamilton 101

Norris 56

Verstappen takes the title lead for the first time. He perhaps should’ve been in the lead after Hamilton crashed but got flukey with a red flag a race or two ago. But he now has a slender 4 point margin over Hamilton. Red Bull are also 1 point ahead of Mercedes, with McLaren just 2 points ahead of Ferrari in the battle to be best of the rest.

In a fortnight we’re off to Azerbaijan. There might just be some ridiculous crashes.

Morris Dancer