Sunday, 26 September 2021

Russia: pre-race 2021

I said qualifying would be uncertain, and that proved truer than I could have imagined. Incidentally, Leclerc also has a back of the grid penalty but will start ahead of Verstappen due to being ahead of him in qualifying.

It was wet but drying in Q1, with intermediates the order of the day. We waved goodbye to both Haas and Alfa Romeos, who joined Verstappen (who just had a sighter lap).

Q2 was more competitive, and had Hamilton leading Bottas at the sharp end. The relegation zone saw Vettel depart, just half a tenth off Sainz. Gasly’s normally a day and a half ahead of Tsunoda but on this occasion will start just one place further up the grid, with Latifi and Leclerc also failing to progress.

Russell might have been in trouble if the track weren’t drying so swiftly as he’d used all his intermediates but it was soon dry enough to try for slicks. Everyone ended up copying him, but Hamilton cocked up and cost both him and Bottas. He hit the wall entering the pit lane, necessitating a front wing change and also delaying Bottas’ tyre change so the two Mercedes only had one rather than two flying laps. This meant they were unable to improve and they slipped from 1st to 4th (Hamilton) and 3rd to 7th (Bottas).

So, who got pole? Lando Norris, continuing McLaren’s and his excellent form. He was just ahead of his old mate Sainz, who had barely scraped into Q3 and finds himself on the front row. And who should be 3rd but Russell? Very good result for the British, with three of the front four coming from Blighty.

Ricciardo and Alonso comprise the third row, behind whom are Bottas and Stroll. Perez could only manage 9th (not terrible impressive), and Ocon is 10th.

Hamilton also spun on his last lap attempt. He did hit (rear wing) a barrier but it looked quite soft so not sure if there’ll be any damage or related penalties. There’s also a chance Mercedes will deliberately impose a new engine on Bottas to send him to the back(ish) of the grid to try and trouble Verstappen. It’d be dickish to both drivers, I think, not to mention the fact that Bottas in 7th is occupying a points position. If he got passed by Verstappen near the back it could just ruin his own race.

In addition to the Leclerc/Verstappen penalties, Latifi has one (also for an engine change) and starts near the back of the grid.

Forecast is for the race to be mostly dry, showers possible.

Early betting thoughts:

Ricciardo podium
Bottas podium
Norris win

Ricciardo is 6 for a podium. He starts 5th on the grid, but I expect his pace to be sufficient to get past Russell (and for Hamilton to do the same). Can he then get past either his team mate, Hamilton, or Sainz? Well, the McLaren is tasty in a straight line and slipstream passing on the first lap is eminently possible. And Hamilton could have a poor start. But excepting that, Sainz may be the likeliest chap for the Aussie to beat. 6 is reasonable but not outstanding. Worth considering.

Bottas is 1.73 for a podium. Could well come off but I’m not inclined to bet given where he starts and the potential for lap 1 woe.

Norris has a problem in that he could well lose out at the start. This happened in 2019 when Vettel passed Leclerc off the line. He’s 3.75 to win, which is a bit shorter than I expected. He does start on pole, but it’s only a third the odds top 2 (so a small loss if backed each way and he’s 2nd). I’d probably be more inclined to go for slightly longer odds win-only or back and hedge on Betfair.


And so, in accordance with the demands of the Qun, I browsed the markets in search of value:

Sainz, podium, 4
Vettel, points, 2.2
Sainz, Sainz vs Verstappen, 2.15

Sainz starts on the front row, so there’s an obvious chance of a podium. His problem is that behind him he was the rather fast Hamilton, and Ricciardo’s going to be very keen to join his team mate at the front. This might just come down to the start, but the McLarens being relatively close to one another does give them strategic possibilities the isolated Ferrari lacks. 4 is ok.

Vettel starts 11th, but is 2.2 for points. He had a poor race last time out but has also had some very strong performances this year (finishing twice on the podium, one removed for a fuel problem that was not his fault). Not a bad bet, not an outstanding one.

Ladbrokes often has team mate match contests with a few irregulars thrown in, and Sainz vs Verstappen is one of these. Verstappen has a new power unit but starts last of all. Sainz is 2nd. But it should be tighter than that come the finish line.2.15 is tempting, though.


So, nothing that really jumps up and down as value, but a ideas worth considering.

I think I like the Ricciardo podium bet at 6. On Betfair, this is way out at 8.2. So, I’m backing it on Betfair with a hedge set up at 3. I think the Aussie’s form has finally come to terms with the McLaren and, if so, he has a decent shot at this.


Race start is 1pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

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