Saturday, 10 March 2018

After Testing, Thoughts for the 2018 Season

The first test was notable for bad weather (which is not one of Spain’s usual traits). Cooler temperatures reduced early running and then a whole day was lost to the Beast from the East. Correspondingly, teams ran a lot more on a wet and cool final day than they otherwise might have, but this did at least give them a chance to play with full wets and inters (slicks coming on later).

What did we learn from the first test? Not much. But, engine reliability was generally good and breakdowns relatively few. Vettel suggested Mercedes were still fastest but that it would be very close between them.

The second test had better weather and more running from everyone. Red flags did appear, but this is to be expected. It might alarm McLaren fans that they had relatively many breakdowns. Toro Rosso did likewise, but this is testing so it’s not surprising. Did we learn much? No. Pace is very very hard to judge by testing times (for example, Mercedes didn’t take any hypersofts at all). If pace were to be judged, then Ferrari and Red Bull looked quick, but we won’t find out until the first race.

Right now my view is that reliability is generally good. McLaren and Toro Rosso had the most break downs but it wasn’t a horrendous number, and I don’t expect either to be as bad as McLaren was last season.

Mood music consensus is that Mercedes may well be fastest again but that Red Bull and Ferrari may be very close behind. The battle for 4th could be very tasty, with Force India, McLaren and Renault all in with a shot.

Haas is a weird one. They’re getting lots of parts, the legal maximum, from Ferrari. This isn’t especially new for them, but at times they looked really quick (though testing times are notoriously of little value, so maybe they just emptied the fuel tank). Their performance has always been a bit hit and miss, and judging their prospects is tricky.

Williams may be a shade embarrassed that Kubica looked, if anything, faster than Sirotkin and Stroll. Key to their hopes is improved aerodynamic performance, without which best of the midfield will be the height of their realistic ambitions.

Sauber I’m expecting to improve significantly. Intrigued to see how Leclerc performs. I still think they’ll be towards the bottom end in performance terms but with a diminished gap enabling them to nibble at points more often, and benefit more in races with high attrition rates.

I brilliantly misread the third test, which is in-season, at the same circuit as the pre-season tests but in May, so there were only the two pre-season tests, not the three I was expecting.

The surface of the Barcelona track has been relaid, and is smoother and grippier this year. There’s also less degradation, so teams might be caught out on other tracks the first time particular compounds are used.

Incidentally, the Williams and Sauber look very alike, especially head-on. The most obvious difference is the darkness of the Williams rear wing and lightness of the Sauber, otherwise I’m expecting commentator confusion galore.

The first track is Australia, a street circuit. This shouldn’t be the ideal (or the worst) type of circuit for Mercedes. If they dominate the weekend, that may by the Constructors’ title done and dusted. However, if others are close/better, we could be in for a competitive season.

Also worth noting drivers have their own preferences. Hulkenberg is good at free-flowing circuits like Interlagos but I’d expect Sainz to best him in Australia, for example.

Weather permitting, I’m anticipating good reliability. There weren’t a huge number of red flags over the two pre-season tests, although there’s always the chance of a start line pile-up or driver error later on.

At this stage, I think the Bottas bet might come off but I suspect McLaren are going to be battling with the midfield rather than having a title tilt.

I did check the markets (titles up, races not, spreads not) just to see what was there. As expected, Bottas’ odds have tightened, Alonso’s lengthened. Intrigued that Raikkonen is 34 for the title (Ladbrokes, 41 with boost). I’m tempted each way (fifth the odds for top three). If the Renault/Red Bull is a bit unreliable that’s plausible, although I do think Mercedes will again have two cars in the top 3. Decided against backing it, but it’s worth consideration.

My plan is to wait and see if the spreads go up. If they do, I’ll put my thoughts on them in a new article between now and the season’s start, possibly with some other suggestions if race markets are up and running too.

Otherwise, I’ll adopt my usual three articles per weekend approach, covering pre-qualifying, pre-race, and post-race analysis. I have propitiated the Greek gods Tyche and Nike, and Saint Cajetan, so hopefully the title race will be both competitive and profitable.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 17 February 2018

A surprise video - why you shouldn't take testing too seriously

Hey, kids.

Despite having the technical aptitude of a baked potato, I’ve put together a small video (well, radio, really) rambling about why testing shouldn’t be taken seriously.

I’ve covered a few of the points above, but thought I’d give this a crack, see how it goes. I had initial planned to set up a Youtube account, but as I’ve no idea how often videos will appear (if at all) I’ve postponed that.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Early pre-season musings

Between the end of last season and now I tipped, several times, two bets for the Drivers’ as well as sometimes mentioning two others (one Driver, one Constructor).

The bets I liked most were with Ladbrokes, each way with boost (fifth odds top 3) of Bottas at 16 and Alonso at 12. I’ve said for a while a key factor will be whether the Renault engine stacks up, which is even more about reliability than pace (with better reliability Red Bull would’ve outscored Ferrari in 2017). If the Renault is tasty, then McLaren and Alonso stand a good chance, particularly as the Red Bull drivers are quite even and Alonso is likelier to have an overt number one status. If the Renault is rubbish, then Bottas only has to finish top 3 of four drivers (the others being his team mate, Vettel and Raikkonen) which seems eminently possible.

The two other bets I mentioned less frequently were Vandoorne at 81 each way, because of a bit of buyer’s remorse (not impossible, but probably a bit daft on my part) and Red Bull at 9.2 (Betfair this time) because it wasn’t up for as long. I think the Constructors’ title will be down to Mercedes or Red Bull, again, based on the Renault engine as much as anything. Of the probable top four teams, Red Bull has the outstanding driver team.

In calendar terms, we lost Malaysia. That’s a bit of a shame as the circuit was one where overtaking was actually possible, and the safety car odds were usually wrong because everybody remembers the 2009 monsoon and forget that, after Hungary, it was the track least likely to have a safety car.

Two additions to the calendar this year, with the regular off-and-on Hockenheim (too hard to pass) returning, and the return after quite some time of a Grand Prix in France. Always seemed odd not racing there, so let’s hope the circuit is a good one (most modern circuits are poor, although the US is very good so hope is not lost).

Speaking of the US, for some reason that’s still only provisional and subject to confirmation. I’ll be annoyed if we lose the best new circuit for decades.

If it remains on the calendar, we’ll have a 21 race season, with a maximum points tally available of 525. Last year (20 races), Hamilton, Vettel, and Bottas exceeded 300 each, with Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen following (Verstappen got 168, the other two 200 and 205 respectively).

Mostly fortnight gaps, but the French, Austrian and British Grands Prix occur on consecutive weekends, and there’s the usual four week gap (between Hungary and Belgium).

The first race, Australia, is a bit unusual and not necessarily a great indicator for the season as a whole. It’s also, historically, good for McLaren. Things to watch out for early on will include engine reliability, getting a feel for overall pace, and trying to remember the ridiculous rainbow of tyre compounds now available (hypersoft, ultrasoft, supersoft and soft is just stupid, although I’m mildly amused at the new superhard compound).

We also learned which races, in the UK, will be broadcast live on free-to-air Channel 4 (next season every live race will be paid TV only (excepting Silverstone), with FTA getting highlights. Great). Live races for 2018 on Channel 4 are:
Abu Dhabi

Bahrain is usually dreadful but did have a classic in 2014. Azerbaijan and Monaco are tedious, as are Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Austria is ok. The UK, Belgium, Japan and the US are good. It is displeasing that all the worst races are on the live list. A slightly weird mix as almost every circuit is either dreadful or fantastic.

In other news, F1 has decided that grid girls are to be no more, as it’s not in tune with the sport’s ethos (unlike the Chinese/Azerbaijani lack of democracy, Bahrain suppression of protest etc):

I think this is bloody stupid. A more sensible approach would’ve been to soft-switch, have the grid person be opposite the driver’s gender and, as women come into the driving side, a natural change would occur in the ‘glamour’ side. Instead they decided that ‘empowering women’ means taking work away from them, because modelling isn’t on the Puritans’ List of Approved Work for Women. [As an aside, women drivers should come in, and the sooner the better. There are few sports men and women can compete directly in together, and F1 is one of them. Plus, women tend to be shorter and have less mass, which means a lower centre of gravity and more scope for ballast].

It later emerged that Liberty has plans for grid kids instead. Because the duties of a grid girl, deemed to demean and objectify women who are paid professionals, are magically transformed into a wonderful thing when done by unpaid children. The selection appears to be either merit (drivers in junior formulae) or lottery, though how entry to said lottery would function is currently unclear.

I do wonder if this is a reaction to the deluge of negative publicity or whether it was intended all along. If the former, which seems likely, it would explain the delay in the announcement. However, that decision remains a steaming mountain of horse manure, particularly when there are many more serious matters (not least the indefensible pay structure of F1) to address. But it’s easier getting headlines appeasing third wave feminists opposed to women being free to make a choice of which the former heartily disapprove.

Here’s the testing schedule:
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, 26 February-1 March
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, 6-9 March
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, 15-16 May

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary, 31 July-1 August

After the pre-season testing is done, I’ll put up a new article about how I think things stand. Remember, kids, mood music matters more than headline times. Enormous fuel tanks, umpteen tyre compounds, and varying engine modes mean that times can be very misleading indeed (unlike in splendid 2009 when it was obviously apparent the Brawn might just be a good car).

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 2 December 2017

2017 post-season review

All in all, the 2017 season was not a classic, but it was quite good for the most part. There was a genuine title contest until the last quarter, and a fiercely competitive midfield, behind Force India.

Up until about Singapore, the 2017 title was closely contested in a very engaging rivlary between Vettel and Hamilton. A combination of the Singapore wipeout and a sudden bout of Ferrari gremlins put paid to that, alas.

Further down, Red Bull and Force India were firmly 3rd and 4th, with Williams doing well to secure 5th and a very close battle behind them between Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas. For McLaren and Sauber, it was a year to forget. Both teams have different engines next year, McLaren ditching the Honda for Renault, and Sauber no longer having to use a year-old Ferrari (indeed, they’ll be known as Alfa-Romeo Sauber following a new title sponsorship).

The penalties situation was frankly ridiculous. We have a 20 car grid, which is a bit small, and drivers often got enormous penalties that exceeded the number of cars. At one race only two drivers started in the position in which they qualified, so jumbled up was the grid from qualifying due to penalties. I think a softer touch on reliability is the way to go. However, the season-long engine limit next time is falling from four to three, so expect more penalties rather than fewer on that count.

From a betting perspective, not a great year. My tips would’ve put you in the red, although I flukily finished slightly ahead (think it must have been some limited liquidity bets or suchlike). The last race pretty much summarised the year for me. I misjudged a potential qualifying bet, not backing it when it came off, then backed Ricciardo each way to be winner without Mercedes. That was due to come off, but the only driver to DNF due to reliability was Ricciardo. I’ve made some misjudgements but it did feel like I had more bad luck than average.

This year I deliberately collected more data, including race-by-race points tallies for teams and drivers, and finishing categories (points, pointless, DNS/DNF) for teams and drivers.

Statistical snippets:
Not one of the big three teams had a pointless finish. Every race they either scored points or didn’t start/finish.

The second most regular points scoring team was Force India (after Mercedes 39/40), with 35 points finishes.

The least reliable team was McLaren, with 18 DNFs. Renault had 14, and Toro Rosso/Red Bull had 13 each.

The team with the most pointless finishes was Sauber (27/40). Haas was second, with 19.

Only one man scored points at every race, and that was Hamilton. Next best were Bottas (19) and Vettel/Ocon (18).

Ericsson, Giovinazzi, Button, Di Resta, Gasly and Hartley all failed to score (all save Ericsson were absent from most races).

Alonso had most DNFs, with 11/20. Next worse was Sainz, with 8.

Ericsson and Wehrlein tied for most pointless finishes, with 13 apiece (Wehrlein did race on two fewer occasions, however).

Next season maybe I’ll include engine-specific stats. Could be worthwhile.

Most of the snippets above speak for themselves, but one thing that struck me was that if Red Bull had had reliability equal to Ferrari, they might have beaten them in the Constructors’. That feels quite counter-intuitive given the Hamilton-Vettel fight, but a lot of points were lost by the Red Bull’s poor reliability.

Link to 2018 thoughts (written a month ago):

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis 2017

Well, that wasn’t exactly a rival to Canada 2011. The race was perhaps the most tedious of the season and the only retirement due to reliability was Ricciardo (he had been running in a green position). One is not delighted. There are a few interesting snippets to discuss, though.

Off the line it was formation flying at the sharp end but Hulkenberg had a stinker, getting passed by both Force Indias. He got Ocon at the first corner (the Frenchman had nowhere to go, Hulkenberg beside him and Perez ahead) and later passed Perez off-track.

The Mexican rightly complained and the German got a slap on the wrist, a mere 5s time penalty. I rate Hulkenberg highly, but he was clearly in the wrong in this instance, and the penalty was weak.

The Mercedes were in a league of their own, Hamilton following his team mate closely but unable to effect a pass. Further back, Ricciardo was close behind Vettel, and Verstappen was close behind Raikkonen (the Red Bull looked a shade faster in race trim but is slower on the straights and it’s hard to pass at Yas Marina).

Alonso was chasing Massa to get into the tail end of the points. It was a race-long tussle but once the Spaniard managed to get ahead and stay there he pulled away with little effort.

Sainz suffered great misfortune. He was likely to get small points until his team let him go from the pits without attaching his front left tyre. Skilful driving kept him out of the tunnel wall, but he had to retire.

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, escaped the pits ahead of both Force Indias despite the penalty. When Ricciardo’s hydraulics broke and he was forced to retire, the German rose to 6th, very tasty for the Renault team in a tight battle.

In the latter stages Verstappen was very close to Raikkonen but that battle was ruined by Magnussen, once again, being a dick. He held up Verstappen idiotically, which meant Raikkonen got a couple of seconds of of ease.

For a few laps Hamilton was breathing right down Bottas’ neck but was unable to get close enough and the Finn held on for another win. The pair were miles faster than their rivals, which is a nice way for them to end the season.

An indication of the excitement of the race can be found in that the top nine on the grid (excepting Ricciardo, who retired) finished in that order.

Vettel finished the podium places with Raikkonen and Verstappen following. Hulkenberg’s 6th meant Renault passed Toro Rosso in the Constructors’, and Perez and Ocon delivered yet another double points finish for Force India. Alonso and Massa got the final points.

Another double title year for Mercedes, though Ferrari did push them close. The real difference was a small number of gremlins afflicting the Prancing Horse and Vettel’s Singapore wipeout. I hope it’s at least as close next year. With engine numbers going down to three, reliability will be even more important.

Constructors’ (from fifth):
Williams 83
Renault 57
Toro Rosso 53
Haas 47
Mclaren 30
Sauber 5

A strong result for Williams but they need Stroll to be less hit-and-miss next year. Massa’s retiring but he was the faster man and really helped to secure them a good result. Renault did well to overhaul Toro Rosso, and have a great driver lineup for 2018. Probably too soon for a title push, but 2019 onwards may be another story.

Feels like it’s been an unlucky year. Today’s Ricciardo bet failed due to bad luck, not bad judgement, but these things do happen. Anyway, we’ll have to see how 2018 goes.

One thing I’m working on currently is a new webcomic, so if you enjoy comedic daftness please do vote in the Twitter poll:

I may well do a post-season review in the coming days, replete with lovely graphs.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Abu Dhabi: pre-race 2017

Ha. Well, it’s been that sort of year. I decide against backing Bottas and, contrary to all indications, he manages to win pole. Good for him, galling for me.

In Q1 the Toro Rossos were absolutely dreadful, with Hartley dead last and Gasly ahead only of his team mate and the Saubers (who at least have the excuse of using a year old Ferrari engine). Grosjean ended up being the fastest chap to be eliminated at this stage, which is unsurprising as the Haas has looked a bit ropey all weekend.

In the second session it was unsurprising Stroll, who had struggled in Q1, and Magnussen were eliminated, but slightly more surprising both McLarens were. Alonso was edged out by Massa, who, despite retiring, remains significantly faster than Stroll. Sainz was another slight surprise, qualifying in 12th and reporting a problem with power right at the end of the lap.

Then we had the final session. Contrary to all expectations, Bottas pulled out the fastest lap on his initial run and Hamilton was unable to match it, with the Mercedes seizing the front row. Vettel starts 3rd but was a few tenths off the pace, and has Ricciardo for company alongside him. Raikkonen and Verstappen had the third row, with Hulkenberg ahead of Perez on the fourth (if it starts like that. Perez may get a penalty for impeding Hulkenberg during qualifying). Ocon and Massa are provisionally on row five, pending the potential Perez penalty.

So, more jumbled up than I expected, and less competitive for pole too (I know Bottas surprised me and got it, but Mercedes were dominant). Glancing at the grid, the bets that spring to mind are:
Ricciardo podium
Alonso points
Perhaps safety car (lots of spins and so on so far)

Ricciardo is 2.5 for a podium. Based on the Red Bull being better in race trim than in qualifying, this could well be value.

Alonso is 1.53 for points. This doesn’t tempt. He’s probably good enough on pace but there’s also a reliability question mark.

A safety car is 1.95. That seems quite interesting.

A perusal of the markets revealed:
Ricciardo to win without Mercedes, 4.33

I like the Ricciardo to win without Mercedes market at 4.33, each way (third the odds for top 2). He’s driven well all weekend, seems more comfortable than his team mate, is perhaps faster than Vettel in race.

So, the final tip of the year, with Ladbrokes:
Ricciardo to win without Mercedes, each way, 4.33 [4.5 with boost, not a huge difference but longer’s always better].

Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying 2017

Hartley has another 10 place grid penalty, this time for the MGU-H.

In first practice, which is a lot hotter than qualifying or the race will be so is not especially useful as a guide, Vettel was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen following close behind. Raikkonen, Bottas and Perez were next, with Alonso, Vandoorne, Massa and Ricciardo rounding out the top 10.

In second practice, the order was reversed at the sharp end, with Hamilton two-tenths up on Vettel (but the Briton looked substantially better on long runs). Ricciardo was next, with Raikkonen and Bottas next and Verstappen sixth. Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Alonso came next.

At this stage I think it’s looking nice and tight, though I think Hamilton has the advantage.

Hamilton was again fastest in third practice, three-tenths up on his team mate. Raikkonen was two-tenths off Bottas, and a hair’s breadth ahead of Vettel. Ricciardo and Verstappen were a few tenths down the road and, half a second back, Alonso and Vandoorne were fast in the McLarens. Sainz and Perez finished off the top 10.

Looks like a Hamilton pole. With a dry race and one stop probable, scope for upsets is limited but it should be tight at the sharp end. Crashing, safety cars and perhaps reliability could all be factors, but remember Hamilton has a fresher engine than everyone else which won’t hurt his prospects.

Hamilton’s odds for pole are just 1.33, which is too short to tempt even though I think he’s a strong favourite. Bottas or Raikkonen each way (third odds, top 2) at 7 and 17 respectively is a bit more appetising. I was sorely tempted by splitting one stake between backing both but decided against it (just got a feeling it’ll be Vettel up there with Hamilton).

On an utterly unrelated note, I might be redoing an old comic I wrote some years ago (drawing it rather than using graphics). It’d be very helpful if anyone reading this could vote in the Twitter poll (or just mention their preference here if you don’t have Twitter):

Qualifying and race are at the normal UK times of 1pm each so the pre-race ramble should be up this afternoon/evening.

Morris Dancer