Monday, 13 November 2017

Brazil: post-race analysis

A very eventful start, and congratulations to Mr. B on backing Vettel to lead lap 1. Annoyingly, of the bets I shortlisted the only ones that didn’t come off were the long shot and the one I actually backed (Ricciardo spun on lap 1 and could easily have crashed out... but didn’t). To make matters worse, between 3 and 4pm Betfair decided to void my bet on Hamilton not reaching the podium (which came off). My initial attempt to contact them didn’t work as the site kept timing out.

Before the race started there was some concern at Ferrari over the electronics, definitely on Raikkonen’s car and maybe Vettel’s too. Happily, this seemed not to cause a serious problem.

At the start, Vettel just about managed to get ahead of Bottas thanks to a better second phase off the line. Meanwhile, Ricciardo spun off-track and came very close to crashing out. But he didn’t. The swine.

Grosjean lost control slightly which unfortunately coincided with Ocon passing him on the outside, putting the Force India out (Grosjean was able to recover, but I think he subsequently got a rather unnecessary time penalty). Magnussen and Vandoorne also tangled with one another and failed to complete the first lap.

Contrary to my expectations, reliability thereafter was actually pretty damned good, with only Hartley going on to retire, about halfway through the race.

Anyway, first lap shenanigans brought out the safety car for several laps as the track was cleared of debris.

At the sharp end, Vettel was just eking out a lead over Bottas. Verstappen looked faster than Raikkonen but couldn’t pass.

Hamilton and Ricciardo, however, could pass, and were carving their way through the field with aplomb (admittedly, with much faster cars than almost everyone else).

An intriguing battle which got less coverage than it perhaps deserved was that Massa managed to squeak ahead of Alonso and the Spaniard was unable to pass him. This duel continued all race long and, towards the end, Perez was right behind Alonso too. The three finished nose-to-tail, Massa doing very well to keep 7th ahead of his old team mate. At his final Brazilian Grand Prix, Alonso was not faster him.

Mercedes pitted Bottas first, and though Ferrari reacted on the following lap it very nearly stole the victory. Vettel emerged barely a car’s length ahead and for a few corners Bottas, with tyres up to temperature, looked very feisty. However, once things settled Vettel soon pulled out a significant gap and was untroubled by the Finn any more.

Except for Hamilton and Ricciardo rising through the field, it was pretty much as you were. Hamilton passed Verstappen, who was struggling on his tyres, and should’ve passed Raikkonen late on. However, the Briton locked up at the critical time, and on the subsequent lap his supersofts, Raikkonen being on softs, had just lost the critical edge of performance. He was quicker but not so fast as to be able to effect a pass. Raikkonen held on for another podium.

Vettel got the victory which, apart from the pit stop, never seemed in doubt. Bottas got 2nd, with Raikkonen ensuring two Prancing Horses on the podium.

Hamilton got 4th, and whilst 3rd was possible that’s still a great result from the pit lane. Verstappen, despite a late pit stop to get fresh tyres and the fastest lap, was 5th, right ahead of his team mate.

Massa, Alonso and Perez finished 7th to 9th, with Hulkenberg getting the final point, ahead of his team mate. That will be a very interesting intra-team battle to watch next year.

I shortlisted four tips (one a long shot) and two came off. The long shot and the one I actually backed didn’t, which was a bit disheartening. And, as I mentioned, Betfair voided the 2.4 on Hamilton not to get a podium, for reasons that I have yet to ascertain. Luck’s meant to shake out over a season but it does feel like 50/50s have tended to go against me this year.

On early bets, I totally misjudged the relative pace of Red Bull, so that’s on me.

I’ll be glad when this season’s over.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Brazil: pre-race 2017

A very interesting qualifying session. Bottas got pole, which is nice, but Raikkonen couldn’t quite make the top 2, which was a little bit displeasing given his odds were ridiculously long (22/1 at one point).

Congratulations to Mr. Sandpit, who is on Bottas at 13.5 for the win (hedgeable at just over evens right now).

In the first part of qualifying, Hamilton made a rare mistake, the rear of his car getting away from him and leading to him crashing out immediately. In less surprising news, both Saubers failed to make it out, and, yet again, Stroll also failed to progress. Gasly, who has penalties anyway, was another who exited at this stage.

In second practice Hartley, who has penalties as well, didn’t bother running, which is understandable. Both Haas drivers didn’t go any further, and nor did Vandoorne. Surprisingly, Ocon could only register the 11th fastest time (although he’ll be promoted to 10th due to Ricciardo’s penalty).

Tiny spots of rain came down in Q3 but not sufficient to make any real difference. It was very close at the sharp end between the Ferraris and Bottas. Vettel was fastest on his first run but got pipped by the Mercedes driver by less than half a tenth. Raikkonen was a couple of tenths off the pace which was a little surprising.

Although Verstappen was next up he was nearly half a second off the slower Finn, and four-tenths faster than his team mate, who will take a 10 place penalty and start 15th. Perez and Alonso were next, the Spaniard two-hundredths slower than the Mexican. If the Honda engine holds up, Alonso could be on for a good race.

Hulkenberg and Sainz came next, the German a tenth faster than his new, rather more competitive, team mate. I do wonder if their engines will last, though. Finally, (again), we have Massa, whose pace was about a second faster than his team mate.

The forecast is for it to be dry and warm. I wonder if the heat might harm the Ferraris. We also have a couple of drivers out of place, with Ricciardo 15th and Hamilton 20th or starting from the pit lane. Brazil often has carnage at the first corner, which is an interesting and tricky turn.

Just looking at the grid, my first thoughts on betting were:
Verstappen podium
Vettel win
Ricciardo top 6

Verstappen is 1.9 for a podium. Not enough given the cars ahead of him and reliability question marks over Renault (ironic, though, that he’s recently suffered least from them).

Vettel is just 2.5 to win. Entirely credible but the odds aren’t great.

Ricciardo is 1.4 for the top 6. The least tempting of them all. Whilst he may well get it he’ll have to pass Williams/Force India which may prove difficult, he’s had bad reliability recently (one of my early tips was backing him to DNF) and he starts 15th, which is a great place to get caught out by someone else’s accident off the start.

Upon perusing the markets, I found:
First lap leader, Vettel, 5 (Betfair Sportsbook)
Group Betting, Group B Winner, Alonso, 3.75 (Ladbrokes)
Ricciardo, not to be classified, 5 (Ladbrokes)
Perez, top 6, 2.2 (Ladbrokes)

#Oddsonthat market on Betfair Sportsbook
Hamilton not to get a podium 2.4
Vettel and Verstappen podium, Hamilton top 6, Force India double points, 5
Vettel win, Hulkenberg/Ocon/Perez points, under 15.5 classified finishers, 15
Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41
Ricciardo podium, Alonso/Grosjean/Vandoorne not to be classified, 101

Lots there to contemplate, although no single bet leaps out and demands to be backed.

Raikkonen has tended to go backwards rather than forwards off the line, and Vettel had a very good start in Mexico. I think it’ll be him or Bottas, but obviously that sort of bet is a bit luck of the draw. The odds are reasonably good.

Alonso’s group includes Perez, Hulkenberg and Sainz. The Renaults have had worse reliability in recent races, and Alonso typically makes up ground off the start. My concern, as well as his possibly weak reliability, is that he’ll be murdered on the straight by Perez, and the Force India’s only real weakness is the other Force India colliding with it. Tempting but can’t back it.

Ricciardo has failed to be classified in the last few races. He’s also in a nice place to be crashed into going into the challenging first corner. For that matter, Sainz and Hulkenberg at 3.5 each are also a bit tempting.

Perez starts 5th, has a car that’s very reliable and is very good at keeping tyres going. That matters here because it’s a toss up between a one and two stop race. Ricciardo and Hamilton will be in significantly faster cars but start further back. There’s also something of a reliability question mark over the Red Bulls/Renault engines as well as the three cars immediately behind him on the grid. All that said, 2.2 aren’t huge odds. But they may be good odds.

Usually, due to timing, I miss the #Oddsonthat markets so it was a nice surprise to see them up.

After checking, it turned out Hamilton was 2.4 not to get a podium, but, on the exchange, 3.3 to get one. So I backed both, of course. Unfortunately, the #Oddsonthat market instantly vanished, so this can’t count as a tip (shame as it’s a guaranteed winner).

Vettel and Verstappen both getting on the podium is credible, as is Hamilton finishing top 6 and both Force Indias scoring. However, that’s quite a few contingencies for 5, and there is a question mark over both Verstappen’s reliability and the Red Bull’s pace. It’s probable but not certain Hamilton will be top 6. Too many things to tempt at those odds.

Vettel win, Hulkenberg/Ocon/Perez points, under 15.5 classified finishers, 15. This is more tempting. On pace, there’s every chance Vettel can beat Bottas, and the three chaps in question could score, although Hulkenberg’s had shaky reliability recently. At least five retirements are required, but with engine dodginess from Honda and Renault, that’s at least plausible, if not probable. The main potential pitfall seems to be Hulkenberg. Worth considering.

Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41. Given the dubiousness of Renault engines recently, this is also quite intriguing. Verstappen getting on the podium is probably the least likely contingency. As well as reliability (and he has essentially the same engine as the chaps who need to DNF) there’s a pace question mark. On the other hand, he tends to go forward rather than backwards off the line, unlike Raikkonen, who starts 3rd and immediately ahead of him. Hmm.
Last and longest, we have Ricciardo podium, Alonso/Grosjean/Vandoorne not to be classified, 101. Tasty idea but Ricciardo’s unlikely to get on the podium, and I’d be slightly surprised if all three of those drivers failed to finish. Mind you, that’s why the odds are long. But I’m not especially tempted.

Of all the above, the most interesting are:
Vettel, lap 1 leader, 5
Ricciardo, not to be classified, 5
Perez, top 6, 2.2
Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41

Quite tricky to decide between them. I think Ricciardo not to be classified at 5 offers the best value. Those odds are available both on Ladbrokes and Betfair Sportsbook. [NB this is almost identical to the 5.25 early tip on Ricciardo not to be classified, not quite sure how I’ll resolve that in the records as yet].

The grid’s poised intriguingly and Interlagos is perhaps the best circuit on the calendar, so we should be in for a cracking race. The start is at 4pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Brazil: pre-qualifying 2017

Some Mercedes team members (and maybe FIA officials too, not sure) were robbed at gunpoint after leaving the circuit yesterday. There has always been some danger at Interlagos, but this is a rather troubling reminder. Nobody was hurt, though valuables were taken.

As an aside, all of Verstappen’s three wins to date have come the race after Kvyat got dropped. Odd coincidence.

Massa announced last Saturday that he was retiring, due in part to the uncertainty over his position at Williams. I like Massa a lot, he seems like a genuinely nice guy with little ego, and he came incredibly close to the 2008 title only to have it wrenched away by Hamilton’s last gasp pass on Glock. But, the sport does need new blood and Massa’s been around for quite a while. That does make it ironic that the men seemingly next in line are former drivers Kvyat, Kubica and Di Resta.

Speaking of fresh blood, Lando Norris has been named McLaren’s reserve driver for next year, replacing Jenson Button.

Two drivers who have performed extremely well in the wet (former in the very wet, latter in wet-dry conditions) are Verstappen and Hulkenberg. If the weather looks soggy, keep those two in mind.

Post from PB:
F1: for what it's worth, I've made some early bets [on the 2018 title] with small stakes.

My view is that the Renault engine is critical. If it's on song next year then Alonso at 12 each way (Ladbrokes, odds boosted [weirdly, this is also working for each way bets]) is the best value by a mile. Also backed Vandoorne at 81 each way on the basis that Australia tends to be good for McLaren and whilst he's unlikely to be on terms with Alonso, that equates to 17 to be top 3, which is possible.

I've also backed Bottas at 16 each way. If it's Mercedes versus Ferrari, or if reliability of the Renault is as poor as this year, he's almost nailed on to be top 3 at 4 (as with Vandoorne, that's fifth the odds for top 3).

The short odds on Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Ricciardo do not appeal. If Hamilton wins, the Bottas bet is likely to come off at better odds. If Renault step up their game, McLaren are far better value than Red Bull.

If/when the Constructors' comes up I'll look at Red Bull, as their driver pairing is the most balanced. It'll be them or Mercedes, in my view.

In first practice Hamilton was a tenth ahead of Bottas, with the Silver Arrows almost half a second ahead of Raikkonen. Verstappen, Ricciardo and Vettel followed close behind, with Massa, Vandoorne, Ocon and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

Second practice had the same top two, but the margin was half a tenth, and from Bottas to Ricciardo was a tenth and a half. Vettel and Verstappen were not far down the road, although Raikkonen was a couple of tenths off the Dutchman. Ocon, Massa and Hulkenberg were all covered by a tenth, followed by Alonso.

At this stage, rain is forecast for qualifying but the race is expected to be dry. That could help out Red Bull, McLaren and Renault, at the expense of Williams (downforce, of course, being your friend in the wet, and power mattering less).

It’s worth noting that Ricciardo has usually been outperformed by a variety of team mates here, (second in qualifying to Vettel, Kvyat and Verstappen in the last three years). Also, Hulkenberg and Verstappen have performed astonishingly quickly in certain wet conditions.

Not clear as yet whether the race will be one or two stops. Ricciardo does have a penalty of at least 10 places for changing engine parts, yet again.

As well as the Ricciardo penalty, both Toro Rossos have similar ones. In fact, there’s a chance of the F1 equivalent of nuclear war breaking out, with Renault potentially exploring the possibility of refusing to supply engine parts to the team after Franz Tost, boss of Toro Rosso, reportedly hinted that the team was being given weaker parts to benefit the Renault F1 team. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.

Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel were fastest in third practice, all covered by half a tenth. Looks rather good. However, Red Bull does not. Ricciardo was next up, nine-tenths off Vettel. Alonso has looked strong all weekend and was within half a tenth of the Aussie, followed by Perez, Ocon, Verstappen (who didn’t get a clean lap in but looked roughly on pace with Ricciardo) and Sainz.

Right now, Bottas and Raikkonen probably represent the best value for pole. The weather forecast has improved from rain to overcast.

I was astonished to check and find Raikkonen was 17 for pole on Betfair Sportsbook. I backed this each way (third the odds for top 2) and likewise Bottas at 4.5. Bottas was fastest in final practice and Raikkonen, though third, was just 0.04s off the pace.

Raikkonen’s also 23 (21 plus boost) for pole on Ladbrokes, but there’s no each way option. However, he is, at the time of writing, layable at 19 on Ladbrokes Exchange, so I took advantage of that to gain a little more if he wins and lose nothing if he does not. [NB this changed immediately after I wrote this, with Raikkonen falling to the still too long 13].

I really had intended to sit out qualifying but with things so close, Bottas at 4.5 and Raikkonen at 17, both each way, were too long to miss.

Qualifying starts at 4pm UK time. The pre-race article will likely be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Early thoughts on 2018

With the 2017 season yet to finish, it might seem too early to contemplate next year. But, the markets are up, and it’s interesting, so I thought I’d have a look at how things might pan out.

The regulations stay broadly the same (next big shake up will be 2021). There doesn’t seem to be much movement at all in drivers at top teams (I believe Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren have unchanged lineups). So far, so consistent.

There is one major change, which is McLaren moving from Honda to Renault engines. As we’ve seen this year, the Renault is much closer to the Mercedes/Ferrari, although it still has a horsepower deficit. However, the McLaren has looked rather good in aerodynamic terms, and Red Bull were, at some circuits, competitive outright.

If the Renault is too unreliable or slow, then we’re likely to have another Hamilton/Vettel season in 2018. If the Renault is good enough to enable Red Bull and McLaren to compete for regular wins, then Verstappen, Ricciardo, Alonso and Vandoorne step into contention.

Well. Perhaps. In Mexico, Vandoorne was politely moved out his team mate’s way. He’s a good driver but I think McLaren will very much be backing Alonso.

What of Red Bull? Verstappen has a long term contract there, having re-signed this year, but after 2018 (I think) Ricciardo is a free agent. Rumours abound he might be off to Mercedes (Ferrari seems less likely). I don’t think Red Bull will be quite as number one driver about it as they were in the past, but it does seem probable they’ll favour Verstappen.

I’ve also read (from NigelB on PB) that Mercedes are going for a radical redesign for a high rake philosophy. If that gives them an edge, they may walk it again. But if they screw it up, they might have made the silliest design decision since McLaren decided to fundamentally change their suspension from 2012 to 2013. My guess is that Mercedes will be there, and are likely to be the team to beat, again.

As well as pace of driver and car, we must consider reliability. This year, the Mercedes has been rock solid. Ferrari has been very good indeed, with just a couple of gremlins (alas, still enough to rob us of a title fight to the end). The Renault engine has been the most problematic (excepting Honda, obviously) with 5 and 7 DNFs for Ricciardo and Verstappen respectively, out of 18 races to date. That’s a title-sinking statistic if it’s repeated next year.

For Red Bull/McLaren to have a chance, they need Renault to make a small step forward on relative pace, and a large step forward on reliability. I think that, more than speed, might prove more difficult.

Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Alonso fighting for a title is a very appealing thought. Let us suppose the cars are roughly equal over the course of a season in terms of both reliability and pace. Who would win?

In qualifying, Hamilton and Vettel stand out. Alonso is not a bad qualifier but he is not Hamilton’s equal. Verstappen’s a bit trickier to assess because he’s only been in the sport during the age of engine modes giving Mercedes (and, to a lesser extent, Ferrari) an advantage. This is a weakness Renault are actively seeking to address.

In the race, they’re all pretty fantastic. Verstappen is the most aggressive, which helps him sometimes punch above his weight and sometimes needlessly get tangled in accidents. Hamilton’s very good wheel-to-wheel but the recent design philosophy of Mercedes has made his car trickier to handle in traffic than the Ferrari (exemplified by the recent race in Mexico). Alonso, I believe I’m right in saying, typically makes up more places off the line and on lap one than anyone else. He’s very capable wheel-to-wheel but generally hasn’t been racing against the frontrunning drivers for the last few years.

The first race is likely to be Australia. It’s worth noting that, historically, McLaren has performed better there than at other circuits. One year you may recall Button and Magnussen scored a double podium and McLaren briefly led the Constructors’. That’s worth considering both for early bets to hedge and when looking at the title races after Australia.

If we have a straight Hamilton/Vettel duel, then it’s a more straightforward matter. But if Red Bull and/or McLaren get involved then it becomes more difficult because, even if Ferrari and Mercedes are faster (just), the other two teams will take points from them at certain circuits. That sort of thing can only really be assessed when we have some actual performance to analyse, but it should be borne in mind. It’s better to be 1st at half the circuits and 3rd at the others than 2nd throughout.

There’s also the Constructors’ race to consider. In this, the team mate suddenly becomes a valuable asset. On the face of it, Red Bull has the best pairing. Raikkonen’s not a bad driver, but he’s not up to par with the others. Vandoorne’s good but hard to say much beyond that. Bottas is sometimes very good, but he’s also had some notably weak races this year. If the Renault engine is reliable and at least close to the others, Red Bull are likeliest to win this.

If the Renault engine is not good enough, Mercedes will get it, I think.

Picking a driver is trickier. Probably car characteristics and the number of certain circuit types might be a way to go (again, though, the Red Bull and McLaren are both likely to be weaker on high speed circuits and better on high downforce ones).

I think France returns next year, and Malaysia had its last race in 2017.

Generally, downforce matters more than top speed nowadays. How things stack depend a lot on relative performance. If Ferrari are 2nd best at every circuit, they’ll win, provided Mercedes (probably best at faster tracks) are on par or slower than Red Bull/McLaren at slower and mid-speed races. But if Ferrari are 2nd at fast circuits and then 3rd at the slow stuff, they’re nowhere.

Last but not least, we must consider the development race. All through the year, updates are made to the cars (NB not all are upgrades, some add no performance and others worsen it). This is a critical part of winning in a tight season. Mercedes are good at this. Ferrari have been strong this year, although often in the past they’ve been a bit hit-and-miss. Red Bull might be the best at it, but they’ve started off with such a disadvantage in the last few years that strong development hasn’t given them a shot. McLaren are a bit hard to assess because they’ve been so hampered by the Honda.

The astute amongst you will have noticed I haven’t tipped a (or more than one) title contender. That’s because I think it’s too difficult to say at this stage. Not only that, the odds on all but Alonso are 4 or shorter, which is too tight anyway, and especially so given the market won’t be resolved for a year or so.

If McLaren do make a comeback, it’d be the biggest turn around in fortunes since the Brawn team. Is there any chance of another team contending for the title?

I don’t think so. Force India do a great job with limited resources, have rock solid reliability, two reliable and fast drivers, and fully deserve to be head of the midfield. But, frankly, they need a cash injection. Renault now has a very good driver lineup with Hulkenberg and Sainz, and their performance is improving. They also have, it seems, a better-funded set-up than Force India and may well be able to mount a title challenge. However, I think doing so next year is just a bit too soon for them. The performance gap is absolutely enormous between the top three teams this year and everyone else. The only reason McLaren might be able to bridge it is because they’ve been hampered with terrible engines and their actual car seems to be very good indeed.

Whilst it’s possible next year will see a tedious return to Mercedes’ dominance, I hope we at least get another Hamilton-Vettel duel, and there is a realistic prospect of a much more complicated title battle, as we saw in 2010.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 30 October 2017

Mexico: post-race analysis 2017

Neither race bet came off. Been a rather bad year, to be honest. Of the early tips, they’re green overall thanks to Verstappen winning (tipped pre-weekend at 5). Both race bets were at least credible, but you don’t get sympathy winnings.

Ricciardo ended up taking a grid penalty. After all that, he started near the back.

Anyway, off the line it was very close, Verstappen just about passing Vettel and staying on track. The German tried to come back as Hamilton sought to take advantage and the two collided. Vettel lost part of his front wing, Hamilton suffered a puncture. Verstappen broke away from Bottas and, after lap 1 pit stops from the title contenders, Hamilton was dead last and Vettel was last but one, albeit some way up the road.

Behind Bottas, it was spring time for the midfield chaps with Ocon, Hulkenberg and Sainz all ahead of Raikkonen (the Finn has a habit of starting badly).

Meanwhile, Ricciardo’s brand new engine failed. A short and not very spectacular race for the unfortunate Aussie.

Vettel set about carving his way through the field on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult. Indeed, we were lucky he and Hamilton tangled on the first lap otherwise almost the only overtaking would’ve been by the McLarens. However, Hamilton found running in the hot air much harder than Vettel (a rare weakness for the Mercedes) and it took him maybe a dozen laps to pass Sainz, who early on had had to pit (I think he ran over debris and got a puncture).

At the sharp end, Verstappen was being told to slow down a bit. He responded by setting fastest laps repeatedly and laughing at his race engineer, whilst pulling out an ever increasing lead over Bottas.

Further down the order, the two McLarens were making progress from the back (due to grid penalties). Alonso passed Grosjean quite roughly, with relative serious contact, and I was surprised there was no penalty, to be honest. When the Spaniard reached Vandoorne, the Belgian (bottled up behind Ericsson) was told to move aside, which is indicative of how McLaren might treat 2018 if they’re in a title-contending position.

Hulkenberg retired due to an electrical issue, and was ordered, after pulling over, to climb onto the front and then jump off the car to avoid getting a shock.

Ocon, who had been ahead of Raikkonen, pitted earlier. After this, the Finn started extending the lead to an extent whereby he could pit and retain 3rd spot.

It was then that Hartley’s engine failed. He pulled over, aflame, and the virtual safety car emerged (a proper use of the measure unlike the Azerbaijan safety car showboating that caused such carnage and artificially altered the race). This enabled the frontrunners, including Raikkonen, to pit and keep their places, pushing Ocon down to 4th .

From there, Vettel and Hamilton passing a few more cars aside (Vettel passing Ocon), the race was effectively over. The start was exciting, the middle was tense, and the end was a bit of a procession.

Verstappen got his third ever triumph, Bottas and Raikkonen next in the order but with very wide gaps between them on track. Vettel ended up 4th, and was the only other man not lapped by Verstappen.

Ocon was 5th and Perez 7th. A very strong result for Force India, yet again. Their silly tangles at a few races aside, the driver pairing is fast and reliable, and the car’s solid as a rock, only Mercedes being more reliable.

Stroll was 6th. Whilst he was aided by the timing of the VSC (he was running 4th at the time, between Raikkonen and Ocon) he nevertheless drove well and fully deserves the place, with Massa in 11th.

Magnussen finished 8th. Rather surprising, actually. Haas had been the worst car in qualifying, slower than the Saubers, so one imagines the odds on him scoring points would’ve been pretty good.

Hamilton finished 9th. Not the most glorious way to seal a title, nor as dramatic as the 2008 victory in Brazil, but he claimed his fourth title nevertheless. Damned shame that Ferrari lost reliability at two races and denied us a proper fight to the end.

Alonso was 10th. With Renault engines failing all around, the Honda kept ticking. A good performance from man and car. (Vandoorne was 12th).

Hamilton has the title, and Bottas cannot be caught for 3rd (I tipped Bottas pre-season at 26 each way, fifth the odds for top 3, to win). There’s still a lot to be decided in the middle of the Constructors’ race, though. From fifth:

Williams 76
Toro Rosso 53
Renault 48
Haas 47

The race was dreadful for Renault. At one point they had two cars in the top five, and both ended up with DNFs. Meanwhile, Stroll extended Williams’ lead of the mid-grid pack by eight points. Williams have probably got fifth now, but behind them it’s down to just two races and could go any way. Haas, thanks to Magnussen’s surprise 8th, is now just a single point behind Renault.

Ahead of this group, the order is settled: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India. Behind them we have McLaren and Sauber.

The next race is at Interlagos, my favourite circuit, in a fortnight. After that, just one more race, in Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Mexico: pre-race 2017

Gasly didn’t run in qualifying due to engine issues.

Vandoorne had a 35 place penalty, with a 20 place penalty for Alonso. Gasly might be miffed, but with Toro Rosso having a Honda engine next year he might have to get used to this sort of thing.

Obviously Gasly didn’t escape the first session, and the other four who joined him were the two Saubers and the two Haas cars (which were slower than the Saubers). Pretty weak pace from the American team.

In Q2 there was more woe for Toro Rosso as Hartley’s engine failed. The McLarens didn’t run due to their mighty penalties and with Hartley also out by default there were only two ‘proper’ exits. Unfortunately for Williams, both their cars dropped out here, Massa being the faster.

And so to Q3, which everybody expected to be very close. And so it proved to be. Verstappen put in a great lap on his first run, but was unable to match Vettel’s second attempt. The German starts on pole, with the Dutchman alongside him. Having been outqualified by two different cars, Mercedes at least have the second row to themselves, with Hamilton ahead of Bottas. Raikkonen was close behind, and he has Ocon alongside him. Ricciardo could manage only 7th, a full nine-tenths off his team mate. Engine problem? Setup issue? It’s too big a margin to be normal. Hulkenberg is next, just one slot but three-tenths ahead of his new team mate Sainz, with Perez 10th and four-tenths off Ocon. At least some space between the Pink Panthers reduces the chances of an immediate collision.

An interesting grid. There was practically nothing between Hamilton and Bottas, but most other team mates had sizeable gaps in Q3. I expect the Red Bull to be very good in the race. Surprised Ricciardo qualified so badly given the pace that’s in the car (Verstappen does have an upgraded engine, but the margin is enormous just for that). This is particularly odd given the lap is a short one.

The race is likely to be a one stop for everyone, with the ultrasoft tyres capable of 35 odd laps. Overtaking’s tricky too.

Longest run to the first corner of the year (eight hundred and seventy-five yards). So, screw up the start and you’ll be passed by everyone and his cat. Probably not good for Raikkonen. Tastier for Alonso.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Ricciardo, podium
Force India, double points
Hamilton, win

Ricciardo is 4.6 for a podium. However, he does start 7th, it’s expected to be a one stop race and the circuit is apparently very tricky for overtaking. I do think he’ll make ground anyway, but that much *might* just be a step too far. Disappointing qualifying, even with engine disparity, given his team mate is on the front row. If he starts well, it could be the boost he needs, but there are quite a few cars between him and a podium. More concerning, I checked the qualifying times and in every session he was substantially off the pace, so it wasn’t just bad laps in Q3.

Force India are 1.5 for double points. That’s tight. And yet, their car is very reliable and both drivers are quick (Perez’s poor qualifying was a bit of a surprise). The straight will be the prime area of overtaking, which also suits the car pretty well. On the other hand, Perez starts 10th. If they were 6th and 8th it’d be rather more tempting.

Hamilton is 4.33 for the win. It’s certainly credible, but the Mercedes tends to be slower in the race than qualifying. Not long enough to tempt.

Just an aside, but it’s odd that the 8th and 9th men (the Renaults) are 1001 each to win. Ocon, in 6th, is likewise. Remembering Azerbaijan, I’m a little tempted to throw down 50p on that.

No F1 specials on the Ladbrokes exchange again, which is a shame because there were sometimes interesting markets there.

Anyway, I perused the markets and saw:
Vandoorne to beat Alonso, 3.5
First lap leader, Hamilton, 9 (Bottas is 25)
Bottas, podium, 2.66

The Vandoorne bet is based on the same lines as the one I raised but didn’t tip last time out. Namely, Alonso’s car breaks a lot. So Vandoorne will likely win by default.

The first lap leader bet is based on the long run to the first corner and the Mercedes’ dominance on top speed. Against it is that Hamilton’s engine has been hesitating throughout the weekend, and if power cuts out at the wrong time he will go a long way backwards.

Bottas has been good all weekend, unlike many of his recent performances, and his car appears rock solid.

Nothing, frankly, leaps out at me.

Some extra suggestions, from Mr. Sandpit, in another place (my thoughts in brackets afterwards):
Hamilton 1.12 to finish the race - he’s 17 from 17 so far this season. [Likely to come off but the very short odds aren’t to my taste]
Vettel to finish the race LAY 1.25 [Having backed something similar last race, not sure about this. The gremlins appear to have gone]
Verstappen 3.6 to win [Sound, especially each way, but an early, pre-weekend tip of mine was Verstappen at 5 to win so it’s already covered]
Safety car 1.55 - possibly just about value at that price but looking for 1.66-1.75 [Agree with Mr. Sandpit’s summary]
Lead first lap Verstappen at 4 and Hamilton at 8. [I was thinking of looking at this. The long run to the first corner makes it easier to come from further back so I’d probably look at Hamilton].

An awkward weekend, then, as I don’t have a particular bet in mind. But, as I offer a tip on every race and have done since the latter part of 2009, a tip must be found. I have put tiny sums on Sainz, Ocon and Hulkenberg each way to win at 1001 (very unlikely but the odds are just ridiculous and they’re top of the pile if the top six explode) but as I’m not putting a proper stake on that’s not a tip (not to mention it’d really bugger up a profit/loss graph if it came off).

To that end:
Hamilton, lap 1 leader, 9 (Betfair Exchange)
Vandoorne to beat Alonso, 3.5 (Ladbrokes)

The astute amongst you will have noticed the former is also Mr. Sandpit’s suggestion.

Will the McLarens explode? Will the top six simultaneously fail, giving me the best betting win since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix? Will the Force Indias smash into one another?

We shall find out, from 7pm tonight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mexico: pre-qualifying 2017

I’ve rambled a bit more than usual about early bets here, so let me know if you think that’s worthwhile or I should, as is normal, just mention them in passing.

Ah, Mexico, where the high altitude alters the aerodynamics and engines in a way that I forget every single year. Unhelpfully, having checked the two previous races, the circuit seems good for Williams and Red Bull, two teams with diametrically opposed design philosophies.

Worth recalling there was a significant earthquake in Mexico only a few weeks ago, so hopefully they’re making good progress rebuilding.

In other, unsurprising, news, Hartley is retaining his Toro Rosso seat and Kvyat’s gone again, as Gasly comes back. At least if Kvyat has gone for good, he had a good last race, nabbing the final point in Austin. It also sounds like Hartley might retain his seat for 2018.

Having read a little, it seems that the high altitude lends itself to massive downforce levels, akin to Monaco/Hungary, despite the long straights. It’s also been rather tasty for Red Bull in the past, although this season it’s been Ferrari that’s dominated at the aforementioned circuits.

Incidentally, thanks to Mr. B on PB who pointed out there’s only one swanky new Renault engine and Verstappen’s getting it.

Early bet considerations [all Ladbrokes]:
Race winner, Vettel 3.5, Verstappen 5, Raikkonen 17 (all each way)
Fastest qualifier, Verstappen 11, Raikkonen 13 (again, each way)
Double podium, Ferrari 3
Double points, Williams 4.5
Free Practice 1 winner, Raikkonen 9 (each way)

So, a surprisingly high eight potential early bets. As can be seen, I’ve focused on Ferrari and Red Bull. Hard to decide between them. Ricciardo’s engine penalty [update: he ended up not having one] and inferior engine makes me less likely to back him, good though he is.

On the qualifying front, the enhanced engine mode of Mercedes/Ferrari will help. That can’t be run throughout the race, however. That makes me inclined to back Raikkonen at 13 each way for the fastest qualifying time (he got pole in Monaco this year and started 2nd in Hungary).

Decided against backing Williams for double points. Although they’ve done well here in the past, their car isn’t quite as competitive as it could be, and Stroll’s sometimes a little off the pace.

Also decided against the Ferrari double podium bet. It’s perfectly credible but I think Raikkonen to win each way is more value, so if I make that sort of bet it’ll be the latter rather than the former.

There are six chaps vying, on pace, to be top 3 in FP1. Given the Ferrari could well be the tastiest car, that does make Raikkonen at 9 tempting enough to back (each way).

Which leaves the winner market. It vexes me, as credible arguments can be made for each of those chaps (and Hamilton won’t want to give up the win easily). If Vettel does win there is a good chance Raikkonen will be right behind him, and the Finn’s odds to be top 2 exceeds those of the German to win. To my mind, that rules out Vettel on value grounds. Verstappen is intriguing at 5 (longer on Betfair Sportsbook/Exchange, but the Sportsbook each way odds are only a quarter for top 2 so a smaller payout for 2nd, but larger for 1st). In the last three races he’s had a win and a 2nd, and might’ve done very well in Singapore (but we’ll never know for sure). On the other hand, if he qualifies poorly his odds may improve. On balance, I think Verstappen at 5 is the best bet for the winner (each way).

Early bets:
Fastest qualifier, Raikkonen, 13 (each way)
Free practice 1 winner, Raikkonen, 9 (each way)
Winner, Verstappen, 5 (each way)

An interesting side note is that after Ricciardo’s engine DNF in the US it was widely assumed he’d have a penalty. He was 26 on Betfair to win early in the week, 36 mid-week, but fell to 18.5 (21 at the time on Ladbrokes) on Friday when a rumour emerged that he might not take an engine penalty after all. Given Verstappen was around 6 or so, Ricciardo’s odds would seem very long (and eminently hedgeable if he ended up going without a penalty). On the other hand, if he does take one, the odds are actually too short, so it’s a fantastic/foolish sort of bet.
Updated bit: on Saturday morning, Ricciardo’s lay value on Betfair was down to 9. I must admit, I’d backed him at 26 when I forgot about his penalty and took this opportunity to hedge that.

Gasly has penalties for a fifth set of control electronics and perhaps more besides. He also went on to suffer an engine failure in third practice, so that won’t help.

In first practice it was Noah’s ark style, with Bottas nearly half a second ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo very close together and just a tenth off the Briton, and Vettel a tenth further back. Raikkonen, unhelpfully, was half a second off his team mate. Perez, Alonso, Massa, and Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.

In second practice, Ricciardo was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen, Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas followed, with Alonso, Perez, Hulkenberg and Ocon making the top 10.

Third practice suggests that qualifying will be ultra-close. Just four-tenths covers the top six. Verstappen was fastest, ahead of Hamilton and Vettel, with Bottas, Ricciardo and Raikkonen in hot pursuit. Perez, Ocon, Sainz and Hulkenberg were close to one another but half a second off Raikkonen.

Right now it seems very competitive at the sharp end (NB the race is expected to be a one-stopper), and things are looking good for Force India and Renault.

That being so, I’m not inclined to offer a tip on qualifying. It could be a great session.

Morris Dancer