Sunday, 13 May 2018

Spain: post-race analysis 2018

Another red bet. Mildly aggrieved this weekend. Two bets, both red. A qualifying bet that was 0.04s off, and a two-halves DNF bet which involved a driver crashing into someone else, and being ok to continue. Humbug.

Off the line, Hamilton easily held the lead but there was a tussle behind him which led to Vettel getting ahead of Bottas. Grosjean lost control in dirty air, his car spun (generating a lot of smoke) and he ended up taking out not only himself, but Hulkenberg and Gasly too. This prompted an immediate safety car (and pit stops for Sirotkin and Hartley).

That was mostly it as far as race excitement went.

Hamilton pulled away effortlessly from Vettel and retained total control throughout the race. Bottas failed to pass Vettel at the pit stop despite pitting later, because of a slow stop. However, in the latter part of the race Vettel pitted under the virtual safety car. Few others did, and he emerged (due to being delayed as Perez entering the pit lane meant he couldn’t be released) behind Verstappen, in 4th.

Leclerc and Alonso had a great, and prolonged duel, with the Spaniard eventually getting ahead. However, the driving prowess Leclerc displayed will do his career prospects no harm at all, and he eventually came home in 10th.

Verstappen, under the virtual safety car, ran into the back of Stroll, damaging his front wing slightly but not causing significant damage.

There were a number of reliability retirements, including Ocon and Raikkonen.

Hamilton got a flawless, and tedious, win, with Bottas in 2nd. Verstappen completed the podium, with Vettel 4th. Ricciardo and Magnussen are next, providing much needed points for both Red Bull and Haas.

Sainz and Alonso enjoyed their home race in 7th and 8th, with Perez nabbing 9th and Leclerc impressing again with 10th.

After that ‘race’ was finished, the drivers’ standings are:
Hamilton 95
Vettel 78
Bottas 58
Raikkonen 48
Ricciardo 47
Verstappen 33

The second race in a row that Vettel has lost points he probably shouldn’t’ve. In Baku, he cooked his tyres. In Barcelona, he stopped once more than the other frontrunners (although his tyre wear was high so it may be that it wasn’t entirely optional). The race was in cooler conditions, which seem to harm the Ferrari’s relative pace.

Mercedes 153
Ferrari 126
Red Bull 80
Renault 41
McLaren 40
Haas 19
Force India 18
Toro Rosso 13
Sauber 11
Williams 4

The very close tussle for the top has become rather less close, though it’s still early days. The contest to be best of the rest, however, remains ultra-competitive, with Alonso and Sainz both scoring whilst their team mates suffered DNFs. Magnussen’s strong finish pulls Haas ahead of Force India, and Leclerc’s point narrows the gap from Sauber to Toro Rosso to just 2 points.

The chatter about panic at McLaren and Toro Rosso doing really well appears to have died down.

On the betting front: red, yet again. Pretty terrible season so far. Frustrating to get close with numerous bets (and suffer clear misfortune at the first couple of races).

Next up is Monaco.

Morris Dancer

Spain: pre-race 2018

I feel mildly aggrieved that I backed Bottas for pole with a hedge at 1.5, he missed pole by just 0.04s yet the hedge went unmatched. So close, and yet so unprofitable. A small misjudgement on my part, but after ill fortune at the first two races (and a narrow miss at a very long odds bet in Azerbaijan) I’d like the rub of the green.

Hartley didn’t make qualifying, surprising no-one. What did surprise many people was that Hulkenberg failed to escape Q1. This was largely due to a fuel pressure problem, which forced a quick pit stop and appears to have compromised his pace when he finally set a lap (this is the first time in 2018 Sainz has outqualified his team mate). Less surprising was the departure of both Williams (Sirotkin had a three place grid penalty for the crime of being sandwiched between two cars last time out, and Stroll increased his insurance premiums by dismantling some advertising with his car), and Ericsson.

In Q2, neither Force India progressed, with Perez slowest in the session and Leclerc between the two pink panthers. Vandoorne and Gasly also failed to make Q3.

The final session was intriguingly poised, as it really did look like Ferrari had been sandbagging, and they appeared very close to, or even marginally faster than, Mercedes. The first run in Q3 turned all that on its head. Hamilton was fastest, and Bottas was a bit poor, nearly half a second off. Between the two of them were both Red Bulls. Ferrari had a shocker, with Vettel just fifth, and Raikkonen in seventh. Then a very weird thing happened in the final runs. Raikkonen and Ricciardo (maybe some others, not sure) went out on the slower soft tyre, rather than the supersoft. Why? Because the pace difference was small but the durability was much better, and the faster tyres were falling off in the final sector. Even weirder, it worked. Ricciardo went faster but fell two-thousandths short of his team mate. Bottas went quicker, but was four-hundredths off Hamilton’s pole position time.

Vettel lines up 3rd, just a tenth off Bottas, with Raikkonen alongside him. The Red Bulls were relegated to their customary third row. Magnussen and Alonso are on row four, with Sainz and Grosjean finishing off the top 10. Worth noting that the fourth and fifth rows, whilst some way off Red Bull, were separated by less than two-tenths.

The top six are on the soft, which, right now, looks like the best tyre.

At the moment, the weather forecast is indicating between a third and a quarter chance of rain, probably light. I checked again on Sunday morning, and the forecast was almost 100% dry.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Bottas/Vettel to win
Red Bulls to DNF
Leclerc points

Bottas is 4.5 to win, Vettel 5.5 (5 and 6 respectively on the win only market). I think those odds are a little short. Hamilton typically starts well, and will have the first pit stop (if he retains his advantage) at Mercedes. Not awful odds, though.

Verstappen and Ricciardo are 4 to not be classified. They have, each, a 50% finishing record. The odds aren’t bad, although after Baku one would expect that the team has quietly asked them not to smash into one another this weekend. Of course, they have Magnussen close behind them.

I was impressed with Leclerc last race, and in Q1 he was a full second ahead of his team mate. Starts 14th on the grid, so rising for points would be impressive. His odds are 4.5, which seems short to me.

As is traditional, I perused the markets.

A #getaprice special on Ladbrokes raised my interest. 101 on Sirotkin, Grosjean, Ericsson and Hartley all not being classified. So far this year, the first two have a 50% DNF rate and the latter two a 25% DNF rate. Of course, multiplying the odds, as each contingency must occur, leads to (all else being equal) odds of one in 64, making 101 appear value.

The first lap leader market has Bottas at 6 and Vettel at 8.5. I think Vettel’s generally started a bit weakly. Bottas may be value, and I perhaps prefer that to the 4.5 for the win. Worth considering.

Renault are 3.4 for a double points finish. Hulkenberg starts far down the grid due to a fuel pressure problem in qualifying, but both he and Sainz had a strong result here last year. Possible, but quite a few ways it could go wrong.

Of the above bets, I do quite like the 101 (131 with boost) on a quartet of not classified chaps, although it’s worth noting the number of DNFs tends to be middling, and every driver named has to fail. Maybe worth a pound or two rather than a full bet.

Verstappen/Ricciardo to not be classified at 4 each is also quite tempting. Reliability failures have been one, with three down to driver error.

Leclerc/Renault points bets I find a bit tricky to assess. The young Monegasque has been driving well so far, with no DNFs to his name. Renault has the car and drivers to be there or thereabouts, but Hulkenberg would have quite a way to climb, and the double aspect of that bet means a collision, driver or pit stop error could ruin it twice as easily.

It’s not the most heroic bet in the world, and I was genuinely tempted to just go for the 101 as the proper tip, but I’ve decided to split a stake between Verstappen and Ricciardo not to be classified. Let us hope Magnussen has a roaring start and introduces himself to the pair of them.

Tricky deciding, so we’ll see how it goes. Race starts just after 2pm.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Spain: pre-qualifying 2018

In a slight surprise, there’s been agreement for 2019 to alter the front and rear wings in a bid to increase overtaking. I don’t think that’s been especially bad this year, so far, but it was tricky in Australia and probably will be in Spain too. It also indicates a more gradual change to 2021, rather than trying to make all the aerodynamic changes in that year, which I think is a sensible approach.

The front wing will be simpler, the rear deeper (more DRS effect), fuel weight will rise 5kg, and weights will be separate for driver/seat/car (be interesting to see how that affects taller chaps like Hulkenberg).

Have slightly mixed views about such changes, as the basis of F1 is to be as technologically advanced as possible, but it’s unfortunate such aero advances decrease overtaking (although the tyres need a look too).

It’s also emerged that F1 is keen to sign Miami up for a 10 year deal regarding a street circuit. I’m not a fan of street circuits, and I also don’t think that any country should have more than one race (and the US already has the excellent Austin track) so, at first glance, this is displeasing to me.

Bottas topped first practice, eight-tenths ahead of his team mate, who was narrowly ahead of Vettel and Verstappen. A little further back was Raikkonen, followed by Alonso, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Vandoorne and Gasly.

Hamilton was fastest in second practice, a tenth and a half ahead of Ricciardo. Verstappen was third, half a tenth up on Vettel, with Bottas close behind. Raikkonen was sixth, followed by Grosjean, Magnussen, Vandoorne and Perez.

Right now, Mercedes are looking strong, and Haas perhaps too. In the race, Red Bull may do well, but overtaking is historically very difficult, so strategy will be of prime importance.

In third practice, Hamilton was again quickest, just a hundredth ahead of Bottas. Vettel and Raikkonen were a couple of tenths back (but very close to one another), with Ricciardo nearly half a second behind the Ferraris. Magnussen, Grosjean, Sainz, Alonso and Gasly rounded out the top 10.

Late on in third practice Hartley had a large crash, bringing out the red flag and raising a large question mark over his participation in qualifying.

At the moment I think Haas may get both cars into Q3, and Bottas could be value for pole.

Bottas is 3.5 for fastest qualifier on Ladbrokes and 3.9 on Betfair, at the time of writing. I’ve decided to back him on Betfair and set up a hedge at 1.5

I’m a bit short on time so the pre-race article may be up tomorrow rather than this evening.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Azerbaijan: post-race analysis 2018

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

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

We had a lap 1 safety car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Azerbaijan: pre-race 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morris Dancer

Azerbaijan: pre-qualifying 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was some suspicion Ferrari and maybe Haas were sandbagging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying looks intriguing, and the race more so.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 15 April 2018

China: post-race analysis 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vettel 54
Hamilton 45
Bottas 40
Ricciardo 37
Raikkonen 30

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

Mercedes 85
Ferrari 84
Red Bull 55
McLaren 28
Renault 25

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

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

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

Morris Dancer