Well, F1 is back. But the points spread markets are not, and neither were the practice results on the BBC (had to use the official site to find them). Bit lax.
After all the murmuring of Ferrari resurgence, Hamilton was fastest in the first practice session by half a second. Bottas was second, but under a tenth ahead of Ricciardo with Verstappen four-tenths further back. Raikkonen and Vettel were next, then Massa, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Perez.
[Normally I’d stop there but as it’s the first race under new rules, the next 10 were: Sainz, Kvyat, Stroll, Alonso, Ericsson, Ocon, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Palmer and Vandoorne].
In second practice, Hamilton was against fastest by half a second, this time over Vettel. Bottas was a hundredth back, with Raikkonen four-tenths down the road. Ricciardo was close behind, with Verstappen again a surprisingly large margin further back (either here or in P1 the Dutchman lost his best time to an error so the true gap may be significantly smaller). Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Kvyat finish the points positions.
Further back we had: Perez, Alonso, Ocon, Massa, Ericsson, Stroll, Vandoorne, Wehrlein, Magnussen and Palmer.
So, early on, some clear dynamics have emerged amongst new driver pairings. Obviously, Hamilton is a day and a half ahead of Bottas.
Perez is significantly faster than Ocon.
Grosjean is substantially quicker than Magnussen.
Hulkenberg was more than 2s faster than Palmer in both sessions.
Alonso is much faster than Vandoorne.
Massa is quicker than Stroll but by a smaller margin than some differences above.
Perhaps surprisingly, Ericsson is faster than Wehrlein.
This may mean that the car is actually a bit less important than usual in determining the race result. Still critical, but we’re seeing, in practice, admittedly, large gaps between team mates. This could have implications for some bets, but, even if not, it’s intriguing in itself.
Now, the cars. Still the dominant factor. Practice is not a perfect indicator, and that should be considered for both the driver observations above and the team observations below. As of now:
Mercedes look the fastest.
Ferrari appears to be second, very evenly matched with Bottas but some way behind Hamilton.
Red Bull in a comfortable third.
Haas, Renault and Force India look very close, with Williams probably in the mix too. Toro Rosso aren’t far off. In short, the midfield is clustered and that may well mean the top drivers in each team will be contesting for points, whilst the slower drivers languish further back.
As expected, Sauber and McLaren appear to be at the back of the grid.
Based on the current information, I’d predict Hamilton for pole, then a very close contest for the three spots behind him, a Red Bull third row, and then probably (not necessarily in this order) Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Perez and Massa [possibly Sainz].
In short, most of the top places to be team-by-team but the midfield to be more mixed.
It’s also worth contemplating the start (I’ll do this after qualifying in more detail, of course). The new systems mean that it will probably be easier to screw up the start, and this could be more painful than in previous years (unfortunately, I’ve forgotten why this is the case, but it is). There’s also reliability, who might break down (McLaren) and whether this will bring out a full safety car, or not. Crashing (Stroll) is another potential pitfall, especially off the line.
As far as pit stops go, there’s likely to be just the one, as the tyres are more durable. This should be the case for the first few races as Pirelli were understandably conservative before they knew for sure how enduring the compounds would be. That also decreases the chances of screwing up strategy.
Weather forecast is currently overcast, but dry.
Potential qualifying bets:
Hamilton, pole, 1.28
Raikkonen, top 3 qualifying, no price
Grosjean/Hulkenberg, top 10 qualifying, 1.01
Obviously the latter two have no odds to speak of. Hamilton is clear favourite for pole, but if he cocks up the critical lap or has a reliability problem then it’s lost. The odds are too poor for me to back.
Potential race bets:
Toro Rosso double points finish
Raikkonen, podium, 2.37
Vettel/Raikkonen, lead lap 1, 4.5/13
Alonso/Vandoorne, not to be classified, 1.66/1.57
Stroll, not to be classified, 2.62
No Safety Car, 3.25
Unfortunately, the double-points market wasn’t up. However, as the race is on Sunday there’s plenty of time. My reasoning behind thinking of it was that, unlikely most (outside the top three) teams, the Sainz/Kvyat pairing are pretty closely matched. There’s no vast yawning chasm between them, although Sainz does have a small edge.
Although the odds are short, Raikkonen for a podium may be worth considering. The odds on Alonso/Vandoorne are too low. It’s entirely possible they’ll both fail but still. Stroll’s odds are a little more tempting.
The lead lap 1 market is interesting. If all goes as expected then both Ferraris should be top four, possibly top three. Hamilton is sometimes ropey at starting and last year the Ferraris regularly bounded ahead. Worthy of consideration.
No Safety Car is an intriguing bet. Despite the VSC’s existence, there was a proper safety car last year. There’s also a danger of a car breaking down on-track (though I think it’d take a very bad location or a crash/bad start to bring out the safety car).
Browsing whilst waiting for the double-points market to appear, I also saw that Hulkenberg and Grosjean were 4.5 and 7 respectively to be top 6. Now, that does require one, or more, of the top chaps to crash or have some sort of problem, but may be value (Massa’s only evens, and Sainz is 3.5, both looking too short to me).
Also, there’s 1.61 for under 15.5 classified finishers (out of 20). In two out of the three most recent years, this would’ve happened despite having more cars, and if one looks at the retirements/crashes and subtracts that from the starting 20, it would’ve happened every year. Short, but probably value (requires five or more retirements/crashes).
Grosjean is 2.1 for points. Given he was comfortably in the top 10 in both practice sessions this looks rather good.
So, that’s a huge number of potential bets. Running through the list, the ones that seem to have the best chances of offering value are:
No Safety Car, 3.25 [Ladbrokes]
Under 15.5 classified finishers, 1.75 [Betfair]
At this stage I’ve decided to only back the No Safety Car and Classified Finisher bets. The Grosjean/Hulkenberg bets are tempting, but dependent on qualifying.
I may or may not add to these tips following qualifying, but will definitely write a pre-race article as usual. The points spread market suggestions will come just as soon as the market itself springs into life.
Qualifying starts at the unhelpful hour of 6am. I shall endeavour to wake up in time and listen to it on the wireless.