Monday, 28 October 2013

Abu Dhabi: early discussion



Well, Vettel and Red Bull remain the champions. 2014 has the prospect of a change, but we’ll see. In the meantime, there are three races to finish off the season.

Abu Dhabi’s a fairly narrow circuit with barriers close to the track (and pit lane exit), so a safety car is probable.

The performance of the cars is largely locked in now, as any development on non-2014 relevant areas will have practically stopped. Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus are all fighting for 2nd in the Constructors’, but whilst this matters getting next year right is more important.

I expect Mercedes to be a little better in Abu Dhabi. They did well in Monaco and had a reasonably result (4th and 5th) in Singapore, which are fairly similar to the Yas Marina circuit.

Turning to the driver market, the prevailing rumours I’ve heard are:
Massa to Williams (replacing Maldonado)
Maldonado or Hulkenberg taking Raikkonen’s old seat

Some argue that Hulkenberg should get Perez’s seat, but I think that highly unlikely. For a start, Whitmarsh has said he’s too tall (interesting, given Button isn’t exactly a jockey). More importantly, McLaren really want Alonso either next year or, more likely, 2015. Perez is likely to remain but this is not confirmed.

Daniil Kvyat (young Russian chap) will replace Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, and Sirotkin, another young Russian, will join Sauber. So, Gutierrez must hope that Hulkenberg does go elsewhere or he would seem to have no chance of keeping his seat. (That said, Sauber isn’t flush, and Hulkenberg brings no money whereas I believe Gutierrez does. It’s not impossible that the German will end up without a seat in 2014).

Back to Abu Dhabi: rain’s unlikely, a safety car is, traffic will probably be at least slightly more of an issue (even with high degradation the track is narrower and there’s far less run-off than India), and the starting grid will probably have a strong resemblance to the final result.

However, it’s worth noting that if 2 stops are likely then some (Lotus) may again try something cunning.

It’s my intention to offer a qualifying tip, but we’ll see how practice goes.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 27 October 2013

India: post-race analysis



Although not a classic, the varying strategies did make the race fairly interesting. Alas, the Webber tip didn’t come off (or the hedge get matched) for various reasons I’ll explain below.

Grosjean did manage a staggeringly good podium, so congratulations to Mr. Putney for his 8/1 bet. In addition, Vettel enjoyed a huge margin of victory, so Mr. M’s winning margin bet was also green.

At the start, many things happened. Vettel just about retained the lead, Hamilton went backwards and Massa had a great start. Those on the medium compound (Webber, Alonso, Button) went backwards. Webber was 7th at the end of lap 1. Meanwhile, Grosjean had started on the soft tyre, rather surprisingly.

Vettel pitted very early (lap 2, give or take) and was 17th. Many others followed him over the coming laps and I was hoping this would give Webber a nice cushion. The Aussie had lost some time (I’d guess 6-8s) due to his poor start and dropping down the order, but not enough to significantly alter the state of play. Due to a combination of those ahead of him pitting and an almost ridiculous speed advantage, Vettel found passing those he had to rather easy. The net result was that around the middle of the race he had done one more pit stop than Webber but was only 12-13s behind (a pit stop in India takes about 21s).

Meanwhile, Alonso had suffered some damage on lap 1, and required an early front wing change. Perhaps more significantly, he reported problems turning right (and, as this isn’t NASCAR, that could’ve cost him serious time). In the end he was 11th, leading me to suspect his car had substantial damage.

The Mercedes were having a mixed afternoon. After the near certain Red Bull 1-2, Raikkonen was trying to make his tyres last forever and a day, and Rosberg (with tyres in much better shape) was behind him. Grosjean was also on older tyres, but about 7 laps younger than Raikkonen’s. Hamilton was a little further back.

With something like 20 laps left Webber’s alternator broke and he was forced to retire. Alas, if it had happened to Vettel instead then the bet would’ve come off, but that’s life. Then Raikkonen’s tyres really dropped off. He lost places to Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa, Hamilton, Perez and then pitted (staying in position due to the enormous gap to Di Resta). However, the one stop worked perfectly for Grosjean, who climbed impressively from 17th to 3rd.

Mercedes had a pretty good day with Rosberg 2nd and Hamilton 6th, losing 5th late on to Perez who passed him when the pair went past Raikkonen. This also means Mercedes top scored, which was about 25/1 (Lotus were about 40/1. I was tempted to put a little on that and decided against it).

Perez’s 5th is the joint best result for McLaren, and he seemed to lack the obnoxious driving manner that has marred some of his performances this year.

Force India will be delighted with 8th and 9th, as they not only didn’t lose any more ground to Sauber but extended their lead. With just 3 races left that’s very helpful for them. Hulkenberg had seemed destined for 8th, but late on an issue with the car forced him to retire.

Ricciardo got the final point. One suspects he’ll be crushed by Vettel next year, but we’ll have to wait and see.

In the Constructors’, Mercedes overtook Ferrari to reclaim 2nd, but that place will remain a three way contest for the rest of the season.
Mercedes 313
Ferrari 309
Lotus 285

So, why wasn’t Webber as competitive as I and others thought?

Well, it’s hard to overtake in India. But I underestimated (or just forgot about) the enormous speed difference on tyres, and the pace advantage Vettel enjoys over almost everyone else. So, traffic was far less of an issue for him than I anticipated. In addition, the slightly bad start and time it took for some fresh air meant Webber was further behind Vettel prior to the first stops than he might’ve hoped for.

The race was more exciting than the other Indian Grands Prix, and Mr. Putney and Mr. M both had winning bets, so it wasn’t an entirely bad weekend.

Abu Dhabi is up next, in just under a week’s time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 26 October 2013

India: pre-race



Before qualifying it emerged that Charlie Whiting, race director, had spoken to the drivers saying they could go outside the white lines as the astroturf beyond would slow them down and therefore they wouldn’t get an advantage. Given the penalties Grosjean received for a great pass on Massa and Ricciardo received in Suzuka earlier in the season this seems a very inconsistent line to take.

Q1 threw up a major surprise. The pointless teams all went out, as did Maldonado, but, surprisingly, so did Grosjean. He went for the medium tyre and just failed to make it through. So, he’ll start 17th. That really shouldn’t’ve happened, and is a clear mistake. With the soft tyre (all save Vettel used it) he would’ve made it easily. Quite glad I didn’t back him to be top 3 now.

Q2 saw both Force Indias and Toro Rossos part ways with qualifying, with Gutierrez in 16th and Bottas 15th.

Q1 saw an extremely dominant Vettel pole. It’s possible he would have managed it even had he set it on the soft tyre. Hamilton and Rosberg followed, and although Webber was 4th he did set his time on the medium tyre. Massa, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg followed, with Alonso, Perez and Button all setting their qualifying time on the medium tyre.

After qualifying Hamilton joked about himself and Rosberg playing the team game and trying to set up a road block ahead of Vettel. Although the German clearly has the fastest driver/car combination, the Mercedes can be very swift off the line, and it is possible they could both (or one of them) get the jump on Vettel. It’s hard to overtake in India.

I don’t think Alonso, or the McLarens, will benefit all that much from their strategic effort, as they’ve lost grid positions to many other cars and those immediately behind them (Ricciardo and the Force Indias) will almost certainly try the same thing.

Webber could be another bag of monkeys. Vettel and the Mercedes may well come out into traffic. If they can’t get something like 10 laps plus out of the soft tyres then they could end up behind the likes of Alonso and the McLarens (or more medium tyre cars). That would allow Webber to drive around in clear air whilst his rivals lose performance. There’s also the possibility that the Mercedes will get past Vettel off the line and keep him behind them, preventing him getting far ahead of Webber.

So, I think Webber will be Vettel’s chief rival tomorrow (I’d highlighted him for the win or a podium, and was pleased when Eddie Jordan, after the repeat of qualifying, made a similar suggestion).

I’ve backed Webber at 6 to win, hedged at 2.5. There’s a massive divergence between Ladbrokes (3.5) and the Betfair odds. Whilst Vettel is the favourite, I think 6 is too long for Webber.

In addition, it’ll be interesting to see how Grosjean (out of position in 17th) manages to do.

The race starts at the odd time of 9.30am.

Morris Dancer

India: pre-qualifying



The compounds are medium and soft, 35-40 expected on the former, with a 2 stop expected by Pirelli (60 lap race). This was borne out by what I saw of the second practice session.

As was rumoured on Twitter, Lotus have now confirmed they’re looking at the talented Hulkenberg and the bank manager-pleasing Maldonado for their second seat (Grosjean’s confirmed for next year): http://www1.skysports.com/f1/news/12473/8990514/eric-boullier-reveals-either-nico-hulkenberg-or-pastor-maldonado-will-join-lotus

Both Grosjean and Boullier have said they’d prefer Hulkenberg, which is interesting. The decision clearly isn’t theirs, but they’re applying what public pressure they can. If the board went for Maldonado then it’d be clearly about the money, and there would be instant massive pressure on the Venezuelan.

Red Bull were 1-2 in P1, with Vettel the faster. Rosberg, Grosjean and Hamilton followed, after which came Button, Perez, Massa, Hulkenberg and Bottas.

In P2 we saw the same two at the top, but this time Grosjean was third. Then came Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Raikkonen, Perez and Button.

Most teams struggled with the soft left front, but Lotus sounding confident of both pace and consistent times on it. Ferrari also seemed fairly consistent, but perhaps not quite fast enough.

Christian Horner, after P2, said there couldn’t be any more different tyres (one that lasts forever, one that doesn’t last for very long at all). That could mean there’s a significant divergence between qualifying and race pace, as qualifying will be done on the soft tyre but the medium tyre will be the weapon of choice on race day.

The soft tyres went through severe graining after just 3-4 laps, but then become more faster again (but will not last long after that). Strategy mistakes could lead to a car easily losing a lot of time.

As is traditional, I slept in and missed the first 20 minutes of P3. By helpful coincidence, the first 20 minutes of P3 were cancelled for strange reasons (visibility, I think, so presumably fog or smog).

Vettel and Webber yet again led the timesheets, followed by Alonso, Hulkenberg and Grosjean, then Massa, Di Resta, Rosberg, Button and Hamilton.

Vettel had an enormous advantage, half a second ahead of his team mate and almost eight-tenths ahead of Alonso. Some reckon this means he’ll switch to the medium tyre in qualifying, as he could still start around the second or third rows and have the better race tyre. I’m not sure, but if you think he’ll try it you could lay him for pole.

Hamilton could’ve had a better time, but got held up by Grosjean. However, he and Rosberg were very similar so I wouldn’t expect him to have been miles faster. In addition, Raikkonen was off the pace on the soft tyre (for qualifying and six and a half minutes of the race) but faster than everyone but the Red Bulls on the medium tyre. I would guess he’ll qualify circa 11th, start on the medium tyre and climb through the field significantly.

Hard to say if I’m just too sleepy (I really dislike the timing of the Indian Grand Prix and its subsidiary sessions) or if there’s no value, but nothing jumped out at me. Tempted a bit by Grosjean at 2.7 for top 3 in qualifying. However, Mercedes may be holding back (has happened before) and unless Vettel goes for the medium tyre (and maybe even then) it would seem Red Bull are likely to get two of the three top slots.

I may well wait until after the repeat of qualifying to put up a pre-race piece.

It’ll be particularly interesting to see how Alonso and Hulkenberg qualify.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 21 October 2013

India: early discussion



“Looking ahead to India - a track where Sauber's traction and good top speed should be important - Hulkenberg said he hopes to repeat the recent strong results.”

Sauber have had a very good run of late, and I suspect they’ll manage to overhaul Force India. McLaren would be more difficult for them to pass, but not impossible (unlikely, though). Not sure if there’s any market on them beating Force India, but if you find one you may wish to consider it.

In the last 4 races Lotus have made 77 points, Ferrari 79 and Mercedes 52. The standings (2nd to 4th) are:
Ferrari 297
Mercedes 287
Lotus 264

Whilst Lotus have had two great races I think they’ll have a job on to beat Ferrari for second (such a market is up on Betfair). Mercedes are in danger of being overtaken, however.

At the time of writing neither market has gotten going for two bets (one qualifying, one race) I’ve got in mind. Grosjean to be top 3 in qualifying sounds promising (I’d accept 3 and be very happy with 4), and No Safety Car (as there’s been none in either of the two Grands Prix to date) at reasonable odds would be good.

Incidentally, I’ve just realised that this is the fifth year I’ve offered F1 tips (counting 2009, where I only started doing it regularly halfway into the season). So I might do a post or two, after this season’s concluded, looking back at how things have changed in F1, and how my results have gone up and down.

The reasoning for lack of safety cars is probably because there’s so many large run off areas in India (a common feature of new, boring circuits). My guess is that passing will be hard, putting a premium on track position and strategic cunning. This may hamper Webber, who tends to start badly, advantage Alonso and disadvantage Mercedes, who have been buggering up their strategy of late.

There’s still no confirmation on Hulkenberg’s seat for next year, but Joe Saward’s put up a piece which explains the Lotus/Force India question mark:

In essence, if Lotus can finally got their big money sponsorship deal sorted they’ll be financially secure and able to hire Hulkenberg (on the basis of speed rather than money). However, if the deal falls through (or drags on so long the driver is forced to sign up somewhere else just to ensure he has a seat) he’ll go to Force India.

Assuming that’s true, it means either Sutil or Di Resta is vulnerable (although Eddie Jordan reckons the Scot is safe in terms of a seat in F1).

The piece also refers to Maldonado and the evil genius of William’s lawyers. Basically, they get a big pile of money for having Maldonado in the team. But, if he leaves they get compensation, in the form of a big pile of money, and his new team can’t get any from the Venezuelan Government (which bankrolls his Williams’ seat). It does sound like Maldonado is not well-loved at Williams, though their financial (and performance) situation may mean he stays on anyway. Returning to Eddie Jordan, for it is he, he opined after the Japanese Grand Prix that Maldonado would not be at Williams next year.

A word on timing: India has a weird timezone, in that it’s half an hour out of kilter with just about everywhere else. I’ve read that this is because, being the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, people wanted to be able to know the time in India easily. So, if you turn your watch upside down, it gives you the Indian time. Qualifying and the race start at half past nine in the morning. I’m unsure when I’ll put up the pre-qualifying piece, as P3 ends at half past seven (obviously I can get up by that time, but it’s a question if I’ll be too groggy-headed for the fine judgement and subtle cunning needed for betting).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Japan: post-race analysis



Rather stupidly I managed to sleep in and so missed the first 12-13 laps or so. This was not only annoying in itself, but also meant I had no idea until after the race (when I checked Betfair) whether the safety car made an appearance or not. Happily (especially given the lack of hedging) both bets proved green, and this was the best result since the very first race when Ferrari top scored in Australia.

When I started watching Grosjean was leading (I admit, this made me rather excited), ahead of Webber and Vettel. That was a near perfect situation. Hulkenberg was just outside the top six, and I had no idea if there was a safety car or not.

A quick check of the first 10 seconds showed that Grosjean had a great start and Hamilton got a puncture. Meanwhile, Caterham and Marussia encountered one another, sadly meaning Mr. M’s bet on Force India retiring first didn’t come off.

The gaps between the leading three cars was moderate, 2-3s or so. They were already some distance ahead of the rest of the field, and after the first round of pit stops emerged in the same order.

However, each of the three leading cars had a slightly different strategy. Webber pitted earliest by far for his second stop, and went on a three-stop strategy, putting the medium (option) tyres on for the final stint. Vettel stayed out longer than Grosjean by quite a few laps and both of them went for two stops. This meant that Vettel was able to quickly pass Grosjean for the (effective, Webber had yet to make stop three and technically led) lead, after which he was untroubled. Webber pitted with about 11 laps left and set about chasing Grosjean down.

Unlike Vettel, who had swooped past the Frenchman, Webber had a much harder time of it. He was clearly faster, but Grosjean was driving well and the Lotus had good enough straight line speed that it was difficult for Webber to make use of the solitary DRS zone to pass him. With a few laps left the Australian finally got ahead, but by this point Vettel was over the hills and far away.

So, Vettel won again, but it was far more entertaining than his usual modus operandi of getting pole and leading every lap. It was also very impressive by Grosjean, whose car just isn’t as fast as the Red Bull.

These three were a long way (a pit stop, or more) ahead of those battling behind them, where there was also much action. Hulkenberg, with about 15 laps left, was behind Webber, and followed by Alonso and Raikkonen. Earlier, Raikkonen had been down in 10th, but a combination of passing and others receiving drive-throughs (Massa for speeding in the pit lane and Rosberg for an unsafe release in the pits) enabled him to climb to 6th, at this stage.

It seemed as though Hulkenberg would be able to repeat his Korean performance and keep 4th, but, alas, Alonso and Raikkonen latterly got past him. However, it was still a strong drive, and he got another strong finish.

It was a great day for Sauber, with Gutierrez 7th, securing his first ever points. Sauber have taken a great leap forward in the Constructors’, opening up a gap over Toro Rosso and now (on the basis of this race) within striking distance of Force India.

Rosberg was 8th, and although he couldn’t get past Gutierrez this was due to some solid defence driving from the Mexican, and the fact that the German driver was forced to turn down the performance on his engine for the last few laps due to a critical fuel situation.

Button got 9th, about two inches ahead of Massa in the closest finish I can remember.

On the final chicane of the race Maldonado forced Bottas off of the track to take 16th, in a move which will not have ensured him a place on the Finn’s Christmas card list. After the race, following an interview with the Venezuelan, Eddie Jordan stated that Maldonado and Williams would part ways after this year.

The Constructors’ is Red Bull’s. Perhaps not officially, but it will be theirs. However, the rest of the Constructors’ is intriguingly poised. From 2nd down (ignoring the pointless teams and Williams) we have:
Ferrari 297
Mercedes 287
Lotus 264
McLaren 83
Force India 62
Sauber 45
Toro Rosso 31

Sauber now have a real chance of overhauling Force India, who have dropped off the pace sharply since the tyres were changed. In the last few races Sauber seems to have gained some performance and made up 14 points on both Toro Rosso and Force India, neither of whom got a single point out of Japan.

I’d be surprised if they could catch McLaren, however.

At the sharp(ish) end it’s also very tight. Mercedes is faster than Ferrari but more bad luck cost them today and allowed the Prancing Horse to trot a little bit ahead. Lotus have been very competitive in the last couple of races, and it’s not impossible for them to catch one or both of the teams ahead of them.

In betting terms, it was a green race. It was also the first time this season I’ve offered more than one tip on a single race, so it was nice both came off. Of the bets I considered but didn’t take, neither came off. Webber didn’t win and Lotus didn’t top score (if Grosjean had won then not only would that’ve been a great tip from Mr. Putney, it also would’ve meant Lotus would’ve top scored).

Mr. M’s suggestion that Grosjean would get a podium also proved correct.

There are four races left, two pairs of back-to-backs. Unfortunately we have the rubbish Indian circuit next, and then the slightly tedious Abu Dhabi, but after that we have the new circuit in America, which was great last time, and the excellent Interlagos.

The race in India is in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Japan: pre-race



Surprisingly, I managed to wake up in time to watch all of qualifying. It was more interesting in each session than might have been expected.

Before we get to qualifying, some poaching news. McLaren have reportedly hired Peter Prodromou, an aerodynamicist and (as the BBC put it) a ‘chief lieutenant’ of Adrian Newey. It sounds like he’ll join McLaren in 2015, possibly as lead designer, and is reckoned to be quite a good signing.

Q1 saw the pointless teams go out. Sutil was also to leave the stage here. Jean-Eric Vergne likewise left qualifying, but he did have the excellent excuse that his rear brakes burst into flames and he was forced to pull over (wisely finding a marshal station so that the fire could be extinguished swiftly, minimising the rebuilding work for his engineers).

Q2’s slowest driver was Ricciardo, so his team mate will start just 2 places behind him. Both Williams were ditched here, but in 13th and 15th, which is a little better than they’ve been of late. After getting through the Q3 in Korea and Singapore (the latter somehow escaping the minds of both Ben Edwards and David Coulthard who thought it had only happened once before) Gutierrez might be disappointed with 14th. Perez and Di Resta just failed to make the cut.

Q3 saw a rare thing happen. Webber’s car was working, and the KERS in Vettel’s broke. It’s apparently worth about 0.4s a lap or so in Japan, which is pretty hefty. Webber was able to take advantage and secure pole position, his first this year and also the first time he’s beaten Vettel. (I believe Vettel and Hulkenberg share the record for most dominant qualifying performances compared to their team mates this year). However, Vettel was only one-tenth slower in 2nd, so if they can mend KERS for the race (it seems to be an intermittent problem) it could yet become a procession.

Hamilton was 3rd, closely followed by Grosjean. With solid race pace and good tyre wear, the Frenchman could yet spring a surprise. Massa was an impressive 5th, with Rosberg 6th, a full seven-tenths off his team mate. Hulkenberg continues his good run with 7th, a few hundredths ahead of Alonso. Raikkonen and Button round out the top 10.

Unfortunately, Webber has a history of bad starts, so it’s possible Vettel will just take him off the line and then cruise off into the sunset. However, if Vettel starts badly then he could easily get swamped, and if he lacks KERS (unlikely, I suspect) and those around him use it off the line he could lose many places.

Mercedes have been going backwards in races recently. Last time this was due to a combination of bad luck and strategic incompetence. Lotus, meanwhile, has been going forwards (Raikkonen’s starting position seems to have little correlation with his final result). Ferrari are a bit lacklustre in both qualifying and the race. I rate Hulkenberg, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to hang on to 7th (his record of keeping a high place when qualifying’s good is pretty solid).

Suzuka’s weather forecast is for it to be absolutely dry. A safety car is still possible (the track’s fairly narrow and some run-off areas are quite small) though. A quick wiki-check of the 10 most recent races (2001-2012, discounting 2007 and 2008 which were at Fuji) reveals a 5:5 level of safety car deployment (possibly an underestimate as the earlier race reports are rather concise).

I think that Betfair’s 2.8 for No Safety Car is therefore too long, and have backed it (no point hedging, of course). If the odds shorten to evens (for both) then I’ll effectively hedge by backing Yes, so it’s a shot to nothing.

There were three other bets I considered (all Ladbrokes):
Lotus to top score at 13
Hulkenberg to be top six at 3.25
Webber to win at 3.25

I’m tempted by the Lotus bet, but I do think it’s reliant upon Red Bull cocking up horrendously. Even if either driver got a puncture on lap 1 I think the other has a great chance of winning, meaning it’d take a Lotus double podium (for example) and the second Red Bull driver finishing 7th or lower (6th in this scenario would equal a tie).

I also think Webber’s got a chance, but if KERS is fixed Vettel will simply be faster, even without it he’s about equal, and Webber has no luck whatsoever (although it must be said so far this race weekend it’s the German who has kein Gl├╝ck).

The third bet considered (and one I’ve taken) is for Hulkenberg to be top six at 3.25 (same odds with Betfair, but there’s 5% commission there). He’d need to gain a single place, and has proven very solid in recent races. Given the Mercedes often go backwards, Webber tends to have bad luck and Hulkenberg starts on the optimal (odd-numbered) side of the track, I think it’s worth a shot.

So, two bets for tomorrow. No Safety Car at 2.8, and Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 3.25 (neither hedged).

The race starts at 7am, UK time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 11 October 2013

Japan: pre-qualifying



News was breaking as I began writing this piece that Maria de Villota, the former Marussia reserve driver who lost an eye during testing a year or two ago, has been found dead in her hotel room. At the time of writing it appears to be a natural death, but this has not been confirmed. She was 33.

The tyres for the weekend are medium and hard. In Gary Anderson’s piece about Suzuka, available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/24446906, he writes that the medium may become overworked, as happened in Korea (most notably with Perez). Flat spotting a tyre shouldn’t cause it to come to pieces.

With that in mind, pace on the hard tyre may be critical. I doubt I’ll watch P2 live (starts at 5.55am) but I might see if it goes up on the iPlayer to try and compare times on the hard tyre. Worth bearing in mind that fuel load has a very significant effect and although the teams are likely to have high fuel runs they won’t have identical fuel loads.

P1 saw only the hard tyre being used. Hamilton was fastest, three-tenths up on Rosberg, who was three-tenths up on Vettel, with Webber very close behind. Another three-tenths down the road was Massa, a shade ahead of Alonso, followed by Grosjean, Raikkonen, Perez and Ricciardo.

In P2 the medium tyre was used (as well as the hard). Vettel and Webber led the way, followed by Rosberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean. Hamilton, Ricciardo, Massa, Buttton and Alonso (hard tyre time, the rest being medium) rounded out the top 10.

I had a quick look at the betting markets for qualifying, but nothing struck me. I expect Vettel to get pole and the top 3 to be a Mercedes/Red Bull mix.

I have, however, backed (with a pound or two) Mr. Putney’s suggestion in the comments of the early discussion thread to back Grosjean for the win. Happily, his odds had increased to a perplexing 55.

Qualifying is at 6am and will be on the BBC live. I’ll endeavour to wake up in time to watch it.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 7 October 2013

Japan: early discussion



As we enter the latter stages of the season we have multiple pairs of back-to-back races, hence this discussion starting a day after the Korean Grand Prix (which may be the last, incidentally. The circuit’s too isolated, surrounding developments haven’t been built and the organisers are annoyed by the high cost of staging the race which is the only use of the circuit all year).

The Suzuka circuit is a proper one, with lots of elevation changes, a very fast flowing section (similar to Silverstone) and some very high speed corners. Sadly, I expect this will mean it’ll suit Red Bull. However, given their resurgence, it’s worth mentioning that last year Sauber had a strong result at Suzuka, when Kobayashi got third. Perhaps Hulkenberg will be able to get good points again (thanks to him Sauber are now tied on points but ahead of Toro Rosso in the Constructors’) and Gutierrez could nab his first point or two.

Lotus benefited from some fortune with the safety car timing in Korea but their raw pace in the race was also very good. They could be a threat to Red Bull and Mercedes. Mercedes recently seem to have lost out in the races. It was a combination of misfortune (Rosberg’s nose drooping) and misjudgement (leaving Hamilton out too long) that cost them in Korea.

Ferrari are fourth fastest now. With only an average start. Alonso really didn’t make any headway all day.

Early forecasts have the circuit dry all weekend, but it’s a good race track so hopefully that won’t be a detriment.

Given the Red Bull/Mercedes dominance in qualifying and (perhaps not the Silver Arrows) in the race it’s interesting to note that Ferrari and Lotus have top scored in the most recent Grands Prix. This is largely due to Webber’s car exploding (the rumours of Vettel having a button marked “Multi-21”, which ignites a small fire in Webber’s engine, are entirely untrue, I’m given to understand).

Driver market stuff: still no word yet but I imagine Hulkenberg will get a deal sewn up in a week or two. He’s tall, which is a disadvantage and may become a significant one next year, but he definitely has a cool head and fast pace and deserves to be in a better team. Lotus seems likeliest.

Grosjean, I imagine, will be retained. He’s always had the pace but his judgement (especially off the line) was in doubt, but he’s barely put a foot wrong this year.

The biggest unknown is Massa. He’s small and can be very, very fast (we saw that at the end of last year) but he’s been inconsistent for a while now. Not sure where he’ll end up. Sauber would seem a possibility, as would leaving F1 altogether (which would mean we’d have no Brazilian drivers, which would seem odd).

As always, your comments, thoughts, witticisms and tips are welcome below.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Korea: post-race analysis



In betting terms that was red. I’ll go into detail below, but one could argue the case either way for bad luck or a bad call. For Webber getting a podium (tipped by Mr. Putney) that was more a case of bad luck. Mr. M, hogging the good fortune to a degree that can only be considered selfish, got a rather large number of bets right, so good for him.

I forgot my Legard-repellent Batspray, so had to avoid the radio coverage and wait for the highlights, hence the later than usual post-race piece.

Off the start the Mercedes and Ferraris were not as good as usual, and basically held station initially. Vettel had a good start and got away (quelle surprise) but Grosjean managed to pass Hamilton and Hulkenberg made up some ground too.

Early on Massa spun, almost taking out his team mate, and caused a bit of difficulty for those outside the top four or five.

From that point it was not the most thrilling spectacle, as Vettel built a small but consistent gap and Webber advanced through the field. Di Resta crashed, which will not help his seat prospects for 2014.

Just before the first safety car emerged Mercedes had been running a comfortable third and fourth (Hamilton ahead). But the team cocked things up enormously. They left Hamilton out too long [he may’ve paid the price at the end if they’d changed earlier, but we’ll never know] and cost him something like 8s at least, maybe more. Then when Rosberg passed him and the German’s nose failed they pitted Rosberg and forced Hamilton to complete another lap. They should’ve let Hamilton pass him, done the 3s stop to change tyres and then seen to Rosberg. The cock-up for Hamilton and misfortune for Rosberg robbed the team of any chance to top score.

Perez, at the end of a 21 lap stint on his tyres, had a huge lock-up which caused much of his tyre to part company with his car, causing significant bodywork damage and littering the track with debris. This prompted a safety car and Webber, who had made good progress and just come out of the pits, to suffer a puncture and therefore force him to pit once more.

Webber, who I can only assume killed a witch’s black cat by hitting it over the head with a mirror, suffered more bad luck. After the safety car went away the cars were naturally bunched up. Sutil lost control and his car hit Webber’s, forcing it off track where it burst into flames. Sutil apologised to Webber after the race, which was a nice gesture.

The safety car didn’t help Mercedes but really helped Raikkonen due to the pit stop timings and he ended up second, after a close pass on Grosjean.

This prompted another safety car, although a rather silly mix-up meant that a jeep (medical car, I think) was dispatched before the swanky Merc that serves as safety car was deployed.

At this stage Vettel was first, then the Loti, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Alonso. After the restart Hulkenberg managed to pass Hamilton. For the next 13 laps the Briton battled in vain to pass the Sauber. The reason for the difficulty was that in the prime passing spot the Sauber had astounding traction and then a good top speed, meaning that even with DRS the Mercedes struggled to get close enough to effect the pass.

At one point (when Hulkenberg’s tyres were graining, I think) Hamilton did get ahead, but immediately afterwards the German retook the place and then retained it until the end of the race.

Fourth is Sauber’s best finish of the season, and means that the team is now ahead (equal on points but with a superior highest position) of Toro Rosso. If they can maintain that then they’ll be delighted.

Vettel won, with Raikkonen and Grosjean joining him on the podium. Hamilton was fifth, followed by Alonso, Rosberg, Button, Massa and Perez.

Red Bull have effectively won both titles already, but the battle for second in the Constructors’ is very tight, with Mercedes a single point behind Ferrari.

The next race in Japan is in just a week, and I’ll try to remember the early discussion piece (which will probably be up tomorrow).

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Korea: pre-race



Argh. I forgot that Webber’s got a 10 place grid penalty when I backed him at 6.5 for a podium spot. Oh well. From 13th he could yet achieve it. And, as I didn’t mention it before, the tyres for the race and supersoft and medium.

Briefly looking ahead to next year, it sounds like weight/height will be critical, so I may well compare those for the drivers (if I can find the data) ahead of next season.

Brilliantly, I managed to sleep in and missed the first half of qualifying, only to discover Radio 5 didn’t carry the coverage (despite me degunkifying the battery slot of my ancient Walkman, thanks to Mr. HD2 for that tip, specifically to listen to it). Once on Radio5Live it turned out I’d missed Legard’s grating voice (he stills talks over men far more insightful than himself, incidentally), so it wasn’t all bad.

In Q1 the pointless teams continued their long habit of predictably leaving the stage, and this time were joined by both Williams drivers.

Q2 was also a three team affair, with both Toro Rossos, Force Indias and, surprisingly, McLarens exiting. Bit surprised that McLaren appear to have taken a step backwards, and that both Saubers managed to get into the top 10. It’ll be interesting to see if the Swiss team can maintain its pace in the race.

Tedious finger-waver Vettel once again got pole, two-tenths up on Hamilton. I do respect Vettel’s excellent driving skills but it does make things (coupled with his excellent car) rather predictable. Webber qualified third but will start 13th, as mentioned above. So, Grosjean and Rosberg make up the second row, and are followed by Alonso and Massa, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez and then Raikkonen (not sure why the Finn was so slow, a full 1.3s off his team mate’s pace). Perez qualified 11th but will start alongside Raikkonen 10th on the grid.

A few Korean things to watch out for: nobody’s won from pole. I’m hoping this holds true but, alas, do not believe it. Secondly, it’s a great circuit for overtaking on the first lap as the starting section is just a collection of long straights. So, Webber (unless he leaves the handbrake on again…) could make up several places easily. Last but not least, there may well be a nearby tropical storm (qualifying was dry, incidentally).

However, the forecast I just checked showed that it’s very unlikely for any rain to arrive. Which is something of a shame, but there we are.

Bets were a bit tricky. Was tempted by both Rosberg and Grosjean for a podium at 2.6 or so, but that’s too short, I feel. Interestingly, Alonso has criticised the Pirelli tyres (too soft to push) and downplayed his prospects in the race: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/24409735

I also looked at Ferrari to top score (partly based on the negative comments of Alonso I’ve discounted that) and Hulkenberg to be top 6 (he’s a good driver but on race pace I think Raikkonen, Webber and maybe the McLarens will have the edge).

In the end I went for Mercedes to top score at 3.5 with Ladbrokes. It seems a very close fight between them and Red Bull. If a Mercedes finishes first I think they’re nigh on certain to top score. If Vettel is first then they could still win, contingent upon Webber’s finishing position (and whether or not he suffers a trademark reliability failure).

So, I think the teams are more or less evenly matched, but one starts 1st and 13th, and the other 2nd and 4th.

Anyway, let’s hope Hamilton wins, Rosberg is second and Webber third.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 4 October 2013

Korea: pre-qualifying



First off, apologies for the absence of an early discussion piece.

Driver market news for 2014: Bianchi has been retained by Marussia. Not too surprising, as he’s probably the best driver in the pointless teams. I hope he gets the opportunity to drive for a more competitive team in the near future.

Hulkenberg reckons a decision about his seat next year will be made later this month. It sounds like he’s been a bit unhappy (and unpaid) at Sauber, but has been professional enough not to kick up a fuss. He’s also very fast, so I think, and hope, he gets a Lotus seat.

Interestingly, Barrichello, the 73 year old Brazilian, is in talks with Sauber. However, whilst he seems a nice guy I can’t help but think it’d be better for fresh talent to emerge.

The third practice session concludes at 4am, hence the earlier than usual posting of this piece. I’ll skim through the markets but don’t intend to offer a bet.

It’s well worth noting that a tropical storm is nearby and could produce 100mph winds and heavy rain. As well as keeping an eye on the forecast it may be preferable to focus on betting against things happening than for them.

P1 had Hamilton fastest, ahead of Vettel and Webber. Rosberg, Button and Alonso were next, followed by Grosjean, Raikkonen, Perez and Massa.

In P2 Hamilton and Vettel were again top, with Rosberg, Webber and Massa up next (making it seem like a fairly close Red Bull-Mercedes fight). Grosjean, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button and Sutil rounded out the top 10.

In P2 two-tenths covered the top four, and in P1 the same timeframe covered the top three. I didn’t listen to either due to the timing, but Gary Anderson, BBC technical chap, reckoned it’d be very close between Red Bull and Mercedes, which is something.

No bets jumped out at me. I suspect we’ll be in for another Vettel-Hamilton duel.

Morris Dancer