Sunday, 30 November 2014

2014 F1 season review

This year has been a slightly odd season. One team was utterly dominant, but because they allowed the drivers to compete and they were pretty evenly matched it remained closely fought until the final race (and it’s worth noting that if Hamilton rather than Rosberg had suffered the power failure in Abu Dhabi then Rosberg would be world champion right now).

Teams

From the very first race a few things which would be critical for the season were apparent. The Mercedes was fastest, by a mile. It was also a little bit unreliable. The Mercedes engine was the best, by a mile. Ricciardo would confound expectations and beat Vettel. The Williams was very fast.

We also had a red herring with a great McLaren result [something I’m considering for next year is that McLaren seem to, for some reason, punch above their weight in Australia, and the same may be true in Russia].

As the season wore on it became clear the title would be between the Mercedes’ team mates. We saw an epic duel in Bahrain (arguably the first time that circuit has produced anything interesting, so perhaps they’ll keep it as a night race), controversy in Monaco, collision in Spa, and many reliability failures throughout the season. I expect 2015 to also be very close between the two Mercedes drivers, with the team likely to dominate next year as well.

Whilst Red Bull’s whining grates, Ricciardo remained eminently likeable, and was a revelation in a top team, pulling off perhaps the best passes of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll do against Kvyat. I suspect he’ll continue to be the de facto number one driver, but given I thought Vettel would crush him perhaps my view should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s also worth noting that despite the torrid testing time the team suffered they were the clear best-of-the-rest after the irresistible speed of the Mercedes.

Williams wins the Lazarus award for coming back from the dead. After a piffling 5 points and finishing 9th last year, they came 3rd, beating the might of Ferrari and McLaren despite having far fewer resources. Next season I expect them to do very well, but the question will be whether they can challenge for wins, and beat Red Bull.

The Ferrari pairing of Alonso and Raikkonen looked great. But it wasn’t really. Alonso was faster by a long way, the Finn never got to grips with the less than pointy front end of the prancing horse, the engine was perhaps the worst on the grid and the car was, once again, lacklustre. With James Allison having more of a hand in next season’s there’s some hope, but the team’s just lost arguably the best driver on the grid. The Vettel-Raikkonen pairing could be interesting, as they’re apparently friends. However, to beat Williams or Red Bull (never mind Mercedes) they’ll need a much faster car.

McLaren had another weak season, but it was a little strange. After (following Ricciardo’s disqualification when his team decided following the rules was optional) Australia’s double podium the car’s relative pace slid backwards, and for a long while they were under serious threat from Force India. However, they developed the car better, and strong performances from Button enabled them to retain 5th. But for a team like McLaren, the season remains a failure. Their stronger results near the end of 2014 and renewed partnership with Honda offers some hope for 2015, as does the probable yet unconfirmed re-signing of Alonso.

Force India will rue only finishing 6th after many strong performances earlier in the season. With the best engine and a good driver lineup they could’ve achieved more but went down an aerodynamic dead end in development, losing relative pace as the season wore on to McLaren. But for that, they could’ve finished a place higher. However, with the best engine on the grid and retaining both Hulkenberg and Perez (a very solid pairing, in my view) they may aspire to finish 5th or even 4th next year.

Toro Rosso had a decent season. Kvyat really hit the ground running, and Vergne performed well (very well, in some cases). I think it’s a bit rough to throw Vergne overboard and shove Kvyat into the top team, given the Frenchman outscored the Russian by 22 points to 8. With Verstappen (then 17) and Carlos Sainz Junior joining next year the drivers will have a combined age a couple of years greater than Jenson Button by himself. There’s a lot of good things being said about Verstappen. We’ll see how he copes next year.

If Williams was Lazarus, Lotus was Wile E. Coyote just as he realises he’s run off a cliff. The performance absolutely nose-dived this season. Grosjean’s a very good driver, he proved that when the car was better in earlier seasons, but this year the Lotus was very poor in almost all conditions. Next year, they’ll have the Mercedes engine which will help them on cost, power and efficiency, but they still need a fundamental redesign in order to climb up the order.

Marussia had the ultimate up and down season. The talented Jules Bianchi (often touted as destined for a top team) scored them their first points with a 9th in Monaco. Later in the season he suffered a tremendously heavy crash, and although he can now breathe unaided he remains in a very serious condition. The team subsequently went into administration and, despite having tens of millions in prize money heading their way if they can find a buyer, things look bad for them entering the sport in 2015.

It was a dreadful season for Sauber. Sutil’s a decent but not outstanding driver, and Gutierrez’s main asset seems to be his wallet. It’s unsurprising the team, which suffered its first pointless year in the sport, has axed both. They’re being replaced with Felipe Nasr (apparently it’s now being pronounced Nasir, which will at least reduce commentator confusion) and Marcus Ericsson. Those heady days of Perez and Kobayashi getting four podiums in a year seem a long way off.

Caterham again finished last, and also went into administration following a complex and unseemly contract dispute between the current and former owners (the former turning out to perhaps still be the owner). Despite this, they made the final race and may return in 2015, though that remains uncertain.


Drivers

Hamilton had a very good season. The bad luck more or less evened itself out (there is a strong case to say Rosberg had it worst, as he had at least 3 effective retirements [Abu Dhabi counting double], lost 7 points to reliability in Canada and had a nightmare sequence of small misfortunes in Hungary. In qualifying, he was second best although at least part of this was due to his car occasionally exploding. In the race, his pace was the same as Rosberg, but it was his wheel-to-wheel advantage which made the difference and won him the title.

Rosberg also had a very good season, matching Hamilton on pace and beating him (with some help from good fortune) in qualifying. Wheel-to-wheel was his Achilles’ Heel, but in Brazil he showed he could keep Hamilton behind him for lap after lap, and that will help his confidence and perhaps performance next year. Rosberg is a very serious title contender for next year, and I expect the two team mates to be at it hammer and tongs in 2015 once again.

Ricciardo was a revelation at Red Bull, not only out-qualifying and out-racing Vettel by a clear distance, but also pulling off probably the best passes of the year. He’s an extremely impressive driver, and although I don’t think he’ll be able to match the Mercedes’ chaps next year (due to hardware rather than skill) he should be a world champion someday. The honey badger has teeth.

Bottas won a tight contest for 4th in the Drivers’ championship. He was good all year but not flawless. An unforced error in Australia cost him points, and at the end of the season he was starting badly. However, he did achieve a variety of podiums, was solid in both qualifying and in the races and will be aiming for a first win next year.

Vettel seemed a bit shell-shocked this season, probably due to a combination of a substantial power deficit and the removal of a lot of downforce, at which his team had always excelled. Having Ricciardo come along and outperform him didn’t help, and the final race (where they started 21-22 and finished 4-8) was a good summary of how the season’s gone. Vettel’s a very good driver but he needs to rediscover his form. This season, after four successive titles, was poor.

Alonso once again drove well, and once again punched above his weight given his car. However, it seems that he and the short-lived team principal Mattiacci fell out, and this encouraged the Spaniard to jump ship (can’t really blame him).

Massa was 7th. The first half of the season was reasonable but not outstanding, though in the second half he put in some very good performances, most notably in Brazil where he achieved a good podium finish. I would guess that much of the improvement came as he properly bedded in with the team and got used to changes in the car and team structure compared to Ferrari. With Bottas, he forms a strong driver pairing for Williams going forward.

Button won more than twice the points of Magnussen, and performed better than him in both the races and qualifying. When McLaren started out-developing the Force India, the Briton was the chap leading the charge and racking up points. I’ve been pretty impressed by Button, and hope he retains his seat.

Hulkenberg, who’ll be competing for Porsche at Le Mans in addition to racing for Force India next year, had a good but not incredible season. Perez kept him honest and he beat his team mate overall.

Perez was one place but 37 points below Hulkenberg. The Mexican’s performed well, but was hampered by some reliability issues. Whilst I do think his German team mate is the better driver the points are not a true reflection of performance this year. Perez is a talented chap, and it’s good to see both men retaining their seats.

Magnussen was disappointing, to be honest. After an initial podium finish in Australia, things looked set fair. But after that he was usually second best to his team mate on both Saturdays and Sundays, and ended up with fewer than half as many points as Button. If he keeps the seat I hope he can improve rapidly.

Raikkonen had barely a third the points of Alonso. Very poor. His only saving grace is that if the team makes a pointier front end for him next year he might roar back to life.

Vergne had a good season, occasionally putting in cracking performances and usually being solid. He had almost thrice as many points as his team mate but is being given the heave-ho. After a good season, that’s rough. Like Di Resta before him, he’s good enough to be in the sport but is leaving it anyway.

Grosjean’s a bit hard to assess because the Lotus wasn’t so much a dog as a rabid mongrel that occasionally burst into flames. He’s a very good driver, and I hope the team can offer him a car that at least gives him a chance to show off his skill next year.

Kvyat was impressive. At 19, I thought him too young, but he hit the ground running and only made a handful of errors all season. However, he was out-paced and out-scored by Vergne, which makes me think his promotion to Red Bull may be premature. Ricciardo drove for HRT and then had a couple of seasons with Toro Rosso before being promoted.

Maldonado must be wondering whether leaving Williams for Lotus was a wise move. Hampered by a car that was usually very slow and sometimes aflame, he was also beaten by his team mate and rarely troubled the scoreboard.

Bianchi’s season is defined by the horrific crash he suffered in bad weather. Whilst his condition has improved it remains very serious, and I hope he can make a full recovery.

Sutil, Ericsson, Gutierrez, Chilton and Kobayashi [as well as one-off Caterham drivers Stevens and Lotterer] scored nothing. This is down to the car more than anything else. Kobayashi has proven himself a decent driver, and we’ll see next year what Ericsson can do. It seems likely Sutil, Gutierrez, Chilton and Kobayashi will not be joining us in 2015 [unless Caterham can find a buyer, perhaps].


Betting

The betting really was a season of two halves. Really rather good in the first half, and notably poor in the second (the second half was green if you bet-and-forget and very slightly red if you hedged). Title bets, most notably the 16/1 or 24/1 (depending on bookie) on Rosberg went well, as although it didn’t come off it was very hedgeable. Other bets, the 50/1 on Magnussen for the title, for example, didn’t come off but were more than off-set by Mercedes’ dominance.



Oddly, I did better in qualifying in the second half than I did in the race (in fact, qualifying was green and racing red). First time I can recall that happening. I did decide against 3 qualifying bets late on, 2 of which ended up coming off. Mildly irked by that. The return on interest [not including title bets] was 28% with hedging and 45% without. Given how good the first half was, that’s a little disappointing, but overall I was ahead so I can’t complain too much.

Rambling about the future

The season also saw the end of two ‘nice’ team principals: Stefano Domenicali (whose successor has already been replaced, allegedly for the crime of considering F1’s needs above the financial self-interest of the Ferrari F1 team), and Martin Whitmarsh, who was deposed by a resurrected Ron Dennis. We also saw, although this was known about beforehand, the departure of Ross Brawn, which was a great shame. Without him the Mercedes would not be so dominant right now. There are rumours about his return, possibly including in a few years as an Audi team principal. Whether that’ll happen or not I can’t say, but it’d be great to see him come back.

I’ve put a small sum on Betfair for Rosberg to win the title at 4.7, hedged at 3. I think it’ll be a two horse race, and he came very close this year. Even if he fails in 2015, the bet may very well be hedgeable.

My expectation is that Mercedes will again be dominant. Williams may beat Red Bull (Kvyat may struggle at the sharp end and at the end of 2014 the Williams was the better car). Ferrari and McLaren will be interesting to watch for personnel as well as engine reasons. Likewise Lotus. Sauber is hard to predict, with two new drivers (although Sutil has raised a contract dispute with the team).

It’s unclear whether we’ll see Caterham again, but Marussia appears increasingly unlikely to feature on the grid.

The season will be 20 races long, as we keep Austria (Williams will be pleased) and Mexico joins the calendar. Azerbaijan is, I think, set for 2016.

The next post is likely to be pre-season, around the time of the tests next year.


Morris Dancer

Monday, 24 November 2014

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis

The bet came off, huzzah! Even if Rosberg hadn’t suffered ERS woe, it would’ve, so a rare case of just being completely right. That said, shortish odds, but still a good way to end the season. I’ll do a proper season review in a little while.

In title terms, I would’ve been better off if Rosberg had won the title, but I’d hedged on Hamilton so I was still green.

The race was entertaining, though as a title decider it left a lot to be desired.

Off the line, Bottas yet again left the handbrake on (he needs to sort that out) and Rosberg had a slow start, losing first immediately and almost getting passed by Massa. Magnussen also had a very poor first lap.

Hamilton quickly accelerated away and got outside DRS range. From there it looked like it might be a strategic game, but fate intervened. Rosberg lost ERS, which is worth about 160bhp. He also had some other issues, it seems, and fell all the way from second to a final result of 14th. It’s worth noting that when something similar happened in Canada (where he achieved an amazing 2nd) he was partly able to drive around the problem because the long straight is preceded by a twisty bit and, excepting the Red Bull of Ricciardo, he was able to pull a gap during the downforce (rather than power) section. In Abu Dhabi, there are too many straights to do that, hence why he just fell through the order.

For Hamilton, it was a stroll to victory.

After Bottas lost half a dozen places or so on the line he set about making amends, overtaking left right and centre, aided by the immense power of the Mercedes engine. He ended up on the podium, but behind Massa, who had another strong race. At the end of the season, the Brazilian was looking the better driver, partly due to Bottas’ atrocious starts. A fantastic day for Williams, who sealed their third place in the Constructors’.

Exiting the pits at the start, having altered the demoted cars to enable easier overtaking, Ricciardo was right ahead of Vettel. But at the end the Aussie was 4th and his team mate 8th. Both passed several backmarkers with relative ease, but some way into the race there was Magnussen. Ricciardo got past him and Vettel didn’t, and that ultimately made the difference. Ricciardo got clearer air after pit stops and could exploit the pace of his car, whereas Vettel was in traffic.

Button was a bit anonymous, in that he just kept his head down and got on with the job. Whereas his team mate failed to score (11th), the Briton managed a very solid 5th. It was the difference between McLaren staying ahead of Force India or being passed in the Constructors’. If Button had failed to score, the Force Indias would’ve accrued sufficient points to claim fifth. Will he be there next year? I’d guess not, alas.

The Force Indias, after another weak qualifying, had another good race, ending up 6th and 7th (good for Hulkenberg being ahead after he got a 5s stop-and-go penalty).

Alonso and Raikkonen were 9th and 10th, which somewhat sums up Ferrari’s season, and why the Spaniard is leaving the prancing horse. There’s also a rumour that Marco Mattiacci, the team principal with whom Alonso does not seem to have got along, will also be leaving. It’s near certain Alonso will return to McLaren.

There was a fair amount of passing in the race, largely from Bottas and Ricciardo, but the absence of drama at the sharp end meant that the title always looked like Hamilton’s.

In the end, double points made no real difference.

After the race, Williams celebrated third in the Constructors’. They were ninth last year, with 5 points. This year they had 320. That is the biggest turn around since Brawn bought his own team and delivered both titles in 2009. Claire Williams suggested that the aim in 2015 was to win races (possible) and the title (not impossible but altogether trickier). Glad to see Williams doing so well again.

For Ferrari, they’ve lost perhaps the best driver on the grid and haven’t made a good car since 2012 (when it was only a perfect season from Alonso which put him in contention for the title) or 2010. They need to sort themselves out.

McLaren is in a similar situation. Magnussen has more years ahead of him, but over the course of the season Button has clearly been the better driver. It’ll be interesting to see who they go for to team up with Alonso. How the Honda engine performs will be critical.

Force India must be thinking of what might have been. Their form slumped around mid-season due to going down an aerodynamic cul-de-sac, effectively losing them time whilst their rivals developed working upgrades. Fifth was there for the taking but development errors cost them. However, they’ve got two good drivers in Hulkenberg and Perez, and retaining their driver pairing for the first time in several years should help them hit the ground running next year. They also retain the formidable Mercedes engine.

Toro Rosso did alright. Kvyat’s good but it’s worth remembering Vergne scored more points (22 against 8).

Lotus must improve. It’s been an awful season after last year (the opposite of Williams). Grosjean’s a very fast driver, but the car matters more than the driver.

Sauber had their worst season in history, failing to secure a single point. The car is an absolute dog, and I hope they can recover for next year. It’s not so long ago that Perez and Kobayashi got four podiums in a season for the team.

And who knows what will happen at the end of the grid? We might lose both Marussia and Caterham, just one, or neither. I hope they can come back.

Red Bull are in an interesting situation. Ricciardo’s fantastic, and next year will be the final Adrian Newey designed car in F1. The Aussie may have a title chance in 2015. I’m not sure I would’ve promoted Kvyat quite so rapidly, to be honest.

Mercedes will, I feel, remain the best team next year. Their drivers are great and will not lack motivation, their car is the best overall by a mile, and they aren’t short of cash. However, their one weakness might be that they’ve established fair racing between their drivers. If Red Bull, McLaren or Williams line up behind one driver (unlikely at Williams, could happen de facto at McLaren, and entirely possible at Red Bull) that could pose a threat. Mercedes also needs to sort its reliability out. The car was so dominant this year it didn’t matter, but that won’t always be the case.

Nice to end the season with a winning tip. I’ll do a season review in the coming days.


Morris Dancer

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Abu Dhabi: pre-race

I thought Massa was going to end up third on the grid, but Bottas pipped him at the end. The Williams were more competitive than I thought they would be.

Q1 had five eliminations this time. Unsurprisingly, both Caterhams went out, dead last, as did both Lotuses. Gutierrez also left at this stage, although his team mate made it through.

In Q2 neither Force India progressed, Sutil was last, and Vergne and Magnussen also failed to get any further. Bit of a poor result for the Dane, to be honest.

Q3 had a surprisingly comfortable Rosberg pole, nearly four-tenths up on Hamilton. Bottas, who starts third, is closer to Hamilton’s time than the Briton was to Rosberg’s. Massa lines up alongside his team mate, and may feel disappointed that he didn’t match earlier pace to end up third himself.

Ricciardo and Vettel are next up, with Kvyat and Button on row four. Raikkonen leads Alonso at the back of the top 10, a pretty shoddy result for the prancing horse.

The Williams is the fastest car in a straight line, so if a Mercedes falls behind one or both that could be hard to pass (the Mercedes is far better in the corners, but it’s harder to pass there). Despite lining up side-by-side, there was six-tenths between Vettel and Ricciardo, so perhaps the top five will cruise off into the sunset at the start.

Initial bets that leapt to mind were:
Bottas for a podium
Safety Car (if decent odds, 2/5 races have had one)
Lay Raikkonen points
Hulkenberg points

Even two and a half hours after the race, Ladbrokes still didn’t have its markets up. No idea why, but it’s a bit ropey. For whatever reason, Betfair also hadn’t got going.

After waiting a few more hours, they’d woken up. Alas, none of the odds looked nice. It also emerged that the reasoning behind the delay was understandable: both Red Bulls were put to the back of the grid for having illegal cars (specifically, the front wings were too flexible).

Bearing that in mind, Ricciardo to be top 6 at 2.2 with Betfair (no hedging) looks promising. There’s scope for shenanigans amidst the top four and the other cars aren’t a match for the Red Bull. Even though it’s slow in a straight line, I think he could cut through the field.

Let’s hope it’s a cracking, and profitable, race tomorrow.

In monumentally unrelated news, I’m part of an hour long Twitter Q&A/debate about humour in genre fiction (if you haven’t already, why not give my comedy Sir Edric’s Temple a look?) at 11am tomorrow. My Twitter handle is MorrisF1. Three or four other authors will also be taking questions/discussing stuff.


Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying

I must admit to being significantly surprised Caterham will be racing in Abu Dhabi. Kobayashi will drive one of their cars [Ericsson, of course, has terminated his deal with the team already and next year will drive for Sauber, assuming the contract dispute with Sutil is resolved in the team’s favour]. The second will be driven by British chap Will Stevens, who makes his F1 debut.

At the same time, it’s sad to hear that over 200 Caterham employees have been made redundant, and that some feel the announcement of the return in Abu Dhabi was made to try and bury that bad news.

Surprisingly, Eddie Jordan has called on Ecclestone to stand down. It was my understanding the two got along pretty well, but it’s worth recalling that Jordan used to run his own midfield team, which may well affect his view of the current financial situation.

In staggeringly unsurprising news, it’s finally been confirmed Alonso’s leaving Ferrari, and is being replaced by Vettel. At the time of writing, it’s believed, but not confirmed, to be the case that the Spaniard will rejoin McLaren. However, that team has indicated it will reveal its 2015 driver lineup in December (there’s some disagreement over whether they ought to retain Button or Magnussen).

The tyres for this weekend are soft and supersoft.

Although Abu Dhabi is what might be termed a street circuit, there are a few areas of high speed, which makes it better than it might be for Williams. In title terms, the risk for Hamilton is that he gets stuck behind one or both Williams and finds it hard to get past.

If both Mercedes finish then, barring a very weird result the likes of which we haven’t seen all year, Rosberg needs to win. Hamilton can finish 1st or 2nd. If he’s 3rd and Rosberg wins, then the German takes the title.

Whilst the Red Bull is fast, the Mercedes will murder it on the straights, so I think Williams likelier to pose a potential problem for Hamilton. If the Briton has a clear qualifying and doesn’t leave the handbrake on during the start, he’s set fair. But, as Rosberg discovered in Singapore, reliability can fail at any time.

In P1 Hamilton was a tenth ahead of Rosberg, and both were over a second and a half ahead of third-placed Alonso. Vettel was next, then Ricciardo, Vergne, Kvyat, Bottas, Perez and Hulkenberg (so quite team-by-team).

I watched most of P1, and it was notable for the Williams undressing itself and meaning both drivers got very limited running.

P2 again had Hamilton ahead of Rosberg, but by less than a tenth of a second this time. Magnussen was seven-tenths down the road, then we had Vettel, Bottas and Ricciardo. Raikkonen, Button, Kvyat and Massa rounded out the top 10.

According to the BBC’s Inside F1, Red Bull were closer to the Mercedes on race pace (a few tenths down) compared to a single lap, but Williams never really showed their hand. Also worth noting Alonso’s Ferrari broke down.

P3 saw the order at the sharp end reversed, with Rosberg over a third of a second ahead of Hamilton. Massa was over a second off the top time in third, with Alonso fourth. Vettel, Button, Ricciardo, Bottas, Kvyat and Raikkonen finish off the top 10.

During P3 it sounded like Ricciarod wasn’t happy with the set-up, which may bode ill for the race for Red Bull.

Two bets I think worth considering are:
Rosberg for pole (it’s a coin toss, so I’d want something a fair bit over evens)
Massa top 3 in qualifying

Rosberg’s odds are barely over evens. I do think it’s coin toss territory, so that doesn’t tempt me.

Massa’s just over 3 (Betfair) top be top 3. Hmm. That’s interesting, but it’s not enough. There are six cars behind him within four-tenths, and two within three-tenths.

The pre-race piece will probably be up sometime this evening.


Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Brazil: post-race analysis

An absolute cracker of a race, and a green one as well. Obviously, due to the hedge, better if you bet and forget than if you hedged.

Off the line it was formation flying for the front four. The Red Bulls drifted backwards and Button held fifth. There was no contact on the first lap despite the tricky opening few corners.

Rosberg set off at a blistering pace, and at the end of lap 1 was 0.8s ahead of Hamilton. Bottas was hot on Massa’s heels and the top four were slowly drawing away from Button. The Red Bulls (Vettel ahead) had gotten stuck behind Alonso. The Red Bulls were faster in the twisty middle sector but it’s hard to overtake there, and once again the car was shown to be lacking in straight line speed, preventing them from effecting a pass in the prime overtaking spot (the ‘straight’ at the end of the lap).

The track was hotter than expected, and was actually damaging the tyres. Pirelli had wanted a medium-hard combination, but the drivers thought it too conservative and it was changed to soft-medium. Hamilton was setting a blistering pace just before a pit stop, enough to leapfrog his team mate, but his rear tyres let go and he spun. It wasn’t critical but it cost him about seven seconds and gave Rosberg breathing room.

Behind them, Massa (who accidentally hit the pit limiter twice) was done for speeding and given a 5s stop and go penalty. With Bottas a few seconds down the road and Button on his tail it seemed the Brazilian would be down to fifth. However, Bottas had a very slow stop due to a strange issue with his seatbelt. Button also had a poor stop (not as bad as Bottas, mind) which enabled Massa to retain his third position.

Ricciardo retired due to what I think was a suspension problem. Vettel, however, had managed to get ahead of Alonso and went after Button.

Hamilton’s spin meant he was over seven seconds behind Rosberg. He began taking great chunks out of that lead, until it was down to about two seconds. After the final pit stops, he emerged half a second behind his rival. Hamilton was faster in the prime overtaking place but Rosberg had the edge on the twisty section. Lap after lap they went around, Hamilton always within DRS range. One mistake from Rosberg would be enough to cost him the win.

But he didn’t make a mistake. He kept his head, and took the win. Hamilton’s 2nd means he’s still in the best position for the title, but if Rosberg wins in Abu Dhabi Hamilton must be 2nd. If Rosberg is 1st and Hamilton 3rd, Rosberg would take the title, thanks to the idiocy of double points. If Hamilton failed to finish, 5th would be enough for Rosberg to claim the title.

Late on Grosjean retired, for reasons I’m unsure of.

Massa was a comfortable, if isolated, 3rd and Button had a strong 4th. Vettel came home 5th with Alonso 6th. Unusually, there was a contest between the Ferraris, who were on different strategies (Raikkonen had track position but his tyres were 17 laps older). For some time the Finn kept the almost certainly departing Spaniard behind him, but eventually the rubber gave way and Alonso breezed past his team mate.

So, Raikkonen was 7th, and Hulkenberg (who I think had one fewer stop than most people) a decent 8th. Magnussen, who may well stay and partner Alonso next year, was 9th, and Bottas nabbed the final point.

Perez (who also got a 5s stop and go penalty) was second to last, the filling in a Sauber sandwich. Both Toro Rossos finished pointlessly and Maldonado was 12th.

Congratulations to Mr. M for correctly betting on a Rosberg win and Button top 6 finish, although no safety appeared, alas.

Hamilton’s 17 point lead over Rosberg would be very comfortable with a single race left, if it were not for the moronic decision to give Abu Dhabi double points. The Briton retains the advantage, but forget ye not that Rosberg’s damned good on street circuits and it’s no stretch to see him winning. Overtaking’s very hard, so if there’s an issue in the race (or maybe qualifying) Hamilton could be screwed by misfortune, as happened to Rosberg in Singapore.

The Constructors’ isn’t quite settled either (except the top two spots). The third position is still undecided as are lower ranks:
Mercedes 651
Red Bull 373
Williams 254
Ferrari 210
McLaren 161
Force India 127

I expect the teams to be in the same order after Abu Dhabi, to be honest. After their early season heroics Force India must be disappointed to, in all likelihood, finish sixth.

The dominance of the Mercedes would allow a driver with a bad start or poor grid slot to get past many others in Abu Dhabi. But a Williams (for example) could be a bugger to try and pass. The title is not over yet. In a fortnight, a fantastic F1 season will be decided.


Morris Dancer

Brazil: pre-race

Damned weather forecast. Second race in a row I’ve had a qualifying bet in mind and not backed it, although this time it was down to the forecast being wrong. Oh well.

Grosjean, Vergne, Perez and Maldonado went out in Q1. Due to penalties reshuffling the pack, Vergne, Maldonado, Kvyat and Perez will be the last four on the grid.

In Q2 we lost Gutierrez (surprisingly quick in eleventh), Hulkenberg, Sutil and Kvyat. The penalties mean Grosjean will start alongside Sutil in the race.

Q3 was a bit tighter than expected. Rosberg claimed pole (and the qualifying trophy, a new prize this year) just 0.033s ahead of Hamilton. Massa might’ve challenged for pole but made a mistake on his final run. Despite that, he still claimed third ahead of Bottas. Either the Finn’s just happened upon two tracks he isn’t quite right on or Massa’s in the zone right now.

After a dodgy Friday, McLaren recovered well and Button got a strong fifth (incidentally, the rumour mill suggests an announcement of Alonso moving to McLaren, replacing Button, will be made shortly before Abu Dhabi). Vettel was sixth, followed by Magnussen and Alonso, with Ricciardo and Raikkonen rounding out the top 10.

Didn’t expect the McLaren to be so swift, the Williams to be so close to the Mercedes, or the Red Bull to be so poor. If it does rain, the Red Bull’s downforce should help it a lot. In the dry, the Williams is dominant in the final sector (long ‘straight’) which will mean it’s both hard to pass and has a good chance of overtaking other cars.

The forecast for the race is that it will be dry, but thunderstorms remain possible. Given the forecasters were wrong both the morning and afternoon on Saturday, keep an open mind about the elements.

So, it’s useful to consider what might happen if it’s wet, and what might happen if it’s dry.

In the wet, I’d expect Button and Hulkenberg to do relatively well, the Red Bulls also, and perhaps Bottas too [he’s good in the wet but his car lacks downforce]. Mercedes would retain dominance and might be even further ahead because the Silver Arrows have strong downforce and their nearest rivals here, Williams, do not. Hulkenberg points, Button podium and Ricciardo top six would all be possibilities.

In the dry, it might well be closer between Mercedes and Williams. Bottas has been starting badly recently, but Massa was strong last week and has been good again here. The gap from Williams to McLaren is over half a second, so I’d expect the top four to drive off into the sunset, but Button to stand a good chance of staying top six. I could see Ricciardo drifting up the order, Alonso perhaps going backwards. Not sure about Vettel and Magnussen. Suspect they may go backwards. I think Raikkonen and Gutierrez will drift back and Hulkenberg forward.

Potential bets:
Williams top score
Massa podium
Ricciardo top 6
Button podium
Hulkenberg points

Williams to top score is something I’m a little wary of. I’ve backed it twice, but the team seems to lack a little bit of luck and some strategic sharpness (Austria might’ve gone their way). So, long odds are necessary to tempt me. The 5 available is not enough.

Massa in the dry or Button in the wet have a decent crack at a podium. On Betfair, Massa’s 2.7 and Button’s 9. The Brazilian’s odds are quite tempting.

Ricciardo’s only 1.45 to be top 6. Doesn’t tempt me. The top four should be over the hills and far away, and the Red Bull may struggle to overtake due to being relatively slow on the long straight.

Hulkenberg (longer odds at Ladbrokes) is 1.72 for points. Unsure about this. Force India are the clear worst of the Mercedes-powered teams, he had a reliability failure in Austin last week, and when I checked the speed trap for Ricciardo (tenth, if you’re wondering) I noticed that Hulkenberg was 5km/h slower (possibly an effect of ruining his tyres on his fastest lap, but that’ll also harm him in the race).

Also worth recalling the Williams seemed to gain the least (0.7s rather than 1.2s or so) from the soft rather than medium tyres. On the other hand, if that holds up, and they were challenging for pole on the softs, that could have them set fair for the race.

Massa to be on the podium at 2.7 looks good to me (Betfair), hedged at 1.33 (in case he’s in a strong third but rain comes later).

If it rains at the start I’ll be bloody annoyed. Unless both Mercedes crash out, there’s a red flag and Massa wins, obviously.

Interlagos is probably my favourite circuit. There have been many fantastic races there, so hopefully we’ll have another one later today. Whatever happens the title cannot be decided at this race.


Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brazil: pre-qualifying

Surprisingly, Marussia has folded. Given they had tens of millions in prize money likely coming for 2015 and even missing Brazil and Abu Dhabi they still had a live entry for the next year I expected them to be a going concern at the end of 2014. Given it was seen as the better bet compared to Caterham it may be we’ll have 18 cars permanently next year.


This comes a day after Christian Horner, principal of a team bankrolled by a billionaire, opined that poorer teams shouldn’t speak publicly about money troubles because it’s bad for the sport. Not a very impressive statement.

In other news, Felipe Nasr (pronounced Nassa) has been named as a Sauber driver. I’m sure that won’t confuse commentators at all. He’s joined by Marcus Ericsson, but Sutil, an incumbent of the team, has raised a contract row, claiming he’ll still be driving for them next year. Gutierrez hasn’t really impressed at any time, so it’s not surprising he’s gone.

Perez and Hulkenberg will remain at Force India next year. Good for them, and the team.

Interlagos is a great circuit, perhaps my favourite. Short lap, but the race is very often wet, so be sure to keep an eye on the sky for qualifying and race day.

The tyres are soft and medium.

In P1 Rosberg was fastest, two-tenths ahead of his team mate. Hamilton was the better part of a second ahead of Kvyat. Alonso, Massa, Verstappen, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10. I wonder if Red Bull and Williams are sandbagging a bit. Mercedes once again look in a league of their own.

P2 had a similar headline, with Rosberg two-tenths ahead of Hamilton and Raikkonen half a second off the German’s top time. Ricciardo, Bottas, and Massa followed, with Alonso, Kvyat, Vettel and Magnussen rounding out the top 10.

Rosberg was fastest again in P3, but just by a tenth on Hamilton. Massa and Bottas were next (Massa’s been good this weekend so far), then we had Ricciardo and Button. Raikkonen, Alonso, Magnussen and Kvyat finished off the top 10.

The forecasts are for rain in qualifying. This will relatively help Red Bull, and also Button and Hulkenberg (recall Hulkenberg was vying for the win in the rain two years ago, and got pole for Williams about four years ago on a wet-and-dry track).

However, rain was forecast for P3, and the session was dry.

I was tempted by Massa being top 3 in qualifying (3.15, Betfair) but if it rains I think Ricciardo (Red Bull having superior downforce) might have the edge.

Rosberg’s only evens or just over for pole, rather than the 3-3.5 he often is, so it’s too short, as the pole will likely be a coin toss in the Mercedes garage.

So, no bet.

Not sure if the pre-race piece will be this evening or tomorrow morning.


Morris Dancer

Monday, 3 November 2014

America: post-race analysis

A thoroughly entertaining race, albeit another red one. It really didn’t go at all as I expected, but was fun to watch. The second half has become a little redder, but there are still two races to go to turn that around (and the profit, either way, of the title bets).

I’m writing this the morning after the night before, so if I forget something, that’s why.

Off the line Bottas started badly and Ricciardo left the hand brake on. Massa passed his team mate and a quarter of the field (or ‘four cars’ to be technical) passed the Aussie. Otherwise it was largely plain sailing.

Very early on Perez attempted to defy the laws of physics and crashed into Sutil, which must’ve gutted both him and Sauber as they desperately need points for both morale and money. It also earnt Perez a penalty for the next race.

To round off a terrible weekend for Force India, Hulkenberg was forced to retire due to a reliability failure.

This brought out the safety car and many cars dove into the pits. Weirdly, Vettel (who started on medium tyres from the pit lane) pitted twice, going soft then medium.

The race resumed and station was more or less held by all and sundry. At each subsequent pit stop Ricciardo passed the Williams, who seemed to lack pace compared to what I’d expected. Massa also beat Bottas. Perhaps the Finn simply dislikes the circuit, but it was definitely one of his weaker performances (mind you, 5th isn’t appalling).

The fight at the front was pretty tedious. Rosberg held the lead, Hamilton passed him fairly easily, Rosberg never challenged for it again. The Briton has his number. Rosberg can best him in qualifying and sometimes on pace in the race, but wheel-to-wheel he’s a clear second best.

Ricciardo, Massa and Bottas were fairly well-spaced out behind (although Massa and Bottas were faster right at the end it was too late and they finished in that order) but there was some great racing behind.

Vettel’s first proper stint on medium tyres (post double pit stop) was weirdly slow. A few seconds off the pace, in fact, to his confusion. Later on, pace seemed better, but he pitted late on from seventh, and I thought that was a major mistake as he came out around thirteenth. Shows what I know. His final pace was very strong, as he caught Raikkonen and then passed numerous cars, battling with Alonso (but failing to pass the Spaniard) to eventually reclaim 7th, which he may well have lost ultimately due to tyre degradation had he not pitted.

Button’s strategy failed him. He drove a great defensive race, holding off Alonso, Vergne and others for a long time but his tyres gave up and he ended up 12th. Magnussen was a bit anonymous but got 8th.

There was a great tussle between Vergne and the Lotuses (Loti?) for the final points positions. Grosjean was on the verge of passing Button at the first corner when Vergne steamed up the inside, passing not only the other Frenchman but the Briton shortly thereafter as well.

Maldonado also had a good race, aided by the fact the Lotus actually appeared to be driveable this weekend. Vergne and Maldonado got the final points positions, which means Maldonado gets his first point of the season. Grosjean was 11th.

Raikkonen’s 13th is just not good enough. His team mate was 6th.

So, it was an entertaining race, albeit a red one. I underestimated the Red Bull or overestimated the Williams, as you like. Short of mechanical woe it’s hard to see Hamilton failing to take the title, which is a slight shame as I’d make more money if Rosberg got it, but I’m green either way for the title.

Hamilton has a 24 point lead.

Constructors’:
Mercedes 608 – title won
Red Bull 363
Williams 238
Ferrari 196
McLaren 147
Force India 123

I’d be somewhat surprised if any of the teams changed places. Double points could mean a mechanical failure in Abu Dhabi leading to a surprise shift, but even so I think that will remain the order until the end.

Great race to look forward to in Brazil in just a few days’ time. Unfortunately, as per the US race, it’ll be radio only unless you’ve got Sky. Interlagos is perhaps my favourite circuit, and I’m expecting it to be very exciting. Make sure you check the weather forecast, if you’re thinking of betting.


Morris Dancer

Sunday, 2 November 2014

America: pre-race

In addition to the 5 and 10 place grid penalties for Button and Kvyat respectively, and a pit lane start for Vettel, Vergne has changed his engine and earnt himself a 10 place grid penalty.

In Q1 we said farewell to Vergne, Gutierrez, Vettel and Grosjean. Vettel was only trundling about as a token appearance rather than putting in any effort, due to his starting from the pit lane.

Q2 saw Maldonado, Perez, Hulkenberg and Kvyat depart. However, it was great for Sutil and Sauber, who got a car in the top 10 for the first time this year.

In Q3 Rosberg got pole (mildly irked I didn’t back that, but if he can convert it to a win that’ll be nice for the title bets) ahead of Hamilton, with Bottas next on the grid. Worth mentioning the odd side of the grid is reckoned to be a bit of an advantage off the line. Massa is alongside Bottas, and after that the rows are: Ricciardo, Alonso, then Button, Magnussen, with Raikkonen and Sutil at the end of the top 10.

Hamilton reported a vibration on his Q2 tyres which could prove detrimental for him in the early part of the race tomorrow. He’s got a small flat spot on his tyres (perhaps likewise Rosberg). Seems both Mercedes chaps may have problems locking up. Hmm. Wonder if it’ll prove difficult for them in the race.

Giedo Van Der Garde and Marcus Ericsson may be driving for Sauber next year, according to BBC-reported rumour. [After writing this Ericsson was confirmed as a 2015 Sauber driver].

With Mercedes locking up a lot it’s possible Williams could top score. I also think Bottas stands a strong chance of a podium, and Vettel has a shot at reaching the top 6.

Williams top score
Bottas podium
Vettel top 6

I considered Williams to top score on the basis that Mercedes do appear to be suffering problems with locking up, especially Hamilton. The 5 available is too short, though. If Rosberg wins and Hamilton’s 5th, that would still beat a Williams 2nd and 3rd.

Bottas was just under evens with Betfair for a podium, but just 1.66 with Ladbrokes. The Betfair bet is tempting.

Vettel was less than 2.5 to be top 6, which isn’t long enough. With the Mercedes, Williams, Ricciardo and maybe McLaren being competitive (as well as perhaps Alonso) and Vettel starting from the pit lane, that’s too tight.

I quite like Bottas at 1.89 for a podium, but thought I’d have a quick scout about for anything else that leaps out at me. 

Bottas to lead lap 1 at 15 was a little tempting, but that really is guesswork. (I’d back him rather than Hamilton because the odd side of the track is a little bit advantageous).

So, just the one bet:
Bottas to get a podium at 1.89. No hedge.

The race start is unusually late, at 8pm. BBC highlights start at 10.30pm.


Morris Dancer

Saturday, 1 November 2014

America: pre-qualifying

The tyres this time are soft and medium, a bit softer than previous years. This is because the two races to date on this circuit only had a single pit stop and the intention is to increase this number.

Only four cars will be dropped from one session to the next, due to both Caterham and Marussia entering administration. Neither team will, it seems, be at Brazil either, but Abu Dhabi is a possible final appearance. Even if neither enters that race, the last of the season, they will still (if financially secured) be able to compete in 2015 with no problem as a team can miss up to three races in a season and still have an active entry on the grid for the following year. Marussia may well return (it’s got circa £60m of prize money coming unless Sauber can score a few points), Caterham seems unlikely to come back.

Neither Frank nor Claire Williams will be present. He’s in hospital (sounds routine rather than anything especially sinister) and she wants to be with him. Claire Williams is expected to be at Brazil, in a week’s time.

In P1 Hamilton and Rosberg were fastest with three-tenths between them, and Button only a tenth off Rosberg. Kvyat, Alonso and Magnussen were next, with Vettel, Nasr (Williams third driver), Hulkenberg and Verstappen (Toro Rosso’s new driver for next year) rounding out the top 10.

In P2 the order at the top was the same but Hamilton was a mere three-thousandths ahead of his team mate. Alonso was third but over a second down the track, followed by Ricciardo, Massa and Raikkonen. Kvyat, Magnussen, Button and Hulkenberg round out the top 10.

In the preamble to P3 it emerged that both tyres were degrading a bit, and that the soft might be the better race tyre, making it likely multiple stops could be the way to win. There’s apparently 1.5s (for new) between the tyres. McLaren has been somewhat concerned about lack of grip on the soft (which has not bothered other teams).

Kvyat is changing his engine, meaning he takes a 10 place grid penalty. Vettel is replacing even more bits (the whole power unit), and will start from the pit lane (he’s also changing his gearbox, just because he can’t start any further back so he might as well change the gearbox as well). Button is changing his gearbox, which means a 5 place grid penalty.

In P3 Hamilton was fastest by eight-tenths of a second, with Rosberg second and Massa three-tenths further back. Bottas, Alonso and Ricciardo were next, followed by Hulkenberg, Sutil, Raikkonen and Button.

Rosberg’s final time in P3 is not representative because he was held up by Vettel, and his tyres were not hot enough. He also had a glazed brake.

Hulkenberg seems to be doing reasonably well, and if Sutil could reach Q3 that’d be a boost for Sauber and make Marussia even more nervous.

Initial betting thoughts:
Rosberg pole
Hulkenberg to reach Q3

Decided against backing Rosberg despite the tempting odds of 3.25. I checked the two races, and both times (one as team mate of Hamilton, one otherwise) he was some distance off. It may be worth a crack, but the glazed brake and tyre issue makes it hard to assess his pace and past performance would indicate a Hamilton pole. It is a two horse race, though.

Unfortunately there was only a pittance available at Hulkenberg 2.5 to reach Q3. The Rosberg bet had both more money and value available, though, for reasons explained above, I decided against it.

So, no tip for qualifying.

Incidentally, the race is at 8pm tomorrow (BBC highlights start at 10pm). The pre-race piece may be this evening or tomorrow morning, and the post-race piece is likely to be Monday morning.


Morris Dancer