Sunday, 29 March 2015

Malaysia: post-race analysis

A far more exciting race than we might have had, and very much improved on Australia. Mixed bag from a betting perspective, a small red result (if you put £10 on every put you’d be a couple of quid down. Not bank-busting but not good either). I’m doubly irked with myself, though. I lacked the patience to wait a few more hours for Ferrari to top score to emerge on Ladbrokes, and the judgement to back Vettel for the win at 10.5. On the other hand, I was very confident about Raikkonen, and that did come off.

Congrats to Mr. M, who’s doing rather better than me at this betting business so far this season.

The start saw Maldonado fly up the order, only to take a slight knock, receive a puncture and later retire. Bottas went backwards, and Hulkenberg made up many places, but the top three maintained their running order.

Surprisingly, Hamilton couldn’t make a large gap to Vettel, who wasn’t that far ahead of Rosberg.

In the early stages, Raikkonen received a puncture at the worst place, just after the pit entry. So, he had to complete a whole lap trundling about before he could change tyres. His situation was moderately improved when a safety car turned out due to debris on the track.

The safety car enabled just about everyone to pit. Raikkonen didn’t, for obvious reasons. Less obviously, Vettel chose to remain out (thus acquiring the lead) and neither did Hulkenberg or Grosjean (2nd and 3rd respectively). At this point in time it seemed the Frenchman had a better shot of a top 6 finish than the Finn.

Weirdly, the two Mercedes, unlike almost everyone else, shifted to the slower hard compound tyres. Not only do this mean they couldn’t catch and pass Vettel, it seemed they degraded the tyre more rapidly than other teams, forcing them to pit sooner than should’ve been the case. In the end, lack of option tyres (due to oddly running a set in Q1) meant that Hamilton ended the race on hard tyres and Vettel cruised to victory.

Grosjean fell further down the the order than I expected. Not sure if that was due to an extra pit stop or some temporary technical issue, but I was surprised to see him so far down.

Ericsson was in a points-paying position when he made a slightly odd mistake at the first turn, going wide and beaching his Sauber in a gravel trap. Odd, frustrating and needless. Nasr had been slow all weekend and didn’t trouble the scorers, making it a comedown for Sauber after the high of Australia.

The Williams had a slightly lonely race, slower than the two top teams but far ahead of the others. On the final lap, Bottas gave us some excitement by passing his team mate to swap 5th and 6th.

It was a great day for Toro Rosso, who enjoyed a double points result ahead of their sister team (Verstappen was very racy [and became the youngest points scorer in the history of the sport by about two years], ahead of Sainz, Kvyat and Ricciardo).

Although both McLarens had to retire for technical reasons, the pace was better than they expected. Alonso was in a points position when he was forced to quit, and Button was closing on the pack when he had to box the car. There’s still a very long way to go, but there has been a significant improvement in pace just from Australia.

Hulkenberg and Perez received 10s stop and go penalties which may have been a shade harsh. They finished behind Grosjean and Nasr, with all four just outside the points.

Merhi was the final chap to finish, 3 laps off the pace. Very slow, but Manor Marussia will be glad with the car’s reliability (Will Stevens did not start).

So, we may have a two horse race for the Constructors’, and perhaps a three (or four) horse race for the Drivers’.

Strategic cunning by Ferrari and Mercedes abusing their tyres led to this race result, but what about absolute pace? Harder to assess. I think in qualifying trim the Silver Arrows retain an advantage [Vettel’s tiny deficit to Hamilton’s pole was due to Hamilton not putting in a later fast lap, the true gap would’ve been substantially larger, had he done so, I believe]. But in the race Hamilton could not break away from Vettel during the initial stint on equal fuel loads and tyres. Specifically, the Ferrari was faster on the straights, but Mercedes was better in the corners. At Monza and Austria I expect Ferrari victories. In Monaco and Singapore, Mercedes.

It’s very early days and this is, I think, the first time we’ve seen the hard tyre and definitely the first time we’ve seen such high temperatures (there wasn’t a drop of rain during the race). It may be that the balance of power was tipped by the thermometer, the hard tyres or a combination of the two. Let us not forget that in Australia Vettel was 3rd, but half a minute behind the Mercedes. However, it’s also worth noting Australia is a street circuit [albeit an entertaining one], whereas Malaysia is not, and the latter has two long straights.

Tyres, temperature, circuit, weather: all play a role. I do think Mercedes has an overall advantage, but I also think Vettel will win more races this season.

Obviously the long odds ‘Mercedes to win every race’ bet is now a loser, but I always thought it was a long shot. However, the bet on Hamilton beating the race wins record (14) remains live. It’s touch-and-go, but I did get fairly lengthy odds.

Here’s how the title races stack up:
Constructors’:
Mercedes 76
Ferrari 52
Williams 30

I think you could almost nail Williams on for the third spot. Ferrari would be a lot closer to Mercedes had Raikkonen not suffered a dodgy pit stop in Australia (all else being equal you’d expect such misfortune to even itself out over a season). Ferrari to win is worth considering.

Ladbrokes have them at 9. I think that’s too long, and have put a small sum on the prancing horse for the title (feel more comfortable doing this because if Malaysia proves a flash in the pan the Hamilton most wins bet should come off, and it’s theoretically possible, albeit unlikely, both bets could be winners).

Drivers’:
Hamilton 43
Vettel 40
Rosberg 33
Massa 20
Raikkonen 12

Raikkonen has yet to give Vettel a stern test, but his recovery from back of the field to 4th today was very impressive. He could yet feature in the title race, although he has an early and significant points deficit.

Can Vettel and Ferrari maintain this pace?

Perhaps.

Next up is China, which features perhaps the longest straight in the sport [it's China or Abu Dhabi, I forget which] and two other straights. Vettel has a good history there. What tyre compounds are used could be critical. It also remains harder, I believe, to overtake this season compared to last year (Grosjean couldn’t pass the slower Force India of Hulkenberg or Sauber of Nasr over many laps).

The season just became rather more interesting. The next race is in a fortnight. Let’s hope it’s as interesting as Malaysia, but rather more profitable.


Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Malaysia: pre-race

The predicted thunderstorm turned up during qualifying, which adds an intriguing dimension to the race: will anyone have gone for a wet set-up to optimise qualifying, but potentially costing them pace in the race?

Q1 went pretty much to form, with the Manor of Merhi off the pace (to the extent he’s outside the 107% rule and must apply for permission to start) and Will Steven’s Manor Marussia failing to even set a time due to a technical fault. Both McLarens again failed to escape the first part of qualifying, with Button marginally faster than Alonso. Nasr will be disappointed to be the chap who got 16th, particularly after his great weekend in Australia. The Brazilian’s looked a bit out of sorts in Malaysia.

The second part of qualifying began with a long queue in the pit lane, due to an imminent storm, which duly turned up. Despite some traffic issues for Hamilton, the Briton made it through, although Raikkonen did not. Maldonado also left the stage here, as did both Force Indias and Sainz.

Q3 was delayed due to the heavy rainfall. When it did get going there was some silly buggers going on between Hamilton and Rosberg. The German didn’t quite block the Briton, but did go on the racing line. After that, the Briton slowed down to compromise the German’s lap. As a result, Vettel got 2nd, less than a tenth behind Hamilton [ominously for Mercedes, the Ferrari has been about as fast as them on long runs, and more reliable than Hamilton’s car]. It was good for Red Bull with 4th and 5th, Verstappen got a great 6th, and was followed by Massa, Grosjean, Bottas and Ericsson [the Swede’s first time not only to make Q2, but into Q3 as well].

The Q3 times were all set on intermediate tyres on a rapidly drying track.

The Williams definitely looks a little on the ropes, and Ferrari are looking feisty. Good enough to match Mercedes? Maybe. Maybe not.

I expect the Red Bulls to slide down the order. The Renault is far slower than the Ferrari or Mercedes engine. Correspondingly, I expect Raikkonen to cut through the field and easily make the top 6 [the Ferrari is faster in a straight line even than the Mercedes and will murder rivals on the two massive straights in Sepang].

The bets that first sprang to mind after qualifying were:
Raikkonen top 6
Vettel podium/win
Sainz points
Ferrari top score
Grosjean top 6
Lay Ricciardo top 6

Raikkonen was 1.85 with Betfair to be top 6. I think he’s got a great chance (near certain, barring reliability issues or mishaps) and have backed it [and tipped it, elsewhere as soon as I saw it].

Vettel was 1.5 and 10.5 respectively for a podium and the win. A win isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. But, I don’t think it’ll happen. The odds are long enough to hedge, though, so it’s worth pondering.

Sainz is 2.75 for points. Bit short for my liking, especially given his engine.

Grosjean’s 2.25 is a bit short for top 6.

The top scoring team market wasn’t up when I first checked Ladbrokes, and Ricciardo had no lay odds for top 6 (alas, the back odds were 1.23. I would’ve bet against quite heavily if 1.24 had been layable).

I checked later, and the top scoring team market still wasn’t up. Grosjean to be top 6 is something I decided to consider again, and the odds had lengthened to 2.5, so I decided to back that.

So, two short odds tips (both Betfair):
Raikkonen to be top 6 at 1.85 [I’d back at 1.7 or longer]
Grosjean to be top 6 at 2.5

No hedging.

Weather forecast for the race is 60% chance of rain. So, wet pace may well be relevant but is not, I think, going to be decisive.

And don’t forget, the clocks go forward (in the UK) tonight, so don’t miss the start of the race (8am UK time. I think).


Morris Dancer

Friday, 27 March 2015

Malaysia: pre-qualifying

Good news!

Not only have Alonso and Bottas been cleared to race, Manor Marussia have turned up and brought working cars with them. As expected, the Marussias are rather slow, but at least McLaren will feel better knowing they’re not at the back of the grid anymore.

Red Bull and Renault continue their hissyfit. Both are hinting they may quit, although the engine chaps are also considering buying a team of their own (maybe Toro Rosso).

In the first practice session Rosberg was three-tenths up on Raikkonen, who was half a second ahead of Vettel. Grosjean, Sainz, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Bottas, Kvyat and Ericsson followed, all of whom were pretty close together.

Hamilton suffered an engine problem which meant he set no lap time in the first session.

The second practice session was better for the Briton, who was fastest, about four-tenths up on Raikkonen. From driver-to-driver, a tenth separated Raikkonen and Rosberg, then Kvyat, Bottas, Massa and Vettel. Verstappen was over half a second down the road, followed by Ericsson and Ricciardo.

Bit surprised Raikkonen was faster than Vettel and Ericsson outpaced Nasr (after Nasr’s great start in Australia).

At the back of the grid, Manor Marussia were about three seconds off McLaren. If they get anywhere near points this season it’ll be a great result. Force India still look slow, and may be in danger of being overtaken by McLaren.

There’s an 80-90% chance of a thunderstorm, which will help teams with better downforce [may help Red Bull get into Q3].

Pole is very likely for Hamilton, but the odds are unlikely to be attractive and it’s always possible to bugger something up, (or for his engine to go on strike again).

So, the markets I checked for potential qualifying bets were Nasr/Ericsson for Q3, Ricciard/Kyvat for Q3 and Vettel/Raikkonen for top 3.

Unfortunately, even by the afternoon, the markets hadn’t got going whatsoever. So, no tip for qualifying.

My guess would be a Hamilton-Rosberg (or reversed) front row, with Ferrari next. Sauber to do well. How the weather comes in could be critical.

I believe qualifying is at 9am. The official F1 website used to offer local times for practice/qualifying/race starts, but due to the wonder of its redesign, this feature is now missing.


Morris Dancer

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Australia: post-race analysis

Not a classic race, although there were a few incidents of interest. The bet failed, but not by miles. So, a red start to 2015. Always a bit tricky at the start, though.

Huge kudos to Mr. M, whose comment-based tips (especially Nasr to be top 6) worked very nicely. And there was I expressing my lack of confidence, and being wronger than the Thirteenth Earl of Wrongcaster.

Bottas failed to start due to his bad back, Kvyat and Magnussen didn’t start because of mechanical issues, and the Manor Marussias, as we knew, didn’t start either.

I woke up just in time for the early start, which was notable for minor contact between the Ferraris causing Raikkonen to slide down the order, and leading to Maldonado crashing out on the first lap.

This prompted a lap 1 safety car. Grosjean pitted and retired, and when the racing resumed the top four remained in starting order, but Nasr had climbed well up the running order and Raikkonen had lost several places.

Nasr led a train of Ricciardo, Sainz (I think) and Raikkonen. Slowly, Raikkonen worked his way through those ahead of him, but not nearly as quickly as might have been expected.

Most cars one-stopped. Massa pitted prior to Vettel and was slowed by having Ricciardo ahead of him. When Ricciardo pitted, Vettel did likewise, and emerged ahead of Massa fairly comfortably.

A second pit stop for Raikkonen ended before he completed another lap, as the rear left was attached incorrectly and he had to stop (he’ll get a 10 second stop and go penalty in Malaysia, probably, for an unsafe release). Verstappen, who had been running in the points, retired due to engine difficulties (NB Ricciardo also got through a Renault engine earlier this weekend, and there’s only 4 for the whole season. Those two have 3 engines for 19 races).

The top four were all fairly comfortable, running around without much trouble. Hamilton was a small distance ahead of Rosberg, who was a long way ahead of Vettel, followed fairly closely by Massa.

Nasr was about a minute behind his compatriot, then came Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Ericsson, Sainz and Perez.

Just 11 cars finished, and Button was the only man to avoid those pesky points. Must be very disheartening for him, as it was a good opportunity to get something despite the dreadful car.

But, for every sorrow there’s joy, and Sauber recovered from a horrendous off-track situation to enjoy on-track glory with a great performance from Nasr, solid stuff from Ericsson and 14 points. The Sauber looks pretty good. It won’t (normally) compete for a podium place, but it will be in good shape for points at most races.

Despite the red bet, I think a lot of useful stuff was learnt from a less than stellar race.

First off, following cars is harder. Raikkonen was faster than Ricciardo and Nasr by some distance but struggled to pass. This’ll put a premium on position and strategy, and we’ll see less overtaking than last year. It may advantage Rosberg, who last year qualified better than Hamilton (NB he was beaten by Hamilton in 2014 Australian qualifying, so don’t take this weekend as a sign that he’s necessarily lost his qualifying edge).

The Ferrari engine is mighty, maybe faster than the Mercedes. The Renault is clearly worst [excepting the woe, doom and despair of Honda]. At Monza the Renaults will get murdered. On the other hand, Renault reportedly has a technical genius now working for them and deliberately kept many development tokens so he could enhance the engine in-season. But, for now, it’s bad.

There were several pit stop issues, which makes me wonder if there’s a problem with the nuts/guns or suchlike. Not useful for betting, but worth knowing.

The Sauber is tasty. The Force India is not.

I’d put the running order, after Mercedes as:
Ferrari
Williams

Then an enormous gap to:
Sauber/Red Bull
Toro Rosso
Force India
McLaren

Manor Marussia are almost certainly last, Lotus are hard to assess due to both cars exiting early on. I think Ferrari is faster than Williams because when Vettel trailed Massa, he could stay, for many laps, very close behind. When Massa trailed Vettel, he couldn’t close to within DRS range or even within 2s. That might be a Massa/Vettel issue rather than the cars, but my gut feeling is the Ferrari is the best of the rest.

Must say I was a bit unimpressed with the Bottas situation on Ladbrokes. I put down a very small sum, to see if it’d be made null and void if he failed to race. This remained unsettled until after the race, when it was made null and void and my stake was returned to me. But it was known for hours before the race that he wasn’t participating, and that’s the only basis for rendering it null and void. However, useful to know for the future that the rule appears to be if a driver doesn’t start, the Not To Be Classified market won’t pay out.

After the first race the Constructors has this somewhat surprising shape:
Mercedes 43
Ferrari 15
Sauber 14
Williams 12
Red Bull 8
Force India 7
Toro Rosso 2
McLaren/Manor/Lotus 0

Sauber and Force India will be delighted, especially Sauber. Their nightmare start has turned into a dream first race. They stand little chance against the top three, but they might actually be in contention for 4th. It’d be a surprise, but they were competitive today (although Kvyat’s absence and Verstappen’s DNF do muddy the waters).

In Malaysia, engine power will, I think, matter more than in Australia. That’s bad news for Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but good for Ferrari, and perhaps Sauber.

Pre-season, I made some small stakes bets (and tips). The one on Alonso winning in Australia was comically awful, but the others are still in reasonable shape. I tipped Hamilton break the wins in a season record (he needs 14) at 9, and Mercedes to win every race at 17 (both Ladbrokes). They’ve fallen to 5 and 4 respectively. I think the odds on Mercedes are too short now. Reliability, bad luck, bad weather, etc all mean I still think it’s fairly unlikely. However, 5 for Hamilton win 13/19 remaining races is perhaps worth considering. Not sure if I’d back it, and quite content with a small sum at 9.

Malaysia is in a fortnight.

But if you’re stuck for things to do before then, why not buy Prey: Seven Tales ofBeastly Terror? It’s a horror anthology put together by seven authors (including me), with all proceeds going to animal charity (WWF).


Morris Dancer

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Australia: pre-race

This is up a bit later than expected due to some minor technical issues.

Glad I didn’t back that 2.87 on a small gap between the top two cars now.

In case you missed the corrective comment, apologies for a cock-up on my part: qualifying started at 6am, not 5am. The race will start at 5am.

Sadly, neither Manor Marussia was in shape to participate. The cars seem to be fine mechanically, but there are software issues, and, unlike with the old KERS, if the electronics aren’t working then losing the ERS will cost seconds a lap and there’s little point running without it. Hopefully they’ll be ready for Malaysia.

Sauber finally got some good news. Van Der Garde voluntarily dropped (for Australia, at least) his claim on a seat, enabling Ericsson and Nasr to race as planned, with the Dutchman hoping to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with Sauber in the coming days and weeks.

Q1 was notable for the McLaren being terribly slow, finishing last (17th and 18th, Button ahead). The only other car to drop out was Ericsson’s Sauber, in 16th. He was five-hundredths ahead of Button.

The second part of qualifying was rather tighter. Both Force Indias dropped out last (Hulkenberg was one-thousandth faster than Perez). Red Bull’s engine-mapping appeared a bit wonky, with Kvyat departing in 13th. Verstappen could’ve gone faster, but 12th isn’t bad, and Nasr was an impressive 11th.

At the sharp end of Q3 were vast yawning chasms of time. Hamilton was a day and a half (0.6s) ahead of Rosberg, who seemed to suffer a weird issue at turn 15 (some reckon it’s an engine mapping problem, as, earlier, he’d reported a loss of power at the same place). Eight-tenths behind the German was Massa, who got a tasty 3rd for Williams, ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen (the team mates separated by a mere four-hundredths from one another, and Vettel a similar margin behind Massa). Bottas, who made a few small errors and seems to have a bad back, was another two-hundredths behind Raikkonen.

Seventh for Ricciardo was probably the best that Red Bull could hope for. Sainz got a nice 8th, with Grosjean and Maldonado rounding out the top 10 (after Lotus’ 2014 season one suspects they’ll be very happy with that).

Hamilton was in dominant form, but the Mercedes’ advantage is such that Rosberg was an easy 2nd even so. It’s immensely close between the Ferraris and Williams. Toro Rosso have made a very good start, and their two newcomers appear on the ball right from the off. Red Bull have ground to make up, and Sauber look good for points during the season.

Early on, betting thoughts are:
Nasr points
Ricciardo top 6
Vettel podium
Massa podium
Sainz points
Hulkenberg points
Lay Button/Magnussen/Bottas points

Nasr was just 2.5 or so for points. Too short to tempt.

I rate Ricciardo highly, but his car is not in top three, so 1.5 or so for top 6 is a bit ungenerous.

Hard to pick a podium chap. Massa and Vettel are both 2.5 with Ladbrokes, but 3.1 and 2.7 respectively on Betfair. Massa’s odds are tempting.

Sainz has been a bit overlooked given Verstappen’s age, but he’s driven very well throughout the weekend so far. However, 1.66 is a little short for me. Likewise Hulkenberg at 2.25 [I rate him as a driver, but the car may be lacking and that’s barely over evens to make up at least five places].

With Ladbrokes, Button and Magnussen are 1.8 Not To Be Classified, whereas Bottas is 4.5. I’m not tipping this, but the Finn has a bad back. He may sit the race out. The problem is if he does, the bet may be null and void (as happened to me with a similar Alonso bet) and if he doesn’t he’s highly likely to be classified. May be worth a shot, but I’m not tipping it.

As always with the first race, tipping’s tricky. But I’d be inclined to back Massa at 3.1 (Betfair) for a podium, no hedging.

Unlike yesterday, when I got the start times wrong, the race does actually start at 5am. [I don’t have an alarm clock, so it’ll be interesting to see if I wake up in time].


Morris Dancer

Friday, 13 March 2015

Australia: pre-qualifying

Unfortunately, both Sky and the official F1 site have been redesigned to make them worse. In a perplexing move, the official site’s results page now no longer shows the gap between the top time and those following.

Practice 1 had Rosberg about three-hundredths ahead of Hamilton, but Hamilton was 1.2s ahead of third-placed Bottas. Bottas was three-tenths up on Sainz, with Vettel and Verstappen close behind. Massa, Raikkonen, Maldonado and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.

In second practice Rosberg was fastest again, exactly one-tenth up on Hamilton, who was seven-tenths ahead of Vettel. Raikkonen was four-tenths off his German team mate, and was followed by Bottas, Kvyat, Sainz, Maldonado, Grosjean and Hulkenberg.

The McLarens have been very slow, 14th and 15th, and 13th and 16th.

Point of order: at the moment, Sauber are still running Ericsson and Nasr. Van Der Garde does not have a super licence. Whether this’ll change, I don’t know, but without one, he cannot race in F1.

Worse still, according to this BBC report the Sauber team principal, Monisha Kaltenborn, could potentially face jail over the farce:

Stevens and Merhi, Manor Marussia’s drivers, did not run in either practice session so far.

Based on the first two practice sessions, a few bets spring to mind, not unlike a frolicking gazelle:
Rosberg pole
Maldonado top 10
Vettel/Bottas top 3
Lay Magnussen top 10

Rosberg was just about evens for pole. As I think it’s 50/50, that doesn’t tempt me.

Maldonado was around 1.66 for Q3. Given I think the Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Red Bulls are definitely faster, that’s too short.

Bottas and Vettel were 2.5 and 3 respectively for top 3. Hard to pick, and with Massa/Raikkonen (or even Ricciardo) perhaps capable of an upset, again it doesn’t tempt me.

The odds on laying Magnussen for Q3 were 50. Whilst I think it very unlikely, I don’t lay such long odds.

An unexpected bet caught my eye: Ladbrokes, 2.87 for a gap from pole to second of 0.15s or less. Unfortunately, the new F1 site’s appalling redesign appears to have made it impossible to find anything from last year [or earlier] except race results. That’s terrifically stupid and bloody irritating. I wanted to see what the results were from last year.

Anyway, decided against that bet. Possible one Mercedes will have a problem, or one driver put in a fantastic lap. So, no tip for qualifying.

Remember, qualifying and the race start at the early hour of 5am. Normally it’d be 6am, but following Bianchi’s crash several races now have earlier starts, to allow more light if they drag on and to try and decrease the possibility of a severe accident occurring.

And for those without Sky, it’s worth noting the BBC is not showing qualifying on TV or broadcasting it via radio. BBC coverage of qualifying [live] is limited to audio/text via the website, which is pretty poor.


Morris Dancer

Monday, 2 March 2015

Testing Thoughts

The three pre-season tests are over, and there’s less than a fortnight until the first weekend of the season proper begins in Australia.

I cannot stress enough that headline times should be almost entirely ignored. The very large fuel tanks, substantial variation in pace due to tyres and new upgrades/changing weather conditions mean that very very little can be taken from the times.

Mood music is the way to go, although this is obviously not very precise. It’s also worth considering that we know, more or less, how good the drivers are and are uncertain of the cars, but the cars are more important than the drivers when it comes to determining pace.

Here’s a concise summary of my views on how things are likely to stand for the first race*:

Title Contenders

Mercedes – still fastest. Perhaps by a long way, perhaps by a little less. I still think they’ll dominate the season, although the margin may be less comically enormous than last year. Off-chance they’ll face a serious challenge.

Ferrari – looking good. But they were flattered by testing last year and that was a dog of a car. However, the consensus seems to be it’s genuinely improved. The engine is also better and may be closer to the Mercedes than any other. Could be second fastest.

Red Bull – the Renault engine now runs more smoothly and has room for development but in power terms it’s an anorexic against a sumo wrestler. It’ll still be great on more aerodynamically dependent circuits, but right now it’d be murdered at Monza. Perhaps third.

Williams – it’s all going rather well, despite a change in lubricants/fuel etc apparently meaning a significant power loss. Good enough to challenge Mercedes? Maybe. Where they slot in with Ferrari and Red Bull is uncertain, but it’s likely they’ll remain super-fast in a straight line but lacking aerodynamic grip compared to Mercedes/Red Bull. A win in Austria seems eminently possible.

*NB McLaren have historically done well in Australia. It would be a mistake to assume a strong result there is necessarily indicative of everything being great for the time (they got two podium spots last year, after Ricciardo was disqualified, but that was not a good indicator of their season-long performance).

Midfield

McLaren should not be considered midfield runners given their drivers and resources, but their testing seems to have been inspired by Red Bull’s 2014 misadventures. They could graduate to top team status, but with such a lack of running to iron out bugs (let alone perfecting set-up) it’s hard to see them being there right now. The car will be dragged to some success by its drivers. If it doesn’t break down first. There was better running late on, but McLaren is still far, far behind other teams when it comes to development.

Force India only brought their new car to the last three days of testing (testing totalled twelve days). Last year the car started off very competitive but it ended poorly, and the lack of proper testing suggests money woes could affect the development cycle. Should be a solid, but unspectacular car. It was very reliable during its minimal testing, which is a good sign.

Lotus had a horrid car last year. This year they’ve got the Mercedes engine (which is cheaper and better than all others) and the car seems rather more stable and sensible. I’d expect fairly regular forays into the points, especially from Grosjean.

Backmarkers

Sauber had a bloody atrocious car last year. This year’s seems a bit more solid but it’s hard to judge pace. I would guess it’ll snaffle the odd point, more than that may be doubtful.

Against all the odds, Marussia has risen from the dead to be reborn as Manor. However, the lateness of their resurrection suggests their car will be well at the back, circulating by itself (a shame after they closed the gap a little in 2014). It's done no testing whatsoever.

Vague forecast

I still think this’ll be another strong Mercedes year. It’s also worth noting that if the car’s relatively slower but more reliable than 2014 then they’ll actually score more points. Accordingly, I’ve backed Rosberg and Hamilton for the title.

It should be pretty interesting, especially with the pack of Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull seemingly close together on pace, though perhaps some way off Mercedes.

Engine development can happen in-season, so that’s another area which will see significant upgrades. The development race may not alter the winning team, but even if it doesn’t, it could significantly shuffle the pack.

To Oz

First off, the race starts at 5am, UK time. This is because the start, previously 6am, has been pushed earlier an hour so that if there’s a delay the light remains a little brighter. The change, whilst irksome for a UK viewer, has come about because of Bianchi’s crash, and is intended to improve safety. I believe about three other races are similarly affected.

As mentioned above, McLaren tend to do rather well in Australia, so don’t get carried away if they have a great race.

The pre-qualifying piece will be up a day earlier than usual, because P3 will take place at an unholy hour. No idea if I’ll offer a tip or not. I’ll check the markets and see how they look.

I’m really rather looking forward to it.


Morris Dancer