Monday, 13 November 2017

Brazil: post-race analysis

A very eventful start, and congratulations to Mr. B on backing Vettel to lead lap 1. Annoyingly, of the bets I shortlisted the only ones that didn’t come off were the long shot and the one I actually backed (Ricciardo spun on lap 1 and could easily have crashed out... but didn’t). To make matters worse, between 3 and 4pm Betfair decided to void my bet on Hamilton not reaching the podium (which came off). My initial attempt to contact them didn’t work as the site kept timing out.

Before the race started there was some concern at Ferrari over the electronics, definitely on Raikkonen’s car and maybe Vettel’s too. Happily, this seemed not to cause a serious problem.

At the start, Vettel just about managed to get ahead of Bottas thanks to a better second phase off the line. Meanwhile, Ricciardo spun off-track and came very close to crashing out. But he didn’t. The swine.

Grosjean lost control slightly which unfortunately coincided with Ocon passing him on the outside, putting the Force India out (Grosjean was able to recover, but I think he subsequently got a rather unnecessary time penalty). Magnussen and Vandoorne also tangled with one another and failed to complete the first lap.

Contrary to my expectations, reliability thereafter was actually pretty damned good, with only Hartley going on to retire, about halfway through the race.

Anyway, first lap shenanigans brought out the safety car for several laps as the track was cleared of debris.

At the sharp end, Vettel was just eking out a lead over Bottas. Verstappen looked faster than Raikkonen but couldn’t pass.

Hamilton and Ricciardo, however, could pass, and were carving their way through the field with aplomb (admittedly, with much faster cars than almost everyone else).

An intriguing battle which got less coverage than it perhaps deserved was that Massa managed to squeak ahead of Alonso and the Spaniard was unable to pass him. This duel continued all race long and, towards the end, Perez was right behind Alonso too. The three finished nose-to-tail, Massa doing very well to keep 7th ahead of his old team mate. At his final Brazilian Grand Prix, Alonso was not faster him.

Mercedes pitted Bottas first, and though Ferrari reacted on the following lap it very nearly stole the victory. Vettel emerged barely a car’s length ahead and for a few corners Bottas, with tyres up to temperature, looked very feisty. However, once things settled Vettel soon pulled out a significant gap and was untroubled by the Finn any more.

Except for Hamilton and Ricciardo rising through the field, it was pretty much as you were. Hamilton passed Verstappen, who was struggling on his tyres, and should’ve passed Raikkonen late on. However, the Briton locked up at the critical time, and on the subsequent lap his supersofts, Raikkonen being on softs, had just lost the critical edge of performance. He was quicker but not so fast as to be able to effect a pass. Raikkonen held on for another podium.

Vettel got the victory which, apart from the pit stop, never seemed in doubt. Bottas got 2nd, with Raikkonen ensuring two Prancing Horses on the podium.

Hamilton got 4th, and whilst 3rd was possible that’s still a great result from the pit lane. Verstappen, despite a late pit stop to get fresh tyres and the fastest lap, was 5th, right ahead of his team mate.

Massa, Alonso and Perez finished 7th to 9th, with Hulkenberg getting the final point, ahead of his team mate. That will be a very interesting intra-team battle to watch next year.

I shortlisted four tips (one a long shot) and two came off. The long shot and the one I actually backed didn’t, which was a bit disheartening. And, as I mentioned, Betfair voided the 2.4 on Hamilton not to get a podium, for reasons that I have yet to ascertain. Luck’s meant to shake out over a season but it does feel like 50/50s have tended to go against me this year.

On early bets, I totally misjudged the relative pace of Red Bull, so that’s on me.

I’ll be glad when this season’s over.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Brazil: pre-race 2017

A very interesting qualifying session. Bottas got pole, which is nice, but Raikkonen couldn’t quite make the top 2, which was a little bit displeasing given his odds were ridiculously long (22/1 at one point).

Congratulations to Mr. Sandpit, who is on Bottas at 13.5 for the win (hedgeable at just over evens right now).

In the first part of qualifying, Hamilton made a rare mistake, the rear of his car getting away from him and leading to him crashing out immediately. In less surprising news, both Saubers failed to make it out, and, yet again, Stroll also failed to progress. Gasly, who has penalties anyway, was another who exited at this stage.

In second practice Hartley, who has penalties as well, didn’t bother running, which is understandable. Both Haas drivers didn’t go any further, and nor did Vandoorne. Surprisingly, Ocon could only register the 11th fastest time (although he’ll be promoted to 10th due to Ricciardo’s penalty).

Tiny spots of rain came down in Q3 but not sufficient to make any real difference. It was very close at the sharp end between the Ferraris and Bottas. Vettel was fastest on his first run but got pipped by the Mercedes driver by less than half a tenth. Raikkonen was a couple of tenths off the pace which was a little surprising.

Although Verstappen was next up he was nearly half a second off the slower Finn, and four-tenths faster than his team mate, who will take a 10 place penalty and start 15th. Perez and Alonso were next, the Spaniard two-hundredths slower than the Mexican. If the Honda engine holds up, Alonso could be on for a good race.

Hulkenberg and Sainz came next, the German a tenth faster than his new, rather more competitive, team mate. I do wonder if their engines will last, though. Finally, (again), we have Massa, whose pace was about a second faster than his team mate.

The forecast is for it to be dry and warm. I wonder if the heat might harm the Ferraris. We also have a couple of drivers out of place, with Ricciardo 15th and Hamilton 20th or starting from the pit lane. Brazil often has carnage at the first corner, which is an interesting and tricky turn.

Just looking at the grid, my first thoughts on betting were:
Verstappen podium
Vettel win
Ricciardo top 6

Verstappen is 1.9 for a podium. Not enough given the cars ahead of him and reliability question marks over Renault (ironic, though, that he’s recently suffered least from them).

Vettel is just 2.5 to win. Entirely credible but the odds aren’t great.

Ricciardo is 1.4 for the top 6. The least tempting of them all. Whilst he may well get it he’ll have to pass Williams/Force India which may prove difficult, he’s had bad reliability recently (one of my early tips was backing him to DNF) and he starts 15th, which is a great place to get caught out by someone else’s accident off the start.

Upon perusing the markets, I found:
First lap leader, Vettel, 5 (Betfair Sportsbook)
Group Betting, Group B Winner, Alonso, 3.75 (Ladbrokes)
Ricciardo, not to be classified, 5 (Ladbrokes)
Perez, top 6, 2.2 (Ladbrokes)

#Oddsonthat market on Betfair Sportsbook
Hamilton not to get a podium 2.4
Vettel and Verstappen podium, Hamilton top 6, Force India double points, 5
Vettel win, Hulkenberg/Ocon/Perez points, under 15.5 classified finishers, 15
Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41
Ricciardo podium, Alonso/Grosjean/Vandoorne not to be classified, 101

Lots there to contemplate, although no single bet leaps out and demands to be backed.

Raikkonen has tended to go backwards rather than forwards off the line, and Vettel had a very good start in Mexico. I think it’ll be him or Bottas, but obviously that sort of bet is a bit luck of the draw. The odds are reasonably good.

Alonso’s group includes Perez, Hulkenberg and Sainz. The Renaults have had worse reliability in recent races, and Alonso typically makes up ground off the start. My concern, as well as his possibly weak reliability, is that he’ll be murdered on the straight by Perez, and the Force India’s only real weakness is the other Force India colliding with it. Tempting but can’t back it.

Ricciardo has failed to be classified in the last few races. He’s also in a nice place to be crashed into going into the challenging first corner. For that matter, Sainz and Hulkenberg at 3.5 each are also a bit tempting.

Perez starts 5th, has a car that’s very reliable and is very good at keeping tyres going. That matters here because it’s a toss up between a one and two stop race. Ricciardo and Hamilton will be in significantly faster cars but start further back. There’s also something of a reliability question mark over the Red Bulls/Renault engines as well as the three cars immediately behind him on the grid. All that said, 2.2 aren’t huge odds. But they may be good odds.

Usually, due to timing, I miss the #Oddsonthat markets so it was a nice surprise to see them up.

After checking, it turned out Hamilton was 2.4 not to get a podium, but, on the exchange, 3.3 to get one. So I backed both, of course. Unfortunately, the #Oddsonthat market instantly vanished, so this can’t count as a tip (shame as it’s a guaranteed winner).

Vettel and Verstappen both getting on the podium is credible, as is Hamilton finishing top 6 and both Force Indias scoring. However, that’s quite a few contingencies for 5, and there is a question mark over both Verstappen’s reliability and the Red Bull’s pace. It’s probable but not certain Hamilton will be top 6. Too many things to tempt at those odds.

Vettel win, Hulkenberg/Ocon/Perez points, under 15.5 classified finishers, 15. This is more tempting. On pace, there’s every chance Vettel can beat Bottas, and the three chaps in question could score, although Hulkenberg’s had shaky reliability recently. At least five retirements are required, but with engine dodginess from Honda and Renault, that’s at least plausible, if not probable. The main potential pitfall seems to be Hulkenberg. Worth considering.

Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41. Given the dubiousness of Renault engines recently, this is also quite intriguing. Verstappen getting on the podium is probably the least likely contingency. As well as reliability (and he has essentially the same engine as the chaps who need to DNF) there’s a pace question mark. On the other hand, he tends to go forward rather than backwards off the line, unlike Raikkonen, who starts 3rd and immediately ahead of him. Hmm.
Last and longest, we have Ricciardo podium, Alonso/Grosjean/Vandoorne not to be classified, 101. Tasty idea but Ricciardo’s unlikely to get on the podium, and I’d be slightly surprised if all three of those drivers failed to finish. Mind you, that’s why the odds are long. But I’m not especially tempted.

Of all the above, the most interesting are:
Vettel, lap 1 leader, 5
Ricciardo, not to be classified, 5
Perez, top 6, 2.2
Sainz/Hartley/Hulkenberg to not be classified, Verstappen on the podium, 41

Quite tricky to decide between them. I think Ricciardo not to be classified at 5 offers the best value. Those odds are available both on Ladbrokes and Betfair Sportsbook. [NB this is almost identical to the 5.25 early tip on Ricciardo not to be classified, not quite sure how I’ll resolve that in the records as yet].

The grid’s poised intriguingly and Interlagos is perhaps the best circuit on the calendar, so we should be in for a cracking race. The start is at 4pm UK time.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Brazil: pre-qualifying 2017

Some Mercedes team members (and maybe FIA officials too, not sure) were robbed at gunpoint after leaving the circuit yesterday. There has always been some danger at Interlagos, but this is a rather troubling reminder. Nobody was hurt, though valuables were taken.

As an aside, all of Verstappen’s three wins to date have come the race after Kvyat got dropped. Odd coincidence.

Massa announced last Saturday that he was retiring, due in part to the uncertainty over his position at Williams. I like Massa a lot, he seems like a genuinely nice guy with little ego, and he came incredibly close to the 2008 title only to have it wrenched away by Hamilton’s last gasp pass on Glock. But, the sport does need new blood and Massa’s been around for quite a while. That does make it ironic that the men seemingly next in line are former drivers Kvyat, Kubica and Di Resta.

Speaking of fresh blood, Lando Norris has been named McLaren’s reserve driver for next year, replacing Jenson Button.

Two drivers who have performed extremely well in the wet (former in the very wet, latter in wet-dry conditions) are Verstappen and Hulkenberg. If the weather looks soggy, keep those two in mind.

Post from PB:
F1: for what it's worth, I've made some early bets [on the 2018 title] with small stakes.

My view is that the Renault engine is critical. If it's on song next year then Alonso at 12 each way (Ladbrokes, odds boosted [weirdly, this is also working for each way bets]) is the best value by a mile. Also backed Vandoorne at 81 each way on the basis that Australia tends to be good for McLaren and whilst he's unlikely to be on terms with Alonso, that equates to 17 to be top 3, which is possible.

I've also backed Bottas at 16 each way. If it's Mercedes versus Ferrari, or if reliability of the Renault is as poor as this year, he's almost nailed on to be top 3 at 4 (as with Vandoorne, that's fifth the odds for top 3).

The short odds on Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Ricciardo do not appeal. If Hamilton wins, the Bottas bet is likely to come off at better odds. If Renault step up their game, McLaren are far better value than Red Bull.

If/when the Constructors' comes up I'll look at Red Bull, as their driver pairing is the most balanced. It'll be them or Mercedes, in my view.

In first practice Hamilton was a tenth ahead of Bottas, with the Silver Arrows almost half a second ahead of Raikkonen. Verstappen, Ricciardo and Vettel followed close behind, with Massa, Vandoorne, Ocon and Alonso rounding out the top 10.

Second practice had the same top two, but the margin was half a tenth, and from Bottas to Ricciardo was a tenth and a half. Vettel and Verstappen were not far down the road, although Raikkonen was a couple of tenths off the Dutchman. Ocon, Massa and Hulkenberg were all covered by a tenth, followed by Alonso.

At this stage, rain is forecast for qualifying but the race is expected to be dry. That could help out Red Bull, McLaren and Renault, at the expense of Williams (downforce, of course, being your friend in the wet, and power mattering less).

It’s worth noting that Ricciardo has usually been outperformed by a variety of team mates here, (second in qualifying to Vettel, Kvyat and Verstappen in the last three years). Also, Hulkenberg and Verstappen have performed astonishingly quickly in certain wet conditions.

Not clear as yet whether the race will be one or two stops. Ricciardo does have a penalty of at least 10 places for changing engine parts, yet again.

As well as the Ricciardo penalty, both Toro Rossos have similar ones. In fact, there’s a chance of the F1 equivalent of nuclear war breaking out, with Renault potentially exploring the possibility of refusing to supply engine parts to the team after Franz Tost, boss of Toro Rosso, reportedly hinted that the team was being given weaker parts to benefit the Renault F1 team. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.

Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel were fastest in third practice, all covered by half a tenth. Looks rather good. However, Red Bull does not. Ricciardo was next up, nine-tenths off Vettel. Alonso has looked strong all weekend and was within half a tenth of the Aussie, followed by Perez, Ocon, Verstappen (who didn’t get a clean lap in but looked roughly on pace with Ricciardo) and Sainz.

Right now, Bottas and Raikkonen probably represent the best value for pole. The weather forecast has improved from rain to overcast.

I was astonished to check and find Raikkonen was 17 for pole on Betfair Sportsbook. I backed this each way (third the odds for top 2) and likewise Bottas at 4.5. Bottas was fastest in final practice and Raikkonen, though third, was just 0.04s off the pace.

Raikkonen’s also 23 (21 plus boost) for pole on Ladbrokes, but there’s no each way option. However, he is, at the time of writing, layable at 19 on Ladbrokes Exchange, so I took advantage of that to gain a little more if he wins and lose nothing if he does not. [NB this changed immediately after I wrote this, with Raikkonen falling to the still too long 13].

I really had intended to sit out qualifying but with things so close, Bottas at 4.5 and Raikkonen at 17, both each way, were too long to miss.

Qualifying starts at 4pm UK time. The pre-race article will likely be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Early thoughts on 2018

With the 2017 season yet to finish, it might seem too early to contemplate next year. But, the markets are up, and it’s interesting, so I thought I’d have a look at how things might pan out.

The regulations stay broadly the same (next big shake up will be 2021). There doesn’t seem to be much movement at all in drivers at top teams (I believe Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren have unchanged lineups). So far, so consistent.

There is one major change, which is McLaren moving from Honda to Renault engines. As we’ve seen this year, the Renault is much closer to the Mercedes/Ferrari, although it still has a horsepower deficit. However, the McLaren has looked rather good in aerodynamic terms, and Red Bull were, at some circuits, competitive outright.

If the Renault is too unreliable or slow, then we’re likely to have another Hamilton/Vettel season in 2018. If the Renault is good enough to enable Red Bull and McLaren to compete for regular wins, then Verstappen, Ricciardo, Alonso and Vandoorne step into contention.

Well. Perhaps. In Mexico, Vandoorne was politely moved out his team mate’s way. He’s a good driver but I think McLaren will very much be backing Alonso.

What of Red Bull? Verstappen has a long term contract there, having re-signed this year, but after 2018 (I think) Ricciardo is a free agent. Rumours abound he might be off to Mercedes (Ferrari seems less likely). I don’t think Red Bull will be quite as number one driver about it as they were in the past, but it does seem probable they’ll favour Verstappen.

I’ve also read (from NigelB on PB) that Mercedes are going for a radical redesign for a high rake philosophy. If that gives them an edge, they may walk it again. But if they screw it up, they might have made the silliest design decision since McLaren decided to fundamentally change their suspension from 2012 to 2013. My guess is that Mercedes will be there, and are likely to be the team to beat, again.

As well as pace of driver and car, we must consider reliability. This year, the Mercedes has been rock solid. Ferrari has been very good indeed, with just a couple of gremlins (alas, still enough to rob us of a title fight to the end). The Renault engine has been the most problematic (excepting Honda, obviously) with 5 and 7 DNFs for Ricciardo and Verstappen respectively, out of 18 races to date. That’s a title-sinking statistic if it’s repeated next year.

For Red Bull/McLaren to have a chance, they need Renault to make a small step forward on relative pace, and a large step forward on reliability. I think that, more than speed, might prove more difficult.

Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and Alonso fighting for a title is a very appealing thought. Let us suppose the cars are roughly equal over the course of a season in terms of both reliability and pace. Who would win?

In qualifying, Hamilton and Vettel stand out. Alonso is not a bad qualifier but he is not Hamilton’s equal. Verstappen’s a bit trickier to assess because he’s only been in the sport during the age of engine modes giving Mercedes (and, to a lesser extent, Ferrari) an advantage. This is a weakness Renault are actively seeking to address.

In the race, they’re all pretty fantastic. Verstappen is the most aggressive, which helps him sometimes punch above his weight and sometimes needlessly get tangled in accidents. Hamilton’s very good wheel-to-wheel but the recent design philosophy of Mercedes has made his car trickier to handle in traffic than the Ferrari (exemplified by the recent race in Mexico). Alonso, I believe I’m right in saying, typically makes up more places off the line and on lap one than anyone else. He’s very capable wheel-to-wheel but generally hasn’t been racing against the frontrunning drivers for the last few years.

The first race is likely to be Australia. It’s worth noting that, historically, McLaren has performed better there than at other circuits. One year you may recall Button and Magnussen scored a double podium and McLaren briefly led the Constructors’. That’s worth considering both for early bets to hedge and when looking at the title races after Australia.

If we have a straight Hamilton/Vettel duel, then it’s a more straightforward matter. But if Red Bull and/or McLaren get involved then it becomes more difficult because, even if Ferrari and Mercedes are faster (just), the other two teams will take points from them at certain circuits. That sort of thing can only really be assessed when we have some actual performance to analyse, but it should be borne in mind. It’s better to be 1st at half the circuits and 3rd at the others than 2nd throughout.

There’s also the Constructors’ race to consider. In this, the team mate suddenly becomes a valuable asset. On the face of it, Red Bull has the best pairing. Raikkonen’s not a bad driver, but he’s not up to par with the others. Vandoorne’s good but hard to say much beyond that. Bottas is sometimes very good, but he’s also had some notably weak races this year. If the Renault engine is reliable and at least close to the others, Red Bull are likeliest to win this.

If the Renault engine is not good enough, Mercedes will get it, I think.

Picking a driver is trickier. Probably car characteristics and the number of certain circuit types might be a way to go (again, though, the Red Bull and McLaren are both likely to be weaker on high speed circuits and better on high downforce ones).

I think France returns next year, and Malaysia had its last race in 2017.

Generally, downforce matters more than top speed nowadays. How things stack depend a lot on relative performance. If Ferrari are 2nd best at every circuit, they’ll win, provided Mercedes (probably best at faster tracks) are on par or slower than Red Bull/McLaren at slower and mid-speed races. But if Ferrari are 2nd at fast circuits and then 3rd at the slow stuff, they’re nowhere.

Last but not least, we must consider the development race. All through the year, updates are made to the cars (NB not all are upgrades, some add no performance and others worsen it). This is a critical part of winning in a tight season. Mercedes are good at this. Ferrari have been strong this year, although often in the past they’ve been a bit hit-and-miss. Red Bull might be the best at it, but they’ve started off with such a disadvantage in the last few years that strong development hasn’t given them a shot. McLaren are a bit hard to assess because they’ve been so hampered by the Honda.

The astute amongst you will have noticed I haven’t tipped a (or more than one) title contender. That’s because I think it’s too difficult to say at this stage. Not only that, the odds on all but Alonso are 4 or shorter, which is too tight anyway, and especially so given the market won’t be resolved for a year or so.

If McLaren do make a comeback, it’d be the biggest turn around in fortunes since the Brawn team. Is there any chance of another team contending for the title?

I don’t think so. Force India do a great job with limited resources, have rock solid reliability, two reliable and fast drivers, and fully deserve to be head of the midfield. But, frankly, they need a cash injection. Renault now has a very good driver lineup with Hulkenberg and Sainz, and their performance is improving. They also have, it seems, a better-funded set-up than Force India and may well be able to mount a title challenge. However, I think doing so next year is just a bit too soon for them. The performance gap is absolutely enormous between the top three teams this year and everyone else. The only reason McLaren might be able to bridge it is because they’ve been hampered with terrible engines and their actual car seems to be very good indeed.

Whilst it’s possible next year will see a tedious return to Mercedes’ dominance, I hope we at least get another Hamilton-Vettel duel, and there is a realistic prospect of a much more complicated title battle, as we saw in 2010.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 30 October 2017

Mexico: post-race analysis 2017

Neither race bet came off. Been a rather bad year, to be honest. Of the early tips, they’re green overall thanks to Verstappen winning (tipped pre-weekend at 5). Both race bets were at least credible, but you don’t get sympathy winnings.

Ricciardo ended up taking a grid penalty. After all that, he started near the back.

Anyway, off the line it was very close, Verstappen just about passing Vettel and staying on track. The German tried to come back as Hamilton sought to take advantage and the two collided. Vettel lost part of his front wing, Hamilton suffered a puncture. Verstappen broke away from Bottas and, after lap 1 pit stops from the title contenders, Hamilton was dead last and Vettel was last but one, albeit some way up the road.

Behind Bottas, it was spring time for the midfield chaps with Ocon, Hulkenberg and Sainz all ahead of Raikkonen (the Finn has a habit of starting badly).

Meanwhile, Ricciardo’s brand new engine failed. A short and not very spectacular race for the unfortunate Aussie.

Vettel set about carving his way through the field on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult. Indeed, we were lucky he and Hamilton tangled on the first lap otherwise almost the only overtaking would’ve been by the McLarens. However, Hamilton found running in the hot air much harder than Vettel (a rare weakness for the Mercedes) and it took him maybe a dozen laps to pass Sainz, who early on had had to pit (I think he ran over debris and got a puncture).

At the sharp end, Verstappen was being told to slow down a bit. He responded by setting fastest laps repeatedly and laughing at his race engineer, whilst pulling out an ever increasing lead over Bottas.

Further down the order, the two McLarens were making progress from the back (due to grid penalties). Alonso passed Grosjean quite roughly, with relative serious contact, and I was surprised there was no penalty, to be honest. When the Spaniard reached Vandoorne, the Belgian (bottled up behind Ericsson) was told to move aside, which is indicative of how McLaren might treat 2018 if they’re in a title-contending position.

Hulkenberg retired due to an electrical issue, and was ordered, after pulling over, to climb onto the front and then jump off the car to avoid getting a shock.

Ocon, who had been ahead of Raikkonen, pitted earlier. After this, the Finn started extending the lead to an extent whereby he could pit and retain 3rd spot.

It was then that Hartley’s engine failed. He pulled over, aflame, and the virtual safety car emerged (a proper use of the measure unlike the Azerbaijan safety car showboating that caused such carnage and artificially altered the race). This enabled the frontrunners, including Raikkonen, to pit and keep their places, pushing Ocon down to 4th .

From there, Vettel and Hamilton passing a few more cars aside (Vettel passing Ocon), the race was effectively over. The start was exciting, the middle was tense, and the end was a bit of a procession.

Verstappen got his third ever triumph, Bottas and Raikkonen next in the order but with very wide gaps between them on track. Vettel ended up 4th, and was the only other man not lapped by Verstappen.

Ocon was 5th and Perez 7th. A very strong result for Force India, yet again. Their silly tangles at a few races aside, the driver pairing is fast and reliable, and the car’s solid as a rock, only Mercedes being more reliable.

Stroll was 6th. Whilst he was aided by the timing of the VSC (he was running 4th at the time, between Raikkonen and Ocon) he nevertheless drove well and fully deserves the place, with Massa in 11th.

Magnussen finished 8th. Rather surprising, actually. Haas had been the worst car in qualifying, slower than the Saubers, so one imagines the odds on him scoring points would’ve been pretty good.

Hamilton finished 9th. Not the most glorious way to seal a title, nor as dramatic as the 2008 victory in Brazil, but he claimed his fourth title nevertheless. Damned shame that Ferrari lost reliability at two races and denied us a proper fight to the end.

Alonso was 10th. With Renault engines failing all around, the Honda kept ticking. A good performance from man and car. (Vandoorne was 12th).

Hamilton has the title, and Bottas cannot be caught for 3rd (I tipped Bottas pre-season at 26 each way, fifth the odds for top 3, to win). There’s still a lot to be decided in the middle of the Constructors’ race, though. From fifth:

Williams 76
Toro Rosso 53
Renault 48
Haas 47

The race was dreadful for Renault. At one point they had two cars in the top five, and both ended up with DNFs. Meanwhile, Stroll extended Williams’ lead of the mid-grid pack by eight points. Williams have probably got fifth now, but behind them it’s down to just two races and could go any way. Haas, thanks to Magnussen’s surprise 8th, is now just a single point behind Renault.

Ahead of this group, the order is settled: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India. Behind them we have McLaren and Sauber.

The next race is at Interlagos, my favourite circuit, in a fortnight. After that, just one more race, in Abu Dhabi.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Mexico: pre-race 2017

Gasly didn’t run in qualifying due to engine issues.

Vandoorne had a 35 place penalty, with a 20 place penalty for Alonso. Gasly might be miffed, but with Toro Rosso having a Honda engine next year he might have to get used to this sort of thing.

Obviously Gasly didn’t escape the first session, and the other four who joined him were the two Saubers and the two Haas cars (which were slower than the Saubers). Pretty weak pace from the American team.

In Q2 there was more woe for Toro Rosso as Hartley’s engine failed. The McLarens didn’t run due to their mighty penalties and with Hartley also out by default there were only two ‘proper’ exits. Unfortunately for Williams, both their cars dropped out here, Massa being the faster.

And so to Q3, which everybody expected to be very close. And so it proved to be. Verstappen put in a great lap on his first run, but was unable to match Vettel’s second attempt. The German starts on pole, with the Dutchman alongside him. Having been outqualified by two different cars, Mercedes at least have the second row to themselves, with Hamilton ahead of Bottas. Raikkonen was close behind, and he has Ocon alongside him. Ricciardo could manage only 7th, a full nine-tenths off his team mate. Engine problem? Setup issue? It’s too big a margin to be normal. Hulkenberg is next, just one slot but three-tenths ahead of his new team mate Sainz, with Perez 10th and four-tenths off Ocon. At least some space between the Pink Panthers reduces the chances of an immediate collision.

An interesting grid. There was practically nothing between Hamilton and Bottas, but most other team mates had sizeable gaps in Q3. I expect the Red Bull to be very good in the race. Surprised Ricciardo qualified so badly given the pace that’s in the car (Verstappen does have an upgraded engine, but the margin is enormous just for that). This is particularly odd given the lap is a short one.

The race is likely to be a one stop for everyone, with the ultrasoft tyres capable of 35 odd laps. Overtaking’s tricky too.

Longest run to the first corner of the year (eight hundred and seventy-five yards). So, screw up the start and you’ll be passed by everyone and his cat. Probably not good for Raikkonen. Tastier for Alonso.

My initial betting thoughts were:
Ricciardo, podium
Force India, double points
Hamilton, win

Ricciardo is 4.6 for a podium. However, he does start 7th, it’s expected to be a one stop race and the circuit is apparently very tricky for overtaking. I do think he’ll make ground anyway, but that much *might* just be a step too far. Disappointing qualifying, even with engine disparity, given his team mate is on the front row. If he starts well, it could be the boost he needs, but there are quite a few cars between him and a podium. More concerning, I checked the qualifying times and in every session he was substantially off the pace, so it wasn’t just bad laps in Q3.

Force India are 1.5 for double points. That’s tight. And yet, their car is very reliable and both drivers are quick (Perez’s poor qualifying was a bit of a surprise). The straight will be the prime area of overtaking, which also suits the car pretty well. On the other hand, Perez starts 10th. If they were 6th and 8th it’d be rather more tempting.

Hamilton is 4.33 for the win. It’s certainly credible, but the Mercedes tends to be slower in the race than qualifying. Not long enough to tempt.

Just an aside, but it’s odd that the 8th and 9th men (the Renaults) are 1001 each to win. Ocon, in 6th, is likewise. Remembering Azerbaijan, I’m a little tempted to throw down 50p on that.

No F1 specials on the Ladbrokes exchange again, which is a shame because there were sometimes interesting markets there.

Anyway, I perused the markets and saw:
Vandoorne to beat Alonso, 3.5
First lap leader, Hamilton, 9 (Bottas is 25)
Bottas, podium, 2.66

The Vandoorne bet is based on the same lines as the one I raised but didn’t tip last time out. Namely, Alonso’s car breaks a lot. So Vandoorne will likely win by default.

The first lap leader bet is based on the long run to the first corner and the Mercedes’ dominance on top speed. Against it is that Hamilton’s engine has been hesitating throughout the weekend, and if power cuts out at the wrong time he will go a long way backwards.

Bottas has been good all weekend, unlike many of his recent performances, and his car appears rock solid.

Nothing, frankly, leaps out at me.

Some extra suggestions, from Mr. Sandpit, in another place (my thoughts in brackets afterwards):
Hamilton 1.12 to finish the race - he’s 17 from 17 so far this season. [Likely to come off but the very short odds aren’t to my taste]
Vettel to finish the race LAY 1.25 [Having backed something similar last race, not sure about this. The gremlins appear to have gone]
Verstappen 3.6 to win [Sound, especially each way, but an early, pre-weekend tip of mine was Verstappen at 5 to win so it’s already covered]
Safety car 1.55 - possibly just about value at that price but looking for 1.66-1.75 [Agree with Mr. Sandpit’s summary]
Lead first lap Verstappen at 4 and Hamilton at 8. [I was thinking of looking at this. The long run to the first corner makes it easier to come from further back so I’d probably look at Hamilton].

An awkward weekend, then, as I don’t have a particular bet in mind. But, as I offer a tip on every race and have done since the latter part of 2009, a tip must be found. I have put tiny sums on Sainz, Ocon and Hulkenberg each way to win at 1001 (very unlikely but the odds are just ridiculous and they’re top of the pile if the top six explode) but as I’m not putting a proper stake on that’s not a tip (not to mention it’d really bugger up a profit/loss graph if it came off).

To that end:
Hamilton, lap 1 leader, 9 (Betfair Exchange)
Vandoorne to beat Alonso, 3.5 (Ladbrokes)

The astute amongst you will have noticed the former is also Mr. Sandpit’s suggestion.

Will the McLarens explode? Will the top six simultaneously fail, giving me the best betting win since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix? Will the Force Indias smash into one another?

We shall find out, from 7pm tonight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mexico: pre-qualifying 2017

I’ve rambled a bit more than usual about early bets here, so let me know if you think that’s worthwhile or I should, as is normal, just mention them in passing.

Ah, Mexico, where the high altitude alters the aerodynamics and engines in a way that I forget every single year. Unhelpfully, having checked the two previous races, the circuit seems good for Williams and Red Bull, two teams with diametrically opposed design philosophies.

Worth recalling there was a significant earthquake in Mexico only a few weeks ago, so hopefully they’re making good progress rebuilding.

In other, unsurprising, news, Hartley is retaining his Toro Rosso seat and Kvyat’s gone again, as Gasly comes back. At least if Kvyat has gone for good, he had a good last race, nabbing the final point in Austin. It also sounds like Hartley might retain his seat for 2018.

Having read a little, it seems that the high altitude lends itself to massive downforce levels, akin to Monaco/Hungary, despite the long straights. It’s also been rather tasty for Red Bull in the past, although this season it’s been Ferrari that’s dominated at the aforementioned circuits.

Incidentally, thanks to Mr. B on PB who pointed out there’s only one swanky new Renault engine and Verstappen’s getting it.

Early bet considerations [all Ladbrokes]:
Race winner, Vettel 3.5, Verstappen 5, Raikkonen 17 (all each way)
Fastest qualifier, Verstappen 11, Raikkonen 13 (again, each way)
Double podium, Ferrari 3
Double points, Williams 4.5
Free Practice 1 winner, Raikkonen 9 (each way)

So, a surprisingly high eight potential early bets. As can be seen, I’ve focused on Ferrari and Red Bull. Hard to decide between them. Ricciardo’s engine penalty [update: he ended up not having one] and inferior engine makes me less likely to back him, good though he is.

On the qualifying front, the enhanced engine mode of Mercedes/Ferrari will help. That can’t be run throughout the race, however. That makes me inclined to back Raikkonen at 13 each way for the fastest qualifying time (he got pole in Monaco this year and started 2nd in Hungary).

Decided against backing Williams for double points. Although they’ve done well here in the past, their car isn’t quite as competitive as it could be, and Stroll’s sometimes a little off the pace.

Also decided against the Ferrari double podium bet. It’s perfectly credible but I think Raikkonen to win each way is more value, so if I make that sort of bet it’ll be the latter rather than the former.

There are six chaps vying, on pace, to be top 3 in FP1. Given the Ferrari could well be the tastiest car, that does make Raikkonen at 9 tempting enough to back (each way).

Which leaves the winner market. It vexes me, as credible arguments can be made for each of those chaps (and Hamilton won’t want to give up the win easily). If Vettel does win there is a good chance Raikkonen will be right behind him, and the Finn’s odds to be top 2 exceeds those of the German to win. To my mind, that rules out Vettel on value grounds. Verstappen is intriguing at 5 (longer on Betfair Sportsbook/Exchange, but the Sportsbook each way odds are only a quarter for top 2 so a smaller payout for 2nd, but larger for 1st). In the last three races he’s had a win and a 2nd, and might’ve done very well in Singapore (but we’ll never know for sure). On the other hand, if he qualifies poorly his odds may improve. On balance, I think Verstappen at 5 is the best bet for the winner (each way).

Early bets:
Fastest qualifier, Raikkonen, 13 (each way)
Free practice 1 winner, Raikkonen, 9 (each way)
Winner, Verstappen, 5 (each way)

An interesting side note is that after Ricciardo’s engine DNF in the US it was widely assumed he’d have a penalty. He was 26 on Betfair to win early in the week, 36 mid-week, but fell to 18.5 (21 at the time on Ladbrokes) on Friday when a rumour emerged that he might not take an engine penalty after all. Given Verstappen was around 6 or so, Ricciardo’s odds would seem very long (and eminently hedgeable if he ended up going without a penalty). On the other hand, if he does take one, the odds are actually too short, so it’s a fantastic/foolish sort of bet.
Updated bit: on Saturday morning, Ricciardo’s lay value on Betfair was down to 9. I must admit, I’d backed him at 26 when I forgot about his penalty and took this opportunity to hedge that.

Gasly has penalties for a fifth set of control electronics and perhaps more besides. He also went on to suffer an engine failure in third practice, so that won’t help.

In first practice it was Noah’s ark style, with Bottas nearly half a second ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo very close together and just a tenth off the Briton, and Vettel a tenth further back. Raikkonen, unhelpfully, was half a second off his team mate. Perez, Alonso, Massa, and Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.

In second practice, Ricciardo was fastest, a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen, Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas followed, with Alonso, Perez, Hulkenberg and Ocon making the top 10.

Third practice suggests that qualifying will be ultra-close. Just four-tenths covers the top six. Verstappen was fastest, ahead of Hamilton and Vettel, with Bottas, Ricciardo and Raikkonen in hot pursuit. Perez, Ocon, Sainz and Hulkenberg were close to one another but half a second off Raikkonen.

Right now it seems very competitive at the sharp end (NB the race is expected to be a one-stopper), and things are looking good for Force India and Renault.

That being so, I’m not inclined to offer a tip on qualifying. It could be a great session.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 23 October 2017

USA: post-race analysis 2017

The race was thoroughly entertaining with plenty of action throughout, perhaps spoilt only by the surprising decision against Verstappen late on. In terms of weekend bets, it was green, one bet succeeding and the other failing (due to bad luck regarding reliability). All the early tips, pre-weekend, failed, but two of the three did so due to misfortune (Verstappen’s grid penalty and Ricciardo’s DNF).

Congratulations and commiserations to Mr. Sandpit, who correctly tipped No Safety Car at 2.4 and a top 6 finish for Verstappen at 1.75, but failed to back either. Still, it could be worse. Could’ve failed to back his own 70/1 winning tip…

Vandoorne ended up starting last because his five place grid penalty was increased to 30.

Off the line, Vettel got a flying start and passed Hamilton, with Ocon getting past Raikkonen (who, according to commentary, hasn’t made a single place all year from the start, unless you count his short race in Singapore).

Raikkonen soon regained the spot from Ocon, whilst Vettel and Hamilton eased away from Bottas. The Finn was followed very closely by Ricciardo, who was visibly quicker but unable to pass due to the Mercedes’ horsepower. Meanwhile, being bottled up had enabled Raikkonen to gain ground and he was right on Ricciardo’s tail.

Sadly, lap four saw Hulkenberg retire due to a reliability problem. The Renault’s a good midfield car this year but its reliability is a bit weak.

Vettel had been unable to break away from Hamilton in the early stages, and on the sixth lap the Briton passed with ease, relying on vastly more speed on a straight. Good for him, though not as exciting as other passes later in the race would be. Having passed, Hamilton soon proved he was significantly quicker and began pulling away from his rival effortlessly.

Wehrlein retired lap seven, and on the next lap Verstappen had climbed to 7th, three laps later passing Ocon for 6th.

Ricciardo had been unable to pass Bottas and was suffering with his tyres, putting him under increasing pressure from Raikkonen. On lap 13 the Aussie pitted for the supersoft (the top chaps had all started on the ultrasoft, except Verstappen who started on the supersoft). A couple of laps later Alonso and Ocon both pitted for the soft tyre, marking an interesting divergence of strategy.

The Aussie was very swift, and there was every prospect of him nabbing Bottas over the pit stop and maybe climbing higher. Until his engine decided not to work any more and he suffered a DNF. A great shame for him, for the race and for the bets, but these things happen. As well as improving power, Renault need to work on their reliability (Hulkenberg, of course, having retired earlier in the race).

On laps 17, 19 and 20, Vettel, Bottas and Hamilton respectively pitted for the soft tyre. Hamilton, who had had a pretty healthy lead, emerged just half a second ahead of Vettel, to his surprise, but his pace soon enabled him to widen the gap to a more comfortable margin once again.

At this stage Verstappen, who had yet to pit, led the race. Raikkonen pitted shortly thereafter, and, once Hamilton passed Verstappen, the Dutchman came in for the soft tyre, emerging in 5th and 11 seconds behind Raikkonen. On the same lap (25) Alonso suffered another DNF due to the engine going. That’s four in the last six races. A great shame as he’d been running around 7th and doing so purely on pace.

On lap 29 (just past the halfway point of the 56 lap race), Ocon and Perez were 7th and 8th, within a second of one another. Perez nagged on the radio to be let past because Sainz was very close behind, but his request was denied. Ocon was a bit slow because he was bottled up behind the yet-to-pit Massa. The next lap, Massa pitted, changing onto the ultrasoft, and Perez started to drift back from Ocon. The Mexican was two seconds behind his team mate with Sainz just half a second behind him. On lap 34, the Mexican and Spaniard had a fantastic tussle with Sainz eventually pulling off a great move that took multiple corners and will have delighted his new team, gaining him 7th.

Hamilton was busy with a crossword in 1st, but a little further back, Raikkonen (4th) was just half a second off Bottas. Verstappen pitted for the supersoft on lap 38, retaining 5th due to the massive gap (over 40 seconds) that had arisen between himself and Ocon.

To head off Verstappen, Vettel pitted the next lap and emerged barely ahead of the Dutchman. A canny strategic move from Ferrari. Further down the order, on lap 40, Massa passed Grosjean for 10th. For all the talk of replacing Massa, he’s not driving badly (although I do see the argument for fresh blood given he’s been racing for such a long time).

On lap 42, Raikkonen passed Bottas for 2nd. Around this stage Bottas was lapping 2s slower than Vettel and Verstappen. A couple of laps later, and some way down the road, Sainz was right behind Ocon.

Vettel lapped Magnussen and Ericsson on lap 47, following which Ericsson tried to take advantage, colliding with the Dane. The Swede ended up with a 5s time penalty. A couple of laps later, Sainz was still right behind Ocon, who remained ahead with some good defensive driving.

By lap 50, Vettel was within DRS range of Bottas, passing him on the next lap. Readers may not be surprised to learn that the German soon found it relatively easy to pass his team mate. At the same time, Verstappen passed Bottas, who was not having a great race. (The Finn pitted on lap 53 for ultrasofts, retaining 5th).

On the final lap, Verstappen passed Raikkonen for 3rd, only for stewards to give the Dutchman a 5s time penalty for exceeding track limits (he had, but so had many others during the entire weekend, without penalty). This shunted him down to 4th, with Raikkonen regaining 3rd, to the surprise of Verstappen and consternation of Red Bull.

That sour note was one of the few downsides of a race that was very entertaining from start to finish, with wheel-to-wheel action, much passing, varying strategies, and great racing. It was notable for Verstappen’s phenomenal drive to get heavily into the points, and some impressive work from Ricciardo and Alonso (unrewarded, alas), as well as good driving from Ocon, Sainz and Perez.

Behind the controversial podium of Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen, was Verstappen, Bottas and Ocon. Sainz had a great result in his first race for Renault, then we had Perez, Massa and Kvyat, who managed to get the final point (it sounds like this will be the Russian’s final race for Toro Rosso).

Bottas was again lacklustre. It’s worth noting that the Ferrari decision to pit Vettel was spot on, and rather clever.

Mercedes wrapped up the Constructors’ title this weekend, and although Hamilton isn’t technically the new title-holder himself, it’s only a matter of time. The next race is Mexico, in just a week’s time.

Hamilton 331
Vettel 265
Bottas 244
Ricciardo 192
Raikkonen 163
Verstappen 123

Despite weak performances lately, Bottas is very close to Vettel. The Red Bull drivers have roughly double the DNFs of the Ferraris, so they’d be rather closer with a more reliable engine. Next year may well see reliability as important as raw power in determining the contenders for the title. If the Renault engine is good enough we might have four teams competing for regular podium finishes and wins.

Mercedes 575
Ferrari 428
Red Bull 315
Force India 159
Williams 68
Toro Rosso 53
Renault 48
Haas 43
McLaren 23
Sauber 5

Obviously the top position has been claimed and down to 4th I can’t see the positions shifting. Force India are in an odd sort of No Man’s Land. If they had a cash injection they’ve got the set-up to be a real title challenger, but at the moment they’re just top of the midfield. From Williams to Haas (5th to 8th) we could see plenty of moves. My suspicion is that Renault will beat Toro Rosso, but Williams may be too far ahead, with just three races left. McLaren and Sauber seem destined to finish 9th and 10th.

Ahead of Mexico, I’ll try to remember to refresh my memory as to the impact of the altitude on the cars, both engine-wise and aerodynamically. Unsure of timings, but qualifying and the race will be around afternoon or evening.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 22 October 2017

USA: pre-race 2017

Bit odd having qualifying on at the unusually late hour of 10pm. In broad terms, it went as expected, but I was a bit surprised after the early running that Vettel did as well as he did.

In the first session both Saubers left the stage (Ericsson doing well to get the 16th best time). Magnussen was slowest, Stroll also failed to escape (apparently he had a problem with electrical energy and, in this era, that effectively holes you below the waterline) and Hartley, in his first race, got 18th.

In the second session, Hulkenberg was ‘slowest’ but that was mostly due to the fact he didn’t run (not much point with such a large grid penalty). Grosjean also struggled, although he was lucky to make it through after Stroll had impeded him in Q1 (the three place grid penalty the Canadian got won’t stop him starting higher on the grid than he qualified, likewise for Magnussen who blocked Perez).Vandoorne was a bit slower than expected, and ahead of him was Kvyat and Massa.

All session long this had looked like Hamilton’s to lose, but lose it he did not. The final gap was a couple of tenths, but I think Vettel will be happy to be starting on the front row at least. Behind the front row it’s immensely tight, with the times from 3rd to 5th covered by 0.009s. Bottas was that far ahead of Ricciardo and Raikkonen, the latter two setting identical times.Verstappen was 6th fastest but will be shunted well down the order due to penalties (he’ll start on the supersoft tyre, unlike the other fast chaps who’ll all be on the ultrasoft).

Ocon’s next up, and he had a very good day, half a second ahead of his team mate (Perez qualified 10th). Sainz got off to a flying start in his new team, sticking the Renault on 8th (7th effectively due to the Verstappen penalty), and Alonso is behind his compatriot. Pretty good for McLaren, particularly given fast corners and the straight really helped Mercedes in qualifying (due to the better engine mode) and is usually a silver bullet to the hopes of McLaren at a circuit. In the race, I wonder if he could rise up the order.

Recap of penalties:
Verstappen – 15 places
Hartley – 25 places
Hulkenberg – 20 places
Vandoorne – 5 places
[New] Magnussen – 3 places (ironically, this means he’ll be promoted to 18th)
[New] Stroll – 3 places (again, starts higher than he qualified)

The weather forecast for the race is dry throughout.

My initial thinking on the betting front is:
Ricciardo, podium
Sainz, top 6

Ricciardo is 2.5 to be on the podium with Betfair Exchange. I think that’s pretty reasonable. The Mercedes advantage from qualifying will be diminished in the race because they can’t run it for long, and Ferrari’s reliability has gone a bit wonky. May well back this.

Sainz is 3 (again, Betfair Exchange) to be top 6. Hmm. Maybe a little tight. Also, the Renault’s a little unreliable, he’s facing a charging Verstappen, Alonso’s a threat, and Perez too.

According to the ancient customs and traditions of Morris, I then perused the markets to see if any value leapt out at me. A few potential bets raised their heads:
Lay Bottas, podium, 1.62 (Betfair Exchange)
Hartley to beat Kvyat, 6.5 (Ladbrokes)
Sainz, points, 1.5 (Ladbrokes/Betfair Exchange)
Alonso, points, 1.89 (Ladbrokes Exchange) – 3/5 recent DNFs
Alonso, not to be classified, 2.75 (Betfair Sportsbook)

Behind the front two, it’s very tight. Of these three, (Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen), I think Bottas is worst placed, despite starting at the front of the trio. This is because his qualifying advantage of enhanced engine mode will matter far less in the race, and even with it he was only a tiny margin faster. Not only that, but his performances recently have been lacklustre. This is effectively an alternative bet to the Ricciardo approach, but, on balance, I prefer backing the Aussie to laying the Finn, I think.

Hartley starts far below Kvyat and this is his first race in F1. However, he is an experienced driver and hasn’t put a foot wrong thus far. More importantly, Kvyat has a pretty high DNF rate. It’s that (about 5/14) which makes the odds of 6.5 for Hartley look quite appealing.

Sainz seems nailed on for points if his car finishes. On the other hand, the Renault can be a bit fragile and 1.5 is short.

Alonso also looks good for points, and 1.89 is a bit tempting. However, he’ll face a stern challenge from the likes of Perez and Verstappen. I checked his DNF rate in the last five races, expecting it to be quite good, but in fact he’s failed to finish in three of them. Which led me to…

With a 60% recent DNF rate, Alonso not to be classified at 2.75 looks quite tempting. There’s also 5 available for Vandoorne to beat him, which is interesting. The potential pitfalls are if Vandoorne DNFs first, or if both finish, in which case the Spaniard is very likely to be some way ahead.

There are two tips this race:
Ricciardo, podium, 2.5 (Betfair Exchange)
Alonso, not to be classified, 2.75 (Betfair Sportsbook)

The race starts at 8pm, so the post-race ramble will be up tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 21 October 2017

USA: pre-qualifying 2017

The musical chairs continue at Toro Rosso, with neither driver (Sainz/Gasly) from their last race competing in this one. Sainz has toddled off to Renault, and Gasly is driving in the last Japanese Super Formula race (he’s fighting for the title). Sainz’s seat was already nabbed by Kvyat, and this time around Gasly will be replaced by Brendon Hartley, a Kiwi endurance driver. Whether this is a one-off remains to be seen, as there are no conflicts between F1 dates and WEC races. Whilst Gasly is nigh on certain to return, he could be driving alongside either Hartley or Kvyat.

In significant news, Alonso will be staying with McLaren next year. This was largely expected after the team ditched the Honda engine for Renault, but still good news. Will he have a shot? Perhaps. I’ll be keeping an eye on the odds.

This weekend the purple ultrasoft will be changed to pink, to raise awareness of breast cancer. Ironic, given breast cancer has hugely more awareness and research funding than pancreatic cancer, which is represented by the colour purple.

Early tips I offered pre-weekend were Verstappen and Ricciardo each way for the win (15/17 respectively) and Vettel not to be classified at 8.

In first practice Hamilton was fastest, over half a second ahead of Vettel. Bottas, Verstappen and Vandoorne were next, followed by Massa, Raikkonen, Ocon, Perez and Sainz.

In second practice Hamilton was quickest again, a few tenths ahead of Verstappen. Vettel was a tenth or so back, and Bottas a similar margin behind, Ricciardo and Raikkonen following. Alonso, Massa, Perez and Ocon rounded out the top 10.

At this stage it’s looking like a great weekend for Hamilton. Behind him, it could be rather close between the other five. Force India and McLaren are also currently looking good. Qualifying and the race appear likely to both be dry throughout.

In third practice, Hamilton was again fastest, but a mere tenth ahead of Vettel. Bottas and Raikkonen were close behind but there was a more sizeable gap to Verstappen. Massa, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ricciardo and Perez finished off the top 10.

Verstappen – 15 places
Hartley – 25 places
Hulkenberg – 20 places
Vandoorne – 5 places

The Verstappen penalty will have a sub-optimal impact on that early tip (now out to 34), but these things happen. Those are some nice penalties for Williams, though.

My current thinking is that Hamilton will get pole. Ricciardo will start 5th, but perhaps be a threat in the race. Anyway, value’s doubtful but I had a look anyway.

Vettel at 4.5 each way for pole was quite interesting. That’s green if he gets it or very slightly green if he’s 2nd on the grid. However, he’s also 6.8 on Betfair Exchange, so if I were going that way I’d probably prefer a hedged approach.

I was quite tempted but decided against betting on it.

Qualifying is at 10pm, the race tomorrow starts at 8pm.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Japan: post-race analysis 2017

Pretty terrible result. Slept badly due to mild pestilence, missed the start, had to get up to walk the hound and only caught the end. And the bet was red (Haas were pretty good, Stroll was well out of the points and even before his DNF was never going to score). Humbug and a half.

Before the race began, deja vu struck. The Ferrari starting 2nd (Vettel this time) had its bodywork off and was being worked on by anxious mechanics. This time, it got going. But would it last?

Off the line, Verstappen passed his team mate, who also lost out to Ocon. Vettel retained 2nd, but fairly early on his car lost power. A spark plug failure saw the title contender lose half a dozen places before, sadly, he was forced to box and retire. The title contest, it seems, is effectively over.

Ocon fought well but couldn’t keep Ricciardo or Bottas behind him. A safety car period ended and almost immediately Stroll cocked up a corner, losing several places and then having to pit very early, which ultimate buggered any hope of points (although a right tyre failure late on would’ve ended that chance anyway).

At the sharp end, Hamilton looked comfortable against Verstappen for most of the race. But in the dying stages, the Dutchman was flying, right on Hamilton’s tail. Unfortunately, the traffic was really not helpful to Verstappen (especially Massa). It remains to be seen whether he would’ve been able to pass Hamilton or not, but bad traffic cost him the opportunity to find out. Nevertheless, an impressive drive and the Red Bull was very good on pace.

Hulkenberg had stayed out long (most only had a single stop) and pitted for the supersoft, emerging at the end of the Massa, Magnussen, Grosjean, Gasly gaggle. He set about passing them, soon dispatching Gasly, only for his DRS to collapse, ruining the balance of his car and forcing a DNF. Rather sad, as he could’ve reached as high as 8th but didn’t have the opportunity.

Massa was somewhat caught napping by Magnussen, who barged his way past and was followed by Grosjean. Near the end, the Brazilian (10th) was vigorously pursued by Alonso, but Massa just managed to retain the final point place.

Ahead, the Force Indias, Ocon leading, were pretty isolated, but grabbed more good points in 6th and 7th. Raikkonen ended up 5th, but was never in position to challenge Bottas.

Must admit to being surprised the Williams was a bit feeble and the Haas so, relatively, good in the race.

Another week, another double podium for Red Bull and reliability woe for Ferrari. Their season, so tightly fought, has been destroyed by gremlins. It’s a bit disheartening after so many great races that a classic season has fizzled out. We could do with Hamilton having a pair of exploding engines, but I doubt that’ll happen.

Hamilton 306
Vettel 247
Bottas 234

In the last three races, Vettel has gained just 12 points. He’s now at risk of losing 2nd to Bottas (not that that makes much difference). The title is all but Hamilton’s. It would take something astonishing for him to lose now.

Mercedes 540
Ferrari 395
Red Bull 303
Force India 147
Williams 66
Toro Rosso 52
Haas 43
Renault 42
McLaren 23
Sauber 5

Whilst I think the top four likely to finish that way, there’s an off-chance, should the Prancing Horse put in more lame performances, that Red Bull could snatch 2nd. Further down the grid, it’s tight from 5th to 8th. If there’s a race with high attrition (perhaps due to rainfall), that could determine which team finishes where if a midfield driver can score top points.

It’s a tremendous shame a tight title fight has shifted utterly due to reliability failures for Vettel. We’ve been robbed of a great sporting contest. Unless Hamilton encounters horrendous luck, he’ll take the title at a canter.

The next race is the US in a fortnight, with Mexico just a week later (we’ll see if I can remember how thin air affects the aerodynamics and engines, but I wouldn’t bet on it).

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Japan: pre-race 2017

Housekeeping, first up. As well as the Sainz penalty, the world was shocked to learn Alonso has a massive one too, and Palmer likewise. Smaller five place penalties for gearbox changes afflict the Finnish pair as well.

My Raikkonen bet proved a significant misjudgement. The Mercedes had a substantial pace advantage, far more than I thought likely, and Vettel was only third fastest (he’ll start 2nd because of Bottas’ penalty). Raikkonen crashed in third practice, hence the gearbox change and penalty, and he seemed thoroughly on the back foot throughout qualifying. It seemed I significantly underestimated the premium on straight line speed at Suzuka, which also affected the Red Bull performance. On the plus side, straight line speed being super helps the race bet.

First session was most notable for a snap of oversteer that helped introduce Grosjean to the barrier with just over a minute remaining, bringing out a red flag and ending the session. This was especially irksome to (besides Grosjean) Stroll, who appeared to have been impeded by Perez at the final chicane [no penalty ensued]. Unsurprisingly, both Saubers left at this stage, as did Grosjean, Gasly, and Stroll.

This clearly isn’t a Toro Rosso sort of circuit, with Sainz slowest in Q2. Ahead of him but also leaving were Palmer, Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Vandoorne, who was edged out by Alonso (a tiny margin between team mates).

In Q3, as per the rest of the qualifying, Hamilton was in a league of one. Behind him it was a bit tighter, but Bottas got a tenth and a bit ahead of Vettel, with Ricciardo over half a second further back. Verstappen was hot on the heels of his team mate but Raikkonen was a couple of tenths slower and will start in a rather disappointing 11th. Ocon was just ahead of Perez (I’m sure they’ll have a fun start together), Massa could only manage 9th but was some way faster than Alonso.

The counterpoint to straight line speed being so lovely in qualifying is that the enhanced engine mode that Mercedes, in particular, enjoy can’t be used throughout the race due to reliability/fuel consumption concerns. Relatively, Ferrari will be a bit quicker and Red Bull two bits quicker.

The weather forecast is for it to be dry throughout.

My early, and sleepy, betting thoughts were:
Bottas podium

Bottas is 2.5 for a podium (3 on Betfair Exchange). Hmm. Somewhat tempting but not outstanding.

I waited quite a while to see if the interesting #Oddsonthat market on Betfair Sportsbook appeared (caught this by chance a few races ago when the pre-race ramble was unusually late). It didn't. Anyway, my traditional perusal found the following:
Verstappen, not to be classified, 4.5, Ladbrokes
Double Williams points finish, 5, Ladbrokes
Over 16.5 classified finishers, 2.5, Betfair Sportsbook
No Safety Car, 2.5, Ladbrokes

The Verstappen bet, again, is tempting simply based on season statistics. He has a 7/15 DNF rate. But is 4.5 not to be classified. The two just seem utterly out of kilter. That said, the last three races at Suzuka have seen retirement numbers of 2, 3 and 0 so it’s not much a car-breaker in recent times.

Stroll has tended to qualify badly, but has a reasonable record over recent races. Misfortune/misjudgement which dogged him early on has largely gone and he’ll start around 14th. However, his car is faster than his qualifying suggested, as that was hampered by Perez trundling about through the final chicane. However, I’d probably be more inclined to go for the 15 bet (if you didn’t already back the 17 I tipped yesterday) on all Mercedes-powered cars scoring. If both Williams do, there’s a 90-95% chance the Mercedes and Force Indias will also be top 10 (assuming Perez and Ocon don’t attack each other off the line).

With that Japanese record of reliability in mind, the 2.5 on 17 or more finishers seems tempting. However, McLaren could easily despite to expire at any moment, and that, coupled with the potential for lap 1 shenanigans makes me reluctant to back this.

The forecast is dry, and the VSC means safety cars should be less common, especially on circuits with low DNF rates. However, I’m concerned that recently (Azerbaijan standing out) the people running the show seem to like throwing out an unnecessary safety car to artificially manufacture drama.

The Bottas podium and Verstappen DNF bets are the ones that seem most interesting. However, in the last six races or so Verstappen’s only had, I think, two DNFs, one reliability, the other the Singapore smash. So, decided against backing either.

That leaves just yesterday’s tip:
All Mercedes-powered cars to score, 17, Ladbrokes Exchange (under specials) [since reduced to 15 but still worth it, I think].

For those who backed the 17 for all Mercedes-powered cars to score points, they’re eminently layable on Betfair (at the time of writing 3.35 for Stroll, evens for Massa, less for Force India). My main concern is Williams rather than the others. Force India is reliable and fast. I’d guess it’s about a 7 shot now, give or take, but is still up on the Ladbrokes Exchange under specials for 15, which feels quite long.

Annoyingly, the race starts at 6am. I may well listen to it on the radio then catch the highlights (which I think are on oddly late, around 3pm on Channel 4).

Let us hope it’s a marvellous day for Mercedes.

Morris Dancer