Sunday, 24 October 2010

Korea: post-race analysis

I slept in [for the second race running] and missed the start, only to discover that my tip had been rendered impossible by the elements. Oh well. F1 is very prone to random events steering things [weather, mechanical failure, being hit by an idiot driver, pit stop woe etc].

The race really took a long time to get going, and I thought the safety car was out too long after the restart. However, once it went in there was a pretty fantastic debut for Korea. My prediction of many thrills and spills was spot on. There were numerous overtakes, including a surprising but good one by Schumacher on Button, a number of crashes, most notably the Webber-Rosberg incident, and mechanical breakdowns too.

I feel tremendously sorry for Vettel. He was fastest in qualifying, fastest in the race, led from start to finish and then, yet again, his car failed him. He should’ve won the first three races of the season, and did not because the Red Bull was as reliable as an English football team taking penalties.

Even worse, this meant Alonso, the only man of the quintet competing for the title I do not want to win, got the full 25 points. Lucky swine.

Hamilton had a mixture of fortune and skill to thank for his very welcome second place. He’d been passed by a talented Rosberg [the Mercedes really did thrive on the new circuit], but then Rosberg had his race ended when Webber made an error, spun and collided with the Mercedes. However, Hamilton’s tyres were terribly degraded at the end, and it was only a hefty margin he’d built up over Massa that allowed him to still take second.

Schumacher had a great race, passing Kubica and then Button and taking a deserved and season’s best fourth place.

Button had a terrible weekend. Bad driving, bad tyre degradation, bad luck changing tyres sixteen seconds before yet another safety car came out meant he came a pitiful 12th out of 15 survivors. Mathematically he could yet retain his title, but realistically it is over.

So, a fantastic weekend for Ferrari, mixed for McLaren and absolutely dire for Red Bull. Vettel’s made a number of cock-ups this year, but no-one else has suffered such shocking reliability failings.

Interestingly, the driver’s title is not the only one now in play. With Red Bull failing to score and Ferrari getting a pair of podiums (podia?) the constructors’ is also becoming tighter.

First up, the driver’s stand as follows:
Alonso 231
Webber 220
Hamilton 210
Vettel 206

Red Bull 426
McLaren 399
Ferrari 374

We have just two races left. The fantastic Interlagos, and the glamorous dog turd of Yas Marina. Interlagos was excellent [in terms of the race on its own] for Red Bull last year. Webber won in 2009, having qualified second. Vettel had a hellish qualifying, struck by bad luck [yet again] due to awful weather and bad timing but fought through the field from 16th to 4th.

Yas Marina debuted last year and saw a Red Bull 1-2 (Vettel winning), but Hamilton had pole and car issues forced him to retire well before the end.

Can Alonso be stopped? I bloody well hope so. It’s certainly the case that an 11 point lead is nowhere near enough to guarantee the title. McLaren brought some updates to Korea [aero stuff] that worked well, and Red Bull had a tasty race at Interlagos last year. There are four men with realistic chances of winning the title, and it’s too early to write any of them off.

Sadly, for the third race in a row, I won’t be able to offer a pre-qualifying post with tips for Interlagos as that weekend I’m away attending to some personal business. I should be able to write the pre-race post, however.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Korea: pre-race

Well, wasn’t expecting such Red Bull dominance in Q3, but they locked out the front row, Vettel scoring his 9th (I think) pole of the season. Importantly, the even side of the track is greener than an Irishman drowning in a vat of mushy peas, so that could be a real blow for Webber and Hamilton (2nd and 4th).

Interestingly, the Ferrari was blisteringly fast in sector 1, which is basically a collection of big straights and slow corners. It was as much as a second faster than the Red Bull at times, and the McLaren was also relatively faster in the sector [as had been expected].

The track seems to be one where overtaking will happen quite a lot, though it’s as new as a track can be so we’ll have to wait for the race to be sure. Going off-line will lead to very little grip, so that coupled with probably many overtaking attempts will see quite a few thrills and spills, I predict.

According to the internet, the weather forecast for tomorrow is, er, ‘city not found’. The very basic F1 website forecast offers cloudy with rain, and the forecasts for Seoul [which, is must be said, is hundreds of miles away] is clear. Right.

So, we have a quite exciting mix. Uncertain weather conditions, a track light on grip, especially off-line, and potential for lots of overtaking. The even side of the track would seem to be disadvantaged off the start.

I backed Alonso at 6.4 to lead lap 1, he’s since lengthened to 7. My reasoning is thus: the even side is slower, probably removing Webber and Hamilton as serious possibilities. The Red Bull has been mixed at best in recent starts (although Vettel did well last time out) and the Ferrari has been super fast in the first sector which has overtaking possibilities anyway.

Given the potential for a racing incident to turn things on their head [rain, crash, safety car] I’m less keen to bet on a winner. If you do, I’d either go for Vettel at 2.22 or Ferrari at 5 [bizarrely longer than Alonso’s 4.5].

If Alonso had been longer I’d’ve backed him to win, and if Vettel were shorter I’d’ve laid him for the victory, but they aren’t and I haven’t.

The forecast market is sadly not very liquid. There’s 3 available for Vettel-Alonso in 1st and 2nd but that’s far too short. A bit longer and it would’ve been tempting.

So, a single tip: back Alonso to lead lap 1 at 7. The race starts at 7am UK time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 22 October 2010

Korea: pre-qualifying

So, the race that hung by a thread is indeed going ahead. This is doubleplusgood news for McLaren for two reasons. Firstly, sector 1 is a large collection of straight lines, which will suit their car, equipped as it is with top notch straight line speed. Secondly, both their drivers are just about still in the title race but need the three remaining races to close the gap. If there were only Interlagos and Yas Marina left, it would be almost impossible for them.

A week before practice started my eye was on the possibility of a McLaren pole. There are also two overtaking places in sector 1 (slow corners following straights) which bodes well for the Britons if they’re competitive.

I backed Hamilton with small stakes at 8.2 for pole, and laid at 6.2 [which he fell to pre-practice]. He’s presently 4.7. Next season, I’m looking at possibly betting for qualifying pre-practice [if I can get a handle on how the cars’ particular characteristics interact with a given track and use that to buck the prevailing view on the market]. If I do go down that route and keep on writing articles for pb2 as well, I’ll offer pre-qualifying tips on the main site and reiterate them at the start of pre-qualifying articles [4 articles per weekend would be a bit over the top].

As with Japan, Korea is in a bloody annoying place when it comes to timezones. P3’s at 2am and I am not getting up then to offer tips for qualifying. So, let’s look back at P1 and P2:

P1 saw Hamilton top the timesheets. Even as a Hamilton backer I was moderately surprised to see this. He was very closely followed by Kubica, then Rosberg and Vettel. A half-second gap led to Button, Schumacher and Webber, with Heidfeld, Hulkenberg and Barrichello completing the top 10.

P2 was quite different, with Webber fastest, then Alonso and Hamilton. The top three were followed by a 0.4s gap then Kubica, Button, Massa, Vettel, Petrov, Rosberg and Kobayashi.

Without P3, a decent guide to qualifying practice, I’m not going to offer any tips at this stage. P2 tends to be when teams do heavy fuel running, and P1’s a sighter to spot any flaws with the car setup. P3 is the most telling.

I’ve not read any reports of the track surface degrading, which is quite handy when cars are travelling at over 200mph. Rain is possible for race day but I’ll wait until writing the pre-race post before checking the forecasts.

So, how do I see qualifying going? Almost impossible to say, given it’s a new circuit and between the two practice sessions there are 5 drivers in the top 3. If I had to guess, I’d go for Hamilton, still. I really should try and use the off-season to assess whether P1 or P2 has greater predictive power when it comes to pole.

I think it’ll be tight between Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Alonso [in that order], with Kubica a serious threat to them.

The pre-race post will be sometime tomorrow [in the morning if possible].

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Suzuka: post-race analysis

Betting-wise, disappointing (rather a habit of late). Webber had the potential, he was two-thousandths up in sector 2 but cocked up the third sector. Vettel only beat his own time by seven-thousandths, so Webber had a chance, but failed [as did my tip].

I also, brilliantly, didn’t wake up until after the race started and it was about lap 20 before I caught up with it. On the plus side, I definitely would’ve laid Vettel for the win, and he managed to convert his eighth pole to his second win of the season.

Schumacher did well, though he should’ve been able to pass Rosberg and was fortunate when the latter’s car decided four wheels was one too many.

Very disappointing for Hamilton. In 4th, he was catching Alonso at a great rate of knots, when his gearbox decided that third gear was some sort of optional extra and it stopped working. Due to a hefty margin, he was able to bring the car home in 5th, ahead of Schumacher by 20 odd seconds. Button was gifted the 4th but lacked the pace and was too far back anyway to do anything about Alonso, in 3rd.

The Red Bulls were dominant at the front, and did not seem particularly troubled by anything. No reliability issues, plus they had quite a bit of time in hand.

Now, I may be a bit too sleepy at the moment, but I’m pretty sure Kobayashi’s Sauber had a hard left rear tyre and all the rest soft at the end. No commentator remarked on it, so maybe I was mistaken, but I could’ve sworn I saw that. Anyway, he got 7th ahead of Quick Nick (who will quickly be leaving Sauber as a Mexican chap called Perez takes his seat in 2011).

So, how does this leave the title race? Well-balanced, as it has been from race 1 onwards.

Webber 220
Alonso/Vettel 206
Hamilton 192
Button 189

Both McLarens are now more than a win away from the leader. They need a tremendous race in Korea (assuming Korea even goes ahead). The next race is make or break for the Britons.

Alonso was quick, but was lucky Hamilton suffered his second gearbox failure of the weekend, otherwise he may have been pushed down to 4th.

Vettel and Webber were very close in performance terms, and both were ahead of the field by a decent margin. If this result were repeated at the next three races, Webber would have 275 points, but Vettel 281. Webber’s still in the best position, but he cannot afford to relax.

The Constructors’ places seem more or less sorted, with Red Bull getting the title, then McLaren, then Ferrari. It could change, but I doubt it will.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Suzuka: pre-qualifying II

Kudos (and lots of money) to anyone who predicted Alguesuari would top P3. Admittedly, he did it by being one of only two drivers who went sailing around Lake Suzuka in the rain (the other being Glock).

The rain only intensified, and I woke at 6.45am to discover qualifying was delayed, then cancelled until tomorrow (2am UK time). So, this puts me in a tricky position. To bet on qualifying is to go without the handy guide of P3, and to bet on the race requires either getting up at around 2.30-3am to see Q3, or being brave/stupid/brilliantly insightful and betting pre-qualifying.

Weather could be the key factor. If it’s very bright (unlikely) a Vettel/Webber duel seems likely, as I stated in my first pre-qualifying piece. Presently the forecast seems to be that qualifying will be clear but damp from the yet-to-drain rain, and the race dry.

In the last 3 qualifying sessions Webber’s beaten Vettel in Belgium, been beaten by him in Singapore and beaten him in Italy. Past form in Suzuka is hard to assess because last year Webber didn’t start qualifying.

I’ve decided to back Webber at 5 [he’s now 4.8, and I’d take anything over 4]. Set up a hedge at evens. He’s been roughly Vettel’s equal in qualifying generally, and in P1 was less than a tenth of a second off the pace. With the weather, there’s also the possibility of Vettel going off [and he’s been a bit suspect in qualifying recently, with a surprise second in Singapore and a frankly rubbish sixth in Italy.

Unless it’s wet indeed, I still think a Red Bull front row likeliest.

I’m undecided about a pre-race post. I’d like to write one, but I’d rather not get up at 2-3am. Stupid bloody Japanese weather.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 8 October 2010

Suzuka: pre-qualifying

Now we really are at the business end of the season. This weekend, F1 is in Suzuka. Inclusive, there are 4 races left, or 3 if Korea isn’t ready (a real possibility). After Korea (which is meant to be next) we have the fantastic Interlagos in Brazil, and then the glitzy but dull Abu Dhabi.

Even at this late stage, all five contenders have a real chance. The McLarens desperately need big points to stay in the hunt, and Hamilton could do with not recording yet another DNF. Alonso’s got the momentum, and the smug bugger has named himself favourite [something Webber has refused to do].

I’m writing this not just pre-qualifying but pre-P3, which occurs at 3am. So, this is a predictive article rather than a tipping one [I won’t be betting myself].

P1 saw Vettel, Webber, Kubica followed by Sutil, Hamilton, Barrichello, Hulkenberg, Schumacher, Heidfeld and Rosberg. Vettel was less than one-tenth up on Webber, who was a full half-second ahead of Kubica.

P2 saw Vettel lead a Red Bull 1-2, with Kubica third, then Alonso, Massa, Button, Petrov, Schumacher, Sutil and Hulkenberg. Vettel was four-tenths up on his best friend Webber, who was three-tenths faster than Kubica.

P3 is the session that counts, but at this stage it looks like a Red Bull front row. Given the closeness of P2, a Webber pole is entirely possible, though a Vettel one is more likely. Be fascinating to see if Kubica can snag a third or fourth. He’s a great driver and has really punched above his weight during the season. With a good car under him he could be a champion.

Interesting to see Schumacher both beating Rosberg and being in the top 10 in both sessions so far. If he replicated that in qualifying it would be a nice morale booster.

Alonso and Massa were 13th and 11th in P1, but I think their 4th and 5th in P2 is likely to be more representative of their pace. McLaren may struggle to beat the prancing horse or Red Bulls, and if they do their challenge could be all but over. Still, races are bloody unpredictable (cf Turkey).

So, here’s my prediction for qualifying: Vettel to get pole, joined by his team mate on the front row. Then Alonso and Kubica and on row three Massa and Hamilton. A Webber pole would not be a shock at all, but is less likely, I feel, than a Vettel one (that said, Vettel has been off the boil recently).

Qualifying starts tomorrow at 6am.

Morris Dancer