Sunday, 27 June 2010

Valencia: post-race analysis

Well, that was somewhat disappointing. Hamilton passed Webber at the start, and was closeish behind Vettel for a long time. However, Hamilton lost the closeness of his second place, which became a 15s gap after a (justified) drive-through penalty for passing the safety car.

So, a mixed weekend. With equal stakes and no laying money wagered should be almost doubled. Not too bad. Although Hamilton didn’t get the win, it was nice to see that he would’ve had a decent opportunity were it not for the penalty.

Other items of note were numerous. Firstly, Button benefited hugely from the safety car (summoned when Webber proved Red Bull really does give you wings) and got a third place spot (unclear at the time of writing if he’ll, along with half the field, get a time penalty for speeding under safety car conditions). Update: All drivers found to be naughty got a 5s time penalty, promoting Alonso from 9th to 8th. Magnífico! Button stayed third.

Mercedes continues its relentless drive to get slower and slower. Today they decided to use brake discs made of balsa wood. I believe their plan for Silverstone is to use triangular tyres.

Ferrari had great qualifying pace, and could’ve challenged, but they got the very worst of the safety car. Alonso plunged down to 9th and Massa down to 14th. There were some great comedy moments from Grumpy Spaniard’s radio, bitching about Hamilton. Rumours of Webber’s crash being caused by a spat-out dummy laying on the track were to prove unfounded.

As mentioned above, Webber had a huuuge crash, mostly because the Lotus of Kovalainen has to brake far earlier than the Red Bull, Webber wasn’t expecting it and so collided with the Lotus. Also, as the commentators said, a Lotus should just get out of the way of a top car. Happily, neither driver was injured.

I’m beginning to suspect Vettel’s car only breaks when I back him in a race. He deserves the win, annoying as it was for me. Without the drive-through I daresay we would’ve had a nice battle for the 25 points, with it Vettel relaxed for the latter half of the race.

The 2.8 tip for McLaren to get the title looks good now. They extended their lead by 8 points to 30 (248 to Red Bull’s 218), but that still is not at all decisive.

By contrast, the earlier tips for Webber and Button look a bit out of date. I’ve laid them slightly, and stand to benefit from the McLaren title (probably) if Hamilton wins back his crown. Recently, Button has been well off the pace of his team mate. Have to wait and see if that continues at Silverstone. I’ll probably be looking out for the Ferraris there. They missed out on big points mostly due to bad luck, and also because of Alonso’s weight distribution issues [those chips on his shoulders are damned heavy].

In the Drivers’ title, Hamilton marginally extends his lead over Button to 6 points. Hamilton’s on 127, Button 121, Vettel 115 and Webber 103. Grumpy Spaniard is lurking around on 96 [probably slightly higher due to his promotion to 8th]. Canada and Valencia are quite similar circuits, which may explain Button suddenly dropping off the pace. If he’s slow at Silverstone that may be the death knell for his title defence.

Vettel’s really back now. Pole, a win, and never really looked troubled (though he was aided by Hamilton passing the safety car and being penalised). 3.65 for the title. Hmmm. I am tempted. I’ll have to think about it.

So, a quite good but not wondrous weekend. Silverstone is in a fortnight. Should be quite a race.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Valencia: pre-race

Well, I missed Q3, which annoyed me. However, Vettel winning was a nice start to the race weekend. I was surprised Hamilton pipped Alonso to 3rd (potential for a tasty contest there). Massa also did well, getting to 5th, and Kubica was a little slower than I expected in 6th.

The forecast for the race is dry, and it’s not an easy circuit to overtake on. This may mean that the biggest potential race-changing events are the start and the pit stops [rather obviously]. Sadly Bridgestone have not supplied tyres made of cheese, so they will probably hold up really well and we’ll have a dull one stop strategy from everybody.

Another factor to consider is reliability. Vettel had some sort of gearbox problem which, happily, did not require a change, and this a race after Webber’s broke in Montreal. The Red Bull still seems fragile. McLaren have been rock solid, and Ferrari (earlier this year) had some heating issues which may potentially cause them a problem or two.

Unlike qualifying, where I thought it unusually clear to back Vettel, this is tricky. I’ve decided, after much deliberation, to back Hamilton for the win. Vettel is favourite to win (shorter than evens) but that is too short for a chap in a car which has faster qualifying than race pace and has an allergy to high points totals and explodes accordingly. The McLaren did better on its tyres in Montreal, and has the speed on the straights to overtake, if close enough. Hamilton starts on the clean (odd-numbered) side of the track, which may help him pass Webber, and possibly Vettel (though I doubt it) at the start.

So, I’m backing Hamilton to win at 6. Naturally, I’ll set up a lay (probably 1.5ish. Incidentally, the lay value I put in for Vettel was 1.2).

The podium market also interested me. I looked at laying Alonso (evens) and backing Massa (4) but I have some doubts over Ferrari reliability and their success or failure would largely depend on the Red Bulls breaking down. After mulling it over and umming and ahing I’ve decided to leave this alone.

So, a single tip again: Hamilton to win at 6 [and, as always, I advocate laying him when appropriate].

Morris Dancer

Valencia: pre-qualifying

It’s the European Grand Prix, once again in Valencia. Before I get onto this race, a word on the last. Hamilton got poll by 0.2s in Canada, but the softs offer a 0.3s advantage. In other words, the Red Bulls would’ve been faster had they not tried to be as cunning as a fox with a handlebar moustache. After the unexpectedly awful consequences of going hard (no tittering, please) I doubt they, or Kubica, will do so again.

Last time Valencia was a rubbish track for Webber. He qualified 9th and got 9th in the race. Vettel qualified 4th and failed to finish due to his engine exploding. The McLarens did better, getting a 1-2 in qualifying and a 2-4 in the race. Past performance isn’t always a great indicator for the future, but Webber was dire here last time, and Vettel did better. The circuit is similar to Canada (slow corners aplenty), so given what happened last season and the Red Bull pace at Canada (belied by strategic and reliability failings) I’m keeping an eye open for Vettel to do well [I realise this is contrary to an earlier stated opinion of mine, but given that the team did better than I expected in Canada I think it’s fair enough to amend my view].

Not a great track for overtaking. One pass last year, four the year before. Seems like the grid may dictate the race result.

Silverstone should favour Red Bull, more than this track, which will be better for McLaren and perhaps also the upgraded Ferrari.

Anyway, there are numerous upgrades but perhaps the biggest leap forward has been made by the prancing horse. McLaren is also due for some big developments, in time for Silverstone.

In P1 Rosberg topped the timesheets, followed by Hamilton and Button. Kubica was 0.3s down the road, with Massa a further half second behind, then Vettel, Webber, Schumacher and Alonso quite tightly clustered.

P2 saw Alonso fastest, then Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton, Kubica, Massa, Sutil and Button. However, the top 10 here were separated by less than a second. I suspect P3 will be perhaps the best indicator for qualifying. Going into it, my eye is out for Vettel and Alonso. Hamilton will probably, rightly, be favourite for pole, but that may mean Vettel and Alonso are too short.

The fastest times of P3 are hard to read, because lots of laps were ruined or slowed somewhat by traffic issues. Kubica was blitzing the track, though the commentary suggested that was a fuel issue (I tend to agree, as the Renault is not the best car in the field by a huge margin). Interestingly, the McLarens and Red Bulls got a time bonus from the super softs, whereas Alonso didn’t. The final rundown is Vettel, Kubica, Webber, Sutil, Alonso, Barrichello. Button and Hamilton were a shocking 9th and 10th.

So, it’s a Vettel-Webber-Alonso [possibly Kubica, though I doubt it] contest for pole. I’m backing Vettel at 3.85.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 14 June 2010

Canada: post-race analysis

Well, four tips, four bad calls, and all but one such that no laying was possible. Not a great weekend. On the other hand, Vettel was tipped to win at 5.7, fell to 4 immediately pre-race due to Webber’s five place grid penalty promoting Vettel to 2nd from 3rd, and layable in-race at 1.8 or even lower. So, if you’re the laying sort it was easy to finish all green for the race, though the fact remains that my Delphic powers were rather on a par with Stevie Wonder’s skills on a shooting range.

The 2.8 tip for McLaren to win the Constructors’ looks mildly better, but that’s a long way off.

The race itself was dramatic, exciting, unexpectedly devoid of safety cars and a fascinating spectacle. Best race this season? Possibly.

One thing made the race brilliant, and that was the tyre. Both soft and hard degraded rapidly, soft especially, but improved later in the race. Red Bull (and Kubica) opted, for the first time this season, to go for hard tyres in qualifying. Most people, including me, reckoned that this would be a big advantage without a safety car (one was expected but it never appeared). Despite that, the soft-starters had the advantage, and took all three podium spots.

There were plenty of crashes, a Liuzzi-Massa feud [glad to see Liuzzi’s best ever qualifying followed up with some points] and Schumacher driving like an absolute cock. It was also interesting to see, as Button pointed out post-race, that different cars were fastest at different times. A notable example is Alonso, who was first, I think, at one point but got passed by both McLarens as his tyres gave way.

Red Bull once again got hit by reliability. Webber got demoted before the race began, but did well to claim 5th. Vettel’s car suffered some sort of in-race issue, and he got 4th.

I’m glad F1’s back in Canada. Some tracks have great facilities for swanky spectators, but rubbish circuits (yes, Bahrain, I’m talking to you). This track produced a fantastic race, as Turkey did last time (incidentally, the Turkish GP may be under threat, and it’d be a real shame if it went).

So, let’s have a look at the Constructors’. Prior to Canada McLaren led Red Bull 172 to 171. Afterwards, it looks like this:
McLaren 215
Red Bull 193
Ferrari 161

That gap isn’t all that big, as 25 points now goes to the winner. However, the next circuit, Valencia, should also suit the McLaren, so it may well be stretched. Interesting how Ferrari aren’t miles behind either, despite not being in the hunt, really, since Bahrain. Presently McLaren are 1.96 for the title, with Red Bull 2.16. I think McLaren’s strength in development will see them win this. Red Bull had a huge performance advantage early on, but their shoddy reliability has cost them enormously, most especially Vettel.

Now, the Drivers’. Here’s how things stand:
Hamilton 109
Button 106
Webber 103
Alonso 94
Vettel 90

Staggering to see Vettel, who should’ve won all three of the first races (which would’ve netted him 75 points) behind Alonso. The top three are too close to separate. Three points equates to the difference between two high-ranking places (except 1st, which gives 7 points more than 2nd).

Hamilton’s 3, Vettel 4.8, Webber 5.6, Button 7.4. Of those, Button is best value, and I suspect both Red Bulls will see their odds lengthen after Valencia. I’m a bit exposed on Hamilton and Vettel, though the latter doesn’t concern me presently. I still don’t see why, with a three point difference, Button is more than 6/1 and Hamilton’s 2/1. My early season tip for Massa looks quite comical, but the Webber and Button tips (at something like 9 each, I think) were sounder.

Odd weekend. I got all my tips wrong, but finished ahead due to laying.

Well. After getting everything right at Turkey, this was a much less successful race. Let’s hope Valencia sees a better return.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Canada: pre-race

Well, that was the worst qualifying prediction for a while. Not only wrong, but so far out it couldn’t be laid. Oh well.

I did, however, get the fact that the Red Bull qualifying stranglehold would be broken right. Speculation regarding two stop strategies also seems like it might prove true, but I didn’t expect the Red Bulls to go out on the hard tyres (I believe all others were on softs). Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren bigwig, suggested most/all teams would be two-stopping, regardless of their starting tyre.

This presents a hitherto unknown situation under the new rules. Both tyre types degrade quickly. The softs are significantly faster when working well, but can degrade ultra-quickly. However, the hards seem unlikely to be able to hold up for 90% of the race, meaning a single stop may not be the best option.

A further complicating factor is the high likelihood of a safety car. Canada is a bit like Monaco, in that there are few run-off areas but lots of big concrete barriers. If there’s a first lap safety car (entirely possible, if there’s a nice big crash early on) then the soft tyre cars will benefit, because they’ll just be able to trundle around without their tyres eroding in a few laps. No safety car (or a brief one) may make an early pit stop a necessity for the soft tyre cars, putting them behind any hard tyre runners (and, as we know, all cars outside the top ten can opt for any tyre) and slowing them down whilst the front-running hard tyre cars (Vettel and Webber) scamper off into the distance.

Weather-wise, we’re looking at this:
Wundergound: 40% chance of showers in the afternoon some clouds
BBC: sunny

So, probably dry, with some chance of precipitation. That probably removes one complicating factor.

Anyway, I tried sleeping on this. Wasn’t all that helpful, to be honest. There is likely to be a safety car early on. If so, this will assist the softy Walters, preventing them from being passed and enabling them to use their soft tyres for longer without needing a pit stop [obviously the advantage depends in how long/frequently the safety car is out]. If there is no safety car (or a brief one) soon after the start, then we’ll see early pit stops, putting the soft starters further back, behind those outside the top ten who opt to start on hard tyres. The question is whether they’d be stuck forever, or for a long time, or whether they’d be able to pass swiftly.

Something else that must be remembered when betting is that in the last three races (2006-2008) Canada has seen a substantial number of retirements (about eight, on average), to a combination of accidents (with the concrete barriers making most mistakes terminal in race terms) and mechanical failure.

I found this tricky, and then had a look at the lap 1 leader market. I have, rarely, had a little punt here but never tipped it as it’s too risky [my sole bet on it this season lost]. However, I went to the BBC F1 page and watched the race highlights of Turkey and Monaco and they showed the Red Bull always starting well, with 3rd placed Vettel passing to take 2nd [Webber was 1st both times and kept it]. Unfortunately, there aren’t any earlier videos. This is, I believe, due to the lighter fuel load of the Red Bull due to a more efficient [if slower in a straight line] Renault engine. The straight to corner 1 is very, very small, a car that overtakes at the start will not be passed until, at the earliest, the 7-8 straight. (Circuit diagram is here:

I advocate backing, with small stakes, Vettel and Webber to lead lap 1 (at 14.5 and 7.2 respectively), which represents better value [I think] than laying Hamilton at 1.3. It can be argued Vettel’s better value, due to being on the clean side of the track, but it’s hard to say how much that’s worth. Rather obviously, this is not the sort of bet that can be laid, with the exception of a short odds intra-lap one lay.

I’m also backing Vettel to win the race at 5.7. I think the hard tyres for Red Bull gives them an advantage over the McLarens, who may be forced to pit very early, getting stuck behind traffic and letting the Red Bulls get a comfortable margin. In addition, I think Vettel really has something to prove, and has the clean side of the track to pass Webber and maybe Hamilton. Personally, I’d put more on this than the lap 1 bets. I also think it’s the case that Red Bull are more tactically astute than McLaren. Should Vettel lead or look like winning I’ll lay this bet, as accidents can happen (as at Turkey) and the circuit does tend to break cars.

Must confess to being nervous about this race. The first time ever we’ve had different tyres used under this system, so it’s damned hard to see how it will play out. I really hope they bring back refuelling next season. Not worked out my season cumulative profit/loss [I suspect it’s mildly green] but it was markedly better when refuelling strategies were in play.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Canada: pre-qualifying

Hurrah, F1 is back in Canada after several years away.

The circuit in Montreal has tons of little straights and a few slow corners, which should make it McLaren heaven. The temperature is usually mid-20s this time of year, which will help stop the Red Bulls exploding in the sun, but the McLaren straight line speed should be enough to give them the edge.

Since the collision of two charging Red Bulls the team has moved away from the “It’s Webber’s fault” theme to a more unified effort. However, I doubt that will defuse tensions. Vettel’s a great driver, but the crash was his fault, and he is not great at passing generally (similar to Webber, actually, who took Hamilton out at an earlier race this season). Webber may feel under pressure and under-appreciated, Vettel frustrated and angered to have under-achieved (points-wise) yet again.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s chief difficulty is to stop laughing long enough to do some qualifying. If Hamilton and Button show the same fierce competitiveness and healthy respect of the last few laps of Turkey throughout the season they stand an excellent chance of taking titles. I’ve backed McLaren for the Constructors’ at 2.8 [I wrote this part of the article on the 2nd, so the odds could’ve changed substantially, but I did mention it on the main site at the time]. Unlike most of my title bets, it’s not a trading bet, I think the team stands a good chance of taking the title.

Anyway, to practice. P1 had Button topping the timesheets, with narrow gaps from him to Schumacher, then Hamilton and Rosberg, who were followed by Vettel, Kubica, Alonso and Liuzzi. I didn’t watch it live, but according to the BBC website report the result rather flatters Mercedes, as they set their times when the track was fastest whereas the McLarens did not.

I did watch P2. This had Vettel fastest, then Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Massa Sutil, Hamilton, Kubica. However, this is misleading. The McLarens and others were doing fast runs, and the McLarens were at or near the top (Mercedes also did quite well). Then the McLarens came in, the track started to speed up and that’s when Vettel and the Ferraris set their fast times. After that, it was slow running and everyone was 4s off the pace. Interestingly, there was substantial tyre degradation [rear tyres, although Vettel impressively managed to get severe graining on his front tyres too]. Canada tends to have safety cars, which may help with this in-race, but it may still play into Button’s hands. There’s also the off-chance of a two-stop strategy [graining affected both soft and hard tyres], probably not from McLaren or Red Bull, but possibly from Ferrari or Mercedes or Renault.

P3 was boring for about 55 minutes, then the teams did their fast laps during soft tyre qualifying simulation runs. Hamilton improved on his best time (set on hards) by two-tenths, and most others also improved. In the end the order was Hamilton, Webber, Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel, Kubica, Sutil, Button. However, Button’s time is not at all representative of his pace. He set it earlier on, on hards (and Canada’s the type of track where it gets faster and faster with time). His first fast soft lap failed because he went through a chicane so it didn’t count, and his second failed because Luca di Grassi decided to take a scenic detour and parked his Virgin in a gravel trap, prompting yellow flags.

The conditions for P3 were dry but cool and overcast. Weather forecast for qualifying is as follows:
Wunderground: 40% chance of rain Some clouds [rain in morning but not afternoon, qualifying is 1pm local time]
BBC: Light rain

So, definitely cloudy, possible rain. Worth bearing in mind when betting.

There was an interesting discussion during the P3 commentary regarding whether or not it might be better (for once) to qualify on hard rather than soft tyres (as the softs have been even worse at degrading than the hards). However, the fastest times were all set [save Button’s] on the softs, so I suspect they’ll go for them (and possibly benefit in terms of degradation from a safety car-led procession).

Now, Button would be well above the 8th he scored in P3 had he not suffered from his chicane cock-up and di Grassi’s mistake. How fast would he have been? No idea. But his time in P3 does not reflect his true pace.

This season, qualifying has consisted of Red Bull winning. However, we saw in Turkey that the McLaren is now roughly at equal race pace to the Red Bull. Montreal is almost ideally suited to the car [tons of little straights]. If McLaren can do it anywhere, it’s here. I also had a look to see the qualifying performance of the two drivers. It’s 4:3 to Hamilton, or 4:2 if you discount the crazy Malaysian qualifying [the really wet one]. So, Hamilton does have an advantage, but it’s not colossal.

At the time of writing, Hamilton’s favourite to get pole, at 3, with Button at 11, Webber 5.7 and Vettel 3.75. I agree that Hamilton’s the favourite, but for me, Button is the best value.

So, my tip is to back Button, and set up an in-race lay (I backed him at 9.2, with a lay set for 2.5). I was also lucky enough to be able to back Hamilton at 4, with a lay set at 1.5.

Feel a bit out on a limb, backing a non-Red Bull, but that’s what I think is value.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

2010 election: post-race analysis

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, so they say. There is certainly a lot to learn from the 2010 election. I don't pretend to have a monopoly of wisdom (more like a flake in a very fragmented market), but here are some of the things that I learned about political betting from the 2010 election :

1. Don't be afraid to do the obvious

For a long time, it looked as though the Tories were going to achieve an overall majority. Perhaps they should have. But by the time that the election campaign began, it was already going to be a tough call for them. They were not getting the leads in the polls that would guarantee an overall majority. Yet the betting markets stubbornly refused to acknowledge this. Even after the first debate, when the Lib Dems' support shot up and the polls pointed to a hopelessly hung Parliament with only three weeks to go, the markets remained odds-against a hung Parliament for another couple of days. I piled in - this was by far my biggest bet and was also by far my most lucrative. I greened out after the third debate, which David Cameron appeared to win, but made sure I remained as exposed as possible to the upside of a hung Parliament.

I do not claim any brilliance on this - quite the reverse, it seemed totally obvious to me. I was probably too hesitant in greening out. But I still made a substantial sum of money by opposing the preconceptions of the rest of the market which was too slow to recognise when it was out of date. This leads me onto my next point.

2. There is no special wisdom in the market

Money talks and money should be respected, but money can still be hopelessly wrong. Most political gamblers don't do as much research and testing as professional financial analysts. So there is probably more scope for uncovering errors to profit by than in the financial markets. It's always good to start with the belief that others are on the right track - assuming that your opponents are stupid is always a recipe for losing. But look for where assumptions may have been made. Those assumptions might be incorrect or out of date.

3. A lot of knowledge can be a dangerous thing

The constituency markets held especial dangers. Yokel has pointed out in the past how sometimes it is easier to bet with less information. I agree. It was surprising just how often the best of betters got caught out by their own pet constituencies. There has been much soul-searching among Scottish posters as to why the predicted seat changes didn't happen. Jack W was wrongly confident that Watford would fall to the yellow peril. Mr Smithson misread Buckingham and even in Bedford, he thought the Lib Dems might sneak up on the rails, where in fact they finished a distant third. I point this out just to show that the shrewdest commentators can be led astray even on home turf.

My most successful constituency bets were made by applying general principles rather than applying too much local knowledge. It's one thing working out that Labour would be about as popular as herpes in much of the country south of the Severn and the Trent, and it's another thing entirely trying to second-guess how this might interact with local constituency effects. Far better to look at generalities - is there an incumbent MP? has the constituency any tradition of voting for the challenging party? what is your expected regional swing?

The local constituency effect that is most important to look at is whether one of the parties has a seat-specific problem; for example, the Conservative party in Southport was publicly and utterly split. Occasionally, we get tells from inside: when the first Conservative candidate abandoned Brighton Pavilion, it seemed likely that they would struggle to take the seat. Similarly, when the incumbent unexpectedly retired in Walsall South, a seat that was on no one's radar looked very interesting (Labour retained it, but by a margin of under 2000 votes in a constituency that had returned a Labour MP with 58% of the votes in 1997). Hard news is worth following, but generic reports of excellent canvassing returns should be heavily discounted.

4. Think about what's driving prices: it might not be the underlying odds

It is easy to assume that betting prices are driven by underlying probabilities. Not so. What drives betting prices is the money that is placed. Betfair automatically works in this way and conventional bookies are going to want to keep their books balanced. The price ends up as the balance between two competing flows of money.

This is particularly important in something as emotional as politics. A lot of gamblers want to back their own horse. This means that prices can be quite seriously askew, particularly in constituency markets.

The particular danger arises where a party has considerable support but relatively few exciting betting opportunities. The odds on the Lib Dems and the SNP taking new seats were way too short in most cases. This was observable in advance (at least, I observed it). For every Redcar there was a St Albans, a Sheffield Central, a Newport East and a Bedford. The SNP didn't even have those meagre satisfactions.

The same effect could be seen in a localised way for the Tories. In Scotland, the Conservatives came nowhere close to justifying the odds in some seats. The challenges in Morley & Outwood and Exeter failed, though Antony Calvert did very impressively in Morley & Outwood. The emotional satisfaction of backing an upset against a particularly unpopular (with Tories) Labour minister drove prices out of kilter.

It is no surprise that many of the longer priced bets that came home were on Labour candidates. There's something very unheroic about backing a candidate to retain a seat. It's much more fun backing a candidate to win a seat. But fun doesn't equate to money.