Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pre-season rule changes and driver lineups

I wrote this over a prolonged period, adding little snippets as they arose, so it’ll probably be a bit long and jittery.

There are a number of technical changes for the 2011 season, the details of which are linked to here -

The short version is this:

No more F-ducts or double diffusers

Bridgestone replaced by Pirelli as sole tyre manufacturer

Adjustable rear wings intended to aid overtaking (detail here):

KERS returns

107% rule returns

I very much welcome the return of KERS. The sexy power boost button mixes up starts and restarts from the safety car, and, I think we can all agree, a big button that makes your car go faster is quite brilliant.

Just after the end of the 2010 season Eddie Jordan asserted that Mercedes had a better system ready than Renault, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It is reckoned that the Pirellis will possibly degrade faster (a damned good thing) and aid certain drivers. Schumacher and Massa did well in the preliminary tests in Abu Dhabi, for example. Faster degradation would mean fewer predictable one stop strategies and more Montreal style madness.

The adjustable rear wing really should make overtaking easier. However, it is important to know that whilst it can be used at any time during practice/qualifying it cannot be so freely used during the race. Specifically, it cannot be used on laps 1 or 2, or the first two laps after a safety car restart [when all the cars will be bunched up]. It can only be used on a specific straight, when within 1 second of the car ahead. So, it will not affect the Lap 1 Leader market. In addition, this means that the practice and qualifying times will probably (sometimes) be slightly misleading when it comes to race pace. It is effectively a straight line speed boost, so the distortion will be small or non-existent at a track with a single straight and tons of corners and maximised at tracks with multiple long straights.

The FIA has also decided, in its infinite wisdom, to drop the unenforceable [if Ferrari do it] team orders rule. In other words, they are now permitted. To help out other F1 fans, I’ve compiled a brief list of translations of phrases used this season and what they will be next season.

“Fernando is faster than you” = “Felipe, baby, get out of the way”

“Enter fuel management mode” = “Don’t even think about passing your team mate”

“Jenson, fuel is critical” = “Oi! Knock it off!”

Another interesting fact is that all four top teams (Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes) have not changed their drivers. Mercedes will be most interesting to watch, as it’s unclear whether the car will be competitive enough, whether Rosberg has the cutting edge of a champion and whether Schumacher can enjoy a better season than his somewhat lacklustre 2010 return (although he did improve markedly towards the end).

Renault/Lotus [see below] has retained the stellar Kubica, and the gold-plated Petrov.

Speaking of teams, F1 appears to have ended the realm of madness. Next season will see Lotus competing in black and gold colours, and Lotus competing in black and gold colours. No typo. We will have two Lotus teams. (Lotuses? Loti?). One will be the present Lotus team (named Team Lotus) led by Tony Fernandes. The other will be backed by Group Lotus and parent firm Proton, and be called Lotus Renault. The reasons are complicated, legalistic and a bit petty, and the result will make commentating fun. Bear this in mind if you plan on betting for or against a Lotus team.

Update: Tony Fernandes has decided that Team Lotus will not race in black and gold to prevent confusion.

Regarding new drivers, Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela takes Hulkenberg’s Williams seat. Bit of a shame, as I thought Hulkenberg did well, but Maldonado brings Venezuelan cash, apparently. The banzai superstar Kobayashi is joined at Sauber by Sergio Perez Mendoza of Mexico, who will have to work hard to hold his own against the entertaining Japanese driver.

Virgin has signed up Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio to partner Timo Glock. This matters because if he can drum up greater Belgian support for the sport then it may help Spa, one of the finest of all circuits, stay on the calendar. There’s a real risk that it might end up going when a number of new races are added (there’s a 20 race limit to the season, and with the addition of India this year it’s already been reached. With Russia, the US and perhaps other countries joining some circuits must be ditched soon).

Toro Rosso have left their lineup of Buemi and Alguersuari unchanged.

With a quartet of drivers vying for Force India seats, there has been a prolonged wait to find out who gets the green light. Sutil was likely to retain his seat, and Liuzzi lose his (despite having a contract for this year). Possible replacements include the British Di Resta and Hulkenberg.

Update: It’s now been confirmed that Sutil and Di Resta will race for the team next year, with Hulkenberg as reserve.

There has also been a significant change in the BBC F1 commentary box. Legard has been axed as lead commentator and replaced with Brundle, whose former role of second commentator/race analyst has been assumed by Coulthard. This has surprised many who expected any potential new combination to feature one ex-driver (probably Brundle) and a BBC journalist. How this fares we’ll have to wait and see, but I trust we’ll see fewer inexplicable errors and strange moments of excitement as well as better commentary chemistry. However, many wanted James Allen out, and then found they disliked Legard, so it may simply be that everyone suffers by comparison with Murray Walker.

The first race (sadly the woeful Bahrain) will be difficult to predict. Testing provides only the haziest of pictures due to the wildly differing fuel loads, and it will only become clear how the rule changes work in race conditions in race conditions.

One, slight, advantage to visiting Bahrain first is that it’s difficult to overtake at the circuit, so if the adjustable rear wing and KERS work well we may see this reflected on race day. There’s no point introducing overtaking aids if they only work in places like Spa and Interlagos.

A reminder that, initially at least, I’m going to offer tips on the main site, and write just a post-race analysis after each race, including how the tips (hedged and unhedged) played out.

Anyway, this post will hopefully take care of updates regarding teams/driver/rule changes, and all the housekeeping, as it were, should be done now. I’ll write a season preview after testing and before Bahrain, and then the season begins.

The testing schedule is as follows:

Valencia : 1 to 3 February
Jerez: 10 to 13 February
Jerez: 17 to 20 February
Barcelona: 25 to 28 February

So the next article will be up after the 28th of February and before the 11th of March, when P1 of Bahrain begins.

Morris Dancer


Peter said...

Here's the betting post I put up on the main site last night only to be greeted by rapturous silence as usual - you sometimes have to wonder why you bother:

***** F1 Betting Post *****

Nico Rosberg vs Michael Schumacher (aka Anno Domini)

Each F1 season, the bookies tend to pitch the two drivers for each of the constructors’ teams against each other in term of which will secure the most points over the forthcoming season. One such contest during 2011 will be between Mercedes’ two German drivers Nico Rosberg (aged 25) and Michael Schumacher (aged 42). Last season they scored 142 points and 72 points respectively.

There can be no doubt that Michael Schumacher is one of the greatest, if not the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, having won the Drivers’ Championship for a record 7 times. After having retired as a long time Ferrari driver in 2006, he returned to drive for Mercedes in 2010. This did not prove wholly successful for him - although having struggled for most of the season, he did show some improvement over the final six races, eventually finishing in a lowly (for him) 9th position.

Nico Rosberg is hugely less experienced although generally reckoned to be one of the world’s top 4 or 5 Grand Prix Drivers and probably now approaching the peak of his career.

One of the key attributes in being a successful F1 driver is undoubtedly speed of reaction, which is measured in thousandths rather than hundredths of a second and herein lies the nub of the bet I am suggesting.

Although Schumacher remains incredibly physically fit for his age, it must be the case that being Rosberg’s senior by 17 years, his reaction time is surely significantly slower and this differential is likely to increase with each passing year. With Nico having out-pointed him by virtually 100% last season, other things being equal I would expect at least a similar outcome for the 2011 season. Of course life as a F1 Driver isn’t quite as straightforward as that - one or other driver could be suspended or injured during the season. One or other’s car might perform better than the other. One or other driver might fall out with his team’s bosses.

Cutting to the chase, however, I expect Rosberg to finish the 2011 as Mercedes’ top driver by some distance and for Schumacher to retire as a result, quite possibly at some stage during the season - he is after all a very proud man and justifiably so. Accordingly, Hills’ price of 8/11 or 0.73/1 on Rosberg finishing ahead on points looks like stonking good value imho, compared with a best 3/5 or 0.6/1 available elsewhere

Morris Dancer said...

I would've replied if I'd been on, and I suspect Mr. Fletcher and a few others would've too.

That said, I know the feeling.

Hmm. I must say I'm not sure that's right. Here's my reasoning why Schumacher will do better in 2011:
1) Cobwebs are blown away
2) He improved markedly in the latter half, and overtook Button twice (in different races)
3) The Bridgestones didn't suit him, or Massa, whereas the Pirellis probably will
4) He will have had serious input into the 2011 Mercedes car

Still, I must admit to being a Schumacher fan in his heyday so maybe rose-tinted glasses are leading me astray.

I'm not betting pre-testing (and probably won't pre-season), but right now my eye would be most drawn to Rosberg, Schumacher and Massa for the driver's title.

Peter said...

Morris - an interesting trio of drivers from you.
In fact Schumacher and Rosberg are both best priced at 14/1, whilst Massa is a distant 29/1 with Betfair and looks too long. The problem is that sometimes he's brilliant whilst at other times he look ordinary, coupled with the fact that he's unlikely to improve. Maybe a top 6 finish but unlikely to finish in the top 3 imho.
Also priced at 14/1 is Mark Webber who looks like value if he can overcome last season's disappointment and is given fair treatment by his team.

Morris Dancer said...

Webber's a bit long, but I can't see him winning. He didn't have a particularly rough ride from his team (I think it's been a shade overblown), he had far superior reliability than Vettel and utterly crumbled in Abu Dhabi.

Then again, Red Bull have recently had a habit of making fastest cars, and if Vettel's engines keep exploding...

Part of the reason I opted for those three was the long odds. With so many potential champions from so many different teams I'd be unsurprised if, as happened last year, we end up with many different race winners and title leaders. 4-5 for Hamilton, Vettel or Alonso is a bit short, given that.

Peter said...

I agree - that's why both Massa and Webber are both worth a punt - they are in excellent cars and must therefore have some sort of chance.

For this very reason, I picked Webber last season at 18/1 and for a long time he looked like a shoo-in. Ultimately however I was able to lay him off at short odds and make a decent profit on either Alonso or Vittel winning. Massa's odds, in particular, will halve if he make a half decent start to the season, eg if he's in the top four after 4 races, which probably means two podiums.

jamei said...

I wouldn't count out Schumacher due to age, reaction times don't count for much - most of the lap time comes from pre-planned throttle, brake and steering applications, it's only at the start and responding to other drivers where reaction times might play a part.

Actually after writing the above I've had a look at the evidence. I found a paper which clearly shows that reaction time in response to simple events (race start) does not begin to increase until age reaches the mid-50s. More complex choice reaction time does increase with age, albeit very slowly and with lower variation than you'd expect in the general population anyway.

In short I only see Schumacher improving (provided his car is better than last year's). How he does against Rosberg will depend on how the new car suits the two drivers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Rosberg outperformed.

He is currently 12/1, is this value? I'm not so sure. There are 3 guys ahead of him with cars that are likely to be faster and with team-mates who likely to be crapper, relatively speaking.

Morris Dancer said...

On starts, I recall Brundle (I think) stating that since his return Schumacher had gone from being a super qualifier to a so-so qualifer, and a terrible starter to a great starter.

With Mercedes power and KERS, he (and Rosberg and the McLarens) *may* be able to regularly snatch 1-2 places off the start.