Monday, 28 March 2011

AV – What are the Effects?

There’s been a lot of sound and fury on who’d win and lose from the proposed AV reforms (such as the No2AV claim that effectively Nick Clegg would be the One Man with the One Vote), and it occurred to me that we’ve not had the facts presented in one place.

Whilst some of the arguments over AV have been on the philosophy of the system, much of the undercurrent has been on the party political fallout. With most sides simply guessing.

As it turns out, most of the projections of past elections that have been bandied about over the years aren’t much stronger than educated guesses – Dr Roger Mortimer of MORI has an excellent summary of the AV issues here - which includes much of the facts behind the philosophical discussions as well.

The major issues with projecting these outcomes, he summarises thus:
- Most estimates of how an AV election would turn out assume that voters’ first preferences would be the same as their vote under FPTP. But that is almost certainly not true. The trouble is there is no simple way of finding out or reliably estimating how it will differ at constituency level. How many people are voting tactically (and where) who wouldn’t do so under AV? We know how votes are spread by constituencies at the moment, but we don’t know what the spread of AV first preferences will be.

- Surveys can ask voters what their second (and lower) preferences would be, but we don’t know how this will vary by constituency, which can make all the difference to the election outcome. We certainly can’t assume that, say, Lib Dems in Scotland will split between Labour and the Tories as their second choice precisely the same way as Lib Dems in the South East of England, or that rural and urban are the same.

- Most people don’t really understand alternative electoral systems, so asking them what they would do under a different system may not get accurate answers. Once a new system is in place and they have got the hang of it, they may well vote completely differently to the way they think they would now.

- Parties will behave differently under AV and that may affect the way voters think about them. e.g. If the Lib Dems asked voters in a constituency to give their second preference to the Tories, would that lose them the first preference vote of some left-leaning LibDem voters?
Given those caveats, it’s not surprising to find that some estimates of election results vary between well respected sources. Most are fairly close – I’ve found more than one result for each of the 1983-1997 elections, but all bar the 1997 one are very close to each other. The 1997 one is a pronounced exception, with Conservative seat totals confidently projected at 110, 96 and 70 from three different calculations.

The elections prior to 1983 don’t seem to have had projections made (at least not easily locatable online), but data from the British Election Study (BES) data is now online at the BES Information Site, with data going back to 1964. I’ve run an estimate for the 1979, 1974(October), 1974 (February), 1970, 1966 and 1964 elections.

Enough preamble, what’s the outcome?

Only two elections would have changed their headline result: the October 1974 election would have had Wilson still short of a majority, and 1964 would have seen Home denying Wilson a majority – and the Liberals under Jo Grimond as kingmakers. The reason that the third party has always done better in these projections is that they have (until now) always been preferred to the “other one” of the big two by Con and Lab voters – which may change now they’re in Government.
Who (out of Conservatives and Labour) loses out? It changes – dependant on who is least disliked by Liberal/Lib Dem supporters. This is how it’s happened over the past 46 years:

Net Preference for Con/Lab by Lib/Alliance/LD voters across elections (Source BES 1964-1997, 2001/5 ICM/BBC from Curtice paper, 2010 BES from paper by Sanders et al)

On the above graph, blue corresponds to an advantage for the Tories, red to an advantage for Labour. Current polling suggests that the remaining Lib Dems have a small net pro-Tory preference (that is, the line has crossed back over to the blue side), but 2015 is still a long way off.

Well, that’s what the past looks like – but the big issue with AV is how it will change voting behaviour in the future – with the ability to cast a first preference vote with far less worry about wasting it, will UKIP, the Greens, far left Socialist parties and so on see big boosts in their first preferences? Will we see constituencies where voters have long abandoned hope in their first preference major party suddenly shift sentiment? Subsequent elections will be based on the now-different results that AV will produce and we’ll enter uncharted waters. One thing that does leap out – more constituencies change hands under AV projections than under FPTP ones, so election night may prove rather more anxious for MPs and more entertaining for the rest of us.

Footnote for sources: For this article, I’ve taken the projected totals for the 1983-2010 elections (using John Curtice’s projections at the BBC website here as my starting point. The ERS present different totals for 1983-1997 here, again citing Curtice. The third calculation for the most disputed outcome (1997) is here, by Dunleavy, Margetts, O’Duffy and Weir. For the 2010 election, I’ve used the paper by Sanders, Clarke, Stewart and Whiteley (available here, but an alternative is presented by the ERS and presented by the Guardian here)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Australia: post-race analysis

Qualifying summary:

No bets on this, due to the timezone difference and the added difficulty of assessing a brand new season. It was interesting for several reasons. The tyres held on longer than expected, Heidfeld failed spectacularly with 18th and a Q1 exit whereas his supposedly inferior team mate got an excellent 6th, and the KERS failed for Schumacher (costing him a Q3 place), Hamilton and Vettel*. The latter two slaughtered the rest of the field, and Vettel was tremendously impressive, effectively a second ahead of Webber.

The qualifying session was also notable for the very good improvement for McLaren, and the lacklustre performance by Ferrari and Mercedes. Toro Rosso did well, and Sauber will be thrilled with Kobayashi’s 9th. Hard to assess the Williams as Barrichello uncharacteristically slid off and ended Q2 in a gravel trap which put him 17th.

*Later information indicates Red Bull simply aren’t bothering with KERS.

Race summary:

Well, the tip for Hamilton to win at 5.8 didn’t come off. Hamilton was clearly better than everyone save Vettel, but the Wunderkind was in a class of his own. The McLaren driver impressed hugely by doing so well with a broken floor, but frankly Vettel had the entire weekend sewn up. He dominated qualifying, he was never in danger of losing the race and these are ominous signs for the rest of the field. Nor can his success be ascribed solely to the ingenuity of Adrian Newey, Red Bull designer, as he also wiped the floor with his Australian counterpart.

On bets considered but not tipped, Schumacher for top 6 and Button for a podium would’ve proved losers (due to an accident and a deserved drive-through respectively), the 10.5 for Petrov to get a podium would’ve won. Irritating, as always, but it is at least a sign that my eye is in, which is nice.

The start saw some interesting things. It cannot be definitively stated that this represents each team/driver’s true starting form as it’s just one race, but useful pointers may’ve been seen. Schumacher and Petrov started brilliantly, as did both Red Bull drivers. Surprisingly, the McLarens had poor starts, as did (I think) the Ferraris.

Petrov did staggeringly well to get a deserved podium. If I’d believed in him more I would’ve tipped the 10.5 I considered, and that was clearly an error of judgement on my part. Meanwhile, Quick Nick qualified a pathetic 18th and achieved a paltry 14th in the race.

As for Alonso, he ended the race as he ended 2010: behind Petrov. A good solid 4th, nothing spectacular, aided by his team mate getting out of the way and Button getting a drive-through. Ferrari are the third-placed team right now (or possibly fourth, after Petrov’s Renault).

Webber finished 5th, 38 seconds down the road from his team mate. Button recovered well from his drive-through to nab 6th, with an excellent 7th for Mexican superstar Sergio Perez who stopped but once. His team mate, the popular Kobayashi, got overtaken quite often but managed to finish 8th. A lacklustre Massa came in 9th with Buemi 10th.

Tyre degradation was substantially more than last year but not farcically high. As a result we got some interesting strategic divergence, from Perez’s 1 stop to the 3 stops of Alonso and Webber and the 2 stops of Petrov. It may be worth keeping an eye on Perez’s odds, because if he can put in 1 or 2 fewer stops per race than his competitors then he is likely to climb the standings from the grid to the result (he went from 13th to 7th today).

We cannot assess Mercedes. Both drivers were victims of other people crashing into them. Williams likewise failed to finish, although that is better than HRT, who failed to start.

It is worth saying that reliability generally was excellent. Most retirements seemed to be due to accidental damage. It’s disappointing to get my tip wrong, but it is nice to get the season underway and we now have some concrete information.


Betting earlier affords better prices but higher risk. Scott P cunningly backed McLaren for the win at 6/1, pre-qualifying, with Coral. After qualifying, the odds were halved (with Betfair). Occasionally last year (usually with tiny stakes) I bet on winning teams pre-practice, but I usually prefer to have more information available before betting, at the cost of shorter odds.

I’ve found it a bit weird only writing one article this weekend. Less work though. Do people prefer this, with tips offered on the main site and a review on pb2, or think the old three articles per weekend system was better?

Already Vettel is evens for the title and Red Bull are shorter than that for the Constructor’s. We’re 1 race into a probably 19 race season, so I think this may be a little bit of an over-reaction. That said, Vettel absolutely slaughtered his opposition today. The question is, will he be able to repeat that on a circuit with many straights and slow corners?

The next race is in a fortnight’s time, in Malaysia. The qualifying and race start at 9am. It’ll be a bit earlier than I’d like, but I’ll try to offer qualifying as well as race tips.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Pre-season betting thoughts

Given the longer than expected wait, I’m going to fill the Bahrain-sized gap with a shorter post about betting, given the rule changes.

It’ll be mostly conjecture, of course, but that’s always the case pre-season.

There are 19 races (possibly 20, if Bahrain returns). If Korea is dry throughout, we’ll effectively have two new tracks in Korea and India (which is reportedly ahead of schedule). I’d guess that India should be good for McLaren, as it’s got quite a lot of long straights, which may also serve the increase the distortion between practice and qualifying times and race pace.

Qualifying may see the market for getting into Q3 becoming more interesting. If Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Renault, Williams and Toro Rosso are all capable of it, it may become an opportune (or very difficult) market. [It’s worth pointing out that the previously poor Mercedes seems a bit racier since it had some upgrades fitted].

Pole will be the same as last year, because the adjustable rear wing can be used in qualifying and practice, so the P3 simulation runs should provide a good guide. (NB the last 3 races in Australia, our first destination, have had pole-sitters who did not top the timesheets much at all in practice).

The races will see many changes. The 107% rule means that, occasionally, a slow team will end up not even starting. KERS means that the teams with the best system (and best engine) may regularly gain a place or two at the start. The adjustable rear wing should, slightly, aid overtaking, and its highly regulated use in the race and free use in practice and qualifying will create a gap between practice and qualifying pace and race pace.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the tyres, now Pirelli, will no longer be made with the resilience of granite, but of crumbly cheese. An average of two pit stops was expected per race, rather than the standard (dry) one from Bridgestone. However, in a preview of the season the eminently sensible Martin Brundle reckoned three to four pit stops per race would be likely. This is deliberately to try and create more Montreal type racing. I have mixed views, as I found Montreal very exciting and had my worst result of the season there. Extra pit stops create more opportunity for cock-up, whether a poor pit stop or getting back out into traffic.

This also puts a premium on tyre management, and Button has reported he loves the new tyres. So, perhaps he’ll do well. (Then again, I thought that last year).

(For more info on tyres falling to pieces, check out this link:

Reliability will matter a lot, obviously, and in new and exciting ways. When it was last used, the KERS system occasionally broke, which then requires the car to carry quite a lot of weight for no advantage at all.

I’d expect the above changes to make the pole-sitter less likely to win, compared to last year. Extra pit stops adds possibility of misfortune, KERS adds opportunity for being passed at the line and the adjustable rear wing makes being passed later on more likely too.

If Ferrari and Red Bull are top dogs, initially at least, then the advantage ought to lie with the team most reliable. On recent history, that would probably be Ferrari. However, the cars are new, so we’ll have to wait and see whether the Red Bull (and especially Vettel) trend of being fast but fragile continues.

Unhelpfully, those pesky colonials have P3 at 3am and qualifying starts at 6am. I’ll make a decision nearer the time, but my inclination is to sit qualifying out rather than either get up at an ungodly hour or miss out on the usually helpful (although not at Australia, see above) P3 qualifying simulation.

The first race of the season (unless the hated dictator Julia Al-Gillard is toppled, of course) will be on the 27th of March, starting at 7am UK time. Hurrah!

Morris Dancer