Sunday, 29 May 2011

Monaco: post-race analysis

Qualifying summary:

After the crash in P3 essentially prevented representative qualifying simulation I decided against betting on qualifying. My instinct [stated in the comments of the Spanish race analysis] was that Hamilton was fastest but there was no evidence and with Alonso looking racey and Vettel faster than I anticipated I decided to just sit it out.

Neither HRT set a time in Q1 and it’s unclear whether they’ll be allowed to race. The Renaults disappointed in 11th and 16th, Heidfeld once again punching below his weight.

Unfortunately Perez had a substantial crash in Q3, which I imagine will rule him out of the race, though I don’t know for certain, and also came late on and prevented Hamilton, who had delayed his single planned run and then been slowed by Massa on his first flying lap, from setting a quick time. There was just 2 minutes and 26 seconds on the clock when the session was red flagged. The nine drivers all got out but there was very little change in the order, Vettel (perhaps fortuitously) got pole with Button second and Webber third, and Hamilton achieved only seventh. Schumacher got a tasty fifth.

Race summary:

Being green or red on the Button to win at 7.4 tip depends whether you laid at evens, as advocated. If so, you’re up, if not, you’re down. Disappointing that it didn’t properly come off, but that’s why I hedge.

Button’s failure to win was not due to lack of pace but the frankly inexplicable strategy from McLaren. They cunningly went to the super-soft (faster but less durable) tyre first, unlike their rivals Ferrari and Red Bull. However, they then went onto another set of super-softs, necessitating a third stop, in order to have run both compounds during the race. Button then dropped from second to third.

Alonso had to stop again, and was in second, Vettel was pushing the limits with a single stop. Analysts suggested that Vettel’s tyres would dramatically degrade around the late 60s, enabling Alonso and Button to pass him.

But then the safety car emerged following a crash and the race was red-flagged. It was restarted under the safety car but, crucially, every car could put on fresh tyres, giving Vettel a get out of jail free card and enabling him to win at Monaco for the first time. For all his flawless driving, Button actually went backwards, from 2nd to 3rd.

Sadly, this not only meant the tip had very little chance of coming off, it also robbed race fans of a potentially epic finish as a car with extremely old tyres was chased by a car with very old tyres which was chased by a car with fresh(ish) tyres.

Latterly, Webber recovered from a bad start and an abysmal pit stop (Hamilton, who had a demolition derby of a race, and Vettel were similarly afflicted) to nab 4th at the end, and Kobayashi got a fantastic 5th for Sauber. Maldonado was very unlucky not to get 6th after Hamilton clumsily crashed into him in the final few laps.

Monaco saw a good number of overtakes. It wasn’t too easy, but it was possible. Red Bull and Ferrari made an initial strategic mistake but McLaren’s idiocy gifted them the best spots on the podium.


Vettel should not have won here. Button had the pace but a combination of ill fortune with the safety car and a bad strategic call from the team gave the Weltmeister a slice of luck he really did not need.

Once again, fewer stops actually proved more beneficial. But for the late safety car, Vettel may have lost a place or two. The DRS and tyre degradation have their overtaking impact severely diluted on circuits like Barcelona and Monaco.

Yet again, Vettel’s supposed rivals have taken points from one another rather than from him, allowing him to extend his already sizeable championship lead. However, the McLaren was the fastest car in race trim, as it was in Spain.

We’re off to Canada in a fortnight. Montreal was amongst the most exciting races last season, as differing strategies and huge tyre degradation led to a fluid, complex battle for victory. This season, it’ll have two DRS zones.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Spain: post-race analysis

Qualifying summary:

First off, nice to be green by taking the risk and backing Webber at 3.7. I was quite pleased Vettel very narrowly beat him in P3, as I’d decided against backing the Aussie earlier and his odds were a bit shorter before that.

A bit of a weird, and very complicated, qualifying session. In Q1, Heidfeld failed to set a time as his car wasn’t repaired after it burst into flames during P3, so he starts last. Barrichello’s Williams suffered some sort of failure and he also exited at this stage, in 18th.

The Force Indias are 16th and 17th, but did not waste a set of softs in Q2, putting them in a stronger position for the race. This is unlike Ferrari, both of whom got to Q3 but lack any fresh softs for the race.

At the sharp end, Webber beat Vettel by two-tenths, although the Wunderkind lacked KERS. Both were miles ahead of third-placed Hamilton, who leads a very closely matched trio of himself, Alonso (El Cheerio, judging by his reaction to 4th) and Button.

Race summary:

This was a fantastic race. Not only did it have everything in a racing sense, it also saw both my tips end up green. My 4.2 podium tip on Button was based on an assumption he would pass Alonso off the line (be fair, nobody in the entire world saw his start coming) and then manage his tyres better than Hamilton. Both turned out to be wrong, but he got a podium anyway. The No Safety Car Tip at 1.68 or so was just based on checking recent races, combined with the sunny weather forecast and high level of reliability in F1 this year. [NB for both qualifying and the race the return was better if you didn’t hedge].

Spain has a very long starting straight, and the clean side (odd, as usual) is a healthy advantage. I assumed both McLarens would make one pass or more each and perhaps challenge the Red Bulls based on tyre degradation.

Instead, Fernando Alonso did his best Speedy Gonzales impersonation and, from 4th and the dirty side of the track, passed everyone. Unlike at some other circuits, most notably Turkey, the DRS did not make overtaking a piece of cake. This held up Vettel, Webber (who had slipped back) and Hamilton, which later proved handy for Button.

Button had the worst start possible (well, apart from crashing, obviously), falling from 5th to 10th. At this point, I strongly suspected my tip was bloody stupid. However, in stark contrast to Turkey, the three stop strategy was better than the four stop. This matters because, firstly, it meant the tip came off, but also because it proved that strategy is not just a case of cramming in as many stops as possible. Webber is harsher on tyres than most drivers, so circuits that have short pit stops are better for him, because there’s less punishment for more stops. Likewise, Button, a smooth driver, can manage them a little better. However, no driver can work magic and there’s a pretty narrow window to work in, drivers can’t just keep going for ages because the tyres will simply fall to pieces.

At the sharp end, we had a fantastic duel for the last part of the race between Vettel and Hamilton. Vettel sometimes had KERS, sometimes didn’t, and just about managed to keep Hamilton behind him. I think that the McLaren had better pace, but Spain’s a hard place to overtake and the DRS didn’t give a big help.

Vettel did fantastically well, and very much deserves his win. Interestingly, Heidfeld progressed from 24th to 8th and his team mate Petrov went from 6th to 11th.


A thrilling race weekend, which reaffirmed what became clear quite early on this season: tyres and strategy are the dominant factor. Grid slots are nice, but it’s better to be 10th with fresh tyres than 6th without, especially at a track where the hard tyre is simply too slow to be worth using. If a team wastes a set of softs in qualifying, as Ferrari did, it doesn’t matter even if you get right to the front: you’re toast.

Red Bull maintain supreme dominance of qualifying. However, this is not really reflective of true race pace, where McLaren seem to have substantially closed the gap.

The next race is Monaco, which will have (I imagine) softs and super softs. Here, overtaking on track is ultra-hard, and tyre management will be even more important than usual. Last year Webber led Kubica in qualifying (I backed Kubica at about 7/1 for pole and he just missed out), so it’ll be interesting to see what Webber’s odds are. I also think Button could have another nice result.

Just one week to go until Monaco, and a fortnight later we have the fantastic race in Montreal.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Turkey: post-race analysis

Since China:

The Chinese post-race summary by Martin Brundle is here:

3 weeks is a long gap, especially after the prolonged inter-season interval, but it’s nice to be back. We learnt from P1 that the Pirelli wets really do not last a long time, perhaps degrading after a mere 5 laps in wet but not torrential conditions. In addition, it was revealed that Turkey’s pit stop time penalty is very short, a mere 15 seconds, promoting the strategy of numerous stops. This, in turn, adds to the premium of saving softs during qualifying so there are more of them for the race.

Qualifying summary:

My tip on a Vettel pole was not especially heroic at 1.66, but it did pay off.

Kobayashi’s car died during Q1, which means he starts 24th on the grid. Meanwhile, Red Bull slaughtered their puny rivals, getting P1 and P2 with a single flying lap. Vettel is a mile faster than his rivals and has another fresh set of softs waiting for him. Massa, weirdly, didn’t bother with Q3 despite reaching it and he starts 10th. Schumacher’s a slightly disappointing 8th but his monstrous starts means that those immediately ahead of him need to be very wary at the start.

Race summary:

Two tips, one came off, one didn’t, so the race result was slightly red but the weekend result was slightly green. I correctly predicted Rosberg would breeze past Webber who was hampered by the dirtier even side of the track but he just lacked the pace to properly challenge Vettel. After a bad weekend in China, it’s nice to finish green.

Hamilton had a decent start but buggered up a corner very early on, allowing El Grumpino (perhaps El Happino would be more appropriate today given his excellent result) and Button to pass him. There followed a lot of entertaining action between the McLaren drivers and elsewhere, with the comedy highlight being Petrov trying to shunt Heidfeld into the pit lane and the two Renault drivers gesturing at each other with all the friendliness of a Coalition Government.

For the first time, the DRS made things a bit too easy. It’s probably hard to decide precisely where to stick the activation and detection points but they seem to have got it wrong in Turkey.

Every frontrunner save Button went for 4 stops. For a time Vettel seemed content with 3, but had the luxury of electing for a 4th to ensure he wasn’t passed by Webber or Alonso, who had fresher tyres. The 73 pit stops complicated the race a lot, but despite that Vettel was always (in real terms) the comfortable leader. A combination of the best car and one of the very best drivers makes his title challenge utterly irresistible at this stage of the season. It also makes betting on poles, podiums and winners a pain, so let’s hope the other teams catch up sharpish.

The race saw a great leap forward for Ferrari, especially Alonso who narrowly missed out on 2nd but whose 3rd will greatly invigorate the prancing horse, who had been looking a little lame in the previous races. Massa did poorly, slipping back to 11th (this may be attributable to a poor pit stop he had).

On that point, both McLaren drivers had one bad pit stop each. Hard to say if the conditions made it a bit tricky or if the high number of pit stops just meant we saw more bad ones. They finished as they started, 4th and 6th, and that is just not good enough.

If Ferrari are poor at qualifying and hot in the race then Mercedes are the precise opposite. I think Rosberg’s finished worse than he’s qualified at every race, and slipped back to 5th. Schumacher is just not sharp enough in tight contests and fell back to 12th. Sadly, I think he ought to retire.

Kobayashi enjoyed another banzai performance, starting from 24th (his car broke in Q1) and ending up 10th, nabbing a point.


We’ve seen some patterns now emerge. Safety cars are rare, as are cars breaking down. Just a single retirement this time, I think (di Resta, with a Virgin failing to start). As well as checking the safety car market I’ll start looking at the number of classified cars.

There was some very good news in that Bernie Ecclestone clearly stated his intention to try and keep the Turkish GP. It’s amongst the best new circuits, a cut above the tedium of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi (although the latter has been redesigned this year to encourage overtaking) and I hope it remains on the calendar.

There are two types of tyre wear, due to mileage and driving style. You can’t do a damned thing about the first (unless you crash, in which case tyre degradation is not your biggest problem), but the second can be changed a bit. However, even Button today struggled with a 3 stop strategy, so it’s my view that driving style is a marginal difference whereas mileage is the major difference.

The next race is Spain in a fortnight, and Monaco follows just a week after that.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Labour voters in the south of England – missing or voting tactically?

The East Anglian experience

Last week, I looked at the apparent extent of tactical voting in Devon, Dorset and Somerset by comparing results in the 1992 and the 2010 elections. I came to the surprising conclusion that while there was some evidence of tactical voting in Devon and Somerset at first blush, if it was taking place in Dorset, it was well hidden and that in all three counties the apparent extent of tactical voting was much less than I had expected.

How can we look behind the raw data in these three counties? At some point, I shall get to look at the demographics, but for now I want to try to compare the experience in these three counties with the experience in other counties where we can rule out tactical voting with some confidence.

As Mark Senior rightly noted in a comment to my last article, the voters in each county will have changed substantially over time – some will be dead, some will have moved away, some will not have been old enough to vote in 1992 (and a few will not even have been born then). It is a demonstrably false assumption that the replacement voters would behave exactly as the former voters would have behaved at each election. But for all that, it's a convenient starting point.

No two constituencies are exactly alike, never mind whole counties, so we need to be very careful not to over-interpret. However, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire (East Anglia for short) have some similarities with Dorset, Devon and Somerset. All six counties are southern English and predominantly rural. It's safe to say that Labour has never looked on any of these counties as their heartlands and it does not win and lose elections here. So, with the exception of a handful of seats, it doesn't have much cause to make much effort in any of these six counties. So the rise and fall in its vote will reflect long term trends - and the success of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in persuading its voters to defect to them for principled or tactical reasons.

In stark contrast to Devon, Dorset and Somerset, the East Anglian counties are and throughout the last twenty years have been almost completely lacking in traditional Lib Dem/Conservative marginals. Only North Norfolk even remotely fits the bill, and Norman Lamb now holds this with a massive majority. In the other two seats that the Lib Dems now hold, Cambridge and Norwich South, Labour were the previous holders and remain to this day firmly in contention in both (Labour are now a close third in Cambridge, but were second before the last election). The Lib Dems are not breathing down the Tories' neck in any seat in these three counties. So we should not expect to see any significant amount of tactical voting anywhere in East Anglia.
What do we see? In 1992, Labour held Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich South: three out of the 20 seats in the area at the time. They did so with a total vote share of 28%. So the first thing to note is that for an area not thought of as a Labour heartland, Labour actually polled rather well, considering - its share of the vote in that election nationally was 34.4%. This is well above the level found in Devon, Dorset and Somerset at that time.

And indeed, Labour built on that success. As well as the three seats that it won in 1992, Labour subsequently held at various times Peterborough, Norwich North, Great Yarmouth, North West Norfolk, and Waveney (and came within an ace of taking Bury St Edmunds in 1997). Labour has been a strong and recent presence in these three counties.

But what of 2010? That election can only be described as a disaster for Labour in these three counties. It now does not hold a single seat in any of them (it managed to keep a foothold in both 1983 and 1987), and there are now 23 seats, owing to the population growth in the area. And it took a mere 18.8% of the vote in these three counties. Nationally, its share of the vote was 29% in 2010. Even without a calculator, it is easy to see that there has been a big falling off as compared with 1992.

If we had been looking at these figures in the south west, we would have been readily assuming that tactical voting had been taking place. We would be strongly thinking about attributing the excess swing against Labour to voters who had decided to throw their lot in with the Lib Dems to stop the Conservatives. But we know that can't be happening in East Anglia, because there are no such seats. Yet the swing is greater in East Anglia than in the south west.

Are there any special cases? Well, you might want to take North Norfolk out of the equation in 2010, where the Lib Dems have been strengthening throughout the intervening period and opposing the Conservatives without Labour featuring. And you might want to take both North West Norfolk and South East Cambridgeshire out of consideration, because the Labour candidates in 2010 both in those seats disgraced themselves. If we also strip out the seats where Labour was in serious contention in 1992 and 2010, we find that Labour polled 18.4% in the remainder of this area in 1992, but that this fell to 15.3%. This is an only slightly greater fall than the difference in the national shares between 1992 and 2010, and an entirely expected result.

A smaller swing against Labour overall in the south west between 1992 and 2010 masked a larger swing against Labour in the seats where Labour was out of contention. So that does tend to suggest that tactical voting in the south west did make a bit of a difference. But only a bit.

In East Anglia, the opposite happened. Labour suffered big falls in support in the seats where it had previously been in contention. In every seat in the area other than Ipswich, turnout increased in 2010, so it doesn't seem to be the case that Labour voters sat on their hands. They turned out to vote for other parties. In other words, it seems as though Labour really were as unpopular in East Anglia in 2010 as the raw data suggests.

We do need to look at demographics next (in both of these areas). This may shed a quite different light on the extent of any tactical voting.

In the meantime, if I were a Labour supporter I would be wondering what has happened to the Labour support in the south. "Tactical voting" is a convenient but inadequate explanation in the south west, as my last article suggests, and as we have seen, completely fails to explain what happened in East Anglia. Deeper thought is needed as to how to turn this around.