Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hungary: post-race analysis

Since Germany:

Well, this season had been going pretty well, until I found out today that the BBC has not bothered to wait until its F1 deal ends in 2013 before shedding coverage. From 2012 to 2018 the BBC will cover just half the races, with Sky showing all of them. I’m undecided as to whether this is better or worse than no TV coverage at all. I also think it’s the first time that F1 has not been shown on free-to-air TV in the UK. Given BBC Three and BBC Four both appear to be safe, despite BBC One and Two being crammed with repeats, I am significantly unimpressed. For a broadcaster that has guaranteed funding of £3bn plus a year the BBC manages to show bloody few programmes I actually want to watch.

I feel particularly sorry for the BBC F1 team, who have been excellent (indeed, BAFTA-winning) and deserve better than this limp-wristed halfway house.

At this stage, I think (from a betting perspective) I’ll be able to continue offering tips. Nevertheless, I’m pretty livid. The BBC’s managed to infuriate every F1 fan, spend a load of money and fail to secure a real season of F1 for the next 7 years. Takes a special sort of genius to come up with that.

Qualifying summary:

I agonised a bit over my qualifying tip. Considered di Resta and Perez for Q3, but decided the odds were against it, and the lack of a racey lap from Hamilton in P3 made judging it hard. I thought Vettel had the measure of Webber and pole would be between him and Hamilton, and opted for the German at 1.8.

Qualifying was a bit of a surprise. Hamilton looked tremendously fast in the first two sessions and got the fastest lap in the first phase of Q1. I was surprised that Vettel wasn’t faster, and Webber was well off the pace, ending up sixth on the grid.

The Ferraris, especially Alonso, were also less competitive than I imagined, and Massa out-qualified his team mate for the first time this year. The pair line up 4th and 5th.

At the sharp end, yet more surprises. Button forgot he’s rubbish at qualifying and blitzed the Ferraris, putting in a fastest lap just 0.046s slower than Hamilton.

Vettel, unlike Hamilton and Alonso, improved with his second run to snatch what had become a seemingly unlikely pole position, which was a great relief (particularly given I’d said I was tempted by Hamilton’s odds of 9.5 earlier in the week).

The Mercedes does not look in good shape. It had lagged a long way off full-fuel pace in practice, due to severe tyre wear, and I suspect both drivers will do poorly. For the race, I can see any of about four drivers winning it, so it’ll be fun trying to tip.

Race summary:

I offered a pair of race tips: No Safety Car at 1.65 (odds increased to 1.78ish later) and laying Vettel for a podium finish at 1.39. I really wanted to bet on the race winner, but I could see any one of four drivers (Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Vettel) getting it. Sadly the long shot didn’t come off, though the odds-on one did, making this a rather pale green race weekend.

Contrary to the weather forecast, there was drizzle and a wet track at the start, and again later in the race.

It started with all cars on intermediates, and the top 3 stayed in formation early on. The Ferraris got bad starts, and both were passed and held up by the two Mercedes for quite some time.

After the early pit stops Vettel exited behind both McLarens, and it was clear the British drivers were the fastest. Webber and Alonso were capable of catching Vettel, but circumstances prevented them.

Halfway through the race Nick Heidfeld’s Renault burst into flames and then literally exploded just outside the pits. Thankfully, the race director judged that an exploding car is no justification for a safety car, so that bet at least came off.

Meanwhile, the cars had split on tyre strategy. Button, Vettel and Webber were on the slower but longer lasting primes (soft yellows) and Hamilton and Alonso were on the faster options (red supersofts) but had to stop again. Given the soggy track, this looked bad for Hamilton and Alonso. Then it started raining again. The McLarens duelled for the lead, and Hamilton got it before diving into the pits, as Webber had done so, for intermediates. However, their action proved premature, the rain dried up and both men had to stop again for the primes.

This gifted Button the lead, and Vettel was unable to make any headway against him. Alonso, having stopped for primes but not wasted time with the intermediates, was in a clear third.

Hamilton had to serve a drive-through penalty and came out just behind Webber. The pair were 4th and 5th, and some heavy traffic afforded the Briton an opportunity to pass which he pulled off.

Further down the field, di Resta scored a great 7th, both Toro Rosses got in the points and Rosberg came 9th for Mercedes.

On track, it was a reasonably good race, but the result was not what I was hoping for. Any one of the top 5 could’ve been on the podium, and Hamilton was rather unlucky not to finish higher.

Musings: does provide free qualifying and race coverage, I think. It’s in German, which isn’t ideal (unless you’re German, obviously) but it’s better than paying through the nose due to the BBC’s epic shafting of British F1 fans.

Bit displeased with the result in two ways. Firstly, the rain was very unlikely (20% of trace amounts according to one forecast) and that had a huge impact on the end result. However, F1 is, as I’ve said many times, especially prone to unpredictable factors, which includes weather.

Worse was my own indecision on who to back for race winner. Initially, I thought Vettel, Button, Hamilton and Alonso all had a decent chance. I was pretty confident that the McLaren would be fastest in the race and considered the 9.8 for Button and 2.2 for McLaren, but decided against it. I shouldn’t be too disappointed, but that was a clear misjudgement on my part.

Vettel’s lead grows again, thanks to this result. He is now 85 ahead of his team mate, with Hamilton 3 points behind Webber, Alonso 1 point behind Hamilton and Button 11 points behind Alonso.

There’s a bit of a break now, and the next race is the fantastic Spa on 28 August. I’ll do a pair of mid-season reviews to fill the gap, one about the season from a betting perspective, and another from a race perspective.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Germany: post-race analysis

Since Britain:

The hot/cold blowing row is over. After some frankly farcical last minute changes last time, the teams and FIA have agreed to go back to the Valencia rules and will stick with them throughout the season. Hot/cold blowing will be banned in 2012.

Interestingly, Sebastian Vettel has warned Red Bull against complacency, citing Ferrari as a possible danger to his title bid. This is interesting because of many reasons. Firstly, it indicates he isn’t on cruise control, or does not want to be seen to be. Secondly, it suggests that Ferrari’s very strong pace in Britain was not due mostly/solely to the rule changes. I’ve said it before, but Vettel’s a great driver because he has the speed of Hamilton and the brains of Schumacher (and a car designed by Adrian Newey doesn’t hurt either).

Mercedes hope to see an improvement in Germany (they had an exhaust update for Silverstone which seemed to work but the British summer meant they didn’t get much dry-running to test and perfect it). Given that, and the competitiveness of the top 3 teams we could see a rather close and interesting race.

Qualifying summary:

I buggered up the timing for my Webber tip (pole, 3.8) which was 5.1 in the morning and 4.9 about three minutes after my tip. Oh well. Recommended a 1.5 hedge as well.

Hamilton was staggeringly good in qualifying. Having (accurately, I thought) despaired of all hope when it came to pole, he comprehensively exceeded expectations by a country mile, seizing second and getting ahead of Vettel. Alonso, by contrast, was surprisingly slow after having looked very racey in practice (it may be that the cold does not suit the Ferrari). Button was well off the pace, over a second behind his team mate.

Happily, Webber did get pole, making it an unusually green qualifying session, with a grid line up I certainly didn’t expect.

Racing summary:

I offered two bets for the race. Hamilton to win at 3.95 (hedged at 1.5) and laying Vettel for a podium at 1.55 (hedged at 4). I did consider a No Safety Car bet, but given the uncertain weather and limited recent history of the circuit (2 races, 1 with a safety car, 1 without) I decided against it.

The race was fascinating, with tight racing, overtakes, mistakes and excitement throughout the field and the race. What really made it so good was the unseasonable cold, but that’s a matter for the musings along with the undercut issue.

Off the line Webber started slightly poorly, but Hamilton and the Ferraris had flying starts. Hamilton got into the lead, followed by Webber, and Alonso soon got past Vettel (who had made one of numerous mistakes). Further down the grid, Schumacher had a stereotypically good start and Button went backwards.

The top 3 were in a league of their own today, miles ahead of everybody else. It was nip and tuck throughout, and the undercut worked once for Webber but then failed for him. Hamilton was fantastically aggressive and skilful, fending off Webber after one pit stop and then brilliantly passing Alonso in a near identical scenario. McLaren have made some strategic howlers (the most notable perhaps being the pit stop woe at Monaco) this season but were spot on bringing Hamilton in early for the final, late, mandatory switch to the significantly slower medium tyres. Red Bull’s failure to copy promptly destroyed any chance of Webber advancing from his then third place, as the medium tyres were, surprisingly, faster than worn soft tyres.

McLaren and Ferrari both have big reasons to feel fantastic. The cold really doesn’t suit the prancing horse, and the McLaren looked thoroughly off the pace throughout practice.

So, how did their team mates fare? Massa had a great race, in 4th, holding off Vettel for lap after lap (and whose failure to pass him will do nothing to dispel the view that he’s not so hot in traffic). Unfortunately for the Brazilian his pit crew lost a duel with the Red Bull crew and on the final lap he was passed in the pits and ended up 5th.

Button had an atrocious start, but was recovering well (after failing to pass Petrov for ages in the early stages). Eventually he passed Rosberg and I think he could’ve caught and perhaps challenged Vettel and Massa but a hydraulics failure meant he had to pit and retire on safety grounds. This is his second consecutive failure to finish, after the problem with his nuts (ahem, wheel nuts) in Blighty.

Vettel never featured at the sharp end and, until the very end, lacked the pace of the frontrunners by quite a margin. He was dogged but ineffective in his efforts to pass Massa (for a time he had brake problems but not throughout the race), but his pit crew delivered him the pass. When your worst weekend gives you a 4th place and the height of your problems is your lead being reduced to 3 race wins + 2 points it’s not so awful.

Further down the field, Sutil scored a brilliant 6th for Force India by pitting fewer times than other teams, followed by Rosberg and Schumacher. Kobayashi recovered well from a lowly start (17th) to get 9th and Petrov nabbed the final point.

The race was the most exciting dry race in recent memory, with three highly competitive chaps from different teams fighting throughout for the victory. The winning bets were nice too.


Cold weather gave us some useful information about the cars. The Ferrari dislikes the cold but was still very competitive. The McLaren loves the cold, and the Red Bull is somewhere in between.

It alters the way the tyres work. They’re slower to come up to temperature which means they degrade more slowly, but it also means that the first few laps, even on the faster softs, are slower. This means the undercut doesn’t really work. (NB the undercut refers to pitting before a close competitor, so that the faster new tyre means you gain relative time, putting you ahead of them when they pit shortly thereafter).

I’d say that Alonso remains the largest threat to Vettel, but I’d be quite surprised if the Weltmeister didn’t retain his crown.

Yet again, non-hedging was better than hedging (frustrating to lose 1.1 of a stake through really bad timing on the Webber tip). There’s one more race, next week in Hungary, before a 4 week gap. I’ll probably write two reviews, one about racing, the other about betting, to fill the gap.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Britain: post-race analysis

Since Europe/Valencia:

So, the FIA cunningly elected to ban hot/cold blowing. I shall briefly explain the basics of this, which I barely understand myself. It’s technical, but important (like working out how to undo a bra with one hand).

Cold blowing involves passing air through the exhaust even when the throttle is not being pressed. This air is then channelled in such a way to increase rear downforce, which increases grip, decreases tyre degradation and enhances lap times. Hot blowing is much the same except that it involves the burning of fuel (whilst off-throttle) and is more effective.

Both were meant to be banned. Now it’s turned out the ban was just a heavy restriction, and that has been thoroughly changed for each engine. The problem is that Mercedes claimed they need a 10% overrun (hot blowing, I think) for reliability. The FIA agreed. Renault, who supply Red Bull, claimed they need some cold blowing for the same reason, and the FIA said they could have 50% (interesting, given they only used 45% before now). Both sides are unhappy, and McLaren reckon Red Bull, already well in the lead, may have a further advantage.

It’s a right dog’s dinner. There’s no way of knowing who gets the advantage or if it’s more or less equal.

Update: very shortly before qualifying Red Bull were told Renault engines can only have 10% cold blowing. Remains to be seen what the future regulations will be.

Qualifying summary:

Backed Alonso for pole at 6.6. Unfortunately it didn’t work out.

Qualifying was heavily disrupted by occasional bursts of light rain that were just enough to make setting faster times on slicks impossible, but not wet enough to make the intermediates worthwhile.

First glance of the impact of the engine rule changes is that, for all their bellyaching, Red Bull remains top dog, but only just. Ferrari are in a very strong second. Although Button snagged fifth he was a huge 0.7s off Massa, and barely ahead of di Resta, who put in an excellent effort. Hamilton got a rather unimpressive tenth.

Race summary:

Put forward a single tip for Alonso at 4.5 (with Ladbrokes rather than Betfair, as the odds were longer and there’s no commission), advocating a lay at 1.5 on the betting exchange. Happily, this one came off, and so the race and weekend overall was green. Again, better without hedging (I’ll address that in my mid-season review).

The race was a little bit bizarre at the start, because a shower had passed over about half the track. The start was bone dry, but half of it was sopping wet, so the drivers universally decided to start on intermediates. Vettel got a cracking start, passing Webber, and Alonso just held station.

There was a little passing at the sharp end early on, with Hamilton and Schumacher making up many places quite quickly, though generally the first phase of the race was notable for the gaps between the cars. There was soon a 4s or so gap from Vettel to Webber and a similar gap to Alonso. Schumacher continued his penchant for mechanical rhinoplasties, and was the first fellow on slicks when he came in for a new nose.

As Schumacher banged in fast laps the other drivers ditched their intermediates for softs (being wet initially they did not have to use hard tyres during the race) and the race began in earnest. Red Bull remained out in front, and there was a nice fight between Alonso and Hamilton, with the Briton passing the Spaniard but not really pulling away.

Unfortunately, Schumacher then got a stop and go penalty, with a 10 second wait (the Silverstone pits are very short, hence the harshness of the penalty). Despite this, he had a pretty good race and finished 9th, having started 13th and suffered that penalty. I rate his performance more highly than Rosberg’s 6th (17s ahead).

Vettel did suffer a slightly rubbish pit stop, and was stuck behind the (at-this-stage) significantly slower Hamilton, whilst Alonso, staying out longer on his tyres, scampered off into the distance. It’s no small irony that Hamilton really helped Alonso get away as Vettel was unable to pass the Briton.

El Cheerio was unstoppable today, pulling out a very healthy lead which Vettel, even in clear air at the end of the race, was unable to reduce. Hamilton lacked fuel at the end and had to go into fuel-saving mode (so the engine had less power). This meant he had no chance to stop the faster Webber from taking 3rd, and enjoyed a very robust tussle with Massa for 4th, which he just managed to retain.

Webber really closed up fast on Vettel, and the German barely kept ahead of the Aussie despite the Red Bull boss Christian Horner deciding to issue a team order (which they tend not to do) on the last lap or so to hold station. Webber ignored the request/order but didn’t manage to pass Vettel, incurring a double psychological blow.

McLaren recovered enormously in the race compared to their woeful qualifying. Button could have scored good points, but he was released from a pit stop before one of his wheel nuts had been put on, forcing him to retire in a rather shambolic way.

It was also a good race for Perez, who again scored points and notched up a good 7th. Di Resta started in a brilliant 6th but only finished 15th.


It’s hard to be sure whether the plethora of very good shiny new upgrades Ferrari brought to Silverstone or the engine changes helped the most, but this was a great leap forward for the prancing horse. In race trim the McLarens and Red Bulls were very similar, and I’d say Ferrari was a touch better. I don’t know what will happen regarding the regulations, but if they stay as they were for this race Alonso may stand a chance.

Silverstone is a particularly tasty track for Red Bull. It’s possible their relative loss of performance is more than indicated by the result, and they may be (on average) the third team going by race pace. We’ll find out as the season continues.

The German Grand Prix is in a fortnight, followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix just a week later. After that there’s a four week gap, during which I’ll post the mid-season review.

Morris Dancer