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.
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.
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.