Saturday, 5 November 2011

Lacklustre tips since the mid-season interval

A couple of races ago I was considering making a post about a slightly poor performance since the mid-season interval. At the time I thought it was premature, but given disappointing results in Korea and now India I think that it’s worth doing.

First of all, whilst the second half of the season is presently in the red it’s worth mentioning that two circuits were effectively new (we did visit Korea last time but it was incredibly wet). There’s also a certain natural element of luck which sometimes has been on my side (the McLaren win in Canada, Schumacher being top 6 in Japan) and sometimes hasn’t.

So, the purpose of this article is to analyse what (if anything) has changed in the latter half of the season, why I’ve got certain things wrong and others right and, most importantly, what practical lessons I can learn for the next two races and for the forthcoming seasons when plenty of new races (America [twice], Russia and so on) join the calendar.

Changes since the mid-season interval

Vettel has been the class of the season throughout. However, he had more competition in the second quarter of the season. The McLaren was more competitive in the race, he still isn’t great at the Nurburgring and the unique (and slightly unfair) Silverstone circumstances hampered him and aided Ferrari.

This meant that, qualifying aside, there were more opportunities for drivers to beat him in the first half of the season. In the second half I feel that the Red Bull has quite simply dominated the field even more than before. In the five races pre-interval Vettel won a single race, since then he’s won five from six.

McLaren has inverted its relative strengths, and has been racier in qualifying but less impressive during the races, since the mid-season interval. At a number of races Hamilton has had the pace to get pole, but cock-ups prevented him from realising this potential, except at Korea. I then, stupidly, broke my own habit and backed him pre-P3 at the last race, which didn’t work.

Hamilton has been especially lacklustre in the last few races, whereas his team mate has been the class of the field (Vettel aside). The running order is clearly, in my mind: Vettel, Button, Alonso and is partly due to machinery, partly down to skill.

Things I got wrong

Getting tips wrong is pretty shitty, but if it enables you to learn something then it may help provide future profits (and there’s no point bitching about wrong tips or missed opportunities unless you get some future advantage).

Qualifying: this is the easiest area to look at. When I backed Vettel I made money, when I bet against him I didn’t. If there’s a good reason, based on practice times, to back Webber or Hamilton that *may* be ok, but is probably best avoided. Vettel’s especially good at qualifying, is in the form of his life and has the best car.

Race: Vettel isn’t a great starter, but it’s better to look at Webber, who is the worst starter of the year. This provides an opportunity to lay him for (typically) a podium, even if he starts quite high up. Correspondingly, Button and Alonso (as their team mates are performing poorly) may be value in this area.

I avoided a safety car bet in India. Whilst the weather was good and the track is nice and wide I was uncertain whether crashes would likely occur in tricky areas. This appears not to be the case, and the marshals did a good job clearing away cars quickly. So, in future, if dry, No Safety Car at India seems a decent bet.

In Korea I was gutted when an early potential tip for pole (Hamilton, at about 5 or 6) which I didn’t offer proved accurate. Even worse, I considered backing Vettel (who started second) to lead lap 1 at about 6.8, and didn’t. The Korean circuit is excellent for a second-placed chap to overtake the leader on lap 1.

Deciding when to back potential tips and when not to has been a problem. If I’d backed both the above tips I’d be well ahead right now (in fact, Korea would be my best result of the season), but I didn’t. The pole tip wasn’t backed because of timezone issues, and I think it’s fair enough to let that go. The lead lap 1 tip wasn’t backed due to lack of confidence even though I was sorely tempted, and I think that was a mistake on my part.

Things I got right

I’ve backed Schumacher twice (once due to an excellent tip from Mr. Putney, the other time off my own bat) to finish in the top 6. Somehow he seems to keep doing it despite being in a car that should average a 7th or 8th-placed finish. The customary Hamilton-Massa contretemps and some good tyre management has helped him out. This is not a dead cert, as Petrov proved in Korea, but at something like 2.75 or 3 may be cunning. [It’s also worth recalling he’s a great starter and often makes 3 or more places up immediately].

Rating Jenson Button. I backed him to be top 3 in one qualifying session (not tipped due to lack of liquidity) and to win in Japan. After Vettel he is the man of the moment, and appears to have the measure of everyone else. Mentally, he’s in good shape.

Looking forward

We have just two more races left, and it’d be nice to end with an upward swing. Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit has been altered to try and encourage overtaking (kudos to the organisers for being dissatisfied with a processional circuit) but it’ll probably still be quite hard to pass.

A safety car appeared at one of the previous two Yas Marina races, but I’d rate it as likelier than not (especially given the new F1 tradition of Hamilton and Massa crashing).

Tyre degradation is unknown. However, higher degradation hampered Webber earlier in the season and appears to have returned as a problem in India.

Vettel’s won both previous races by over 10 seconds (Webber’s finished 2nd and 8th). Button’s finished on the podium twice.

Interlagos, meanwhile, has huge passing potential (and may have rain).

For future new circuits: tons of construction dust may mean that there will be little grip. A slightly better line will emerge, but even with a layout that encourages overtaking the lack of off-line grip will make it harder for the inaugural race. Possibly conservative tyres choices could emphasis this and making rising up the order more contingent upon people ahead making mistakes than passing on track.

The next Grand Prix is in Abu Dhabi, with the race on the 13th. For Britons, the time is usual, as it’s a twilight race.

Morris Dancer

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