Sunday, 28 August 2011

Belgium: post-race analysis

Since Hungary:

Renault have decided that Quick Nick Heidfeld isn’t quite doing the job they’d hoped he would. So, they’ve replaced him with Bruno Senna, and replaced his salary with the millions in sponsorship the Brazilian nephew brings with him. I hope Senna can do a good job, but it’ll be difficult for him. He’s only ever driven a HRT before, he’s not raced competitively for over half a year, the Renault’s gradually slipped down the running order and Spa is a circuit where top speed really helps (cf 2009 when Force India got pole then 2nd) and the Renault engine is not the fastest.

Qualifying summary:

Practice was dominated by rain, with very little dry running and lots of intermediate tyre usage. It was hard to predict a pole sitter. I considered Webber the best bet (thought I was tempted by Button) as only Red Bulls have had pole this season, he got pole last year, he was fastest in P2 and P3 and if it was dry for qualifying Red Bull usually does even better.

Qualifying was hugely eventful from start to finish. Schumacher, celebrating 20 years of F1, didn’t even finish his out lap as a rear wheel parted company from his car and ensured he started from a career worst of 24th. Meanwhile, Paul di Resta failed to escape Q3, and joined a quintet of backmarkers in 18th. However, Kovalainen did manage to get into Q2 (albeit in just 17th).

Q2 was almost as exciting for reasons good and bad. With just under 7 minutes left Sutil crashed out and the debris on the track got the session red-flagged, with Alonso in the drop zone. He managed to recover, but Button (then very high up the timesheet) waved past Hamilton (then in the drop zone). However, Button was called into the pits and ended up getting dropped in just 13th place. Hamilton, meanwhile, secured entry into Q1, as did both Renaults and Perez. Unfortunately, the end of Q2 was marred by Hamilton making a robust but perfectly legitimate pass on Maldonado to get his best time. Maldonado, relegated to a mere 16th, then swiped Hamilton’s car, causing superficial damage. Disgraceful behaviour (perhaps harking back to memories of a meeting in Monte Carlo) that earnt Maldonado a 5 place grid penalty and Hamilton a reprimand (for some reason).

Q1 saw dry tyres (the faster softs) used for the first time in qualifying. To my delight, Webber was consistently and substantially faster than his rivals (Vettel and Hamilton) for much of the session, only to drop to 3rd in the latter stages. Happily, the 1.8 lay I’d suggested was accepted, so I ended up green anyway. Senna got a very impressive 7th (ahead of Petrov in 10th), Alonso got a substantially unimpressive 8th (Massa snagged 4th) and Vettel led Hamilton and then Webber at the sharp end. Rosberg and Alguersuari got 5th and 6th, Perez 9th.

Race summary:

I imagined there would be plenty of cunning tips to offer, given Alonso, Button and Schumacher were heavily out of position in 8th, 13th and 24th respectively. That, sadly, turned out not to be the case. In the end I opted for laying Webber for a podium at 1.81.

The first lap was notable for two main reasons: firstly, Rosberg got the lead from 5th, and secondly Webber started with all the vigour of a hung-over octogenarian with rheumatoid arthritis, dropping all the way back to 8th or so.

Senna unfortunately forgot that the first corner involves turning the car, rammed Alguersuari like a killer whale trying to drown a calf, and effectively ended the latter’s race whilst ruining his own.

At this point I was pleased. And then even more confirmation of my seemingly correct tip: Vettel reported severe blistering. I’d utterly forgotten to account for the tyre degradation (what with almost no dry running in 5 hours of practice and qualifying), and the Red Bulls seems to be suffering most (especially compared to the Ferraris and Button).

Down the field Schumacher was passing people left right and centre, and Button, who was down to 19th at one point, was doing likewise. Incidentally, the other drivers all agreed that the Mercedes was fantastically quick in a straight line (even versus the very fast McLaren). Of course, that might be because Mercedes went for a dry set-up rather than a compromise.

Unfortunately, Kobayashi attempted to break the laws of physics and occupy the same time and space as Hamilton, spinning the Briton and putting him into the barrier. Hamilton left the race, the safety car arrived, Vettel sneaked into the pits and got a free pit stop (and so did many other drivers).

Webber had recovered from his early woes and Vettel too was coping with the blisters. Their only rival at the mid-stage was Alonso, who was ultimately to get passed by Webber (Alonso was on the harder tyre at the end and could not make it work, unlike the Red Bulls and Button, who began on the harder tyre) and then Button. Vettel scored yet another triumph (he was actually 2.9 and longer than Hamilton, then 2.7, just before the race) leading Webber and then Button. Alonso was 4th, Schumacher managed to pass his team mate to get 5th, and Rosberg was followed by Sutil, Massa, Petrov and Maldonado.

So, two bets, both wrong. If you hedged you’d be up about 60p. On the other hand, if you didn’t, you’d be down £20. Ironically, even though I laid Webber for the podium at 1.81 I could’ve hedged easily probably at 4-5 or even longer, given his atrocious start.


Feel rather disappointed with my betting, particularly in the race when I should’ve recalled tyre degradation and Webber’s China drive (from 18th or so to 3rd) and backed Button and Schumacher to get podium and points (I did consider those bets, along with a Rosberg podium and Alonso win at 13 each, but decided they were too risky). Without hedging, this was the worst result since China in April.

The Mercedes was bloody fast in a straight line. Fastest of any car, and Schumacher was very quick throughout as well. The next race, in a fortnight, is Italy, and Monza is, like Spa, a speed circuit. Mercedes and Schumacher might just spring a slight surprise there. Rosberg maintains his habit of going backwards in the race.

I’m convinced Vettel and Red Bull are effectively uncatchable for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles. It was strategy rather than raw pace that got him the win, and it’s very hard to see anyone else taking his crown.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mid-season review (racing):

The season so far has been very good. We lost Bahrain (which is about as traumatic and upsetting as a massage with a happy finish) but in the first 11 races we’ve seen only one that was out-and-out boring (Valencia, due to a vile, tedious and woeful track).

By contrast, we’ve had many great races, and an absolute corking classic in Canada (which was also fantastic last year). Excepting the first few races, the challenge for the victory has come from multiple teams, and although Red Bull has dominated qualifying throughout they’ve come under pressure there as well.

Why has the racing been so good (Valencia aside)?

The numerous rules changes are undoubtedly the critical factor. The new DRS, KERS coming back and Pirelli making tyres that degrade more rapidly have all played a role, increasing overtaking and emphasising the importance of strategy. I would axe either DRS or KERS (I think having both is too gimmickity, and would probably take away DRS) but overall the new rules have made the sport even more enjoyable to watch.

The Pirelli tyres have meant that tyre management is highly important. Webber both suffered and benefited from this early on. He needed one more pit stop than Vettel in the early races, costing him points (a problem deepened by reliability issues). However, in China his numerous fresh tyres enable him to charge up the grid and achieve a great 3rd place.

The weather has also, generally, been conducive to great racing. The epic rain delay in Canada served up a fantastic race and a great British victory, and Hungary also saw the race defined by the teams’ tyre choices (both strategically and in relation to the elements).

In some ways, it’s reminiscent of 2009. Like Button then, Vettel has accrued a monstrous advantage, and the fact that the chasing pack (Alonso, Hamilton, Button and Webber) are numerous helps him further, as they take points off of each other and make catching him even harder.

However, I’d put the Red Bull as the third best car now in race terms. The McLaren and Ferrari are both better on the day. But, for Vettel to lose now he would need either Hamilton or Alonso to average a finish 11 points ahead of him at each of the 8 remaining races. That’s a huge ask. It is not, however, impossible.

McLaren and Ferrari tend, in recent seasons, to start more slowly than Red Bull but develop much more throughout the season, and this has happened again. I’d also say that Hamilton and Alonso are approximately on a par with one another and Vettel, and Button is fantastic in changeable conditions. In 2009, Button’s advantage began to be steadily eroded in the latter half of the season, and I think he only clinched it at the penultimate race in Interlagos.

Will the same happen to Vettel?

I’d say it’s unlikely. The gap is enormous and he’s aided by multiple competitors. The Red Bull (KERS excepted) has been as reliable as a Yorkshireman called Bob. To lose it’d need probably a combination of the following to occur:

Multiple DNFs for Vettel

Consistent wins from Hamilton or Alonso

Vettel finishing 4th or lower on a regular basis

I’d be more inclined to have a look at laying Red Bull for the Constructors’. I did consider it (it’s 1.04 right now) but I’d need to see McLaren wiping the floor with Red Bull at a few races before tipping it.

Looking further down the field, there’s actually quite a lot of interesting things to say. Sauber have improved and now regularly challenge for points. Kobayashi is still highly entertaining, and I rate Perez highly (he would’ve scored points in his first race but for a tiny technical transgression with the rear wing).

Force India have improved recently as well, as di Resta has great potential for the future. Renault, by contrast have moved backwards, and I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to get Kubica back next year. I just hope they can give him the car he deserves.

Mercedes have never lived up to the post-Brawn potential. This is probably because budget constraints meant Brawn had to axe a lot of staff, and the team hasn’t really recovered. Schumacher has had occasional flashes of brilliance, the most obvious time being the Canadian Grand Prix where he came within a whisker of a podium, but it’s hard to assess him given the car isn’t good enough. I think he has the raw pace and good feel in wet conditions, but lacks the fine touch needed to stay out of trouble. I hope he can snag a podium this year or next.

I still don’t see the point of the new teams. Six cars between them and not a single point. I got no points watching the 2010 season on TV. I know someone has to be at the back, but middle of the road teams like Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams manage to have at least a chance of points regularly.

The next race weekend begins in 12 days, at Spa. I’ve heard rumours it might end up alternating with a re-introduced French GP, which would be disappointing but far better than losing the track altogether. Spa’s a proper, exciting, race circuit, like Interlagos or Silverstone, not a dreary lump of tedium like Valencia or Bahrain.

I don’t anticipate huge changes in relative pace despite the 4 week break because for most of that time the teams have been commanded to have time off. Still, we’ll find out in a fortnight what’s what.

Morris Dancr

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mid-season review (betting):

This season has, in many ways, been the exact opposite of 2010, my first full season of tipping. Although both started badly, 2010 was worse. Last year I was good at qualifying and pretty rubbish at races, this year, the reverse is true. (After Hungary if you bet on every tip I offered, without hedging, qualifying would yield a net gain of £17.15, with races putting you ahead £113.19). Overall, this is much better than the broadly flat first half of 2010, but for reasons I shall explain later I’m not entirely happy.

Another reverse relates to hedging. For those unaware, hedging means that when you back somebody doing something (say, Vettel getting a podium) you then set up a lay (betting against them doing that something at much shorter odds) on the reverse. The theory is that, because F1 is especially prone to randomness, unpredictability and woe, people will often get close to something but ultimately fail. Unfortunately, and in very stark contrast to last year, hedging has been better at only one race (Monaco). If you bet and did not hedge on every one of my tips (with a £10 stake) you’d be up £130.34 for the season so far, but with hedging this would be just £73.84. That’s a pretty enormous difference and the rather splendid graph below will show how this worked race-by-race.

So, why hasn’t hedging worked in 2011 when it was very good in 2010?

Obviously the answer must be one of the many differences this year. One obvious candidate is the excellent level of reliability, particularly after the first few races. We’ve also, generally, had good weather. When we haven’t (Canada, Britain, Germany) I’ve generally done ok but lost through hedging things that actually happened. In Canada, I backed McLaren for the win, and it was on the final lap Button got the lead, in Silverstone, Alonso was very fast indeed and got the wine.

Essentially, I’ve been more accurate in the race than I thought I would, and in qualifying I’ve either been right or, more often, so hugely wrong the hedge never got taken.

I’m going to try and modify my hedging approach a bit, perhaps suggesting it slightly less often or at shorter odds. I’m a cautious gambler by nature, but this clearly isn’t working well in 2011.

We’ve had 11 races so far, and around half of them have been neither here nor there in terms of winning/losing (with a loss or win of £10 or less). One was awful (China, where I managed to get 4 tips from 4 wrong) and two have been really quite splendid (Spain and Germany). I am glad to be better at races than qualifying, as that’s more profitable, but also a bit disappointed that I had a terrible race in China and around half of them (including the Hungarian Grand Prix) didn’t really yield much of a result.

Favourite race: Canada

The longest F1 race this season and, indeed, in every season of F1 to date. Over 4 hours, with more time spent under a rain-induced red flag than racing. By lap 41 the sole McLaren (my tip being for them to win) was 21st of 21 remaining drivers. By lap 69 Button was 2nd. On the final lap Vettel made a mistake and Button won. Bloody exciting race ending with a tiny overall profit but huge relief.

Most profitable race: Germany

Odd race this. I felt unusually confident about every tip, which was fair enough as they all came off, but rather flat afterwards. Not sure why, but having made a puny £3 odd at Hungary I much prefer the flat but profitable sort of result. At this race I thought it clear that Webber a good chance of nabbing pole, but didn’t reckon on Hamilton’s great performance. This switched my thinking from Alonso to the Briton for the win and the drop-off in Red Bull performance ensured Vettel failed to get a podium for the only time in the first half of the season.

Favourite tip/bet: McLaren to win Canada

I’d buggered up qualifying (as usual) with two failed tips, and my single race tip was looking as forlorn as a lonely puppy. In the rain. With three legs. Happily, Button decided the time was ripe for the greatest F1 victory for quite some time, and it came off.

Three articles or one per weekend?

This season, I changed my approach from 3 articles (pre-qualifying, pre-race and post-race) to just the one after the race, with tips offered on the main site. How do people think this working? Would my loyal readership (both of them) prefer me to revert to the 2010 system?

Despite getting hedging wrong and needing to improve qualifying in particular, the start to 2011 has been notably better than 2010. The next race is Spa, with race day on the 28th. I anticipate this being tricky for the Red Bulls, but we’ll have to wait and see. Unlike some circuits (yes, Valencia and Bahrain, I mean you) it’s a great track and should produce a fantastic race.

Morris Dancer