Friday, 28 December 2012

2013: unlucky for whom?

So, what lies ahead for politics in 2013?  Pausing only to admire my willingness to have a go, given my mediocre track record in predictions, let's get stuck in. 

The current state of play

Where are we now?  For this, I can borrow wholesale from my summary from last year.

1. The public doesn't approve of the Coalition.
2. The public doesn't much like David Cameron.
3. The public really doesn't like Nick Clegg.
4. The public doesn't rate Ed Miliband either.
5. The public doesn't like the EU. Surveys show that more people want to leave the EU than remain in it.
6. In fact, it's very hard to find anyone or anything at all that the public approves of right now.  (Apart from the Queen and the Royal Family.  The public love the Queen.)

But some things have changed a bit.  Ed Miliband isn't disliked as much as he was a year ago, while the gilt has continued to come off David Cameron's gingerbread (though David Cameron and George Osborne retain a substantial lead on economic trust over the two Eds).  Boris Johnson had a gala year, but has ended it with his star dimmed in the eyes of the headbangers because of his apostasy on matters connected to the EU.  Alex Salmond had a pretty mediocre year on the UK stage, saved only by the dismal quality of his Scottish opponents.  The suspicion persists that he's a flat track bully, too easily found out when he tries to take the step up against more serious opposition.   And UKIP have definitely taken a step forward this year, consistently polling near or ahead of the Lib Dems in the polls, and having made some impact in by-elections.   Economically, Britain had a pretty dismal year.  The best that can be said is that some other countries had grimmer years.  But it was not a land of milk and honey.  Employment is rising, unemployment is falling, but real incomes continue to decline.  Growth remains fragile and the deficit remains stubbornly high.    On the plus side, the Eurozone did not collapse.  That's a much bigger achievement than seems to be acknowledged.  It is leading to a financial union of the Eurozone, with Britain on the outside.  The implications of this have not begun to be understood either in Britain or in the rest of the EU.   So, what's next?   Last year, I concluded that when no one commands public support, the public follow Newton's First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them.  I stand by this judgement.   If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures.  Or, as happened this year, where one of the parties scores an own goal.
2013 has fewer set piece big events than 2012 that can already be foreseen, but three stand out as of particular importance:

1. The fiscal cliff

As I write, the news media are full of stories of the Republicans and Barack Obama's failure so far to agree on how to avoid the fiscal cliff leading to a massive tightening of US policy.  Whether or not agreement is reached by 1 January 2013 (I doubt it), some form of resolution will ultimately be reached, largely on Barack Obama's terms - because he's won the battle of public opinion in the USA and the Republicans will need to avoid lasting blame.  This is likely to have a very substantial impact on the debate in the UK on the proper treatment of deficit reduction vs growth.  This could be shaped by either George Osborne or Ed Balls in their favour if grasped quickly.

In practice, I expect neither to gain a competitive advantage by themselves, which means that the media will be decisive.  I expect that on balance the press will regard this as giving more weight to Ed Balls's "too far too fast" narrative, which may in turn mean that Labour gain some points in economic credibility.

2 The Royal baby

In the summer, assuming that the Royal pregnancy proceeds as we all hope, we shall succumb to Royal baby mania.  Republicans may wish to check likely dates in order to book their holidays now.

While this story is not of direct political relevance, the papers are likely to spend some time considering the prospects for children born today.  The coalition looks weak on family-friendliness.  This may in turn give a nudge in Labour's favour.

3. The German election

Germany will hold its federal elections in September or October.  At present, Angela Merkel looks likely to win.  But whoever wins, the new Government will be ready to take a more dynamic position regarding the Eurozone and its future.  The end of the year is likely to be taken up (again) with interminable discussions about the future of the EU, and Britain's place in it.  I'm sure you can't wait.

More generally, there is no obvious sign that Britain's economy is going to start improving dramatically any time soon.    There are a few recent signs that George Osborne is getting better at expectations management.

North of the border, the debate over Scottish independence will continue.  To date, the NO side has been very effective with its message of fear, uncertainty and doubt, aided by some entirely avoidable blunders by the SNP.


OK, time to bite the bullet.  In a year where there are relatively few British political events scheduled, I suppose it should be harder to get too much wrong (famous last words).

Labour will keep and perhaps increase its lead in the polls

If the economy doesn't improve, faith in the coalition's policies will continue to wane.  I have already noted two reasons why Labour may get additional support in the polls, and neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are doing particularly well at media management, to say the least.  Labour are not doing anything brilliant, and the public are not going to fall in love with them, but there aren't too many options out there for the disaffected, and Labour remains the obvious one.

UKIP will rise further in the polls

The EU is going to be in the news a lot this year, from discussions about Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, Croatia's accession on 1 July (another country to supply immigrants?), budgets, fiscal union and its consequences to Britain's role in the new European order.  Aided and abetted by the continuing hysteria of the Tory right acting as a fifth column, UKIP will pick up its share of the disaffected.  Nothing David Cameron can say or do will ever satisfy the hardliners, of course.

But don't expect major changes in the identity of Britain's politicians

This will be another year where our top politicians stay put.  Barring mortality, personal decision or unforeseen scandal, all three party leaders look safe enough for the coming year.  David Cameron is likely to come under most pressure, but in the absence of a remotely credible rival, he should be safe enough (even in the Conservative party, which is addicted to plotting).

The Cabinet is unlikely to undergo a major reshuffle (it's too complicated and anyway David Cameron doesn't seem to believe in reshuffling endlessly).  Will Andrew Mitchell or Chris Huhne return?  Chris Huhne will have firmer party support if he rebuts the charges against him, but it would be easier to accommodate Andrew Mitchell (there are more Conservatives in Cabinet to eject).  In practice, I expect both will find their political aspirations in 2013 progressing outside the Cabinet, unless others blot their copybook and create the necessary space.

The cause of Scottish independence will continue to languish

2012 showed that the SNP are nowhere near ready enough with their ideas as to what an independent Scotland would look like, or even what the route to independence would look like.  Unless they can get a grip on this very quickly in 2013, the public will decide that it's all just too big a gamble.  Since there is no sign at present of them doing so, I expect the polls to look pretty dreary for the independence cause.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

antifrank verdict: could do better

For the last two years, I've made predictions about the year ahead.  It's important to see how these have panned out.  This year, well...

Here was the original piece:

Looking back, there is much to approve of in the original analysis.  The terrain at the end of 2011 seems well mapped and the grid for 2012 covers all the main foreseeable events.  So the predictions should be good, yes?  Ahem, let's see.

Boris will probably win the Mayoral election, but it will be a lot tighter than is currently assumed

Well, that's a good start.  Boris did indeed win by a tight margin. 

Polling this time next year won't be far off what it is now

Not so good.  At the end of last year, Labour and the Conservatives were both in the high 30s or early 40s, while the Lib Dems were languishing around the 10% mark.  The current UK Polling Report average is Con 31/32 (UK Polling Report itself doesn't seem sure), Lab 42, LD 9.  There has been a sharp swing to Labour from the Conservatives.

With the best will in the world, you couldn't say that polling isn't far off what it was last year.  (Except for the Lib Dems, who seem comatose.)  Why was I wrong?

I spotted the risk myself, and highlighted it twice:

"The net effect of all of this, when no one commands public support, seems to be that the public are following Newton's First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them.

If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures."

"The public seems to have formed settled views of the respective merits of the three main parties. In the absence of anything persuading them to take a fresh look, they probably won't change their opinions."

What changed the public's mind?  This is easy: the Budget.  Whatever the economic rights and wrongs of the Budget, politically it was a disaster for the Conservatives.  A section of the public concluded that the rich were getting the gravy while the poor were getting the blame.  Labour's support rose accordingly.

If my comments last year about the public's detachment from politicians is correct, this may prove a major problem for the Conservatives in the year ahead.  There's no obvious reason why this polling should change.

Politicians will mostly stay put

Not too bad, I suppose.  Generally, that was correct.  The party leaders are, as I expected, in situ. 

The Cabinet went through some change, but it was quite limited, considering that it was a reshuffle year.  I named four potential departures, of whom two are no longer in the Cabinet (Caroline Spelman and Kenneth Clarke).

Chris Huhne eventually had to step down when charged and Andrew Mitchell resigned over plebgate.   Andrew Mitchell to me was the outlier - his formal offence was not particularly egregious.  But what he was accused of was resonant.

I note that John Bercow is still in office.  What a pity there was nowhere to bet on that being so.

The minor parties will continue to miss trick after trick...

You'd have to be charitable to give me many marks for that prediction.  UKIP now appear, despite their best efforts, to be taking tricks at the end of the year.   Is this a temporary phenomenon?  We'll know more in 2013.

... except for the SNP

The SNP has done OK, but it hasn't been as good a year for the SNP as 2011.  Through self-inflicted wounds, blood has been drawn.  Alex Salmond has looked slippery and the SNP's independence proposition has looked flaky at times.  But as 2012 closes, the SNP still look the dominant force in Scottish politics.

Undaunted by my mediocre predictions, I shall have another go for 2013 before the year closes.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

2012 Season Review (Betting)

This year's been pretty good. Excepting 2009, when I got a 70/1 tip right and got about 4 tips right for Monza (still my best race to date), it's been the best season so far. It's also the best full season (my tipping in 2009 was patchier than a pirate's face).

On the whole, as you'd expect, I'm pretty happy with how things went. However, there are still some areas for improvement. I've still got a bad habit of starting a season poorly and now have a tradition of a second half dip in form. That said, I finished ahead on race bets (both ways), qualifying bets (both ways), title bets and on the 2013 drivers' market (the latter two were not tipped specifically in my pb2 articles so I won't go into them too much).

The latter half of the season began fairly well, but from Singapore to India I endured four successive red races. A small part of that can be ascribed to bad luck. I certainly benefited from good luck at other times, but Alonso's failure to score a Japanese podium was probably due to the racing incident with Raikkonen. Mostly, I was just getting things a bit wrong.

Interestingly, hedging was much better in the first half of the season but worse in the second half. After 2011, when not hedging was approximately twice as profitable over the full year, this points to me getting more things nearly right. Happily, the season was slightly better (without hedging) than last and significantly better (with hedging) than 2011. Over the full season you would be slightly better off hedging your bets.

There was a substantial difference in the qualifying/racing split as well. They were almost exactly even for non-hedging, but with hedging my race profits were well over twice my qualifying profits (hedged qualifying profits were about two-thirds non-hedged qualifying profits, and hedged race profits were close to twice non-hedged race profits).

Qualifying was slightly odd. I got three tips wrong, then three right, then four wrong. The reason for only tipping at half the sessions was largely due to timezone issues (I like to see what P3 is like) and occasionally due to uncertainty/cowardice, perhaps related to weather. Laying Alonso at 1.14 in Valencia/Europe to reach Q3 was perhaps my favourite, and most profitable, tip of the year. Little bit lucky as he was very close, but some close calls didn't go my way.

Racing was generally more reliable, after the initial dodgy start and the late season slump mentioned above. On a hedged basis, from China to Belgium (11 races) I got at least one tip right and from Bahrain to Belgium (10 races) I only made two losses, one of which was of 50p (assuming £10 stakes). The other loss, Europe, coincided with my Alonso tip so the weekend remained green.

The green line (tips offered by commenters) did not go well. However, I think that's largely due to the way I structured it (opt-out, and with no hedging). It's also the case that if Mr. Putney had tipped his insurance-style bet on Button in Interlagos I think that would've put the green line into profitability.

Next year I'll listen to what the regulars want regarding the green line. My thoughts are to either axe it, or include it separately, make it opt-in and allow for hedges.

There were also several bets that I didn't tip. This was usually due to lack of liquidity, instant buyer's remorse or a sly early bet to try and see how it went. Alas, they did not end well and overall I finished behind on these.

Title bets, thanks to Abu Dhabi, went alright, with a green finish for Top 3 Raikkonen and Vettel getting the title. I cocked up regarding the Constructors', when I laid Red Bull when it seemed they'd get trounced by McLaren.

I also finished ahead on the 2013 drivers' market. I backed Massa at 4 after he got a podium in Japan, and backed four different drivers to replace Hamilton. Thankfully, Perez was at 9 so that ended quite nicely.

I'm pretty content with the season as a whole, but a bit displeased with the mid-season slump. Next year I plan on looking at the first race of the past few seasons and seeing how they panned out. I don't plan on betting on the 2013 title as yet, but suspect Perez and Raikkonen could offer the best odds right now.

So, let me know what you made of the bets this year, and what you think I should do regarding the green line.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 3 December 2012

2012 Season Review (Racing)

Although the last quarter turned into a little bit of a Red Bull procession, the season as a whole was the most exciting and unpredictable I think I can remember. I've decided to chop the season up into uneven quarters to look back on it. The first section covers the initial fly away races, and the second is from the early season break to the mid-season interval. The third covers the three following races, and the fourth quarter covers the three pairs of back-to-back races with which we ended the season.

Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain

The start of the season was ominous for everyone except McLaren. In Oz, they locked out the front row in qualifying and got first and third in the race. It would've been a 1-2 but the safety car came out at exactly the wrong moment which meant a back-to-back pit stop enabled Vettel to leapfrog Hamilton.

In Malaysia it was a wetter than a pair of mermaids in a bath. In the rain the Ferrari's lack of pace mattered less and the team executed its strategy perfectly to give Alonso the win. Perez had a stonking race and came second, but had the speed to win it had he not slid near the end.

China saw a third team and driver win the third race. Rosberg got a great pole and win, and the Mercedes was miles faster than all others. Schumacher's bad luck continued, as the team forgot to put all four wheels on during his pit stop. But for that a podium was possible. Behind Rosberg were the two McLarens, suggesting the soggy Malaysia might've been a weather-related blip.

Bahrain, most controversial race on the calendar, saw another surprising race. Vettel got the win after qualifying on pole and the Lotus team had a great weekend with a double podium result. Hamilton could only manage eighth and Button didn't even score due to reliability failure.

After the first four races, which saw four different teams and drivers win, it still seemed that McLaren were the team to beat, but for pit stop problems and the odd breakdown.

Spain to Hungary

Spain saw a comedy of errors (not enough fuel) relegate Hamilton from a deserved pole to last on the grid. This pushed Maldonado to pole and Alonso to second, which was also where they finished. The race displayed just how great the Williams has been this year, and Maldonado, lacking much contact (in both senses of the word) with other traffic showed his raw pace to take a fantastic win. The McLarens had a race to forget, coming 8th and 9th.

I predicted a Rosberg pole in Monaco, but it was Schumacher who had the fastest qualifying time. Alas, he was put down 5 places due to hitting Senna in Spain so it was Webber and Rosberg on the front row. They finished where they started, with Alonso getting third. After this, it was strictly downhill for the Silver Arrows.

Canada was a terrific race. It started Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, but the McLaren driver opted for a two-stop strategy and his rivals one stop. It looked like it could go either way, but by the end it was clear Hamilton not only had probably the fastest race pace anyway, he also had the right strategy. Late, forced pit stops put Vettel and Alonso off the podium, where Grosjean and Perez enjoyed Hamilton's company.

Valencia was weird, because it's almost always tedious, but this year was phenomenal. Vettel was fastest in qualifying and ahead by miles in the race, but a reliability failure cost him a certain victory. Alonso qualified a feeble 11th, but rose through the field to eventually claim the 25 points and, with Raikkonen and Schumacher joining him on the podium, it was like 2006. Hamilton had the pace for many points, but a collision with a vindictive Maldonado cost him any hope of them.

In British qualifying the soggy weather favoured Ferrari, but he and Webber swapped the 1st and 2nd places in the race (Webber seems to excel in the UK). Vettel and Massa followed, and McLaren were just 8th and 10th.

Germany saw Alonso start and finish first. This was probably Ferrari's most competitive period in terms of pace. It was also fantastic for Sauber, who rose from 12th and 17th to 4th and 6th.

Hungary saw the resurgence of McLaren dominance with Hamilton qualifying and finishing first. The Lotuses got 2nd and 3rd, with Vettel and Alonso following.

At the mid-season interval which followed Hungary it appeared that McLaren had the fastest car, but a series of errors (including in pit stops) meant that they were not cruising to either title. Red Bull had suffered some reliability failures, but Ferrari and Lotus were solid and fast, though probably behind the other two top teams.

Belgium to Singapore

Memories of Belgium are dominated, naturally, by Grosjean's massive and entirely unnecessary crash at the start which wiped out multiple cars. However, in racing terms Button enjoyed a great pole and a dominant victory. Vettel and Raikkonen joined him on the podium, with Hulkenberg scoring an impressive 4th.

In Italy the McLarens continued their supremacy and locked out the front row, with the Red Bulls 6th and 12th and the Ferraris 3rd and 10th. Hamilton won the race, with Perez climbing from 13th to 2nd and Alonso from 10th to 3rd. Neither Red Bull finished, with Vettel suffering another alternator failure.

Singapore proved boring, and also that whilst the McLaren was very fast it was also fragile. Hamilton retired from certain victory, gifting the win to Vettel. Button and Alonso followed, and Di Resta's 4th suggests that Force India's development was perhaps the most impressive of the midfield teams.

Japan to Brazil

The last six races of the season were three pairs of back-to-back races.

Japan was a very different story to recent races. Red Bull upgrades gave them the front row and although Webber was taken out early on Vettel cruised to a seemingly effortless win. Alonso was also taken out early on in a racing incident, but Massa's strong 2nd suggests his team mate could have done very well otherwise. It was very nice to see Kobayashi on the podium at his home race, especially as it may be his last season in the sport.

In Korea Red Bull started and finished 1st and 2nd, albeit swapping in the race so that Vettel claimed the win. Some serious bad luck (a mechanical failure and then getting some astroturf snagged on his bodywork) really hampered Hamilton, who managed the greatest 10th place finish of the season. The Ferraris finished 3 and 4, but Massa was so fast that, all else being equal, he probably could've beaten Alonso.

India saw the once unpredictable season continue to dissolve in Vettel's dominance, as he claimed the pole and then the win, his fourth in a row. Alonso grabbed 2nd but the McLarens finished only 4th and 5th.

Abu Dhabi, like Valencia, is a normally tedious circuit that was fantastic this year, partly because Vettel also lacked fuel (as per Hamilton in Spain) and ended up starting from the pit lane. Despite this, and aided by some monumental luck regarding safety cars, he managed to drive through the field to 3rd, finishing right behind Alonso. Hamilton would've racked up another victory had his car not failed, which gave Raikkonen not only the prize for most entertaining radio messages of the year but also his first victory since his return.

It was the first race at the new Circuit of the Americas, and it proved to be a cracker (if hard to follow on the radio). Vettel and Hamilton were in a league of their own, but this time it was the Briton who came out on top, passing Vettel on the track to seal a famous (and back-to-back) win in America. Alonso got 3rd, his best realistic position, and Massa continued his strong form with 4th.

Interlagos is perhaps my favourite circuit, and the first two blistering laps showed why. The Ferraris leapt up the field, the McLarens drove away from everyone else, several cars crashed out and Vettel was spun and 22nd of 22 running cars within half a lap. Raikkonen took a long detour, presumably hunting for a pub, and Hulkenberg was unfortunate to slide a short way into Hamilton, earning himself a drive-through penalty and ending the Briton's race. Button finished second only to the safety car, and Alonso's 2nd was not good enough to overturn Vettel's substantial points advantage.

Season ebbs and flows

McLaren should be the most disappointed team on the grid. At the very start, very end and middle of the season they had the fastest car, sometimes by a considerable margin. A combination of poor pit stops, fragile reliability and Button losing lots of pace mid-season cost them any shot at either title. For them, it was the equivalent of confidently wandering into an 18th century duel with a sub-machinegun and then leaving the safety on and getting a musket ball in the face.

Red Bull should be pretty happy (unsurprisingly, they won both titles for the third consecutive year). Early on their car was fairly quick but not the fastest, but around Singapore a significant upgrade gave them the best car by miles for the next few races.

Ferrari are harder to assess because their initial car was absolutely abysmal. However, in the early mid-season break they brought a very good set of updates which closed the gap to the frontrunners significantly. Around Germany/UK they were competitive at the sharp end in the race, but subsequently the updates were too infrequent and simply didn't bring enough (if any) extra speed. Wind tunnel woe continues to afflict the team.

Looking ahead to 2013

The car matters more than the driver (cf Hamilton this year). There are probably four teams capable of producing a title-winning car:

Red Bull - have the best recent record by a mile, and Vettel really knows how to use it. Webber was ahead of him mid-2012, but was unable to get the best out of the updated, faster car. Hard to see Webber beating his team mate.

Ferrari - Massa's shown a resurgence in form, but Alonso is the only man at the team permitted victory. The prancing horse has started most recent seasons in quite a lame fashion, but Alonso drove a fantastic season. If they can put together a competitive car from the off he would stand an excellent chance of taking the title.

McLaren - fast but fragile at times this year. They need more reliability, both in the car and in the pit stops. Button and Perez are both fast drivers, but the former struggles if the car isn't spot on and the latter will be new to a top team. I don't read much into Perez's failure to score points for the last X races of 2012, as he had a few dry spells earlier in the season too.

Lotus - their car this year was very reliable and often got their drivers on the podium, but they need a bit of extra oomph to really challenge for the title. New sponsor Burn (like Red Bull but made by Coca-Cola) may give them the cash to develop the car a bit more. Raikkonen proved ultra-reliable and generally fast, but Grosjean needs to sort his head out. The Frenchman's amiable and quick but needs a cooler head on his shoulders.

It also depends on how the various teams stack up. If one gets an advantage and the others are all a close second this'll allow the leader to just drive off into the distance, as per 2011. If they're all highly competitive at the same level the title race could be close for a long time, as happened this year.

I do not advocate betting on the title at this stage, unless you can get silly odds on Vettel, Alonso, Button, Perez or Raikkonen.

The betting review, which will be rather shorter, will be up fairly soon.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Brazil: post-race analysis

The Interlagos circuit is one of the very best, and it delivered an enthralling climax to the most unpredictable and exciting season for many a year.

In betting terms, the race was green either way (obviously more so if you opted not to hedge). In fact, on a non-hedging basis it was the second best of the season.

The first few laps were probably the most breakneck and dramatic of the season (perhaps excluding Spa), and saw the McLarens retain the top slots, the Ferraris dive ahead of the Red Bulls and, most critically, Vettel get tagged from behind and spun. Senna and Perez ended their races before finishing the first lap and the title leader had an uncertain amount of damage on his car, and was reduced to 22nd of 22 running cars.

Hulkenberg had also a good start, and it certainly seems that his pole in Brazil for Williams was not an utter fluke but indicative of his real skills around the circuit.

The start was very slightly wet and the soft rain fell almost constantly, keeping the track too wet for easy driving but too dry to risk intermediates. Vettel scythed his way through the field, and the damage appeared minimal. However, the entire field was forced to pit for intermediate tyres, except Button and Hulkenberg. The pair were very evenly matched and built up a 44 second gap, but this was instantly destroyed when a lot of debris forced the safety car out. Before it emerged the young German had passed the Briton.

At the restart Button was left trailing by Hulkenberg and Hamilton passed his team mate and started to close on the German. Vettel was still some way back but high enough into the points that Alonso had his work cut out.

In the difficult first corner Hamilton was defending from Hulkenberg, who slid slightly on the wet circuit. This proved enough to send him off the track and to irreparably damage Hamilton's McLaren, sadly. Button, already miles ahead of Massa (then second), regained the lead.

Further down the field Vettel had advanced after Schumacher let him ease into sixth (a favour he did not offer Kobayashi later) and Alonso was obligingly let past by his team mate.

In the end, Button got the victory and the two Ferraris ended the season with a double podium finish for the first time this year. But the real triumph was Vettel's, who becomes the youngest ever triple world champion and only the third man, after Fangio and Schumacher, to do it consecutively.

Webber got fourth and Hulkenberg, having been a serious contender for the lead, was fifth. Vettel got sixth then came Schumacher, Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen.

This means that Raikkonen keeps his third place, but had Hamilton finished he would've easily leapfrogged the Finn.

The Button tip was perhaps a little lucky. However, I've had some bad luck too in the latter half of the season and if luck must play a role I'll not complain about it being good.

It's been a mostly good year, but the time for looking back at the races and betting isn't now. I'll do a season review for each a little later.

I hope you enjoyed the 2012 F1 articles on pb2, and let's hope that 2013 is even better.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brazil: pre-race

The qualifying session was slightly unpredictable, with a soggy but drying track in Q1 and then a dry and warming track for the rest of the session.

Q1 was more interesting than usual as the third sector was wet but the first sector was bone dry. The drivers simply had to go round and round as later laps were significantly faster than earlier ones (due to clearing off water which dried the track, enhanced grip and increased speed). The only real incident was Grosjean's ill-conceived or perhaps unlucky effort to pass De La Rosa's HRT in the last part of the third sector. The Frenchman's front wing got broken and the Spaniard got a puncture. So, Grosjean somewhat surprisingly exited qualifying at this stage.

Q2 was pretty tight, but Massa managed to squeeze through, and Alonso only just managed it as well. Di Resta must be disappointed to start just 11th after Force India had a very solid P3 and Hulkenberg made it through to the final session. Senna starts 12th, followed by Perez, Schumacher and Kobayashi. Sauber's poor qualifying may matter less at Interlagos, given it's an old school circuit where overtaking is eminently possible. The Toro Rossos start 16th and 17th.

The third qualifying session was quite interesting, although it was almost very interesting. McLaren locked out the front row (Hamilton getting his final pole for McLaren), and Red Bull likewise the second. However, Vettel's first lap was poor and he was about 9th at that stage (behind Alonso). Massa did very well to get 5th, and is followed by Maldonado and Hulkenberg. Alonso could only manage 8th, with Raikkonen and Rosberg behind him.

Afterwards there was much musing by Eddie Jordan that Massa was probably set up for dry conditions and Alonso very much so for the wet. This was backed up when Alonso stated that the car was set up for maximum downforce (a wet setup). This would explain why he starts three places behind Massa (although the Brazilian has had some very strong qualifying performances lately) and makes sense given that on a dry track with a dry setup the McLarens and Red Bulls are too far ahead of Ferrari.

However, if it rains (and some reckon there's an 80% chance of it happening) then maximising a wet setup will help with pace and could be a game-changer. It will also reduce the odds of a race-ending spin/accident.

The forecasts currently suggest there will be rain tomorrow, but it coinciding with the race is something like 50%. We'll have to wait and see just how significant it is.

I've backed Button to win at 5.4, with a hedge set up at 2.5. My reasoning is that he's got the car to win in the dry but also the wet-dry racing skills to win if it's raining off and on. There's also a strange habit of the chap starting second winning (this has happened for the last three years), and when McLaren's had a reliability failing it's typically afflicted Hamilton rather than Button.

That's the last tip of the season, so let's hope it's an exciting and profitable race.

Morris Dancer

Brazil: pre-qualifying

Some driver news: Pic has moved to Caterham, and will probably take Kovalainen's seat. In addition, Sauber will have another Mexican driver as Hulkenberg is joined next year by Esteban Gutierrez.

For practice Pirelli have brought along an orange tyre, which is one of next year's compounds. This is to allow teams to have a bit of a play and get some data on them ahead of the inter-season break.

The tyres for the race and qualifying are medium and hard, but intermediate and wet will perhaps be just as (and maybe more) important.

P1 is tricky to read, because the fastest time was set on the orange tyres. Those are not to be used in the race, so it's not really a valid time. The session was 100% dry and sunny, and so may be 0% useful for qualifying and/or the race. However, the order was: Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, Di Resta, Maldonado and Hulkenberg.

The second practice session also had Hamilton fastest, with Vettel and Webber still second and third. Massa was next, then Alonso, Schumacher, Rosberg, Button, Grosjean and Di Resta.

Ferrari seemed to do well in the wet at previous races, such as Malaysia (aided by good strategy), the United Kingdom and Germany.

P3 was dry but overcast and colder than prior sessions. The McLarens have clear dominance, of the top teams, on the straights, which will help them during the race when overtaking is needed. Raikkonen's engine died before he could set a flying lap time. Fastest was Button then came Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Grosjean, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Maldonado and Massa.

Current forecasts suggest a roughly 50/50 chance of rain during qualifying. In P3 commentary it was suggested that rain would fall towards the very end of the qualifying period.

Things look bad for Ferrari. Both were near the back end, and that's without Raikkonen setting a time. Force India are looking rather tasty, and Maldonado could spoil Alonso's party as well.

I've decided not to tip on qualifying. Perhaps a little cowardly, but the three I had considered (laying Massa to reach Q3, backing Button to be top 3 and backing Di Resta to reach Q3) were afflicted by lack of available cash to match, and poor odds for the latter two.

Coupled with the uncertain weather situation I'd rather not put money on something that has iffy odds. However, I have hedged my Raikkonen to be top 3 (title race) bet a bit more at 1.64 so I make the same amount whatever happens.

The qualifying looks pretty unpredictable, so hopefully rain will strike and it'll be exciting. In race conditions, especially if it's dry, the McLaren's top speed advantage could make them the team to watch.

Morris Dancer

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Brazil: Early Discussion

This is the first such early discussion thread, which has been suggested could be useful for identifying earlier betting opportunities. These posts will probably become a regular feature and the emphasis will be on the comments rather than an article.

So, comment away.

Morris Dancer

PS At the moment forecasts suggest a reasonably high chance of rain on race day, but it's still some time off and the forecasts can and probably will change.

Monday, 19 November 2012

United States: post-race analysis

In betting terms the tip was green if you hedged and red if you didn't, making the weekend either flat (a 7p loss if you backed both tips and hedged the latter) or the joint worst of the season. Unfortunately Mr. Putney's tip didn't come off.

Even before the race began there was controversy as Ferrari pulled off a cunning and dastardly move: deliberately changing Massa's fully functional gearbox so he got demoted 5 places putting Alonso (and himself) on the clean side of the track and promoting his team mate a single grid slot.

The start was less two-sided than was forecast. The even side did seem to suffer a slight disadvantage which lost Raikkonen about 3 places and Hamilton 1, but it wasn't nearly as severe as people had suspected. Vettel kept the lead, Webber was second and Alonso had charged from 7th to 4th, beginning Schumacher's long march backwards.

Soon after that Hulkenberg and Grosjean were 5th and 6th, but the Frenchman spun and ended up pitting early. For a while Hulkenberg seemed secure in 5th, but after being passed a few times it seemed a combination of lack of pace and higher than average tyre degradation cost him. After the first pit stop he didn't feature much in the coverage.

Raikkonen, as mentioned, had a dire start but recovered throughout the race. However, he only finished sixth because of an excellent recovery by the Ferraris and Button.

Hamilton was looking very fast, and passed Webber at the second time of asking. Shortly after this an alternator failure ended the Aussie's race with disappointment, promoting Alonso to third.

The gap between Hamilton and Vettel waxed and waned, but eventually, perhaps due to traffic being unhelpful for the German, Hamilton squeezed past and was able to maintain the lead until the end of the race.

Massa had a great race, starting 11th and finishing 4th, often being the fastest man on the track and not putting a foot wrong. Button, who started 12th, finished 5th, and also had a strong weekend. This suggests to me that he could've and would've beaten Raikkonen in qualifying, but the car breaking cost him. Ironic, really, that a tip of sound judgement failed and one of dodgy judgement (Hulkenberg to be top 6) ended up green.

Grosjean recovered from his early problems by finishing 7th, behind his team mate, Hulkenberg ended up 8th and the Williams were 9th and 10th, Maldonado leading the way.

Mercedes had a day to forget. Schumacher started 5th and ended up 16th, and although Rosberg improved from 17th it was only to 13th. Sauber were also unimpressive, and given the track was one where overtaking was eminently possible they can't blame it on a typically lacklustre qualifying. Perez rose from 15th to 11th and Kobayashi stayed in 14th.

Grosjean's failure to finish further ahead can't be attributed to the even side of the grid (he and Hulkenberg both got away ok) but may be due to the spin he had and a slight lack of pace with the Lotuses. Given he qualified 4th and Webber retired it wasn't unreasonable to think he'd make up more places than he did.

The race seemed exciting, but it was a great shame it couldn't be watched live and that highlights finished at half past midnight (so, apologies if I've forgotten something important).

The result is quite significant, because there's a premium on winning (a 7 point advantage over 2nd). At the end of the race, the standings are as follows:

Vettel 273
Alonso 260
Raikkonen 206
Hamilton 190

For third place, Hamilton could yet take it, but he'd probably need Raikkonen to DNF. I might try hedging the Raikkonen to be top 3 bet if the odds are very short.

There's a 13 point gap from Vettel to Alonso. Should they tie, I'm reasonably sure the German wins (more wins, ahead most recently etc). So, here's how Alonso can win in Interlagos, the final race of the season:
Finish third - Vettel is 10th or lower
Finish second - Vettel is 8th or lower
Finish first - Vettel is 5th or lower

Or, to put it another way, if Vettel is 4th or higher what Alonso does is irrelevant.

However, Brazil's brilliant Interlagos circuit is not a place of dull processions. It's not the circuit you want to go to if you want an easy, boring, predictable race. It rains probably more often than Silverstone, and early forecasts suggest it'll be rainy for qualifying and race day.

Red Bull won the Constructors' in the US, which is a loss for me, but I'll be ahead on the Drivers' and evens or ahead on the Top 3 market, so that's ok.

Interlagos is just next weekend, and the race is on at a slightly earlier hour (which I like) than the US.

After that, I'll probably do a pair of season reviews, one focusing on the racing, and the other on the betting. Hopefully the season will have a green ending.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 18 November 2012

United States: pre-race

Qualifying was thoroughly entertaining as a fan but rather infuriating as a gambler. Raikkonen squeaked into Q3, finishing Q2 in 10th.

The first qualifying sessions was more frantic than usual, as many of the teams went out on the medium compound, possibly to try and find if and how the grip had changed due to increased temperatures compared to P3. As it happened it didn't affect the eliminated much, although Marussia did well to beat Caterham (the former lacking KERS and the latter possessing it) and Ricciardo joined the pointless teams.

The second session of qualifying was as competitive as usual. The Saubers seemed very off the pace, and so did the Mercedes until Schumacher put his Silver Arrow into 5th. Weirdly, Rosberg was just 17th. Button got only one 'hot' lap in before he lost power and didn't get out again, and so starts a rather lowly 12th. Senna was 11th. I think Senna, Rosberg or Button could have beaten Raikkonen, based on their team mates' performances. Hard to say if Button would've or not. Hulkenberg did well to get into Q3, unlike Di Resta, and Vergne was also eliminated.

With tedious predictability (although he was run closer than usual) Vettel got pole. He was narrowly ahead of Hamilton, with Webber third. Grosjean was next but will suffer a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Raikkonen will therefore start 4th, Schumacher an impressive 5th and Massa a surprising 6th. Hulkenberg starts 7th and Alonso qualified a lowly 8th (and, perhaps even worse, is on the even-numbered and dirty side of the grid. More on this below). Grosjean starts 9th and Maldonado, surprisingly, came last in Q3.

Some reckon being on the even side of the grid will cost as much as a second on the start line. If so, that would put the likes of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso and Maldonado far back. However, it would also make things easier for Webber, Schumacher, Hulkenberg and Grosjean.

Tyre wear, despite the many laps needed to get heat into the tyres, could yet be an issue. So, it's still possible we'll see two stops as deliberate strategy.

If the start really is going to see the even side suffer a huge penalty that presents the opportunity for trading bets to be swiftly hedged.

This is the point at which I stopped waiting to see if the betting markets would get going last night. Between then and now Mr. Putney offered a tip on Grosjean for a podium. I think that's sound, and I'll be backing it (albeit with a hedge set up at 3).

I've decided to back Hulkenberg for a top 6 finish at 3.35. He starts 7th, the clean side of the track, and since Singapore (where he failed to finish) he's made up ground at every race (save Abu Dhabi, where he also failed to finish). I've set up a hedge at 1.4.

The other bets I was seriously considering was Grosjean to be top 6 (2.68, and I think Mr. Putney's podium tip sounds better as Schumacher may suffer tyre wear and the Force India is perhaps not as good on race day as the Lotus) and laying Hamilton or Raikkonen for a podium. The odds on the latter two were not great, though.

So, from me, just the 1 tip: Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 3.35, hedged at 1.4.

The race starts at 7pm. Let's hope it's entertaining enough that the highlights are worth tuning in to at 10.25pm.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 17 November 2012

United States: pre-qualifying

So far this year the lack of TV coverage at races hasn't helped or hindered tipping, but the US Grand Prix may be different, because it's a brand new circuit. As part of my scholarly research I've raced the circuit somewhat on F1 2012 (PS3 version), and my instinct is that it's a Spa/Silverstone/Suzuka sort of circuit. I suspect there will be a good number of overtaking opportunities for cars out of sequence (perhaps Alonso and the Saubers most obviously).

In unrelated news it now seems probably that HRT will not return in 2013, which is perhaps unsurprising and not particularly distressing. The team's almost always the slowest and has poor reliability. Hopefully a new 12th team with better planning and funding can enter the sport later on:

More news on 2013, namely that DRS will not be used freely in practice and qualifying but will only be available in the same zone(s) as the race:

This should mean that qualifying and race pace become closer, but will also make the races a little less exciting because of that.

The tyre compounds this weekend are medium and hard, but Pirelli still reckon the track will be so abrasive that a two-stop strategy will be optimal:

Button has an interesting thought, namely that starting second could be an advantage into the first corner:

Might see what the first lap leader odds are for the race.

First practice was interesting to listen to. The circuit seems very dirty, but it's a deep-ingrained sort of dust so it will probably remain, more or less, for the whole weekend. Grip was correspondingly low and many cars had issues, especially at turn 19. The three big guns (Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso) seemed fairly evenly balanced at the sharp end, although gaps did widen at the end of the session.

P1 top 10 were as follows: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Webber, Massa, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Perez. Vettel was almost a second and a half ahead of Hamilton, who was nearly a second ahead of Alonso.

Couldn't pay attention to P2 because it wasn't anywhere to be found. Maybe coverage was online, but the TV/radio offered no coverage.

P2 had Vettel fastest by the lion's share of a second, but Webber and Alonso posted almost identical times. Hamilton and Button were a quarter of a second down the road and had very similar times also. Massa, Rosberg, Senna, Kobayashi and Schumacher round out the top 10.

At this stage it looks like Vettel's nailed on for pole, rather boringly, but that Alonso may do better than usual in qualifying. If he could start second that would be very intriguing for the race ahead. However, as usual, P3 will probably weigh most heavily when it comes to forecasting qualifying.

After P2 Webber opined that the even-numbered side of the grid would be a joke, due to extremely low grip levels:

P3 was also very cold, and whilst it'll be warmer in qualifying it will probably be later laps that are fastest. This may mean cars remain on circuit going round and round to put heat into the tyres, which could create traffic issues. The fastest was Vettel by a distance, followed by Hamilton, Maldonado, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Perez, Hulkenberg, Button.

For the first time in a long time one of my pencilled-in possible bets had nice(ish) odds. I've laid Raikkonen to reach Q3 at 1.35. He's been 13th in P3, 11th in P2 and 14th in P1. I'd say he should be odds on not to make it, or perhaps evens.

Qualifying starts at 6pm.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis

From a betting perspective it was a mixture of delight at Raikkonen's victory (also handy for my top 3 bet) and despair at Hamilton's mechanical failure. The 2.9 on him to win was a great bet, but the sport is subject to the capriciousness of fate.

The start was dramatic and pleasing, as Raikkonen dove from fourth to second (Webber left the handbrake on), and further down the grid a few of the middle men collided with one another, yet again.

Alonso fairly rapidly got up to fourth, with Maldonado between himself and Raikkonen. The Spaniard and Venezuelan were closely matched, and although Raikkonen was some way up the road Hamilton was in a class of his own.

At the back of the field Vettel was passing the pointless teams with ease, and although he took minor front wing damage from a small collision with Senna (racing incident only) it didn't hamper his progress.

In a crash slightly reminiscent of Webber and Kovalainen (I think) in 2010 in Valencia Rosberg mounted the back of Karthikeyan's HRT and then took to the skies (as well as taking out both cars and bringing out a safety car).

This was bad news for Hamilton and Raikkonen as it closed the field up and eliminated the gap they'd built up ahead of the rest but good news for Vettel… until Ricciardo braked suddenly in front of him. Vettel took evasive action and plunged through a polystyrene barrier. However, at the speed he was doing it damaged his front wing even more and he was forced to pit early, putting him at the back of the field.

After the safety car departed Hamilton drove off from Raikkonen who similarly had no problems leaving Maldonado behind. The Venezuelan looked racy, but his team left him out too long on the soft tyres. He was passed by Alonso and then had a meeting with Webber, which was probably the Aussie's fault for trying to force the issue.

Then Hamilton suffered yet another reliability failure. Since the middle of the season the McLaren seems to only be fast when it's fragile, and his sudden total loss of power robbed him of a certain victory.

Webber was involved in another incident with Massa, and then a third when he got tangled up in what was mostly a Perez-Di Resta incident lasting a few laps (which also saw Grosjean involved). The Australian and Frenchman both retired, though from what I saw neither were to blame.

Vettel, meanwhile, was making great progress, aided by a second safety car. For a while it seemed he could challenge for the win, but Raikkonen pitted and emerged ahead. Perhaps going for safety first, the team pitted Vettel a second time, and he came out fourth, just behind Button and Alonso.

Raikkonen drove away and built up a gap that saw him to victory. In the closing stages Alonso got nearer and nearer but was never in a position to pass and the Finn was unflappable (and amusingly irascible on the radio). Button did extremely well to keep Vettel behind him for half a dozen laps before getting passed, when it became apparent the German was something like 0.7s a lap faster. By this time he was the fastest in the field but too far back to possibly worry Alonso.

In the end Maldonado was 5th, Kobayashi (who barely featured in the coverage) was 6th, Massa 7th and Senna 8th, making it a double points finish for Williams. Di Resta and Ricciardo got the final points.

It was a thrilling and tense race with serious implications for the title race. Alonso got 18 points but Vettel 15, which means the German retains a middling size lead with two races to go. In addition, Raikkonen becomes the eighth race winner of the season, for the sixth constructor.

Here's the top five:
Vettel 255
Alonso 245
Raikkonen 198
Webber 167
Hamilton 165

It's now a simple two horse race, and Vettel seems far the likelier to take it now. Today was a great opportunity for Alonso to whittle the lead down to low single figures or retake it himself, but thanks to a combination of lucky safety car periods and fantastic pace it still stands at 10 points.

In the top 3, I'd grown rather despondent about my Raikkonen bet, but it's now looking strong (layable at 1.29 for those who feel that way inclined). He's 31 points ahead of Webber with two races to go. I think he's very likely to stay third.

We now have a week off before travelling to the new American circuit for the first time (and you'll have to use your imagination because it's radio-only). One week after that it's the season finale (and possibly the title decider) in Interlagos.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Abu Dhabi: pre-race

Just as well there wasn't money available for Hulkenberg top 10 or Button top 3, as neither happened. Hulkenberg was very close, but Button was never in with a shot. Qualifying was, however, highly entertaining and threw up a few surprises.

Q1 was largely predictable, with Vergne joining the pointless teams in the traditional 20 minutes of wasted time before competitive qualifying begins.

The second session saw both Saubers eliminated and both Force Indias. Rosberg put in a strong lap to escape to Q3, but his team mate was unable to do so and languishes in 14th. Senna and Ricciardo also got dropped.

Q3 was quite exciting for many reasons. Hamilton is better than everyone else by a mile on primes and he won by a clear margin on options too. Assuming he gets a clear start and suffers no reliability issues he stands a fantastic chance of the win. Vettel failed to beat Webber and starts 3rd, behind his team mate. Maldonado put in a stunning lap to get 4th (Senna starts 15th) but I'm not sure Vettel will be delighted to see the fast but volatile Venezuelan beside him. Raikkonen and Button pushed Alonso all the way down to 7th, which is a nightmare for his title hopes. Rosberg, Massa and Grosjean fill out the remaining top 10 grid slots.

After qualifying a number of investigations began, into a Perez-Senna issue (presumably blocking) and a possible unsafe release of Grosjean into Alonso's path. Vettel stopped his car off-track for reasons as yet unknown. My mind drifts back to Spain, where Hamilton did likewise due to lack of fuel and started at the back of the grid. A race with Alonso starting 6th and Vettel 24th could be rather tasty.

Perez got a reprimand for impeding Senna in Q1, but as both got through there was no penalty.

A decision on Vettel took almost five hours, but for having less than a litre of fuel aboard he's been put to the back of the grid:

Maldonado was as long as 6.8 for a podium, and has since dropped to about 3.7. Tempting, but he started second in Singapore, I backed him at 3.5 for a podium and a combination of stupid strategy and reliability failure meant it didn't come off.

Very hard to try and predict what'll happen. Abu Dhabi's a circuit where it's very hard to overtake, but the 1 and 2 stop strategies being almost identical in terms of time means that cunning strategy could help drivers leapfrog one another during pitstops.

I think Webber might go backwards. His starts can be ropey, he seems to be harder on soft tyres than others (was in India, anyway) and he's already had some KERS failure at Abu Dhabi (again, this happened in India). Maldonado's hard to predict as I think he has the pace to perhaps be second, but Williams are quite poor at strategy and he can be erratic. Hmm.

Raikkonen and Button were both solid but a little dull last time out, whereas Alonso has been climbing the ranks (and has good top speed and DRS). I strongly suspect Rosberg will go backwards and fail to score but there's no money there, alas.

After such a long wait it's bloody frustrating to have no clear idea of what to bet on. Very tempted to lay Webber at a little over 1.5 for a podium, but that's exactly what I did in India.

In the end I backed Raikkonen for a podium at 3.5, and hedged it at 1.5. I backed him because he's an extremely reliable driver, his car is also very reliable, it seems to suit the circuit, he needs to make up just one place and he's experienced enough to keep other drivers behind him for many laps.

The podium market's very interesting and a bit weird. Maldonado, Raikkonen and Button all start ahead of Alonso but are longer odds than Alonso (just 2.1) to get a podium.

In addition to this tip, which comes with a health warning as I'm not endowed with unlimited confidence in it, there was a much better one in the comments of the pre-qualifying piece from Mr. Putney, who tipped McLaren at 2.9 to win (now easily hedgeable). Sadly I didn't get on that, but it does look good.

Vettel's penalty should make the race more exciting than usual (it's a bit of a dog of a track) as he tries to slice his way through the backmarkers. In Spain Hamilton went from last to eighth, but that's a better circuit. Vettel should be aiming for a few points, though. It also means the title race could close up dramatically, and would be especially painful as Alonso's 7th (now 6th) starting position was perfect for the German to deal a critical blow to his Spanish rival.

So, an exciting race, a Hamilton win and a Raikkonen podium would be perfect tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying

Some driver market news: as was very widely expected, Hulkenberg's gone from Force India to Sauber. Kobayashi's fate remains uncertain, but the mood music is a bit glum.

Toro Rosso, having rather discourteously fired both Buemi and Alguersuari last season so late they had no hope of finding another drive, has decided to keep both newcomers Vergne and Ricciardo. Hard to assess how good they've been as both are new drivers (Ricciardo drove a few races last year in an HRT, but still).

No word yet on Williams, but it seems likely Maldonado will remain, Senna will be tossed overboard and Bottas may well get his seat.

The tyres this time are soft and medium. Suggestion is that one and two stops are equal in terms of time, but that two stops will be preferred because it's more flexible.

In the first qualifying session it was a McLaren 1-2, with Hamilton fastest and Button second, followed by Vettel, Alonso and Webber. Schumacher was sixth, and next came Maldonado, Rosberg, Bottas, and Raikkonen.

The second session had Vettel fastest, followed by Hamilton, Button and Webber. Grosjean and Raikkonen were fifth and sixth, ahead of Alonso, Massa, Maldonado and Perez. Mercedes and Force India will be disappointed to be outside the top 10 there.

After P2 the BBC's Andrew Benson tweeted some info which may be of interest:
Long-run pace, fastest laps first: ALO 1:47.074; BUT 1:47.432; HAM 1:47.557 (all soft tyre); VET 1:47.636 (medium) 1:47.896 (soft)

Long-run pace averages: ALO 1:47.193; BUT 1:48.114; MAS 1:48.153; HAM 1:48.296; VET 1:48.359. Obviously that ALO time is anomalous

Cannot believe the Alonso average is representative, but the fastest lap was better than all others, so in race trim the Ferrari might be the fastest. However, if he qualifies 7th (behind Red Bulls, McLarens and Lotuses, as seems possible) then he'll have a hard time in Abu Dhabi making it work. One possibility could be for him to use a one stop strategy rather than a two stop. If he's as low down as 7th on the grid then that might well be his best option.

The mood music from Vettel in an interview and Eddie Jordan during Inside F1, however, both point to McLaren being top dog on race pace (albeit likely still behind Red Bull in qualifying).

In P3 Vettel only did a few installation laps and then got out with four and a half minutes of the session left. Hamilton dominated the session, especially on the prime tyre, and was fastest, with Button second. Vettel, despite only having a couple of hot laps, was third, Webber fourth and Hulkenberg was impressive in fifth. Grosjean was sixth, and Maldonado, Alonso, Raikkonen and Di Resta round out the top 10.

Ominous for Alonso, but at the same time if McLaren can beat Vettel in qualifying the Red Bull might go backwards and the prancing horse forwards. I think it's immensely hard to tell whether Hamilton or Vettel will end up on pole.

Annoyingly the two bets that tempted me most, Hulkenberg to reach Q3 and Button to be top 3, both had little cash and short odds available. Judging between Vettel and Hamilton for pole is nigh on impossible. In earlier sessions he was around 0.5-0.7s faster than Webber, which would put him just ahead or just behind Hamilton's P3 time. The Red Bull's also much better at getting its soft tyres switched on (but the McLaren looks very good on the mediums).

I had hoped to bet on qualifying, but with Vettel's serious lack of running and the poor odds on the other potential bets I've decided against it.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 28 October 2012

India: post-race analysis

Another frustrating result, alas. Hamilton got very close to passing Webber, but couldn't manage it, and the unhelpful Australian got third, meaning that both my tip and Mr. Putney's proved red.

As in Korea the start and end of the race was quite interesting but there was lots of boring stuff in between.

Webber got off the line well, the swine, but couldn't pass Vettel, which also made Mr. Nigel's tip red. Further back positions three to five got jiggled a bit, with Hamilton eventually dropping to fifth behind Button and Alonso.

Hulkenberg started well, but Schumacher became the first of three men (the others being Perez and Maldonado) to get a puncture during the race. He drove most of lap 1 with a ruined tyre, and this may well've damaged his car because he made virtually no progress in the rest of the race (he eventually retired near the end).

Massa and Raikkonen were the most boring of the drivers. They retained sixth and seventh after lap 1, and effectively held station for the whole race.

After the first half dozen laps or so Alonso was able to match pace with Webber, and after the pit stops he eventually managed to pass him. The Australian suffered a KERS problem (intermittent failure) and was having some tyre degradation.

With about a dozen laps to go Hamilton (who had passed Button in the pit stops) was catching him at about half a second a lap, but was unable to pass him, rather frustratingly. Vettel was never really challenged by Alonso, who had pulled away quite easily from Webber.

As might be expected, it's a disappointing result to be so close and yet finish red, again. The slight upside is that I feel I've got a better handle on the relative performance of the frontrunners in qualifying and the race. I also pretty accurately (tip aside) forecast how the race would go, with Red Bull mirroring their rivals and retaining (excepting Webber near the end) control of the race. Likewise, Hulkenberg and Grosjean got into the points because Maldonado and Rosberg went backwards, although Hamilton was never in the running for the win.

Here's how I think they stack up:
Red Bull
Fastest in qualifying by a distance, equal fastest with the Ferrari in the race

Second fastest in qualifying, third fastest in the race

Third fastest in qualifying, equal fastest in the race

Alonso's major problem was that it took him a little while to get past Button, and the Red Bulls were already far ahead. He could match but not haul them in, until Webber's tyres started to go during the first stint. Whilst passing Webber was partly due to the KERS issue, the ease with which he pulled away suggests he was significantly faster and probably equal or better, all things being equal.

The Ferrari and McLarens also seemed relatively better on the hard tyre compounds compared to the softs with which they started.

Raikkonen should also not be discounted. He confessed pre-race that he'd cocked up the setup, so to retain seventh is not too bad, and he might yet get involved at the sharp end again.

The Drivers' title race looks like this:
Vettel 240
Alonso 227
Raikkonen 173
Webber 167
Hamilton 165

Vettel's lead rises from 6 to 13 points, but that's still recoverable by Alonso. He needs Ferrari to increase their qualifying pace, because, as we saw in Korea and now India, passing the McLarens costs time and enables the Red Bulls to build up a cushion. If Alonso could qualify third he would stand a real chance of victory. Red Bull's race victories are forged not in raw pace in the race, but in the qualifying advantage they now enjoy.

Third place is even more hotly contested (albeit of not much importance). It's actually quite hard to call. Hopefully (for my bet) Raikkonen can keep it.

Abu Dhabi is next weekend, and I intend to offer tips for both qualifying and the race.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 27 October 2012

India: pre-race

Sadly, qualifying more or less ran to the script, making it less exciting than earlier in the year. Vettel got pole, Webber got second and the McLarens and Ferraris lined up in rows 2 and 3 (Hamilton heading Button and Alonso leading Massa).

Vergne will be disappointed to join the pointless teams in failing to leave Q1, perhaps especially as he and his team mate enjoyed a double points finish in Korea. However, their qualifying performance there was also not great, so maybe they'll progress during the race.

Both Force Indias got dropped in Q2, and Schumacher, Senna, Grosjean and Ricciardo likewise. It was pretty tight from the bottom of the top 10 to those just knocked out, but Schumacher was over half a second behind Rosberg and Senna was almost as far behind Maldonado.

As mentioned above, the sadly predictable Red Bull front row lockout happened again, with McLaren getting row 2 and Ferrari row 3. Massa might've done better, but cocked up the end of an otherwise tasty looking lap. Despite that, sixth is a good result for him (but also a tricky one. He can't pull his punches at the start, but being alongside his team mate means he has to make sure he doesn't get in Alonso's way). Raikkonen may be disappointed to start just seventh, and is followed by Perez, Maldonado and Rosberg.

Raikkonen revealed afterwards that he buggered up the setup, which he reckons cost him a place on the second row of the grid. He's a great driver, but with the three teams flying in formation ahead of him a wonky setup won't help him much.

Strategy poses an intriguing question, as, before the weekend, Alguersuari said the circuit was pretty abrasive, yet the drivers could put in 2-3 good qualifying laps on the soft tyre, and the hard seems competitive on pace. This suggests a 1 stop strategy could work, although Gary Anderson, BBC technical chap, reckons in reality the front-runners will go for a 2 stop.

This matters not just because of the time involved, but also because of how the cars differ. The Red Bull is not rubbish in a straight line but it is slower than its chief rivals, but has absolute dominance in the twisty bit. This means that if the Red Bull is ahead it will pull away, but if it's behind it'll find passing its adversaries slightly more difficult because passing in the twisty bit is harder, and whilst passing on the straight is much easier they lack the pace there. So, a McLaren or Ferrari could better recover from ending lap 1 in fifth than a Red Bull (probably).

The corners deliberately have wide entry/exit points to encourage overtaking. This did not happen at all last year because of the large amount of dust off-line. Whilst that isn't quite the same this year, the track isn't used much so the racing line will probably still have far more grip than the rest of the track surface.

So, that means Red Bull need to either go for a 1 stop and make that stop after its rivals do the first (of a possible two), so that they remain in the lead, and then manage their tyres, or they need to exactly mirror what those behind them do (assuming they keep the lead). Well, that's my theory, anyway.

I can't see much past a Vettel victory, unless he goes for a 1 stop and suffers tyre degradation issues as happened in Korea (with a smaller gap to the following car). Annoyingly, the McLaren and Ferrari could be quite competitive in race trim.

The weather, incidentally, is almost certain to be dry and sunny.

So, from a betting perspective the only relative certainty is the niceness of the weather. One or two stops could work and the top three teams might be equally matched on pace.

I considered Grosjean and Hulkenberg for points (partly because I strongly suspect Maldonado and Rosberg will go backwards) but the odds were too short. Hamilton for a victory at 8.8 was tempting. Very tempting, in fact, but McLaren's iffy reliability and my suspicion that Vettel will be over the hills and far away within a couple of laps makes me somewhat hesitant to back it. In the end I decided against tipping it because working out where McLaren is in pace terms from Korea is impossible (Hamilton had a broken rear thingummyjig and Button lasted less than a lap).

I've decided to lay Webber to get a podium at 1.64. Controversial, but my reasoning is thus: he's not as fast as Vettel, he often starts a bit poorly (in Japan, where he was the 2 in a Red Bull 1-2, he got passed immediately off the line) and if Red Bull is equal to others in race pace I think Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Massa are good enough to pass him. There's also the real possibility that Red Bull are harder on their tyres than other teams, which is borne out by Korea and by how easily they switch them on in qualifying.

No hedging on this tip.

The race starts at the slightly weird time of 9.30am. Hopefully it'll be more entertaining than the inaugural visit to India and mark a welcome return to profitability.

Morris Dancer