Saturday, 17 March 2012

Australia: pre-race

Well, qualifying was bloody exciting. I slept in and so missed Q1, but did catch that Raikkonen failed to escape to Q2. This was because he made a mistake and then missed the boat to do another flying lap. As expected, HRT and Marussia filled most of the Q1 slots, but Caterham was less competitive than expected, with neither driving making Q2.

The second session was no less exciting, with Alonso doing a decent lap and the embarking on an off-road excursion to a gravel trap, which ended his qualifying. Despite this, Massa beat no-one’s time in Q2 (and only starts ahead of Perez because the Mexican didn’t complete a competitive lap). Di Resta was somewhat disappointing in 15th, and Senna did well to get his Williams to 14th. Alonso starts 12th.

Hamilton absolutely blitzed his first flying lap, which was about 0.7s better than everyone else for most of the session. He was unable to improve, and didn’t need to, nabbing a handy pole just ahead of Button. Shock of the day was Grosjean in the Lotus getting 3rd, which does make me wonder where Raikkonen could’ve been but for his mistake and how he’ll do in the race. Schumacher was surprisingly better than Rosberg, with the elder German 4th and his young apprentice 7th. Schumacher was also 0.3s ahead of Webber, who beat Vettel down to 6th. Maldonado did excellent work to get Williams to 8th, and Hulkenberg’s 9th was impressive, especially given it’s his first qualifying since that spectacular pole in Interlagos. Ricciardo rounds out the top 10.

A few musings on qualifying. Firstly, it’s very tight. There’s a tenth between the McLarens, suggesting they’ve somehow made a car that suits ragged Hamilton and smooth Button. Grosjean and Schumacher are separated by less than a tenth, and Webber, Vettel and Rosberg by less than four one-hundredths. Hedged bets in qualifying seem wise, given that.

Red Bull aren’t that quick. Well, not as quick as many expected them to be or as quick as they have been for the last two years. The real concern for them must be if they still have a qualifying premium (last year they were super in qualifying but the gap to the rest narrowed in race pace). If that’s the case they may go backwards once the lights go out.

McLaren are top dogs. It was expected they’d be there more or less, but the pace of the Mercedes and Lotus is a slight surprise. Ferrari’s car seems to be an absolute dog. Alonso might have made Q3 had he not crashed out, but Massa is well down. His days, and Domenicali’s, may well be numbered.

The Williams revival is quite a surprise, but nice to see. Sauber seemed to struggle, in 13th and 16th.

Just the one tip. I do tend to start seasons poorly, and we don’t know about reliability etc, but here it is: Schumacher for a podium, 3.4. No hedging. He tends to have monster starts, he’s been racing well, the car’s fast and the Mercedes DRS may be the best of the bunch for overtaking. Against that is that he starts on the dirty side of the track, but it’s more than 2/1 for him to make up one place.

The race starts at 6am tomorrow. I’ll try to remember to wake up for the start this time.

Morris Dancer


David Cotton said...

It's all about race pace now.

Given that for the last few years McLaren have seemed to have better race then qualifying pace, and Red Bull the opposite, then I think it bodes well for McLaren tomorrow.

McLaren also have a car that seems less altered than the others (and therefore a better-known quantity), albeit the changed tyres are an issue.

I'm fascinated by both Mercedes and LotusR; will they be able to transfer those brilliant qualifying positions into race pace? ISTR Mercedes in particular were poor at that last year.

I would think at least one McLaren on pole a likelihood, then Schumacher. I rate Grosjean, but I think I think Renault's race-pace is uncertain and his experience currently limited.

A good bet might be neither Ferrari winning a point. The top cars seem so close that making up positions once the race settles down might be difficult.

Then again, it's like looking through fog. We need more running to make any serious conclusions.

Morris Dancer said...

Interesting thoughts on the McLaren, Mr. Cotton.

I'm not sure I'd advocate that Ferrari bet, however. Alonso is a ferocious competitor, and I can see him dragging his car to points.

Mercedes' problem last year was that their rear tyres could shredded. This seems to have been resolved this year, and we'll find out shortly for sure.

Apaprently the Lotus was reckoned to be fast over a few laps, but to suffer subsequently. If this is true then Grosjean will have a slightly harder time in the race. However, third is very impressive.

The first bet is always a bit of a shot in the dark. Hopefully I'll buck the trend and get it right this time.

Morris Dancer said...

Oh, and if qualifying was anything to go by I might have to eat my words when I disagreed with your suggestion Grosjean could beat Raikkonen.

Nigel said...

The Schumacher tip looks solid - I think Mercedes will have race pace that the Lotus lacks (though I'd be delighted for Grosjean to prove me wrong).

If Lotus can run consistently fast, then Kimi might be interesting to watch (I assume he'll start on primes and run a long first stint). A podium is probably still a bit ambitious, though.

I'm already a happy bunny, as I laid a significant amount on Vettel at close to evens for the championship a few days ago. I thought evens were ridiculous odds given the uncertainties.
I also have a few quid on Hamilton (my traditional pre-season bet). Seems it might turn our better than last year's effort !

Nigel said...

Also interesting is those likely to protest the Mercedes DRS activated F-duct (Lotus & Red Bull)... and those who've said they won't.

McLaren have said that they are happy with it - which suggests they think they can easily copy the system.
If it indeed blows the front wing (& there doesn't yet seem to be consensus on this) it might be easier to fit the necessary ducting through the McLaren chassis than the others ?

Morris Dancer said...

I must admit, I was tempted to lay Vettel for the title but bottled it/took a more cautious approach.

I did, however, put a smidgen on Hamilton and Button at 7.4 and 11.5 (ish). That was more down to impatience and lack of restraint than wisdom, but if luck comes my way I won't complain.

Interesting suggestion regarding McLaren. If they're already top dog *and* can copy the reverse F-duct they might be unstoppable.

Nigel said...

Some discussion of the F-duct here:

Consensus seems to be that it's blowing the front wing, benefitting the balance of the car when DRS is activated, rather than simply reducing drag. Given Mercedes straight line performance last year, and problems with car balance, this makes sense to me.

btw, the other explanation for McLaren's acceptance of the system is, of course, that they are a Mercedes engine customer - though I still think their package means it's likely they can develop & route an F-duct from the back to the front of the car fairly easily.

While it's dangerous to read too much into Melbourne, especially when they haven't even raced yet, it's looking quite promising for McLaren.

Though it would be easy to give in to a little Ferrari schadenfreude, I can't help feeling just a little sympathy for Alonso.

Nigel said...

Has anyone tried this ?

i have no idea how accurate the model might be, since it seems to disagree with the BBC's prediction of a three stop race being around 8 seconds quicker (ignoring traffic) than a two stop strategy.

If it's accurate, then it might pay for someone in the top 10/12 to two stop, running a slightly longer first stint (pit lap 18/19), and switch to the prime for a long middle run (to lap 39/40) before pitting again for the option.
The overall ideal time is very similar to the ideal three stop, but it might avoid getting caught in the speed sapping battles for position which usually occurs in the pack behind the leader(s).

Something for Rosberg to consider ?

Morris Dancer said...

I'd not seen that calculator before. It might be interesting to try working backwards after the race, seeing how accurate it is.

I also feel some sympathy for Alonso. He's being let down badly.

With luck, the reverse F-duct won't be axed. It didn't happen to double diffuers, blown differs or the proper F-duct during a season but after one ended.

Anonymous said...

A staggering shift in the Drivers' Points spreads following qualification this morning:

Vettel's spread has dropped from 325 points last night to 282 points, a decline of 43 points.

Hamilton's spread has increased from 248 points last night to 295 points, an increase of 47 points to become marginally the new favourite for the Drivers' Championship.

Such movements in drivers' spread prices are unprecedented in the course of a single qualification session, albeit the key first such session of the season. Usually these would be restricted to movements of +/- 15 points maximum, pending further smaller changes as the early season form starts to unfold.

Strange in my opinion is the very much smaller movement in the spread prices for both Schumacher and Rosberg, where both are around the 170 point mark, still approx 110 points below that of Vettel - has the market still to catch up with the progress achieved by Mercedes, should they indeed have caught up with Red Bull? If so a significant profit opportunity exits here.

Peter from Putney

Morris Dancer said...

Mercedes are hard to assess due to what happened in the race.

However, they could be McLaren's biggest rivals in qualifying, and I think they could give Red Bull a run for their money. We'll have to wait and see how the next few races go.

The McLaren drivers will, in my view, be competing with one another for the title. Vettel's favourite right now, but I don't think he'll stay there.