Well, that was a thrilling qualifying session. I didn’t offer tips on it, but Mr. Nigel (from the previous article’s comments) was unfortunate that Mercedes got a front row lockout (courtesy of Hamilton’s penalty) yet it was the young Rosberg who seized pole with a supreme lap.
Qualifying was quite odd because the sessions were so different. Q1 was pretty normal. The six mobile chicanes got dumped, as did Vergne, who was a good margin behind his team mate.
Q2 was incredibly tight. The top were covered by 0.3s. Vettel was knocked out in 11th, and Massa in 12th (Alonso sneaked into Q3 with 9th). Both Lotuses (Loti?) made it, as did the McLarens, Mercedes and Saubers. Webber also got into Q3, out-qualifying Vettel once more.
Q3 was a bit weird, frankly. The temperature dropped slightly (circa 21C to 19C, air temperature) and Rosberg went out and put in an absolute blinder of a lap. Hamilton and Schumacher were about half a second down the road and neither threatened him. Button complained of loss of grip, attributing it to the cooler than expected temperatures, and got 6th (he’ll be 5th because Hamilton moves from 2nd to 7th). This means it’s the first all Mercedes front row since 1955, when Fangio and Moss achieved it in Italy. Almost as surprising is the fact that Kobayashi got 4th (promoted to 3rd), and was almost a second faster than Perez.
That last point means that Mr. Putney’s bet of Kobayashi to be top 6 at 7/1 is now looking fantastic value. I must admit that I wasn’t convinced or tempted to follow his suggestion, but it’s pretty clear that this was a mistake on my part. Personally, I’d seek to hedge it, but that is the way I tend to play these things.
The grid is poised perfectly for an unpredictable and thrilling race. The Mercedes have an edge in qualifying, but tends to eat its tyres (although they do have more fresh soft rubber than their rivals) in the race and loses the DRS bonus. Air temperature will be critical. Not only does a lower temperature seem to help Mercedes/Sauber, it also decreases the degradation of the soft tyres, which are 0.6-0.8s faster than the medium compound. So, unlike Australia, it seems that the soft rubber’s pace advantage will outmatch the medium tyres’ durability. The BBC’s technical chap reckoned that there’s no real difference between a 2 or 3 stop strategy, and that a 4 stop is viable, albeit a bit slower (for those wondering, a 1 stop is reckoned to cost 44s extra compared to a 2 stop).
I’d imagined that Button or Webber (5th and 6th) would be top 3 (given Hamilton’s penalty) and would (due to general struggling and bad starts) be a good bet to lay for a podium, but those odds now seem likely to be too long.
Just checking Wunderground (which offers temperature info at three-hourly intervals) and it reckons it was 18C at 2pm, when qualifying began, cooling to 16C at 5pm. The forecast for tomorrow (bearing in mind the race starts at 3pm Chinese time and will finish, probably, around 4.30pm to 4.45pm) is for 19C and 17C, so very similar. Neither that site nor weather-forecast.com is predicting rain, so I’m still comfortable with the 2.08 No Safety Car tip offered in the previous article.
As well as the weather, (temperature and rain or lack thereof), a critical factor will be how well the Mercedes can manage its tyres on high fuel with soft rubber. The probability that a 3 stop strategy is optimal will probably be handy, as will the fact that they’ve burnt less sets of soft tyres (Rosberg especially) than their rivals will help, but we’ve seen that with qualifying excellence and a very sound car they’ve achieved a solitary point in the first two races.
Also very interesting is Kobayashi’s performance. The Sauber doesn’t have an especial qualifying advantage as the Mercedes does, and he was 0.8s ahead of Perez. Sauber has also been running pretty well in the races.
I think Hamilton is quite well-placed in 7th, considering his penalty. He’s been driving well, he seems to have a calm head on his shoulders and he’s been much more comfortable in the car than his team mate in China.
I don’t think Rosberg will win. If the Mercedes is good enough then I expect he will either be passed at the start or in the race, as Schumacher’s been faster for some time now in race trim. However, if you think he stands a chance of winning you might be tempted by the 15 he is to get the hat trick (pole, fastest lap and win) with Ladbrokes.
I’ve backed Raikkonen for a podium at 3, with Ladbrokes. The Finn has improved from his grid slot at every race, and if the Mercedes eats its tyres he’ll be the second beneficiary after Kobayashi.
The winner’s market is one I like to bet on, partly because it’s always got the most liquidity so a hedge has more chance of getting matched and partly because it’s the most important result. Looking at the grid I can see a number of potential winners (Schumacher, Raikkonen, maybe Kobayashi, Hamilton).
We just don’t know whether Mercedes’ tyres will hold on. They (especially Rosberg) have more sets to spare than other teams, which will help them out. I think Schumacher and Hamilton are the most tempting at 7.4 and 5.6 respectively. I’d quite lack to back them both, but I’m wary of making so many bets when we still really don’t know the pecking order and whether or not the Mercedes can go without ruining its rubber (plus, last year I scored 0 from 4 tips in China). In the end, I think that Hamilton, even though he starts 7th and is 5.6, is the best value. He’s got a strong record in China (won last year and is the only man to win it twice), he’s been outpacing his team mate all weekend and seems to have the right approach. I’m going to set a hedge up at 2.4.
So, here (after a lot of prevarication) are the race tips:
No Safety Car 2.08 [given yesterday, I’d still back it at evens or longer]
Raikkonen podium 3
Hamilton win 5.6 [hedge set up at 2.4]
Let’s hope the race is both thrilling and profitable, and if Schumacher wins I’m going to thrash myself about the head and neck with an enormo-haddock.