As there are three weeks between Bahrain and the slightly less controversial Grand Prix in Barcelona, I thought it would be a good time to pause, take stock, put on the theme from Where Eagles Dare and consider how the season is shaping up, and then how that affects betting possibilities.
So far, I think the season is excellent. It’s married the tight races of 2011 with the close title battle of 2010. Half of the teams have been on the podium and all save the pointless triumvirate are now on the scoreboard.
In addition to this, every race has been won by not just a different driver but a different team. The top 5 drivers are separated by 10 points (a 5th placed finish, I think, under the new scoring system) and there are just 9 points between Red Bull and McLaren.
Reliability is interesting. It’s been a bit less bulletproof than 2011, though not as bad as a decade or two ago, and McLaren have had problems in the pits. They need to sort that out, because in a season this close it could make all the difference.
The tyres are crumblier than ever, and, interestingly, sometimes the prime is the better in the race with marginal speed loss and significantly better durability than the option. At different circuits different teams have struggled or excelled. Mercedes ate their tyres at the first two races then excelled at China, McLaren were good at the first three circuits but seemed to struggle in Bahrain and Lotus fell off the cliff in Shanghai.
Whilst all this makes the racing exciting and unpredictable, it does make trying to bet on F1 more challenging, I think, than it has been recently. On the plus side, that probably means more long odds events will occur.
Disregarding small differences I made 1 stake losses at the first three races and almost recouped 1 stake in Bahrain. So, that’s roughly 2 stakes down, which isn’t terrible (or impressive).
It’s also important to remember that all teams, especially red ones, are very keen to upgrade their cars for the European bit of the season, starting with Spain. So, whilst the cars won’t fundamentally change the order could be rejigged a bit.
We’ve had three teams and individuals getting pole so far. Hamilton edged his team mate at the first two races, then Rosberg won by miles in China and Vettel was a tenth ahead of Hamilton in Bahrain.
Unlike last year, P3 seems to offer little in the way of helpful indications. So, I might bet on qualifying even if I don’t see P3 (if I find something that seems cunning).
I also think there might be a simple guideline: back Hamilton. He has two poles and two second places, one of which was just a tenth away from pole. The top 3 market might also offer opportunity.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that getting to Q3 is not guaranteed, and even leaving Q1 can sometimes be tricky for even the top teams.
These have been dramatic, thrilling and often a little bit crazy. Australia was pretty close and exciting but was also a ‘normal’ race (Hamilton got screwed by the safety car, which was unlucky). Malaysia, however, was soggier than a dog in a swimming pool. Tactically astute moves from Ferrari and Sauber, coupled with some very good driving from Perez especially, got Alonso his first win and Sauber their best ever result (as purely Sauber).
In China we had a runaway winner in Rosberg as Mercedes perfected tyre management and race setup whilst half a dozen cars were separated by a hundred yards or so and vied for 2nd. We also saw what happens when the cliff is reached, when Raikkonen tumbled from 2nd to 14th in about a lap. Bahrain was competitive throughout the field, but the major stories were the resurgence of Vettel and Raikkonen’s great performance to come 2nd.
It’s hard to take too many general lessons from the races so far because the field is so competitive that each particular circuit itself becomes perhaps the dominant factor in how teams and drivers do. However, we’ve seen that the chap who starts in pole doesn’t necessarily win (well, if his name’s Hamilton, that is) and that drivers can come from very far back to score points. 11th to 2nd was great for Raikkonen but 1st was perhaps possible.
Considering who has what tyres left after qualifying is perhaps as important as their actual grid slot.
I do think that McLaren may be best-placed. They’ve lost both title leads, for now, to Red Bull, but this has been due to some misfortune. Hamilton had poor pit stops in Bahrain, Button had a reliability failure in Malaysia and Hamilton had dire luck with the Australian safety car. However, the McLaren is the only car to be competitive at every qualifying session and in every race save Bahrain (that circuit, with high degradation and high temperatures may be unique. Be interesting to see how high degradation Canada plays out).
Red Bull lack their qualifying dominance of last year but their race pace has been very solid and they’ve made the most of their opportunities. The Mercedes, I think, may be a glass dagger (very sharp, but fragile). The Ferrari is a dog, yet Alonso is really still in the hunt so if their early season upgrades work he could yet surprise us all (the close title fight will help him as it prevents anyone getting miles ahead and being uncatchable). The Lotus seems to be like the Mercedes: capable of great speed but not consistently so.
The top 5 drivers are:
If we remove the Malaysian race, however (which was a bit crazy) we get the following (I think):
Perhaps perversely, I’m actually most tempted by Button and Alonso. Button has been quick in most places, and has two DNFs due to bad luck (reliability failings). Alonso has an appalling car but is doing very well with it. Better luck for Button or working upgrades for Alonso could see them improve still further.
Pre-season I put small bets on Hamilton and Button to win the title. Vettel is presently favourite, but I’m not sure that should be the case. If I were betting now, with no previous bets, I’d be looking at Button at 5.6 and Alonso at 17 (the latter is with Ladbrokes). In fact, I’m pretty tempted to put a small sum on Alonso at those odds anyway [this is very counter-intuitive, but I’ve read that he’s actually in the best position he’s been in with Ferrari at this stage of the season]. However, I’ve got to wait and see how the Spain upgrades go.
There are four things that should be considered when betting on titles:
How good is the driver (or drivers, for a Constructors’ bet)?
How good is his team mate?
How reliable and fast is the car?
How good is the team at upgrading the car during a whole season?
Even though we’ve had 4 races so far there are still 16 left, so there’s a very long way to go.
Incidentally, I’m contemplating adding a third line to the graphs I’ll eventually be putting up, showing how well pb2’s readership (mostly Messrs Nigel and Putney) do with their tips. If so, I’ll do it for the second half of the season, using the same £10 stake rule I use for my own offerings.