Thursday, 26 April 2012

F1 2012 season, after 4 races

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:
Vettel 53
Hamilton 49
Webber 48
Button 43
Alonso 43

If we remove the Malaysian race, however (which was a bit crazy) we get the following (I think):
Vettel 53
Button 43
Webber 36
Hamilton 34
Alonso 18

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.

Morris Dancer


Anonymous said...

Morris - thanks for your commentary after the first 4 races.
For me the big difference this year compared with 2011 is the fact that it is just so much more competitive with at least four teams behind the big three likely to score big points by regularly featuring in the top 6 and with a few podium finishes, even as we have already seen with Rosberg, the odd win.
This will inevitably make for a closer and more exciting season - I suspect that every one of last year's top five drivers will score significantly fewer points this season than they did then.
I think we will also see the emergence of at least two potentially world champ drivers - there are probably 4 contenders of which Grosjean currently appears the most promising.
As regards betting issues, I am puzzled as to why the two leading spread-betting firms, Sporting and Spreadex appear to have taken down their markets for Drivers' Season's Points. Having offered these enthuiastically at the outset, they surely have an obligation to maintain this market throughout the season to enable punters to trade their positions, this goes to the very essence of spread-betting - yet another sign of how the lack of competition since IG exited the scene has led to a marked deterioration in the quality of service provided. What is needed I suspect is for one of the major bookmaking firms to enter the spread-betting market and shake things up a little.
There was talk around 5 years ago of Ladbrokes doing just that, but it never happened.
Keep up the good work Morris - it's much appreciated.

Peter from Putney

Morris Dancer said...

I didn't rate Grosjean pre-season, due to his poor showing during his last effort. Someone (I forget who) in the comments was confident he'd do well, and that fellow's been proved quite right.

He can qualify well, and has race pace too but needs a cooler head. Hulkenberg and di Resta are also worth keeping an eye on, likewise Perez.

I can't comment on spread betting as that's a bit above my paygrade, as it were. However, it does seem a bit off to ofer such markets initially and then take them down, as you say.

Thanks, Mr. Putney. It is always nice to hear that one's efforts are appreciated.

Nigel said...

"It is always nice to hear that one's efforts are appreciated."

Well allow me to me repeat... they are.

"interestingly, sometimes the prime is the better in the race with marginal speed loss and significantly better durability than the option"

And sometimes the option is better, with almost equal durability and much better speed - particularly for McLaren, I think.

Another possible outside bet for the championship is Raikkonen. Unlikely, but not impossible. Renault have the development resource, and the car looks fundamentally well balanced. 20/1 isn't quite generous enough for me, but worth watching.

Could this be like 1982 when old man Rosberg took the championship with only a single race win ? Alonso is fond of facial hair - maybe he should try cultivating a walrus moustache...

Anonymous said...

I apologise to both Sporting and Spreadex for stating wrongly above that they had taken down their markets for Drivers' Season's Points - in fact, as if by magic, both firms have their spreads back on display today.
But this is only a small apology - today is Thursday, four days after the latest Grand Prix and the spreads should have been on display from Monday latest - both firms seem nervous of their competitor's next move - something I've also witnessed in delays when publishing their football markets.
Anyway, averaging the two firms' mid spread prices, here's how they currently see the season finishing up in terms of Drivers' points:

Vettel.......269 points
Hamilton.....266 points
Button.......256 points
Raikkonen....184 points
Webber.......181 points
Alonso.......177 points
Rosberg......170 points
Grosjean.....129 points

For my money, the anomaly in this table appears to be an understatement of Webber's likely tally. With 20% of the season complete (4/20 GPs),his 48 points scored to date, suggests a pro rata total of 240 points (5 x 48 points), or say 200-210 should he have 3-4 DNFs. Alonso also looks to be on the low side, especially as Ferrari tends to improve markedly in the latter stages of the season. Currently he has 43 points after 4 GPs and a pro rata final tally would therefore be 215 points or say around 190 points with 3-4 DNFs.
That said, as previously stated, I prefer to SELL rather than to buy in this market, having regard to possible driver injuries, suspensions, team disputes, etc.

Peter from Putney

Morris Dancer said...

Thanks, Mr. Nigel.

I'm not so sure that Lotus will be able to develop the car enough to stay in the hunt. Last year they had a great start with a pair of podiums in the first few races and then tailed off.

It is possible that the eventual winner might have an unusually low number of wins.

Mr. Putney, as it is written in the Book of Punting:
And Peter, who is from Putney, was filled with wrath and vexed mightily by the spread betting firms, for they had violated the accord of trust.

And lo, was Peter saddened and angered in his heart.

But verily, the sun rose and the indices returned their markets, and Peter, who is from Putney, was gladdened greatly and danced with all his might, although he also felt a bit silly.

I concur with your assessment. Webber has been very steady and had good reliability. He could end up in a stronger position than most expect.

Anonymous said...

Long-time lurker chipping in:

I tend to limit myself to thinking of tyre compounds in relative terms (the 'prime' and 'option' for each given weekend). Has anyone done any thinking about the teams' abilities to make each of the actual compounds (super soft, soft, etc) work? It might give us a way to explain the variable competitiveness of teams and their ability to hit that sweet spot between switching them on and burning them up if there's some correlation here.

Morris Dancer said...

Hello, Mr. Anonymous Lurker-Fellow.

Let me see... 3/4 have been soft/medium, I think. Malaysia was medium/hard, if I remember correctly.

Lotus severely misjudged one compound (scrubbed medium, I think) in China but concentrated on race setup in Bahrain and got it spot on.

McLaren has been consistently there or thereabouts on the option (typically soft) for qualifying, and also qualified on pole with the medium (Malaysia). Their race pace has generally been good, except for Bahrain (may be due to high temp/degradation) and Malaysia [although we don't know how well Button would've done if he hadn't made a cucumber-related mistake and then suffered with some bad tyres].

Mercedes had a bad strategy in Australia which seems to have exacerbated their tyre woe, but got it spot on for China and it was reasonably good in Bahrain, which is high degradation.

Red Bull have had consistently good race pace (Webber being Mr. Fourth Place) but, contrary to last year can't seem to get the car set up for one lap excellence.

I read a piece by the BBC's technical analyst who reckoned the Ferrari's contact patch (presumably the bit of the tyres that touches the road) moves about, and that's why it's so unpredictable.

A problem with trying to analyse tyres precisely is that we've had soft/medium at almost every race, and the one we haven't was very wet. I think the circuits themselves are a substantial factor on wear, as well as being a (perhaps the) limiting factor on car performance, because the field's to tight.

Nigel said...

"I'm not so sure that Lotus will be able to develop the car enough to stay in the hunt."

Maybe - that's why I'd want something in excess of 20/1.

There was, however, an interesting interview with Boullier recently where he claimed that they were able to bring in as many upgrades as Red Bull last year - but sadly, they were the wrong upgrades.
This season, the car looks pretty conventional, but is clearly competitive. I'm not betting on their getting the direction of development right just yet, but they do have the resources to stay on terms with the leaders if they make a few lucky choices.

Morris Dancer said...

I think a Lotus/Raikkonen title win is unlikely... but not impossible. But then, that's why the season's so intriguing. We really don't know who'll come out on top.

It's a good point about upgrades not working, because that happens quite often. Ferrari need to get their wind tunnel woe sorted out.