Qualifying was as exciting as usual, and unusually profitable. Alonso got the fastest time ahead of Webber, and I'm pretty happy with that because I was ambivalent about the tip and bet. As an added bonus, the tiny sum I managed to get on Grosjean not reaching Q3 (laid at 1.23) also came off.
The first qualifying session has actually become quite interesting of late, and this was no exception. Webber was in trouble for a while, and so was Schumacher, who just about escaped an ignominious exit. As it happened, Vergne joined the pointless teams.
The first session was pretty much dry but the second saw rather a lot of rain which intensified towards the end of the session and made it all but impossible for those then outside the top 10 to progress. Although both Saubers failed to reach Q3 they did qualify towards the top end of Q2 in 12th and 13th, and Ricciardo starts from an impressive 11th. Massa will be disappointed to be out in 14th and Grosjean really struggled, ending up 15th. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Rosberg, who finished a measly 17th.
Q3 started very wet, so much so that even on full wets there was quite a lot of aqua-planing and off-track excursions. However, the track did improve towards the latter end of the session which meant the order at the sharp end kept changing. Alonso made a call late on to return to the pits and stick on some new wets, which proved as cunning as a fox who has recently acquired a doctorate in cunning.
The Spaniard got his second pole in a row, and second fastest was Vettel, followed by Webber. However, the Aussie will start further down the grid because of his five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox (which also affects Grosjean and Rosberg). Schumacher, whose team mate was 17th and who barely escaped Q1, got 4th and Hulkenberg did tremendously well to get 5th. He was followed by Venezuelan traffic offender Maldonado, Button, Hamilton (out-qualified by Button for the first time this year), di Resta and Raikkonen, who really struggled in the wet.
The race tomorrow is, however, expected to be dry. Hamilton, Perez and Raikkonen are all probably out of position regarding grid slot and pace (and Webber, but that's due to a penalty). I'd expect it to be an Alonso/Vettel duel for victory, but Schumacher and Maldonado (starting 3rd and 5th) cannot be written off entirely. I think Hulkenberg, who starts 4th, may well end up going backwards, and I'd be unsurprised if Schumacher did likewise. Maldonado's fast but rather too prone to crashing.
The circuit is one where overtaking is eminently possible, so grid slots, whilst important, are not the be all and end all.
I expect the victory to be an Alonso-Vettel duel, although there is an off-chance Schumacher or Maldonado might be surprisingly fast. That makes the winner and podium markets a bit tricky.
I've decided to back Perez at 4, with Ladbrokes, to finish in the top 6. My reasoning is that he was very fast in the partly dry P1 and entirely dry P3 and his race pace has consistently been much better than his qualifying. Decided against hedging.
Hopefully the race will be dry, entertaining and profitable.