Sunday, 28 October 2012

India: post-race analysis

Another frustrating result, alas. Hamilton got very close to passing Webber, but couldn't manage it, and the unhelpful Australian got third, meaning that both my tip and Mr. Putney's proved red.

As in Korea the start and end of the race was quite interesting but there was lots of boring stuff in between.

Webber got off the line well, the swine, but couldn't pass Vettel, which also made Mr. Nigel's tip red. Further back positions three to five got jiggled a bit, with Hamilton eventually dropping to fifth behind Button and Alonso.

Hulkenberg started well, but Schumacher became the first of three men (the others being Perez and Maldonado) to get a puncture during the race. He drove most of lap 1 with a ruined tyre, and this may well've damaged his car because he made virtually no progress in the rest of the race (he eventually retired near the end).

Massa and Raikkonen were the most boring of the drivers. They retained sixth and seventh after lap 1, and effectively held station for the whole race.

After the first half dozen laps or so Alonso was able to match pace with Webber, and after the pit stops he eventually managed to pass him. The Australian suffered a KERS problem (intermittent failure) and was having some tyre degradation.

With about a dozen laps to go Hamilton (who had passed Button in the pit stops) was catching him at about half a second a lap, but was unable to pass him, rather frustratingly. Vettel was never really challenged by Alonso, who had pulled away quite easily from Webber.

As might be expected, it's a disappointing result to be so close and yet finish red, again. The slight upside is that I feel I've got a better handle on the relative performance of the frontrunners in qualifying and the race. I also pretty accurately (tip aside) forecast how the race would go, with Red Bull mirroring their rivals and retaining (excepting Webber near the end) control of the race. Likewise, Hulkenberg and Grosjean got into the points because Maldonado and Rosberg went backwards, although Hamilton was never in the running for the win.

Here's how I think they stack up:
Red Bull
Fastest in qualifying by a distance, equal fastest with the Ferrari in the race

Second fastest in qualifying, third fastest in the race

Third fastest in qualifying, equal fastest in the race

Alonso's major problem was that it took him a little while to get past Button, and the Red Bulls were already far ahead. He could match but not haul them in, until Webber's tyres started to go during the first stint. Whilst passing Webber was partly due to the KERS issue, the ease with which he pulled away suggests he was significantly faster and probably equal or better, all things being equal.

The Ferrari and McLarens also seemed relatively better on the hard tyre compounds compared to the softs with which they started.

Raikkonen should also not be discounted. He confessed pre-race that he'd cocked up the setup, so to retain seventh is not too bad, and he might yet get involved at the sharp end again.

The Drivers' title race looks like this:
Vettel 240
Alonso 227
Raikkonen 173
Webber 167
Hamilton 165

Vettel's lead rises from 6 to 13 points, but that's still recoverable by Alonso. He needs Ferrari to increase their qualifying pace, because, as we saw in Korea and now India, passing the McLarens costs time and enables the Red Bulls to build up a cushion. If Alonso could qualify third he would stand a real chance of victory. Red Bull's race victories are forged not in raw pace in the race, but in the qualifying advantage they now enjoy.

Third place is even more hotly contested (albeit of not much importance). It's actually quite hard to call. Hopefully (for my bet) Raikkonen can keep it.

Abu Dhabi is next weekend, and I intend to offer tips for both qualifying and the race.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 27 October 2012

India: pre-race

Sadly, qualifying more or less ran to the script, making it less exciting than earlier in the year. Vettel got pole, Webber got second and the McLarens and Ferraris lined up in rows 2 and 3 (Hamilton heading Button and Alonso leading Massa).

Vergne will be disappointed to join the pointless teams in failing to leave Q1, perhaps especially as he and his team mate enjoyed a double points finish in Korea. However, their qualifying performance there was also not great, so maybe they'll progress during the race.

Both Force Indias got dropped in Q2, and Schumacher, Senna, Grosjean and Ricciardo likewise. It was pretty tight from the bottom of the top 10 to those just knocked out, but Schumacher was over half a second behind Rosberg and Senna was almost as far behind Maldonado.

As mentioned above, the sadly predictable Red Bull front row lockout happened again, with McLaren getting row 2 and Ferrari row 3. Massa might've done better, but cocked up the end of an otherwise tasty looking lap. Despite that, sixth is a good result for him (but also a tricky one. He can't pull his punches at the start, but being alongside his team mate means he has to make sure he doesn't get in Alonso's way). Raikkonen may be disappointed to start just seventh, and is followed by Perez, Maldonado and Rosberg.

Raikkonen revealed afterwards that he buggered up the setup, which he reckons cost him a place on the second row of the grid. He's a great driver, but with the three teams flying in formation ahead of him a wonky setup won't help him much.

Strategy poses an intriguing question, as, before the weekend, Alguersuari said the circuit was pretty abrasive, yet the drivers could put in 2-3 good qualifying laps on the soft tyre, and the hard seems competitive on pace. This suggests a 1 stop strategy could work, although Gary Anderson, BBC technical chap, reckons in reality the front-runners will go for a 2 stop.

This matters not just because of the time involved, but also because of how the cars differ. The Red Bull is not rubbish in a straight line but it is slower than its chief rivals, but has absolute dominance in the twisty bit. This means that if the Red Bull is ahead it will pull away, but if it's behind it'll find passing its adversaries slightly more difficult because passing in the twisty bit is harder, and whilst passing on the straight is much easier they lack the pace there. So, a McLaren or Ferrari could better recover from ending lap 1 in fifth than a Red Bull (probably).

The corners deliberately have wide entry/exit points to encourage overtaking. This did not happen at all last year because of the large amount of dust off-line. Whilst that isn't quite the same this year, the track isn't used much so the racing line will probably still have far more grip than the rest of the track surface.

So, that means Red Bull need to either go for a 1 stop and make that stop after its rivals do the first (of a possible two), so that they remain in the lead, and then manage their tyres, or they need to exactly mirror what those behind them do (assuming they keep the lead). Well, that's my theory, anyway.

I can't see much past a Vettel victory, unless he goes for a 1 stop and suffers tyre degradation issues as happened in Korea (with a smaller gap to the following car). Annoyingly, the McLaren and Ferrari could be quite competitive in race trim.

The weather, incidentally, is almost certain to be dry and sunny.

So, from a betting perspective the only relative certainty is the niceness of the weather. One or two stops could work and the top three teams might be equally matched on pace.

I considered Grosjean and Hulkenberg for points (partly because I strongly suspect Maldonado and Rosberg will go backwards) but the odds were too short. Hamilton for a victory at 8.8 was tempting. Very tempting, in fact, but McLaren's iffy reliability and my suspicion that Vettel will be over the hills and far away within a couple of laps makes me somewhat hesitant to back it. In the end I decided against tipping it because working out where McLaren is in pace terms from Korea is impossible (Hamilton had a broken rear thingummyjig and Button lasted less than a lap).

I've decided to lay Webber to get a podium at 1.64. Controversial, but my reasoning is thus: he's not as fast as Vettel, he often starts a bit poorly (in Japan, where he was the 2 in a Red Bull 1-2, he got passed immediately off the line) and if Red Bull is equal to others in race pace I think Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Massa are good enough to pass him. There's also the real possibility that Red Bull are harder on their tyres than other teams, which is borne out by Korea and by how easily they switch them on in qualifying.

No hedging on this tip.

The race starts at the slightly weird time of 9.30am. Hopefully it'll be more entertaining than the inaugural visit to India and mark a welcome return to profitability.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 26 October 2012

India: pre-qualifying

The tyres for this weekend are the hard and soft.

The choice of soft for the option is interesting given that in the pre-weekend quotes Alguersuari, currently Pirelli's test driver, stated that the circuit was very harsh on tyres:

This might lead to tyre management becoming more important. In Korea, Red Bull seemed to suffer more than Ferrari (although it's hard to be certain whether that was due to Vettel pushing too hard earlier).

The first practice session, rather tediously, had Vettel fastest, followed by Button, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber. Rosberg, Massa and Schumacher were next, with Ricciardo and Raikkonen rounding out the top 10.

The second session again saw Vettel top the timesheets with Webber a tenth behind and Alonso more than half a second off the Wunderkind. Rosberg, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Senna round out the top 10.

I've decided to post this article now because I'm not sure if I'll wake up in time to listen to P3 (6.30am) or be awake enough to offer a tip pre-qualifying (it starts at 9.30am). If I subsequently offer a tip it'll be in the comments, after P3 and before qualifying begins.

At this stage it's looking ominously repetitive. Vettel's rightly short odds favourite for pole, although Alonso seems quite competitive and might end up in the top 3 on the grid. Between the Spaniard and the McLarens it seems quite close.

Mercedes seem a little stronger than they have recently, and Raikkonen's going to have his hands full holding onto third in the title race. On the other hand, both he and his car are super reliable.

The India circuit isn't used very much during the year, so it's quite dusty and prone to substantial improvement over the course of a race weekend. Perhaps even more than usual the third practice session, all else being equal, should be the best indicator of how qualifying will go.

Morris Dancer

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Lord Mandelson's perspective

Yesterday, Peter Mandelson addressed the National Association of Pension Funds' annual conference.  He gave his take on the current political scene, for the most part avoiding taking a partisan approach, though making his own views pretty clear along the way.  The following is taken from my manuscript notes and I hope I have given a fair sense of what he said, though doubtless there are some transcription errors.

He opened by giving a brief survey of the three party leaders' speeches.  He was nice about all three.  He described Nick Clegg as giving a courageous defence of the coalition's purpose.  More interestingly, he suggested that we should not underestimate the strategic significance of Ed Miliband's speech.  Tempting though it was to describe it as signalling right while turning left, while it was not New Labour as Peter Mandelson knew it, it wasn't Old Labour either.  David Cameron had been similarly blunt.  Peter Mandelson agreed in particular with two things that David Cameron had said.  First, he agreed that people don't vote to make themselves worse off - aspiration was an important theme.  Secondly, he agreed that the choices being made now will shape the nation's economic future in a very direct way indeed.

Peter Mandelson was hoping for only a decade of lost growth and the reversal of the upward trend of public expenditure.  We are looking at a long term period of reduced income and living standards for the overwhelming majority and a reduced safety net for those in need.  These conditions would have to be dealt with whoever was in power.  The outcome of the next election was not going to alter the fundamental truth of these conditions.

He then turned to address the political realities as he saw them.  The right would need to concede that increased revenues would need to flow from the relatively wealthy.  The left would in turn need to concede that social benefits provided by the state would need to be lower.  The challenge for both left and right was to come to terms with both these things.

Peter Mandelson wanted to minimise the deterrents on innovation.  He thought we need to see more people take more risks in the private sector, and tax rises needed to minimise the impact on these incentives.

We could be assured of a very bumpy time.  The public was increasingly anxious, rebellious and intolerant of the effects of the downturn on them.  He highlighted the recent drift to fringe parties across Europe.  Before 2007/8, mainstream parties in Europe commanded just over 75% of the vote.  This made forming coalitions easy.  In 2012, this has already fallen to 57%., with the rest going to marginal parties.  Paradoxically, he thought, people aren't looking for a new radicalism, this move was prompted by a resistance to change, a conservatism, a resistance to depressed living standards and changes to public spending, to globalisation, to inequalities and to the changes in European structures as a result of the Eurozone crisis.

The UK was relatively more stable, but even here we have seen more fragmentation, as witnessed by the fact that we have the first peacetime coalition in 80 years.  Labour and the Conservatives were both looking away from the centre for votes - Labour to the left and the Conservatives to the Eurosceptic right, with the Conservatives being terrified by the rise of UKIP.

There was a real chance created by the turbulence that short term political mistakes would be made by governments with long term consequences.

He briefly touched on the subject of the banks.  He was not going to defend them, they had to change.  We needed them to return to focussing on the idea of quality rather than quantity and we had to implement Vickers.  We had to remember above all that we have to see a capitalism that's a darn sight more productive than in recent years.  But a perpetual debate about acceptable standards in banking and repeated threats of regulatory change had the risk of destabilising the banking sector without bringing compensatory benefits.  We need a period of regulatory stability.

We also need stability in the rest of the public sector and the real economy.

He then touched on the subject of decision-making.  We needed to get away from the stop-go nature of decision-making in Britain on changes of government.  When he was a European commissioner, he had had his eyes opened by the superior nature of longterm decision making in other European countries - he listed Germany, Scandinavia "and even France" as operating on longer term timeframes and working strategically with the public sector.

He gave an example of his own work.  When he had returned to government, he had introduced policies of industrial activism "not picking winners as in the 1960s and 1970s".  He had been accused of acting like a Bourbon king and the scheme had been scrapped when the coalition took over.  Now it was being resurrected in the growth strategy.  We need to stop these stop-go policies on a change of government.  The same applies to the UK's attitude to Europe, to which he turned next.

The EU was going through what in his words was "a ginormous crisis".  Indeed, it was not one crisis, but multiple crises - a banking crisis, a sovereign debt crisis and a political crisis (he listed a fourth, but here my notes fail me - I think he said a social crisis).  The UK may not be part of the Euro, but we'd be badly impacted if the Eurozone collapsed.  Whether or not you approved of this project, what would be worse would be to see the whole thing fall apart.  Britain's priority should be to make sure that it survives. 

He was worried that this Conservative-led government was embarking on an excursion for other reasons.  He cited the proposed abandonment of the European Arrest Warrant.  The government was threatening to veto the budget if its opening position was not met in full.  In December, the UK was signalling that a meeting to discuss future treaty changes necessary to sort out the Eurozone crisis would be boycotted unless the UK got unrelated changes on terms dictated by it. 

Peter Mandelson recognised that the UK did have national interests.  As European commissioner, he had been keenly aware of this and knew where they needed to be reflected.  But you needed influence and allies to prevail.  It was a consensual process and we had to build alliances.  To divert or blunt an unwelcome proposal you needed more than one or two others alongside you.  You needed to be pragmatic and thinking in the longterm, being supportive of EU colleagues rather than disruptive or standing aside.  What Britain was doing now was like negotiating with the fire engine on the way to the fire.  We mustn't allow Eurosceptic interests to set us on an irreversible break - this was in neither the UK's nor Europe's interests.

More generally in politics, we needed to be less adversarial.  Disagreement was becoming a luxury that we can no longer afford as much.  He was not suggesting an end to politics, but better government.  It behoved all politicians to look to the longterm interest and not just look for shortterm advantage.

In questioning he made it clear that he supported the OBR and the ONS getting increased independence.  He acknowledged that with hindsight the government was wrong to have relied on the permanence of credit, while noting how difficult it would have been for government in good times to have taken action to get a programme of public and private sector deleveraging in place.  We were now, however, looking at at least a decade of deleveraging the debt that had grown on the back of credit-driven growth.

In response to an inevitable question, he also gave a betting tip free - don't bet on Tony Blair ever admitting that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.  In his view, if it was a mistake, it was an honest mistake.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Korea: post-race analysis

Well, that was a bad race from a betting perspective. Alonso could've been anywhere from about second to fifth after the first few corners, so third was not too bad, but after that he simply lacked the pace to compete with the Red Bulls. Although Red Bull was clearly top dog the margin if victory was smaller than the ultra-dominant race in Japan.

So, the bet failed due to a misjudgement on my part. Slightly annoyingly, 2/3 of things I considered (the 8 Webber pole bet, a Safety car appearance and laying Webber to lead lap 1) did come off, but that's also just a case of misjudgement on my part.

Not sure how the green line turned out, it depends on the stake and whether it was matched to lay Webber at 3.5 for the win (might've been matched late on when Vettel's engineer was very worried about his tyres going). The Button to be top 6 tip obviously didn't come off, but I think it stood a strong chance of having doing so were it not for sheer bad luck.

At the sharp end, save for the final few laps and the start, it was quite dull. Vettel nabbed the start (I should've listened to myself from a year ago and laid the pole-sitter to lead lap 1) and Alonso rose to third, with Webber in second. The three men held those positions essentially throughout the race (save for pit stops mixing the order briefly).

However, there was more excitement further down the order.

Button and Rosberg were both struck by Kobayashi and had to retire, as the Japanese driver himself later did. This won't help his prospects of a drive next year.

Hamilton seemed to suffer some sort of mechanical issue and a bad set of tyres, meaning he pitted thrice, once more than most others. Tragedy became farce late on when his car acquired an astroturf scarf, and he just about held off Perez to claim the final point on offer.

Massa was very racy today. In fact, he was often the fastest man on the track and could've passed Alonso, were he not the clear number two driver. In retrospect, Ferrari made a mistake by not letting him past as I believe he would've stood a strong chance of passing Webber and Vettel late on. The German's engineer was increasing stressed about high tyre wear and the gap from him to Webber fell by about 4s in the last couple of laps as he was forced to take it easy. A Massa win would've cut Alonso's points haul by 3, but Vettel's by 7. The Brazilian really does seem to have rediscovered his form lately. This could help Alonso, if his team mate can either act as a rear gunner or by jumping ahead of his rivals and robbing them of victories/podium places.

There was a nice, and prolonged, Di Resta/Schumacher duel for honour only, which the Scot won. Toro Rosso had a cracking race, with a double points finish in 8th and 9th.

Raikkonen was solid but unspectacular in 5th, Hulkenberg had another strong finish in 6th and Grosjean, who diligently stayed out of trouble on lap 1, got 7th.

Williams were notably poor in 14th and 15th. Senna lacked speed and Maldonado's attempt at a one-stop really didn't work.

So, it was a little bit boring at the sharp end, and unprofitable. Mr. Putney's Button tip was shot by bad luck and my own Alonso tip was just plain wrong.

It's two weeks to India, do I might do a post considering recent bets and the state of play. I've had a bad run of late (the Japanese Alonso tip was ruined by bad luck, but otherwise I've just been misjudging things) and it might help.

At the moment Red Bull are clearly top dog. Second is harder to assess. Ferrari is the obvious answer after today but Hamilton had some sort of car issue and Button was taken out early on, so it might not be that clear-cut. Lotus, Mercedes and Sauber seem to have fallen back a little.

After the race today the drivers' title looks like this:
Vettel 215
Alonso 209
Raikkonen 167
Hamilton 153
Webber 152

Still very much a race between a prancing horse and a red bull. Alonso needs just a bit more raw pace, otherwise the title will slip from his grasp before Interlagos (the final race).

In the battle for the third spot (I've backed Raikkonen for that) this was a good race, and Raikkonen's reliability (only chap to finish all races this year to date) and Webber/Hamilton taking points off of each other may help the Finn keep the third spot.

The Constructors' is as follows:

Red Bull 367
Ferrari 290
McLaren 284

McLaren have absolutely blown the Constructors. They had a massive speed advantage for several races but coupled it with shoddy reliability, and early in the season almost comedic pit stops cost them a slew of points. I was expecting to write "Ferrari could yet overhaul them…" but it turns out they have already. They're still in contention for second, but the win is effectively Red Bull's already.

So, race bets didn't go well (partly contingent on Mr. Putney's hedge getting matched and what stake he used). I must admit I finish the weekend slightly ahead due to getting a few pounds on Webber at 8 for pole (most untipped bets are due to lack of money available or them being early, or both in this case, and I typically make a loss).

In terms of title bets, I'm all-green whatever happens with the drivers', laying Red Bull for the Constructors' now looks moronic and I'm somewhat hopeful Raikkonen can retain third position.

Not sure if I'll offer a pre-qualifying tip for India, as P3 ends at 7.30am.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Korea: pre-race

Well, I have mixed feelings about the qualifying result given I was tempted to tip Webber at 8 for pole but there wasn't even enough for me to put a full stake on. That's the way things go, and he got it because Vettel cocked up a lap rather than having better outright speed. In addition, I never would've tipped anyone but Vettel had I been up to tip based on P3 where he topped the timesheet by over half a second.

Two green line tips have been offered in the previous comments, both of which are eminently hedgeable (incidentally, I don't normally include hedges on the green line because I don't want 4 lines, so if you want a hedge to count as a tip please specify this).

As has become traditional, I slept in and missed the first 30 minutes of qualifying.

In Q1 Senna joined the pointless teams.

The second session, as usual, was rather more competitive, with Button failing to make it out and starting 11th on the grid, next to his future team mate Perez. Kobayashi is 13th, with Di Resta 14th and followed by Maldonado and the two Toro Rossos.

Both Mercedes made it into Q3 but couldn't progress much beyond that, finishing with Rosberg 9th and Schumacher 10th, and Hulkenberg will be happy to get 8th. Raikkonen's new exhaust seemed to work for him, as he got 5th, Massa will probably be reasonably pleased with 6th and Grosjean starts 7th.

However, as always, it was the sharp end that was most exciting. After the first run Vettel was ahead by a mile, with Alonso in third. After the second and final run in Q3 Alonso had been pipped by Hamilton, with the Briton 3rd and the Spaniard 4th. However, Webber managed to edge ahead of Vettel, who cocked up his final lap and now starts off 2nd (and none too happy was he, judging by a rather annoyed radio message to his engineer).

Picking a winner is not easy. Webber may get passed normally or team orders may play a role (although the Aussie doesn't have a record of liking or necessarily following them). In addition, both the McLaren and the Ferrari look strong on long runs. So, any of the top four seem to have a pretty solid chance.

Race strategy could well be split, with a 1 or 2 stop (according to Gary Anderson) approach more or less the same in terms of overall time. This may also mean that someone on a different strategy might appear to have a better chance than they do, increasing, I think, the importance of hedging bets.

Ferrari has less graining than the McLaren and may have better race pace than the Red Bull. The Red Bull advantage over the other two teams is in twisty sector 3 where overtaking is practically impossible. The reverse is also true, with Ferrari and McLaren faster in sector 1, where overtaking is eminently possible.

On balance, I've decided to back Alonso for the win at 7.4, with a hedge set up at 2.5.

I've decided against laying Webber to lead lap 1 because the odds (1.68 at the time of writing) are not good enough, given team orders probably won't kick in at the start (too much risk of being passed by multiple cars) and it's entirely possible squabbling behind will lead to him getting a reasonable run. I also looked at a Safety Car appearance at 1.88, but there's only been one dry race here before and I think Grosjean/Maldonado may be on best behaviour.

Tricky decision, but I think my reasoning is sound. We'll find out tomorrow.

The grid is perfectly poised for a great race, and has all the major title contenders at the sharp end. Hopefully it'll be a cracker (start time is 7am in the UK).

Morris Dancer

Friday, 12 October 2012

Korea: pre-qualifying

From last year's Korean post (just 1 post per weekend last year):
"The race start was unusual as everyone predicted the dirty (even) side of the track would be severely disadvantaged. In truth, there was no difference whatsoever, and the long McLaren first gear didn’t hamper them at all either. Infuriatingly, Vettel did pass Hamilton on lap 1, using the very long straights to get a great slipstream, pass him and then be in the lead in the twisty section where passing is very hard. [Hopefully I’ll remember this for next year]."

So, I'll wait and see who the top two are (given Grosjean and Maldonado have a habit of crashing they might put me off) and consider this bet after qualifying.

In other news, Lotus have brought swanky new exhausts (actually, they're just catching up with the other top teams but it could help them a bit and will hopefully assist Raikkonen in staying in the top three):

The Korean tyres are soft and supersoft. The supersoft may not last long at all in the race (maybe 8 laps on the first stint, though 12 or so seems possible).

Due to being asleep I missed all of P1 and most of P2, but I did catch some interesting snippets at the end.

In P1 the top 10 were: Hamilton, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Vettel, Schumacher, Rosberg, Grosjean, Di Resta and Button.

P2 was led by the Red Bulls, Vettel and Webber, then came Alonso, Button and Schumacher. Sixth was Massa, followed by Rosberg, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen.

The Red Bulls, McLarens and Ferraris are all very similar on long run pace. Massa also looked good on the soft, but as everyone else was on the supersoft and fuel weights are unknown it's hard to read much into that. Button seemed happy with his setup and the gap between Vettel and Webber on both low and high fuel was around 0.03s (sod all, essentially). Whilst all eyes will be on Vettel and Hamilton for the pole fight I think Webber should not be counted out.

There was a little bit of money for Webber at 8 on Betfair, but not enough to be tipped. Not sure if I would've done so (I dislike early tipping), but 7/1 seems longer than it should be to me.

So, no tip for qualifying. It could be a very tight battle, and I hope it sets up for the grid nicely, as the race itself could be highly competitive. Whilst Vettel was unmatched in Suzuka it's worth recalling he was similarly dominant in Valencia, but at the subsequent race he finished third.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Japan: post-race analysis

Well, if a bet goes wrong then sometimes it's best if it's wrong immediately. On lap one Alonso got a puncture courtesy of Raikkonen (I bet Ferrari hate Lotus this season) and immediately crashed out. I haven't even bothered to check the hedge because it happened so early on there's no chance of it having been matched.

Mr. Putney's Button podium tip was agonisingly close, but Kobayashi's selfish refusal not to let the Briton past meant it didn't quite come off, and Mr. Nigel's 40% bet on Vettel for the win at 4.2 was the only green part of the weekend.

Lap one was exciting, but not in a good way. Webber was in the wars, and both Rosberg and Alonso crashed out. In an unremarkable turn of events, Grosjean was involved and got a drive-through penalty. One trembles at the thought of his car insurance premiums.

Massa had a blisteringly good start, as did Button, and Kobayashi moved up to second (I believe he passed Webber prior to the Aussie's entanglement with another driver).

Vettel decided to party like it was 2011, and was over the hills and far away for the entire race. His engineer repeatedly asked him (I paraphrase) to stop dicking about with fastest laps when he was ahead by 20s, which I believe the German ignored.

Lower down the field Perez had passed Hamilton, lost out in the pit stops and was trying to pass him again when he overcooked it and discovered that gravel traps are not always easy to escape from. Suzuka is a circuit where a small mistake can lead to a serious penalty very easily (as I said in the comments of the pre-race piece) and the Mexican will be kicking himself.

Raikkonen and Hamilton had a very close fight when the latter emerged from his final pit stop (then up to 5th) and the Briton just managed to retain the advantage. Given Hamilton cocked up his car setup to get such a result is something he must be fairly happy about.

Hulkenberg wasn't really mentioned too much but did very well to climb from 15th to 7th and Webber staged something of a recovery to get 9th. Ricciardo did well to hold 10th, with Schumacher less than a second behind, having started 23rd.

Button was 4th after the final pit stops and leaving his team mate behind, whilst catching Kobayashi very rapidly. However, the Japanese driver kept him out of the DRS window until the last lap and just managed to retain his podium spot, the best ever finish for a Japanese driver at the Japanese Grand Prix (and it might be Kobayashi's first ever podium). Just goes to show that whilst Perez is a talented chap the car the team provided him with is pretty tasty too.

Massa got his best result since… er… ages, frankly. He got 2nd, never really challenging Vettel but also never under threat himself once he got that place. It was a very impressive drive, especially given concerns that were raised regarding apparently bad blistering on Ferrari's tyres during long runs in practice. It also won't hurt his chances of retaining his seat in 2013 (I've backed this with a small sum at 4 with Ladbrokes).

However, there was nobody to touch Vettel today. Had Webber not suffered in the first lap he might have been able to provide a challenge, but I'm not so sure that would have been the case. Vettel had a perfect race, getting the full 25 points with his title rival getting none and those further back not even on the podium.

I have to say that it's unfortunate Alonso went out so soon, through no fault of his own, as it makes assessing whether or not the bet was sensible (let alone whether it would have come off) rather difficult. Massa had a great race, suggesting the Ferrari could have delivered Alonso a podium, but we'll never know. I do think the bet was a reasonable judgement on my part, with bad luck robbing us of the chance of finding out if it would've been green.

Mr. Putney came as close as possible to profitability without it happening (did you set up a hedge?) and Mr. Nigel got one bet wrong and one right. So, a generally red race, but kudos to Mr. Nigel for the tip on Vettel.

In related news, I'm very glad I hedged Alonso for the title at 1.56, although I wish I'd done it with more money.

Here are the title standings for the drivers:
Alonso 194
Vettel 190
Raikkonen 157
Hamilton 152

It'll be a big ask for Raikkonen or Hamilton to win from here, with just the five races left. They'll probably need failures for the top two, who now seem set to duel for the crown between themselves.

Alonso has been monstrously unlucky. Whilst everyone, save Raikkonen, has had a DNF neither of the Spaniard's were of his own making (I include the car in this). I agree with the consensus that Vettel is now the man to beat, but disagree that it's an absolutely done deal.

We saw that Hamilton buggered up his setup and Button qualified in 3rd but had a grid penalty. Otherwise, the McLarens could've been far further up the field. Similarly, Massa had a staggeringly good race, going from 11th to 2nd, suggesting the Ferrari was actually pretty good and that Alonso could've also made the podium.

It won't be the case at every race for Vettel that his rivals get taken out in lap 1 or suffer penalties and cockups in qualifying. It's also worth mentioning that Japan is a track he loves and is well-suited to, as he's had 4/4 poles and 3/4 wins here in recent years.

However, I do think it's now down to him and Alonso.

Annoyingly, McLaren appear to have squandered the massive speed advantage they had for about 5 races, during which time they could've and should've overhauled Red Bull in the Constructors' title race. They could still do it, but I now think Red Bull may retain this (which would annoy me as I bet against them):

Red Bull 324
McLaren 283
Ferrari 263

Korea is just next week, and we'll even have fancy moving pictures to watch. Whilst not a Legard fan, I've got to say that radio coverage was improved greatly by the presence of Sam Bird, Mercedes' test driver.

I think that Korea might be a track where hedging the pole-sitter to lead lap 1 *might* make sense. I'll check my old articles before committing to that, however.

Let's hope Korea is more exciting and profitable than Suzuka.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Japan: pre-race

No tips offered for qualifying, and I would've probably found the Hamilton-Vettel choice difficult. As it happened, Vettel won by a fair distance.

In Q1 the pointless teams were joined by Bruno Senna. However, Schumacher starts 23rd due to a 10 place grid penalty for attempting to occupy the same co-ordinates in time and space as Vergne in Singapore.

Q2 saw the Toro Rossos exit as well as Rosberg, Maldonado, Schumacher (demoted, as per above) and Di Resta and Massa.

The third session was expected to be an exciting Red Bull-McLaren duel, but actually it was more a case of formation flying from the Red Bulls, who locked out the front row with Vettel getting yet another pole position. Button was third but slides down the order due to a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox replacement (they need to change the regulations on gearboxes as the number of penalties this year has been ridiculous) and Kobayashi will be delighted to start third at his home race.

Grosjean and Perez are next up, and the former's first lap shenanigans prompted Kobayashi (according to an Andrew Benson tweet) to wryly observe: "I’m a little bit worried I have Grosjean next to me. I am good friend. But, you know, make sure."

Alonso starts sixth, and alleged that Vettel blocked him during a hot lap (although this was in a sector with waved yellow flags after Raikkonen discovered F1 cars are not suited to off-track rally action). The FIA were morons. They took about two and a half hours to decide, then said Vettel had impeded Alonso but only gave him a reprimand.

Raikkonen's seventh, with Button still beating Hamilton in eighth and ninth respectively with Hulkenberg, who didn't bother setting a time, demoted from tenth to fifteenth, promoting Massa to tenth.

Bit irked about the prolonged time for a Vettel decision, as I was hoping to quickly back Webber at 6 and 5 for the win and to lead lap 1 respectively. Oh well.

Given Red Bull's dominance in qualifying and strong long-run pace the podium market is what I looked at. Perez at 4.33 tempted me, but in the end I went for Alonso at 3.5 (Ladbrokes) with a Betfair hedge set up at 1.5.

My reasoning is basically that in the last couple of Japanese Grands Prix he's gone from 5th to 2nd and 5th to 3rd, he's consistently improved from grid to finishing position this year and that he's very reliable.

My main concern is that the Ferrari may be too harsh on its tyres, but we'll see come race day.

I also, briefly, considered Sauber to top score at 11. However, top-scoring requires either a win (unlikely) or a double podium finish (also unlikely).

Mr. Nigel's 40% stake tip on Vettel at 4.2 for the win is looking rather good right about now (he's 1.58 presently). Incidentally, is that with a bookie or Betfair? Just wondering about whether commission will be charged on your possible winnings.

Right now the race looks like a Red Bull duel for victory and a battle for third amongst everyone else. However, Suzuka is a very good circuit and hopefully we'll be in for fireworks. The race starts at 7am UK time.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 5 October 2012

Japan: pre-qualifying

There's no pre-qualifying tip as P3 happens at an ungodly hour and I'm not getting up at 3am.

However, there is a lot to talk about given the events of a week or so ago in the drivers' market.

Lewis Hamilton, as predicted by a bespectacled and silly Irishman, has left McLaren for Mercedes. This is a move that is definitely courageous and could prove very clever, or very foolish. In the latter half of last year when Button was outperforming him it emerged that he had gotten a stronger grip of the garage and was fully engaged/integrated in the team (many thought when Button joined he was effectively joining Team Hamilton). Since then Hamilton has not appeared too happy, and is also pissed off, reportedly over issues including a lack of trophies (the team keeps the real ones he wins and he gets only replicas) and money (specifically the lack of freedom a McLaren driver has regarding lucrative sponsorship deals).

At the time of writing the story is that he's replacing Schumacher and is guaranteed number one status at Mercedes. No wonder Rosberg wanted Schumacher to stay. The two seem to have gotten along rather well and were actually fairly evenly matched (Schumacher's poor score this year is due to poor reliability of the car rather than himself). In 2014 the regulations will be changed massively, especially regarding engines, and this could be a turning point for Mercedes. Hamilton knows that Ross Brawn engineered Ferrari's period of ultra-boring dominance in the early 2000s and he wants more titles.

Meanwhile McLaren have done the smart thing, in my view, and hired Perez. The Mexican is not only seriously fast and excellent at tyre management, he also brings a boatload of sponsorship cash. Di Resta especially must be gutted as, for a while, he seemed likely to eventually go to McLaren but Perez's performances this year have been outstanding on a number of occasions. I think this is the right call for McLaren.

Perez is the big winner, but the biggest loser is Rosberg. The German is bloody unlucky. He served an apprenticeship with Williams before having a shot with Mercedes, and got his first win this year, only to discover that for the next three years (like Hamilton he has, I think, a deal of that length) he's going to be the second driver of the team.

And just when it seemed all the pre-Suzuka driver market business was finished, Schumacher has announced his retirement. His comeback never quite matched expectations. It took him most of the first season to get up to speed, and the Mercedes was never (excepting a short period this year) competitive at the sharp end. He was dreadfully unlucky that his 5 place grid penalty stripped him of pole at Monaco, which he could have won, and in China, which his team mate won and where he could've stood on the podium, the team failed to attach a wheel properly in the pits.

Today, I think he's a better driver than Rosberg, but all good (and controversial) things must come to an end. Even as a childhood Schumacher fan I found the first half of this millennium dull because he won by so much, but he's undoubtedly one of the all-time greats of the sport. Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and others will find it hard to match him because his sporting dominance was matched by having the very best car and solid reliability, coupled with fewer competitive title contenders than we have today.

I was tempted by the 13 with Ladbrokes for Perez to win the title in 2013. My reasoning is thus:
Car matters more than driver
McLaren will be in the top 2-3 and might be the best
His competition would be Alonso, Button, Vettel and maybe Raikkonen. However, I think his odds may be longer with Betfair (20-30 would be intriguing) and there's still the question mark over whether he can cut it at the very sharp end.

Although I wasn't planning to put any more on Raikkonen to be top 3, his odds drifting to 4.2 tempted me and I've put a little extra on. Betfair is also now offering a cash out option for the title market, but I decided not to accept it. However, after listening to P1 and P2 I'm now regretting this somewhat. Oh well.

The Japanese tyre compounds are hard and soft, a combination last used at Silverstone.

Button takes a 5 place grid penalty for a change of gearbox (same issue as Hamilton). Hamilton gets no penalty as he failed to finish the last race.

P1 saw McLaren dominance as Button topped the scoreboard, followed by his soon-to-be-ex team mate Hamilton. Webber, Rosberg and Schumacher were next, and were followed by Kobayashi, Massa, Di Resta, Hulkenberg and Maldonado.

P2 had Webber fastest with Hamilton second again, and Vettel third. Hulkenberg, Alonso and Grosjean came next, with Button, Senna, Massa and Schumacher rounding out the top 10.

After the first two practice sessions it appears that McLaren and Red Bull will again tussle for pole and probably the win. Ferrari need to stop the rot, because 29 points is by no means an insurmountable lead for Alonso, and McLaren need to have an MOT-worthy car.

Force India seem fairly competitive and Williams may do well, but Lotus seem to be nowhere. I don't think the Narnia DRS Device has actually made an appearance (perhaps if they cut their old rear wing in half on a stone table it would appear).

Setup will be critical because, according to the BBC's Gary Anderson, there's a Spa-like dilemma regarding downforce. In short, lots of lovely downforce means that you'll be faster in the twisty bits and this will be, overall, quicker. However, it also means that you'll work the tyres harder and you'll be vulnerable in the race to being passed on the straights.

The weather forecast for both tomorrow and Sunday is for Suzuka to be entirely dry.

Given Ferrari was behind in Singapore and seem to be behind in Suzuka I've laid (a little) Alonso for the title at 1.56. I think his odds now should be a bit longer, and Vettel's rather shorter.

Qualifying is from 6am to 7am tomorrow.

Morris Dancer