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


Nigel said...

Not betting on qualifying - although both Button and Webber both have a decent chance of pole on this track (the Betfair market is settled before penalties are applied), and I'm almost tempted to have a long odds punt.

I don't give either much chance in the race, though. Button (obviously) because of the penalty and Webber since Red Bull look a little marginal on the tyres for a two stop, and he's almost always tougher on the tyres than Vettel.

I'm therefore getting a full position on Hamilton at 3.35 for the win, and a 40% position on Vettel at 4.2 as insurance, ahead of quali.

This may look really silly tomorrow, but what the hey.

Morris Dancer said...

Webber's been really off the boil lately. The rest of the top 6 have all made something like 50-70 points in the last X races, and he's made far fewer. I think he's practically out of it.

Nigel said...

Indeed - I just think the odds for the race are more attractive than those for quali.

Webber could conceivably sneak pole - and Button quite possibly. Not the win, I think.

Nigel said...

Well that was a bit disappointing.

Betting before third practice is not something I will be repeating - it's fairly clear that the McLaren's don't have the pace to challenge Red Bull, and this would have been obvious had I stayed up until the early hours...

I was right about Webber having a chance at pole - without that lockup, he would probably have been faster than Vettel.

Glad I took out the Vettel insurance.

Your Alonso bet is now looking pretty smart.

Morris Dancer said...

I listened to P3 (incidentally, if Sam Bird ever becomes a commentator instead of Mercedes' test driver I think he'd make a bloody good job of it) and the latter half of qualifying (woke up a bit later than I'd intended). Very surprised the McLarens didn't do better, but I think Hamilton had the car to be far further up the grid.

I also think Legard was weirdly fixated on the 1.5s gap from Vettel to Hamilton, instead of the 0.2s to Webber and 0.4s to Button. Button was as far ahead of Kobayashi as Vettel was of Button.

Assuming Grosjean doesn't go crazy it'll be interesting to see how the Saubers do and whether or not Button can fight his way through the field. Hard to see past a Red Bull (and probably Vettel) victory, as their race pace and long-run pace were both excellent in practice. Ferrari had lots of blistering which may further hamstring Alonso.

It's early and I'm still sleepy, so the pre-race piece will be up in several hours. Not sure if I'll bother watching highlights or not first.