Sunday, 23 September 2012

Singapore: post-race analysis

Well, the race was pretty tedious, and generally unprofitable too. I do believe Maldonado had the pace and car to get a podium, but a mistake on a first lap corner allowed Vettel through, which slowed Maldonado down enough so Button passed as well. Late on Maldonado was third, but stupid strategy meant a podium was off the cards and his car failed anyway. The hedge, alas, was not matched.

Green-line tips: Hamilton for a fastest lap could've come off had his car lasted the distance, so that was unfortunate. Hulkenberg, rather unpredictably, got the fastest lap, so the Alonso tip also didn't come off.

Early tip by Nigel: the 9 on Vettel to win was a cracking bet. After qualifying it looked a bit ropier, but a good start and Hamilton's car dying saw it come good.

I'm sure I wasn't alone thinking Maldonado would have either crash or glory, but his start was just alright. However, one of the very first corners he buggered up and got passed twice, putting him fourth.

The first lap was also notable for Massa getting a puncture and pitting immediately. Given he started 13th, that was not an auspicious start.

There was quite a bit of passing during the race, which was nevertheless tedious as it was generally people with significantly faster cars or on brand new tyres against those with slower cars and/or older tyres.

Hamilton looked to have the race sewn up. He was clearly the fastest early on and although he was getting caught by Button (then third, behind Vettel) towards the end of the initial stint he still had a comfortable gap and led after the first pit stops.

However, McLaren seems to have shed reliability just at the moment it's achieved a clear pace advantage. As Button's car died in Monza so did Hamilton's expire in Singapore. Vettel was gifted the lead which he never relinquished, and Button likewise held station in second.

The contest for third was more intriguing. Maldonado led Alonso, but after the second stops the Venezuelan went to supersoft tyres, which immediately proved foolish as the safety car (predictably) emerged. Maldonado pitted again and went down to 10th, but even had that not occurred his strategy (making another stop essential) and a reliability failure meant he had no hope of achieving 3rd, alas. For once, his retirement was due entirely to misfortune.

Schumacher's brakes went on strike and his car thundered into the back of Vergne's Toro Rosso (I think he was in a points position at the time). The safety car came out again and the race became limited by time rather than laps (for those wondering, an uninterrupted race is limited to 2 hours, and a total race, including red flag breaks, to 4).

Senna was unlucky not to score. I think he had a car problem which ultimately led to his retirement. Massa did tremendously well to get from last (as he was after lap 1 due to the puncture and pit stop) to 8th at the flag. I might even give him driver of the day.

It's also worth mentioning that the ropey Renault alternator worked very well in the prolonged heat and humidity.

So, betting-wise this is the worst weekend of the season to date, with two bets that failed by any measure. I'm not sure how I feel about it. Not happy, obviously, but the Vettel for pole (and win/fastest lap) made sense based on the available information and Maldonado definitely had the pace for a podium. They could be argued to be a bit unlucky, but Hamilton was about 4 in a two horse race for pole, so maybe I should've gone for that. I've also had some very lucky results before this weekend, so I can't complain too much.

That said, it was a tedious and unprofitable two hours and I'm very glad we're off to a proper circuit (Suzuka) in a fortnight. Korea is just a week later.

Congratulations to Nigel for a very early and highly profitable bet on Vettel to win at 9.

So, how is the title race shaping up?

Alonso 194
Vettel 165
Raikkonen 149
Hamilton 142

Webber and Button are on 133 and 119 respectively, but I don't think they're still in it. Unless Alonso has one or more DNFs and his three closest rivals likewise.

The biggest winner today was Alonso. Yes, Vettel took a big bite out of his lead, but Hamilton is the man with the fastest car right now, and he failed to score a single point. The lead over Hamilton is now 52 points, more than two race wins. Raikkonen's Lotus will, probably, have its rear wing device finally installed at Suzuka. If that works very well it could bolster his hopes of a maiden victory.

Vettel is nearest, just 29 points behind (still more than a race win, though). The next few races will determine whether he'll stay in the hunt. He needs to beat Alonso, but also Hamilton, and I'm not sure that the Red Bull is a match for McLaren. There's also the potential for Lotus' upgrade to change the game.

Alonso's still doing well, but if his Ferrari doesn't gain some relative pace and maintain its reliability he could yet lose. He has a cushion, but it is quite thin and not as comfortable as he might like.

Red Bull 298
McLaren 261

This is simple: if McLaren can get both cars to the end of all (or nearly all) of the remaining six races I think they'll take this. The poor reliability of recent races is concerning, though. It could scupper both their title hopes, and help Red Bull in both as well.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Singapore: pre-race

Disappointing result, I'm afraid. It was a bit of a surprise that Vettel was nowhere near to Hamilton's qualifying pace. At this rate Hamilton will become favourite for the title (not there yet, though) and I maintain McLaren are likelier to take the Constructors' than Red Bull.

In the first session of qualifying the three pointless teams went out, and Kobayashi joined them. Sauber have looked unimpressive all weekend, and it's less of a surprise than it might have been.

Q2 saw Hulkenberg out in 11th, followed by Raikkonen and Massa. Perez qualifies 14th, followed by Ricciardo and Vergne. Senna is just 17th, after he hit a wall and failed to really clock a proper lap time.

The third session was slightly surprising. Hamilton got pole (not too shocking) but did so by miles, and Vettel could only manage 3rd. The ill-favoured one was 2nd, and Button got 4th. Alonso was 5th and starts alongside Di Resta. Row 4 consists of Webber and Grosjean. It's mentioning that both Mercedes did go out, but just to trundle around on soft tyres. Whilst not very exciting that approach paid dividends for Di Resta last year (who moved from 10th to 6th).

The forecast for tomorrow is a high likelihood of it being dry. However, a safety car remains probable due to the nature of the track. Its extreme likelihood (4/4 in previous races) also mitigates its impact somewhat as all teams and drivers will be aware it's almost certainly coming out.

I've decided to back Maldonado at 3.5 (Ladbrokes) to get a podium, hedged with Betfair at 1.4. I think the Venezuelan is a binary chap, and he'll either get a podium (or very close) or not finish at all. The circuit is one at which it is very hard to overtake and the Williams is a fast car.

He's also 20 with Betfair to win. I don't like doubling up on bets like that generally, but that's also out of kilter (he's 3.5 for a podium and 8 or so to lead lap 1. If he leads lap 1 he stands a great chance of winning).

Schumacher starts 9th and Rosberg 10th. They appear to be copying the strategy of Di Resta from last year, which was to do Q3 with the harder (soft) tyre, run further into the race and do one fewer pit stop. This saw the Scot be the only man to really move much in the top 10, going from 10th to 6th. I was very tempted by this, but the fact that Hulkenberg and Raikkonen can try exactly the same and the safety car could bugger up such strategic shenanigans put me off (the odds were 3.25 and 3.5 on Ladbrokes, for those interested).

I did consider Raikkonen or Perez to be top 6, but the odds are against it, particularly for the latter, and the odds were too short.

So just, the one tip:
Maldonado for a podium (3.5 with Ladbrokes), hedged at 1.4 with Betfair.

If any regulars (or irregulars, for that matter) have race tips, please feel free to offer them in the comments (if you want to mention a bet but not tip, please make clear it's not a tip. Cheers).

I suspect the race will be quite tedious, but hopefully it will also be profitable.

Morris Dancer

Singapore: pre-qualifying

Between Monza and Singapore Professor Sid Watkins, who was instrumental in making F1 immensely safer than it had been, passed away. He was 84, and during his long involvement in the sport saved the lives of numerous drivers including Barrichello and Hakkinen.

The likes of Maldonado and Grosjean should reflect upon the fact that the sport can never be 100% safe, and part of reducing risk of death or serious injury is having respect for the danger of driving and for oneself/other drivers.

In other off-track news, Jake Humphrey, the BBC's main presenter since the organisation got the rights from ITV, is leaving at the end of this year. Can't blame him, given the despicable and stupid decisions made by BBC executives. We can only hope that Sky and BBC F1 audiences continue to dwindle so that sponsors put pressure on for full free-to-air coverage (as always happened before Judas Iscariot became the BBC's F1 decision-maker) to maximise exposure.

In addition, Lotus have updated their rear wing, but the upgrade is not the swanky DRS expected in Japan:

Mercedes are going to try running a new exhaust system, which, if it works, should decrease their tyre-shredding significantly. Likewise, Ferrari and the other big beasts are all bringing updates so that, and the very different nature of Singapore to Spa and Monza, may well se McLaren's dominance end.

I've just (on the 10th) had a quick check of what happened last year, and the grid/result bear an even closer resemblance to one another than I'd expected. The top five were Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso and Hamilton at the end of the race, with the top five at the start being Vettel, Webber, Button, Hamilton and Alonso. So, second and third swapped, as did fourth and fifth, and that was the limit of the movement.

The only real mover was Di Resta, who went from tenth to sixth and the only man who started in the top 10 and did not finish there was Schumacher (who retired from the race). Di Resta did well by qualifying on the harder (soft) tyre and doing one fewer stop (2 rather than 3) compared to most others. Two to three stops are expected this year.

Incidentally, in the four recent races held in Singapore every single one has seen the safety car make an appearance.

With temperatures of over 30C and a very long race (typically close to 2 hours) the alternators of the Renault cars (Red Bull and Lotus) must be a concern. Renault believe they've got this sorted, but we'll find out this weekend. The tyres for the race are supersoft and soft.

In P1 was slightly soggy, so early times were set on intermediate tyres, but a threatening thunderstorm never arrived and the final times were set on the soft tyres. Vettel was fastest, less than half a tenth ahead of Hamilton. Button and Alonso were about nine-tenths down the road, followed by Maldonado, Webber and Hulkenberg. Di Resta, Ricciardo and Perez round out the top 10.

Incidentally, during P1 James Allen asserted that his sources believe Ferrari are looking for a one year stopgap replacement for 2013, replacing Massa with someone to keep the seat warm until Vettel can take it in 2014. That's why Kovalainen was equal favourite with Massa at 4 to get the seat. I would've thought that Hulkenberg, Di Resta or Kobayashi might be better bets myself.

In P2 we saw that whilst Lotus lack top end qualifying pace their long runs (well, Raikkonen's) were practically the same as McLaren. So, cunning strategy could see them improve. Likewise, Ferrari race pace was good and Vettel was highly consistent on his high fuel run. Force India also appear to be punching above their weight.

P2 was entirely free of rain and saw good running on both compounds. The supersoft does seem to have more than one fast lap in it for qualifying. The top 10 were: Vettel, Button, Alonso, Webber, Hamilton, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Massa and Grosjean.

Although not a green line tip, Mr. Nigel cunningly put a little on Vettel at 9 for the win before the weekend got underway. As of now, that looks rather clever. Every Singapore race (3/4) has been won from pole except for the dodgy one involving Piquet Junior crashing.

Unfortunately P3 was red flagged with 2 minutes to go after Petrov cocked up, broke his suspension and came to a halt in the pit entry. However, the likeliest frontrunners did get to put in qualifying simulation runs. Vettel was three-tenths ahead of Hamilton, who was followed by Alonso. Hulkenberg put in a very strong lap for fourth, and was a teensy bit ahead of Raikkonen. Massa was sixth and followed by Di Resta, Rosberg, Senna and Schumacher.

The weather forecasts indicate that qualifying should be entirely dry.

It's a Vettel-Hamilton duel for pole, but I think 1.78 is too short for Vettel (who is likeliest to get it). I've backed Hulkenberg to be top 3 at around 14, but there isn't enough there for it to count as a tip (hedged at 2.14).

I've backed Vettel for the treble (pole, winner, fastest lap) at 12.5. If he gets pole then his odds for the win should be below evens, at which point I'll hedge. He's just 3.5 for the pole/winner double, and he does love collecting statistical records (including fast laps).

I was tempted by Senna to be in Q3 but there wasn't much money there and I think he was flattered by a few drivers, such as Webber, being unable to get in a hot run in P3. He may edge it, but we'll see.

So, the one tip: Vettel for the treble at 12.5, to be hedged after qualifying *if* he gets pole (for the record, this'll count as a qualifying tip).

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Italy: post-race analysis

Well, the bet on both Saubers finishing in the points came off, but I have to say it was entirely down to luck. However, if luck is going to influence results I'd much rather it be helpful than the contrary, so I'm not complaining. Nigel's early 7.4 tip on Button to win did not come off, but it was eminently layable (so although that's technically red it was a good trading bet).

The race was exciting from the first lap to the last and I fully intend to watch the highlights. This is what happens when proper circuits like Monza meet the most competitive F1 season for years, perhaps decades.

Off the line Massa passed Button, Perez and Webber had a tiny tangle (one of them lost a smidgen of front wing) and there were no major accidents. Alonso got a flying start and after a lap or two was already up to sixth.

Hamilton had a small but comfortable gap over Massa, who was eventually overtaken by Button.

Some cars went for two stops, including both Mercedes. Initially this looked a bad move but in the end they both finished alright, making late passes on fresh rubber.

Alonso slaughtered most of his opposition but met stiffer (and perhaps naughtier) resistance from Vettel, whose manoeuvre forcing the Spaniard from the track earnt him a drive-through penalty. Vettel was in the middle of the points positions when he had the same issue that cost him Valencian victory struck and he had to retire.

Button, who had been second, also suffered a reliability failure and had to retire, promoting Massa to second and Alonso to third.

Alonso was politely let past by Massa to take second. But then a remarkable thing happened.

Perez, who started 12th on the hard tyres, had briefly led and was flying. He was a second a lap faster than everyone else. He passed Massa with ease and then did the same to Alonso. Had the race been 5 laps more Hamilton might have been in trouble, but the gap he'd built up was sufficient to take the win. Perez, however, wins driver of the day for outstanding pace at the end, aided by a stroke of genius from Sauber's tactical division.

Kobayashi was strangely subdued, by comparison, coming home in 9th. Not really sure why that was. He did start on the medium compound, and I'm uncertain how many stops he did (radio coverage can make it hard to keep track of people not at the front/involved in tussles for position). Webber went off-track late on, and had to retire, and the Button/Vettel retirements meant that the Japanese got a points position that owed more to fortune than speed.

Raikkonen was steady but unspectacular in 5th, Schumacher and Rosberg got a tasty 6th and 7th, Di Resta can be fairly happy with 8th and Senna will probably be happy to both beat his team mate and get the final point in 10th.

Pretty relieved the tip came off, as I felt more like I was guessing than making a cunning judgement. Two from two for the weekend is also nice.

After that result, here's how the title race stacks up:
Alonso 179
Hamilton 142
Raikkonen 141
Vettel 140
Webber 132

Button's failure to finish puts him down on 101, and almost certainly out of it.

The real winner today was Alonso, whose lead is now extended to 37 points. There's still a very close cluster of four chasing drivers, who may well take points from one another and allow Alonso to stay ahead. The counter-argument, which may be persuasive, is that the McLaren is now the car to beat and it's a McLaren driver in second place. We'll have to see how the other cars develop and whether the McLaren is as good at circuits that aren't as fast as Spa and Monza, however.

The Constructors' has Red Bull on 272 and McLaren on 243. I'd be surprised if McLaren didn't win this now.

The next race is Singapore, in a fortnight, a very different circuit to Spa or Monza. The grid is also likely to more closely resemble the final result than at those two circuits.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Italy: pre-race

It was a slightly safety-first bet (which amounted to 1.5 on Hamilton or Alonso) but given it came off I'm perfectly happy. Not surprised Hamilton got pole, but I was shocked to see Alonso finish where he did.

In the first qualifying session the typical backmarker teams were out, as was Hulkenberg. Force India had been looking pretty good around Monza but an unknown fault meant he stopped on track, and will start last.

The second qualifying session saw the Red Bulls struggle. Vettel squeaked into Q3, and Webber did not. Perez also failed to make the top 10, whereas his team mate made it through. D'Ambrosio finished low down the order as well. Both Williams and Toro Rossos were also eliminated. Maldonado will start very near the back, having qualified 12th and then having a pair of 5 place grid penalties for jumping the start and ramming Glock in Spa.

The third qualifying was thrilling and surprising. The Ferraris, as per P3, worked together so they benefited from the slipstream effect. However, after Massa had benefited their effort with Alonso seemed to go askew and the Spaniard, who had been fastest in earlier sessions, was a shockingly low 10th. At the front McLaren were fantastic, with Hamilton leading Button. Massa also had a great qualifying, showing the Ferrari has real pace, and got third, with Di Resta putting in a very impressive lap for fourth (he'll be demoted five places due to a gearbox-related penalty). Schumacher put his Silver Arrow in fifth, ahead of Vettel and Rosberg, with Raikkonen eighth. Kobayashi only managed ninth, but that was probably the limit of his car.

So, McLaren are on the march, and Ferrari absolutely cocked up Alonso's qualifying. Whether it was his mistake it's hard to say but he should've been top three at least. Whilst Monza is a proper circuit, and overtaking is therefore possible, nine out of the last 10 races there have been won from pole, and starting 10th is not great.

It's also worth considering the relatively high number of issues cars have had in practice and qualifying. Alonso has suffered brake failure in practice and a mechanical failure in qualifying, in P3 Vettel's battery ran out of juice, Hulkenberg's Force India went on strike before he could even clock a qualifying time and both Mercedes have suffered RFA/DRS failures in practice. It's also worth bearing in mind that the last time a Renault-engined car had an alternator issue (Valencia) it cost one Red Bull and one Lotus many points.

So, that's another area where McLaren have a clear advantage, as well as being either fastest or very nearly fastest. It is quite hard to see either of the team's drivers failing to get a podium.

I agonised over what to bet on here. The problem is I think the third podium spot, assuming McLaren get two of them, could go to a large number of people, the winner odds were not that appealing (I was actually tempted by the 23 on Massa to win) and everything else I considered had really short odds.

In the end I backed Sauber to have both cars finish in the points at 3.25 with Ladbrokes, no hedging.

The race could be an absolute cracker tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Italy: pre-qualifying

As last week, tyre compounds are medium and hard (white and invisible silver). Grosjean serves his one race ban and is replaced by the Belgian Jerome d'Ambrosio. Ma Qing Hua becomes the first Chinese driver, as he replaces Karthikeyan in the HRT during P1. Maldonado serves a 10 place (well, two 5 place) grid penalty for jumping the start at Spa and hitting Glock in the race.

Degradation does appear to be low, suggesting a one-stopper as standard.

Lotus' DDRS, which I'm beginning to think is being tested by unicorns at the test track in Narnia, will not be appearing and won't before Suzuka.

Happily P1 was dry. Schumacher was fastest, ahead of Button, Rosberg, Alonso and Massa. Hamilton was sixth, and was followed by Raikkonen, Perez, Webber and Maldonado.

In P2 Schumacher's RFA (rear flap adjuster/DRS) was broken, so his pace will suffer accordingly (and the DRS is particularly handy around Monza). Rosberg also appeared to have a similar issue. Button's engineer reckoned that pace was good and that degradation for McLaren (his, at least) was excellent. Bodes well for the race.

The P2 running order was Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Massa. That top four were covered by barely a tenth of a second and the top three were covered by half a tenth. Rosberg was fifth, followed by Raikkonen, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Perez and Schumacher.

After the first two practice sessions, of which I heard a little, it sounds like McLaren will be the team to beat with Alonso also in the mix. Red Bull seem to be a little off the pace at the end of Saturday. However, the margins generally are very tight.

Computer issues meant that I only got to hear about 10 minutes of P3, unfortunately. In the final few minutes Vettel suffered a battery failure, which seems similar to what happened (with the alternator) in Valencia, which also (then) afflicted a Lotus (both use Renault engines).

The top 10 of P3 were Hamilton, a thousandth ahead of Alonso, with Di Resta third then Massa, Button, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Perez and Maldonado. Vettel and Webber were 11th and 12th respectively.

The bets I had in mind after P3 were to lay Vettel or Webber for Q3 and perhaps Hamilton for pole. Very hard to tell whether Hamilton or Alonso will get pole.

Irritatingly, the odds to lay Vettel or Webber for Q3 are rubbish (evens). I'd waited a little while hoping the market might shift, but it hasn't.

So, what I'm counting as a single tip is as follows: Hamilton for pole at 2.54 and Alonso for pole at 4.7 (to get a roughly even profit split that's a third of a stake on Hamilton and two-thirds on Alonso). No hedging. If Alonso had been a bit longer (he was 5.2 not so long ago) I might've gone for a single bet with a hedge, but there we are.

No rain is forecast, and although Button could upset things I do expect a Hamilton-Alonso duel for pole.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Belgium: post-race analysis

An eventful and entertaining race, though I can't help but feel a shade disappointed as a spectator. Anyway, the race was green (and very slightly greener if you followed the identical but earlier and slightly longer Button tip from Nigel rather than the tardy one by myself). With hedging, the weekend as a whole was red to the tune of 12 pence (assuming, as always, £10 stakes) or green for a few pounds. So, not very exciting either way.

The major story of the race happened in the first 20 seconds. Maldonado got a suspiciously fast start, but the real incident of importance was Grosjean stupidly heading into Hamilton (who had nowhere to go), causing a very significant crash. Grosjean and Tweety-pie*  were out, as was Alonso. The championship leader saw his very long run of points finishes come to an end and was fortunate not to sustain a nasty injury. Both Saubers were also caught up in the incident. Perez was out straight away, and though Kobayashi managed to struggle on his car did sustain damage and he was unable to make any headway.

Maldonado survived a crash that had nothing to do with him, only to break his front wing a few laps later and fail to finish. He still hasn't scored a point since his win.

At the front it was quite simple. Button slaughtered everyone, with ease, and won by miles and miles. Not since the Canadian Grand Prix last year has he appeared so at home in a McLaren, although this win did lack the drama of the other.

There was, especially in the first half of the race, a lot of overtaking for podium positions and further down the field trains did develop (typically behind Mercedes' drivers). However, the real deciding factor in the race wasn't on-track passing but strategy and tyre management. It may be no coincidence that Button and Vettel, two men very skilled at looking after their tyres, did so well.

The misfortune for others was an opportunity for Force India who suddenly found both their cars at the sharp end. Di Resta lost his KERS and gradually slid down the order to 10th but Hulkenberg managed to finish in 4th. Considering the team's been a bit of a poor relation in the midfield battle this great result will really boost their confidence.

Raikkonen's tyres weren't holding up as well as might be expected, and whilst the Lotus was fast it was never really in contention for the win. However, the fact that Alonso failed to finish and the Finn got 3rd is a double bonus for his title prospects.

If Button hadn't smote the field so comprehensively Vettel might've been driver of the day. He started 11th, lost places in the crash and fought his way through the field to a clear 2nd. Along with Button he was probably the only chap who made a one stop really work (the Mercedes and Senna tried and failed to make the strategy work). The same medium-hard combination will be used in Monza in a week's time.

Further down the field Massa got a handy 5th, which does make me wonder where Alonso would've come. Webber got 6th, and Schumacher 7th. For a time the German seemed in a position to compete for a podium but his car wasn't quite good enough and the effort at a one stopper didn’t work.

Toro Rosso will be delighted to have a double points finish, in 8th and 9th, for Vergne and Ricciardo respectively.

*On Tweety-pie: apparently Hamilton's been sending out lots of tweets he shouldn't, and these have been promptly deleted. According to Coulthard one of those tweets included telemetry of his and Button's qualifying laps which is confidential information. I'm also unconvinced that that's clever behaviour whilst contract renegotiations are ongoing.

I do think we shouldn't get too carried away based on Spa. The thing is that Friday's rainfall meant lots of new pieces couldn't be tested properly and there was very limited scope to do setup for the race and qualifying. Hopefully Monza will be dry and we'll get a clearer read of things there.

However, it does seem clear that Ferrari and Red Bull may be lagging somewhat (in qualifying at least), and that Sauber have come out all guns blazing. But for terrible luck Sauber could have gotten one or possibly two podiums (podia?). Hulkenberg's grasping of opportunity must give heart to himself and his team, and I don't doubt that Vettel will be delighted to not only climb from 11th to 2nd but to do so ahead of all of his title rivals.

Here's how the drivers' title race stacks up:
Alonso 164
Vettel 140
Webber 132
Raikkonen 131
Hamilton 117
Button 101

And the Constructors':
Red Bull 272
McLaren 218
Lotus 207

I did say beforehand that I'd laid Red Bull for the Constructors', and even though they extended their lead by a point today I'm pretty comfortable with that. The pace in qualifying seemed off (may be due to lack of setup time but we'll find that out later) and whilst that didn't cost them much today (because Spa enables overtaking and half the top 10 failed to finish) that won't be the case at places like Singapore and Yas Marina.

The drivers' is harder to forecast because we don't know how Alonso and Hamilton would've done in the race. Could Button pull himself back into contention? Well, if he keeps driving like that, yes, but I'd be surprised if he did. It's possible, but not probable, I think.

After one great classic circuit, we've got another in just a week. We're off to Monza next weekend.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Belgium: pre-race

Not for the first time this season, qualifying defied expectations and, sadly, tips. The tip failed by any measure, which is unfortunate. However, I have had some good luck in recent races so can't complain now.

The first qualifying session was notable only for the misfortune of Rosberg. He suffered a mechanical issue in P3, which meant that, after qualifying 18th fastest, he also has a five place grid penalty to add insult to injury.

Shocks galore in Q2, when Vettel failed to get his car into the final qualifying session. Schumacher, in a rather slow Silver Arrow, was 13th and Massa came in 14th.

However, the biggest surprises of the day were saved for the end. Button absolutely slaughtered the field, putting in magnificently fast (and unexpected) laps in Q2 and then backed that up in Q3. He went for a different setup to Hamilton, who I think went for the high downforce that will be handy in the twisty second sector but may be inferior for the race, which may add to his advantage. Kobayashi put in a banzai lap to claim the best ever qualifying result (2nd) for a Japanese driver in F1, and Maldonado got a very impressive third.

Raikkonen, tipped by many to do well, came 4th, just ahead of Perez. Sauber are looking very tasty.

Alonso only got 6th, but actually I believe it's still a grid that plays to his advantage because the only title contender ahead of him is Raikkonen, and if they finish as they start Alonso's lead will increase.

Webber qualified 7th but will start five places lower down due to yet another gearbox-related penalty, and was followed by Hamilton, who as well as going for a different setup to his team mate used an older wing (which appears to be significantly slower). Grosjean got 9th and Di Resta 10th.

Qualifying was thrilling, if red, but it also sets up a race that promises to be just as unpredictable. As a spectator I'm delighted, but as a gambler it looks a bit daunting.

I've laid Red Bull for the Constructors' title at 1.65, on the basis that either Lotus or McLaren could take it off them. I think the latter two teams are well-placed whereas Red Bull seem to have lost relative pace.

I was tempted to back either Perez for a podium at 4.5 (Ladbrokes) or Sauber to top score as a team (8, Ladbrokes again). However, if Button wins, and he seems fairly likely to do so, that would make it very hard for Sauber to top score, because Hamilton would need only to make up a place or two to tie, and if he finished fifth then even a double podium from Sauber (without winning) wouldn't be enough.

Maldonado got a 3 place grid penalty for being a twonk (I believe the technical term is 'blocking' Hulkenberg), which will help out Raikkonen, Perez and Alonso. I expect the Force Indias to go backwards, and will be not entirely astonished if Maldonado hits another car. Or a kerb. Or some part of the Belgian scenery. Grosjean, starting 8th, could be good to watch, and it'll be fascinating to see if Sauber can deliver on their potential now that they've finally had a good qualifying session.

So, I decided to go for the short odds favourite, Button, for the win at 2.44 (I've made a note of Nigel's 2.48 green line tip as well), with a hedge set up at 1.2. If I felt like I had a better handle on where the teams are and how they'll stack up on race pace I might've gone for the Sauber bet(s), but qualifying reminded me that this season is very, very unpredictable.

Morris Dancer

Belgium: pre-qualifying

Unfortunately both P1 and P2 were wetter than a pair of mermaids sharing a bath, and the soggy weather meant that Lotus have decided to shelve their extra DRS device until the next race due to lack of testing.

Hard and medium tyres will be used at Spa this weekend.

However, McLaren seem rather more upbeat about their updates. Given their car was the fastest at the end of the first half of the season that might not bode well for their adversaries. Mercedes also sound a little downbeat, and Ferrari probably won't be at the sharp end, so we might have an old-fashioned (well, sort of) McLaren-Red Bull tussle for supremacy.

Although the P1 and P2 times are meaningless, I'll include them for the sake of completeness.

P1's top 10 were: Kobayashi, Maldonado, Ricciardo, Vergne, Webber, Perez, Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel, Schumacher.

The top 10 of P2 were: Pic, Ricciardo, Alonso, Di Resta, Maldonado, Glock, Kobayashi, Vergne, Hulkenberg and Perez.

So, all dry-weather running will need to be made in P3. Likewise, assuming the weather in P3 and qualifying is expected to be similar, I'll be basing any qualifying tips on P3 entirely.

P3 was dry, but Rosberg had a transmission problem which meant he got no running done. Red Bull/Ferrari focused on straight line speed and qualifying, whereas Lotus went for being fast in twisty sector 2 rather than the more top end speed sectors 1 and 3. McLaren were unexpectedly slow and, weirdly, Button was much faster than Hamilton. Alonso was fastest, followed by Raikkonen, Perez, Kobayashi, Button, Massa, Webber, Grosjean, Vettel, Di Resta.

Sauber are looking racy, and if they can get qualifying sorted they might just be podium contenders come the race. I'm quite surprised that McLaren weren't faster, and even more so that Button was about half a second ahead of Hamilton in 12th. That might just indicate traffic for the latter, but laying Button for Q3 was a bet I was contemplating until that time.

Vettel's time is deceptively slow, and he would've been far nearer the sharp end on his quick lap but for buggering up the breaking point prior to the chicane which cost him over half a second.

Bit tentative, but I've decided to back Alonso and Raikkonen (half-stakes each, so I'm counting it as 1 tip rather than 2) for pole, at 6.2 and 6.6 respectively (each hedged at 2). The reasoning is simply that the odds are long for the first and second chaps, there's a tenth and a half from Raikkonen to Perez and I'm not convinced Vettel would've been faster had he gotten his braking right on his quick lap.

Anyway, let's hope Raikkonen or Alonso get pole, and both come close enough for the hedges to be matched.

Morris Dancer