Sunday, 25 November 2012

Brazil: post-race analysis

The Interlagos circuit is one of the very best, and it delivered an enthralling climax to the most unpredictable and exciting season for many a year.

In betting terms, the race was green either way (obviously more so if you opted not to hedge). In fact, on a non-hedging basis it was the second best of the season.

The first few laps were probably the most breakneck and dramatic of the season (perhaps excluding Spa), and saw the McLarens retain the top slots, the Ferraris dive ahead of the Red Bulls and, most critically, Vettel get tagged from behind and spun. Senna and Perez ended their races before finishing the first lap and the title leader had an uncertain amount of damage on his car, and was reduced to 22nd of 22 running cars.

Hulkenberg had also a good start, and it certainly seems that his pole in Brazil for Williams was not an utter fluke but indicative of his real skills around the circuit.

The start was very slightly wet and the soft rain fell almost constantly, keeping the track too wet for easy driving but too dry to risk intermediates. Vettel scythed his way through the field, and the damage appeared minimal. However, the entire field was forced to pit for intermediate tyres, except Button and Hulkenberg. The pair were very evenly matched and built up a 44 second gap, but this was instantly destroyed when a lot of debris forced the safety car out. Before it emerged the young German had passed the Briton.

At the restart Button was left trailing by Hulkenberg and Hamilton passed his team mate and started to close on the German. Vettel was still some way back but high enough into the points that Alonso had his work cut out.

In the difficult first corner Hamilton was defending from Hulkenberg, who slid slightly on the wet circuit. This proved enough to send him off the track and to irreparably damage Hamilton's McLaren, sadly. Button, already miles ahead of Massa (then second), regained the lead.

Further down the field Vettel had advanced after Schumacher let him ease into sixth (a favour he did not offer Kobayashi later) and Alonso was obligingly let past by his team mate.

In the end, Button got the victory and the two Ferraris ended the season with a double podium finish for the first time this year. But the real triumph was Vettel's, who becomes the youngest ever triple world champion and only the third man, after Fangio and Schumacher, to do it consecutively.

Webber got fourth and Hulkenberg, having been a serious contender for the lead, was fifth. Vettel got sixth then came Schumacher, Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen.

This means that Raikkonen keeps his third place, but had Hamilton finished he would've easily leapfrogged the Finn.

The Button tip was perhaps a little lucky. However, I've had some bad luck too in the latter half of the season and if luck must play a role I'll not complain about it being good.

It's been a mostly good year, but the time for looking back at the races and betting isn't now. I'll do a season review for each a little later.

I hope you enjoyed the 2012 F1 articles on pb2, and let's hope that 2013 is even better.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brazil: pre-race

The qualifying session was slightly unpredictable, with a soggy but drying track in Q1 and then a dry and warming track for the rest of the session.

Q1 was more interesting than usual as the third sector was wet but the first sector was bone dry. The drivers simply had to go round and round as later laps were significantly faster than earlier ones (due to clearing off water which dried the track, enhanced grip and increased speed). The only real incident was Grosjean's ill-conceived or perhaps unlucky effort to pass De La Rosa's HRT in the last part of the third sector. The Frenchman's front wing got broken and the Spaniard got a puncture. So, Grosjean somewhat surprisingly exited qualifying at this stage.

Q2 was pretty tight, but Massa managed to squeeze through, and Alonso only just managed it as well. Di Resta must be disappointed to start just 11th after Force India had a very solid P3 and Hulkenberg made it through to the final session. Senna starts 12th, followed by Perez, Schumacher and Kobayashi. Sauber's poor qualifying may matter less at Interlagos, given it's an old school circuit where overtaking is eminently possible. The Toro Rossos start 16th and 17th.

The third qualifying session was quite interesting, although it was almost very interesting. McLaren locked out the front row (Hamilton getting his final pole for McLaren), and Red Bull likewise the second. However, Vettel's first lap was poor and he was about 9th at that stage (behind Alonso). Massa did very well to get 5th, and is followed by Maldonado and Hulkenberg. Alonso could only manage 8th, with Raikkonen and Rosberg behind him.

Afterwards there was much musing by Eddie Jordan that Massa was probably set up for dry conditions and Alonso very much so for the wet. This was backed up when Alonso stated that the car was set up for maximum downforce (a wet setup). This would explain why he starts three places behind Massa (although the Brazilian has had some very strong qualifying performances lately) and makes sense given that on a dry track with a dry setup the McLarens and Red Bulls are too far ahead of Ferrari.

However, if it rains (and some reckon there's an 80% chance of it happening) then maximising a wet setup will help with pace and could be a game-changer. It will also reduce the odds of a race-ending spin/accident.

The forecasts currently suggest there will be rain tomorrow, but it coinciding with the race is something like 50%. We'll have to wait and see just how significant it is.

I've backed Button to win at 5.4, with a hedge set up at 2.5. My reasoning is that he's got the car to win in the dry but also the wet-dry racing skills to win if it's raining off and on. There's also a strange habit of the chap starting second winning (this has happened for the last three years), and when McLaren's had a reliability failing it's typically afflicted Hamilton rather than Button.

That's the last tip of the season, so let's hope it's an exciting and profitable race.

Morris Dancer

Brazil: pre-qualifying

Some driver news: Pic has moved to Caterham, and will probably take Kovalainen's seat. In addition, Sauber will have another Mexican driver as Hulkenberg is joined next year by Esteban Gutierrez.

For practice Pirelli have brought along an orange tyre, which is one of next year's compounds. This is to allow teams to have a bit of a play and get some data on them ahead of the inter-season break.

The tyres for the race and qualifying are medium and hard, but intermediate and wet will perhaps be just as (and maybe more) important.

P1 is tricky to read, because the fastest time was set on the orange tyres. Those are not to be used in the race, so it's not really a valid time. The session was 100% dry and sunny, and so may be 0% useful for qualifying and/or the race. However, the order was: Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, Di Resta, Maldonado and Hulkenberg.

The second practice session also had Hamilton fastest, with Vettel and Webber still second and third. Massa was next, then Alonso, Schumacher, Rosberg, Button, Grosjean and Di Resta.

Ferrari seemed to do well in the wet at previous races, such as Malaysia (aided by good strategy), the United Kingdom and Germany.

P3 was dry but overcast and colder than prior sessions. The McLarens have clear dominance, of the top teams, on the straights, which will help them during the race when overtaking is needed. Raikkonen's engine died before he could set a flying lap time. Fastest was Button then came Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Grosjean, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Maldonado and Massa.

Current forecasts suggest a roughly 50/50 chance of rain during qualifying. In P3 commentary it was suggested that rain would fall towards the very end of the qualifying period.

Things look bad for Ferrari. Both were near the back end, and that's without Raikkonen setting a time. Force India are looking rather tasty, and Maldonado could spoil Alonso's party as well.

I've decided not to tip on qualifying. Perhaps a little cowardly, but the three I had considered (laying Massa to reach Q3, backing Button to be top 3 and backing Di Resta to reach Q3) were afflicted by lack of available cash to match, and poor odds for the latter two.

Coupled with the uncertain weather situation I'd rather not put money on something that has iffy odds. However, I have hedged my Raikkonen to be top 3 (title race) bet a bit more at 1.64 so I make the same amount whatever happens.

The qualifying looks pretty unpredictable, so hopefully rain will strike and it'll be exciting. In race conditions, especially if it's dry, the McLaren's top speed advantage could make them the team to watch.

Morris Dancer

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Brazil: Early Discussion

This is the first such early discussion thread, which has been suggested could be useful for identifying earlier betting opportunities. These posts will probably become a regular feature and the emphasis will be on the comments rather than an article.

So, comment away.

Morris Dancer

PS At the moment forecasts suggest a reasonably high chance of rain on race day, but it's still some time off and the forecasts can and probably will change.

Monday, 19 November 2012

United States: post-race analysis

In betting terms the tip was green if you hedged and red if you didn't, making the weekend either flat (a 7p loss if you backed both tips and hedged the latter) or the joint worst of the season. Unfortunately Mr. Putney's tip didn't come off.

Even before the race began there was controversy as Ferrari pulled off a cunning and dastardly move: deliberately changing Massa's fully functional gearbox so he got demoted 5 places putting Alonso (and himself) on the clean side of the track and promoting his team mate a single grid slot.

The start was less two-sided than was forecast. The even side did seem to suffer a slight disadvantage which lost Raikkonen about 3 places and Hamilton 1, but it wasn't nearly as severe as people had suspected. Vettel kept the lead, Webber was second and Alonso had charged from 7th to 4th, beginning Schumacher's long march backwards.

Soon after that Hulkenberg and Grosjean were 5th and 6th, but the Frenchman spun and ended up pitting early. For a while Hulkenberg seemed secure in 5th, but after being passed a few times it seemed a combination of lack of pace and higher than average tyre degradation cost him. After the first pit stop he didn't feature much in the coverage.

Raikkonen, as mentioned, had a dire start but recovered throughout the race. However, he only finished sixth because of an excellent recovery by the Ferraris and Button.

Hamilton was looking very fast, and passed Webber at the second time of asking. Shortly after this an alternator failure ended the Aussie's race with disappointment, promoting Alonso to third.

The gap between Hamilton and Vettel waxed and waned, but eventually, perhaps due to traffic being unhelpful for the German, Hamilton squeezed past and was able to maintain the lead until the end of the race.

Massa had a great race, starting 11th and finishing 4th, often being the fastest man on the track and not putting a foot wrong. Button, who started 12th, finished 5th, and also had a strong weekend. This suggests to me that he could've and would've beaten Raikkonen in qualifying, but the car breaking cost him. Ironic, really, that a tip of sound judgement failed and one of dodgy judgement (Hulkenberg to be top 6) ended up green.

Grosjean recovered from his early problems by finishing 7th, behind his team mate, Hulkenberg ended up 8th and the Williams were 9th and 10th, Maldonado leading the way.

Mercedes had a day to forget. Schumacher started 5th and ended up 16th, and although Rosberg improved from 17th it was only to 13th. Sauber were also unimpressive, and given the track was one where overtaking was eminently possible they can't blame it on a typically lacklustre qualifying. Perez rose from 15th to 11th and Kobayashi stayed in 14th.

Grosjean's failure to finish further ahead can't be attributed to the even side of the grid (he and Hulkenberg both got away ok) but may be due to the spin he had and a slight lack of pace with the Lotuses. Given he qualified 4th and Webber retired it wasn't unreasonable to think he'd make up more places than he did.

The race seemed exciting, but it was a great shame it couldn't be watched live and that highlights finished at half past midnight (so, apologies if I've forgotten something important).

The result is quite significant, because there's a premium on winning (a 7 point advantage over 2nd). At the end of the race, the standings are as follows:

Vettel 273
Alonso 260
Raikkonen 206
Hamilton 190

For third place, Hamilton could yet take it, but he'd probably need Raikkonen to DNF. I might try hedging the Raikkonen to be top 3 bet if the odds are very short.

There's a 13 point gap from Vettel to Alonso. Should they tie, I'm reasonably sure the German wins (more wins, ahead most recently etc). So, here's how Alonso can win in Interlagos, the final race of the season:
Finish third - Vettel is 10th or lower
Finish second - Vettel is 8th or lower
Finish first - Vettel is 5th or lower

Or, to put it another way, if Vettel is 4th or higher what Alonso does is irrelevant.

However, Brazil's brilliant Interlagos circuit is not a place of dull processions. It's not the circuit you want to go to if you want an easy, boring, predictable race. It rains probably more often than Silverstone, and early forecasts suggest it'll be rainy for qualifying and race day.

Red Bull won the Constructors' in the US, which is a loss for me, but I'll be ahead on the Drivers' and evens or ahead on the Top 3 market, so that's ok.

Interlagos is just next weekend, and the race is on at a slightly earlier hour (which I like) than the US.

After that, I'll probably do a pair of season reviews, one focusing on the racing, and the other on the betting. Hopefully the season will have a green ending.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 18 November 2012

United States: pre-race

Qualifying was thoroughly entertaining as a fan but rather infuriating as a gambler. Raikkonen squeaked into Q3, finishing Q2 in 10th.

The first qualifying sessions was more frantic than usual, as many of the teams went out on the medium compound, possibly to try and find if and how the grip had changed due to increased temperatures compared to P3. As it happened it didn't affect the eliminated much, although Marussia did well to beat Caterham (the former lacking KERS and the latter possessing it) and Ricciardo joined the pointless teams.

The second session of qualifying was as competitive as usual. The Saubers seemed very off the pace, and so did the Mercedes until Schumacher put his Silver Arrow into 5th. Weirdly, Rosberg was just 17th. Button got only one 'hot' lap in before he lost power and didn't get out again, and so starts a rather lowly 12th. Senna was 11th. I think Senna, Rosberg or Button could have beaten Raikkonen, based on their team mates' performances. Hard to say if Button would've or not. Hulkenberg did well to get into Q3, unlike Di Resta, and Vergne was also eliminated.

With tedious predictability (although he was run closer than usual) Vettel got pole. He was narrowly ahead of Hamilton, with Webber third. Grosjean was next but will suffer a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Raikkonen will therefore start 4th, Schumacher an impressive 5th and Massa a surprising 6th. Hulkenberg starts 7th and Alonso qualified a lowly 8th (and, perhaps even worse, is on the even-numbered and dirty side of the grid. More on this below). Grosjean starts 9th and Maldonado, surprisingly, came last in Q3.

Some reckon being on the even side of the grid will cost as much as a second on the start line. If so, that would put the likes of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso and Maldonado far back. However, it would also make things easier for Webber, Schumacher, Hulkenberg and Grosjean.

Tyre wear, despite the many laps needed to get heat into the tyres, could yet be an issue. So, it's still possible we'll see two stops as deliberate strategy.

If the start really is going to see the even side suffer a huge penalty that presents the opportunity for trading bets to be swiftly hedged.

This is the point at which I stopped waiting to see if the betting markets would get going last night. Between then and now Mr. Putney offered a tip on Grosjean for a podium. I think that's sound, and I'll be backing it (albeit with a hedge set up at 3).

I've decided to back Hulkenberg for a top 6 finish at 3.35. He starts 7th, the clean side of the track, and since Singapore (where he failed to finish) he's made up ground at every race (save Abu Dhabi, where he also failed to finish). I've set up a hedge at 1.4.

The other bets I was seriously considering was Grosjean to be top 6 (2.68, and I think Mr. Putney's podium tip sounds better as Schumacher may suffer tyre wear and the Force India is perhaps not as good on race day as the Lotus) and laying Hamilton or Raikkonen for a podium. The odds on the latter two were not great, though.

So, from me, just the 1 tip: Hulkenberg to be top 6 at 3.35, hedged at 1.4.

The race starts at 7pm. Let's hope it's entertaining enough that the highlights are worth tuning in to at 10.25pm.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 17 November 2012

United States: pre-qualifying

So far this year the lack of TV coverage at races hasn't helped or hindered tipping, but the US Grand Prix may be different, because it's a brand new circuit. As part of my scholarly research I've raced the circuit somewhat on F1 2012 (PS3 version), and my instinct is that it's a Spa/Silverstone/Suzuka sort of circuit. I suspect there will be a good number of overtaking opportunities for cars out of sequence (perhaps Alonso and the Saubers most obviously).

In unrelated news it now seems probably that HRT will not return in 2013, which is perhaps unsurprising and not particularly distressing. The team's almost always the slowest and has poor reliability. Hopefully a new 12th team with better planning and funding can enter the sport later on:

More news on 2013, namely that DRS will not be used freely in practice and qualifying but will only be available in the same zone(s) as the race:

This should mean that qualifying and race pace become closer, but will also make the races a little less exciting because of that.

The tyre compounds this weekend are medium and hard, but Pirelli still reckon the track will be so abrasive that a two-stop strategy will be optimal:

Button has an interesting thought, namely that starting second could be an advantage into the first corner:

Might see what the first lap leader odds are for the race.

First practice was interesting to listen to. The circuit seems very dirty, but it's a deep-ingrained sort of dust so it will probably remain, more or less, for the whole weekend. Grip was correspondingly low and many cars had issues, especially at turn 19. The three big guns (Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso) seemed fairly evenly balanced at the sharp end, although gaps did widen at the end of the session.

P1 top 10 were as follows: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Webber, Massa, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Perez. Vettel was almost a second and a half ahead of Hamilton, who was nearly a second ahead of Alonso.

Couldn't pay attention to P2 because it wasn't anywhere to be found. Maybe coverage was online, but the TV/radio offered no coverage.

P2 had Vettel fastest by the lion's share of a second, but Webber and Alonso posted almost identical times. Hamilton and Button were a quarter of a second down the road and had very similar times also. Massa, Rosberg, Senna, Kobayashi and Schumacher round out the top 10.

At this stage it looks like Vettel's nailed on for pole, rather boringly, but that Alonso may do better than usual in qualifying. If he could start second that would be very intriguing for the race ahead. However, as usual, P3 will probably weigh most heavily when it comes to forecasting qualifying.

After P2 Webber opined that the even-numbered side of the grid would be a joke, due to extremely low grip levels:

P3 was also very cold, and whilst it'll be warmer in qualifying it will probably be later laps that are fastest. This may mean cars remain on circuit going round and round to put heat into the tyres, which could create traffic issues. The fastest was Vettel by a distance, followed by Hamilton, Maldonado, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Perez, Hulkenberg, Button.

For the first time in a long time one of my pencilled-in possible bets had nice(ish) odds. I've laid Raikkonen to reach Q3 at 1.35. He's been 13th in P3, 11th in P2 and 14th in P1. I'd say he should be odds on not to make it, or perhaps evens.

Qualifying starts at 6pm.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis

From a betting perspective it was a mixture of delight at Raikkonen's victory (also handy for my top 3 bet) and despair at Hamilton's mechanical failure. The 2.9 on him to win was a great bet, but the sport is subject to the capriciousness of fate.

The start was dramatic and pleasing, as Raikkonen dove from fourth to second (Webber left the handbrake on), and further down the grid a few of the middle men collided with one another, yet again.

Alonso fairly rapidly got up to fourth, with Maldonado between himself and Raikkonen. The Spaniard and Venezuelan were closely matched, and although Raikkonen was some way up the road Hamilton was in a class of his own.

At the back of the field Vettel was passing the pointless teams with ease, and although he took minor front wing damage from a small collision with Senna (racing incident only) it didn't hamper his progress.

In a crash slightly reminiscent of Webber and Kovalainen (I think) in 2010 in Valencia Rosberg mounted the back of Karthikeyan's HRT and then took to the skies (as well as taking out both cars and bringing out a safety car).

This was bad news for Hamilton and Raikkonen as it closed the field up and eliminated the gap they'd built up ahead of the rest but good news for Vettel… until Ricciardo braked suddenly in front of him. Vettel took evasive action and plunged through a polystyrene barrier. However, at the speed he was doing it damaged his front wing even more and he was forced to pit early, putting him at the back of the field.

After the safety car departed Hamilton drove off from Raikkonen who similarly had no problems leaving Maldonado behind. The Venezuelan looked racy, but his team left him out too long on the soft tyres. He was passed by Alonso and then had a meeting with Webber, which was probably the Aussie's fault for trying to force the issue.

Then Hamilton suffered yet another reliability failure. Since the middle of the season the McLaren seems to only be fast when it's fragile, and his sudden total loss of power robbed him of a certain victory.

Webber was involved in another incident with Massa, and then a third when he got tangled up in what was mostly a Perez-Di Resta incident lasting a few laps (which also saw Grosjean involved). The Australian and Frenchman both retired, though from what I saw neither were to blame.

Vettel, meanwhile, was making great progress, aided by a second safety car. For a while it seemed he could challenge for the win, but Raikkonen pitted and emerged ahead. Perhaps going for safety first, the team pitted Vettel a second time, and he came out fourth, just behind Button and Alonso.

Raikkonen drove away and built up a gap that saw him to victory. In the closing stages Alonso got nearer and nearer but was never in a position to pass and the Finn was unflappable (and amusingly irascible on the radio). Button did extremely well to keep Vettel behind him for half a dozen laps before getting passed, when it became apparent the German was something like 0.7s a lap faster. By this time he was the fastest in the field but too far back to possibly worry Alonso.

In the end Maldonado was 5th, Kobayashi (who barely featured in the coverage) was 6th, Massa 7th and Senna 8th, making it a double points finish for Williams. Di Resta and Ricciardo got the final points.

It was a thrilling and tense race with serious implications for the title race. Alonso got 18 points but Vettel 15, which means the German retains a middling size lead with two races to go. In addition, Raikkonen becomes the eighth race winner of the season, for the sixth constructor.

Here's the top five:
Vettel 255
Alonso 245
Raikkonen 198
Webber 167
Hamilton 165

It's now a simple two horse race, and Vettel seems far the likelier to take it now. Today was a great opportunity for Alonso to whittle the lead down to low single figures or retake it himself, but thanks to a combination of lucky safety car periods and fantastic pace it still stands at 10 points.

In the top 3, I'd grown rather despondent about my Raikkonen bet, but it's now looking strong (layable at 1.29 for those who feel that way inclined). He's 31 points ahead of Webber with two races to go. I think he's very likely to stay third.

We now have a week off before travelling to the new American circuit for the first time (and you'll have to use your imagination because it's radio-only). One week after that it's the season finale (and possibly the title decider) in Interlagos.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Abu Dhabi: pre-race

Just as well there wasn't money available for Hulkenberg top 10 or Button top 3, as neither happened. Hulkenberg was very close, but Button was never in with a shot. Qualifying was, however, highly entertaining and threw up a few surprises.

Q1 was largely predictable, with Vergne joining the pointless teams in the traditional 20 minutes of wasted time before competitive qualifying begins.

The second session saw both Saubers eliminated and both Force Indias. Rosberg put in a strong lap to escape to Q3, but his team mate was unable to do so and languishes in 14th. Senna and Ricciardo also got dropped.

Q3 was quite exciting for many reasons. Hamilton is better than everyone else by a mile on primes and he won by a clear margin on options too. Assuming he gets a clear start and suffers no reliability issues he stands a fantastic chance of the win. Vettel failed to beat Webber and starts 3rd, behind his team mate. Maldonado put in a stunning lap to get 4th (Senna starts 15th) but I'm not sure Vettel will be delighted to see the fast but volatile Venezuelan beside him. Raikkonen and Button pushed Alonso all the way down to 7th, which is a nightmare for his title hopes. Rosberg, Massa and Grosjean fill out the remaining top 10 grid slots.

After qualifying a number of investigations began, into a Perez-Senna issue (presumably blocking) and a possible unsafe release of Grosjean into Alonso's path. Vettel stopped his car off-track for reasons as yet unknown. My mind drifts back to Spain, where Hamilton did likewise due to lack of fuel and started at the back of the grid. A race with Alonso starting 6th and Vettel 24th could be rather tasty.

Perez got a reprimand for impeding Senna in Q1, but as both got through there was no penalty.

A decision on Vettel took almost five hours, but for having less than a litre of fuel aboard he's been put to the back of the grid:

Maldonado was as long as 6.8 for a podium, and has since dropped to about 3.7. Tempting, but he started second in Singapore, I backed him at 3.5 for a podium and a combination of stupid strategy and reliability failure meant it didn't come off.

Very hard to try and predict what'll happen. Abu Dhabi's a circuit where it's very hard to overtake, but the 1 and 2 stop strategies being almost identical in terms of time means that cunning strategy could help drivers leapfrog one another during pitstops.

I think Webber might go backwards. His starts can be ropey, he seems to be harder on soft tyres than others (was in India, anyway) and he's already had some KERS failure at Abu Dhabi (again, this happened in India). Maldonado's hard to predict as I think he has the pace to perhaps be second, but Williams are quite poor at strategy and he can be erratic. Hmm.

Raikkonen and Button were both solid but a little dull last time out, whereas Alonso has been climbing the ranks (and has good top speed and DRS). I strongly suspect Rosberg will go backwards and fail to score but there's no money there, alas.

After such a long wait it's bloody frustrating to have no clear idea of what to bet on. Very tempted to lay Webber at a little over 1.5 for a podium, but that's exactly what I did in India.

In the end I backed Raikkonen for a podium at 3.5, and hedged it at 1.5. I backed him because he's an extremely reliable driver, his car is also very reliable, it seems to suit the circuit, he needs to make up just one place and he's experienced enough to keep other drivers behind him for many laps.

The podium market's very interesting and a bit weird. Maldonado, Raikkonen and Button all start ahead of Alonso but are longer odds than Alonso (just 2.1) to get a podium.

In addition to this tip, which comes with a health warning as I'm not endowed with unlimited confidence in it, there was a much better one in the comments of the pre-qualifying piece from Mr. Putney, who tipped McLaren at 2.9 to win (now easily hedgeable). Sadly I didn't get on that, but it does look good.

Vettel's penalty should make the race more exciting than usual (it's a bit of a dog of a track) as he tries to slice his way through the backmarkers. In Spain Hamilton went from last to eighth, but that's a better circuit. Vettel should be aiming for a few points, though. It also means the title race could close up dramatically, and would be especially painful as Alonso's 7th (now 6th) starting position was perfect for the German to deal a critical blow to his Spanish rival.

So, an exciting race, a Hamilton win and a Raikkonen podium would be perfect tomorrow.

Morris Dancer

Abu Dhabi: pre-qualifying

Some driver market news: as was very widely expected, Hulkenberg's gone from Force India to Sauber. Kobayashi's fate remains uncertain, but the mood music is a bit glum.

Toro Rosso, having rather discourteously fired both Buemi and Alguersuari last season so late they had no hope of finding another drive, has decided to keep both newcomers Vergne and Ricciardo. Hard to assess how good they've been as both are new drivers (Ricciardo drove a few races last year in an HRT, but still).

No word yet on Williams, but it seems likely Maldonado will remain, Senna will be tossed overboard and Bottas may well get his seat.

The tyres this time are soft and medium. Suggestion is that one and two stops are equal in terms of time, but that two stops will be preferred because it's more flexible.

In the first qualifying session it was a McLaren 1-2, with Hamilton fastest and Button second, followed by Vettel, Alonso and Webber. Schumacher was sixth, and next came Maldonado, Rosberg, Bottas, and Raikkonen.

The second session had Vettel fastest, followed by Hamilton, Button and Webber. Grosjean and Raikkonen were fifth and sixth, ahead of Alonso, Massa, Maldonado and Perez. Mercedes and Force India will be disappointed to be outside the top 10 there.

After P2 the BBC's Andrew Benson tweeted some info which may be of interest:
Long-run pace, fastest laps first: ALO 1:47.074; BUT 1:47.432; HAM 1:47.557 (all soft tyre); VET 1:47.636 (medium) 1:47.896 (soft)

Long-run pace averages: ALO 1:47.193; BUT 1:48.114; MAS 1:48.153; HAM 1:48.296; VET 1:48.359. Obviously that ALO time is anomalous

Cannot believe the Alonso average is representative, but the fastest lap was better than all others, so in race trim the Ferrari might be the fastest. However, if he qualifies 7th (behind Red Bulls, McLarens and Lotuses, as seems possible) then he'll have a hard time in Abu Dhabi making it work. One possibility could be for him to use a one stop strategy rather than a two stop. If he's as low down as 7th on the grid then that might well be his best option.

The mood music from Vettel in an interview and Eddie Jordan during Inside F1, however, both point to McLaren being top dog on race pace (albeit likely still behind Red Bull in qualifying).

In P3 Vettel only did a few installation laps and then got out with four and a half minutes of the session left. Hamilton dominated the session, especially on the prime tyre, and was fastest, with Button second. Vettel, despite only having a couple of hot laps, was third, Webber fourth and Hulkenberg was impressive in fifth. Grosjean was sixth, and Maldonado, Alonso, Raikkonen and Di Resta round out the top 10.

Ominous for Alonso, but at the same time if McLaren can beat Vettel in qualifying the Red Bull might go backwards and the prancing horse forwards. I think it's immensely hard to tell whether Hamilton or Vettel will end up on pole.

Annoyingly the two bets that tempted me most, Hulkenberg to reach Q3 and Button to be top 3, both had little cash and short odds available. Judging between Vettel and Hamilton for pole is nigh on impossible. In earlier sessions he was around 0.5-0.7s faster than Webber, which would put him just ahead or just behind Hamilton's P3 time. The Red Bull's also much better at getting its soft tyres switched on (but the McLaren looks very good on the mediums).

I had hoped to bet on qualifying, but with Vettel's serious lack of running and the poor odds on the other potential bets I've decided against it.

Morris Dancer