Tuesday, 30 April 2013

2013 early season review

In line with tradition, I'm writing this to have a quick look back at the initial part of the season, which consisted of 4 fly-away races.

Unusually (in fact, I think it's the first time) I'm actually ahead at this point, although still quite unhappy with how things have gone. I'll run through the betting first and then consider where I think drivers and teams are competitively.

The first race was awkward because I dislike betting on the race before qualifying. However, a lot of rain meant I had to either sit Australia out or bet early. So, I bet early on Ferrari top scoring (5.5). Happily, they did just that, and it was a very good start to the season.

Malaysia and China saw a single race bet each, and neither came off. I backed Massa for a podium and Vettel for the win. Massa went backwards and was never in the running. In China there was a tricky judgement call to make and I got it entirely wrong, so the hedge didn't get matched there either.

Bahrain was the first race where qualifying was at a time that disposed me to bet on it, and although Alonso didn't get pole the bet was near enough for the hedge to be matched. I also backed him for the win, but any hope of that was ended by the two DRS failures and early pit stops. We'll never know if he'd've been in a position to contest the victory and that was clearly a stroke of bad luck, but good luck happens too so hopefully that'll balance out over the season.

In short, Australia was a good win, Malaysia and China single stake losses and Bahrain essentially flat (loss of 46 pence with £10 stakes and hedging). After such a good start I'm not particularly pleased, but overall the first four races are better than has typically been the case. For certain, one failed bet (Vettel) was due to misjudgement on my part, and another (Alonso to win Bahrain) was ruined by bad luck.

So, not delighted but things could be worse (and at this stage they usually are).

Onto the racing.

It's worth stating that with three weeks and the shift from fly-away to European races that the competitive order should change between now and then. McLaren especially will be looking to improve. However, it's still well worth considering how the cars and chaps driving them stack up now. The list below is in order of the Constructors' table.

Red Bull:
Whine like hell about the tyres but top both title races. Whenever the hard tyre has been used they've won the race. Car is fast in qualifying and the race, perhaps a bit harder on the tyres than some other top teams.

Vettel has been driving very well, Webber's suffered a combination of bad luck and lack of support from management as well as blatant and unpunished disobedience of direct orders from Vettel.

They'll be in the running for both titles.

Better than in recent years in qualifying but perhaps not quite as good as Red Bull or Mercedes. Good pace and wear on all tyres, but the DRS problem ruined Bahrain and if it's repeated that'd be a serious hindrance. As good as any other team on race pace.

Alonso is driving well but has suffered some very bad luck with a DNF early on and then the DRS problem. 30 points already behind the lead, but there's still 15 races to go and he should be in the hunt for the title. Massa's also been driving pretty well.

Alonso will definitely feature in the title race, and the team should be there for the Constructors'.

Softest of all the teams on tyres, fast in the race but pretty poor when it comes to qualifying. If they can sort out qualifying they could be the best of any team.

Raikkonen is a points machine and (as well as tying Vettel for most podiums, 3/4, this season) has scored in 21 consecutive races. Grosjean has been lacklustre, until Bahrain where he did very well to join his team mate on the podium.

I expect Raikkonen to be challenging for the title. The team will only be able to do likewise if Grosjean maintains his Bahrain form.

Very good in qualifying, reasonable race pace, but the car eats its tyres (still). I don't think they'll be in the running for either title.

Hamilton's driving very well, and in a better, more tyre-friendly, car I'd expect him to be able to tilt at the title. Rosberg is Webber's chief rival for Unluckiest Driver of the Year, but even starting on pole he drifted all the way back to ninth.

I'd be surprised if they can fight for either title, but podiums and perhaps the odd win should be achievable.

Force India:
Great start, and a real surprise, for me. Strong race pace, perhaps a shade slower in qualifying. However, they have suffered some serious pit stop woe (hopefully that's a one-off).

Sutil really hit the ground running this year, and Di Resta's also been driving solidly. They should aim to get the odd podium and try to finish ahead of everyone outside the top four.

Whilst not a title contender in either race, Force India has had the strongest start of the season of any midfield team, even outscoring McLaren.

Managed to have the strongest car last year, few regulation changes and become the sixth fastest this year. Poor in qualifying, slightly better in the race, which is unacceptably bad from one of the biggest teams in the sport.

Button had some bad luck when a pit stop only bolted on three tyres rather than the traditional four, but even so he wouldn't be miles higher in the table. Perez, like Grosjean, had a ropey start to the year but hard racing in Bahrain netted him some nice points and may bode well for later on.

Unless the big upgrades planned for Spain work well, immediately, they're out of both title races. If they work well then there's a chance that they could feature (worth recalling Ferrari's 2012 upgrades at this time worked very nicely and really helped Alonso out).

Toro Rosso:
A bit of an anonymous car. Not bad enough to be noteworthy, not good enough to be remarkable. Aside from a strong performance by Ricciardo in China, that is.

Ricciardo had a great qualifying and strong race in China to start and finish seventh, but Vergne's sole point came from a tenth-placed finish. However, they'll be glad to be ahead of the Williams team and Gutierrez.

Definition of a midfield team. In the running for occasional points, unlikely to leave in Q1.

Very disappointing after a cracking season last year, which saw them score four podiums.

Gutierrez struggles to escape Q1, and although I rate Hulkenberg the German's also failed to score many points. Qualifying is too weak and they need to improve.

With the possible exception of Williams, Sauber should be the most disappointed of the midfield teams, compared to last season. And, if he doesn’t improve, I'd fire Gutierrez.

The most disappointing midfield team. They underperformed last year with a strong car, but this year the car's gone dramatically backwards and it may well be the worst team excepting Caterham and Marussia.

Bottas was tipped by many, including me, to be rookie of the year but he's finding it difficult to escape Q1. Maldonado's harder to assess. He hasn't had any accidents but it's hard to say whether it's down to him or the car that he hasn't scored a single point in four races.

If Williams can't improve the car significantly they may wish to jack in the 2013 development and focus heavily on 2014.

They seem to have taken a fair step forwards and now have KERS, but still seem a distance away from troubling the scorers which, in their fourth season, is not great.

Jules Bianchi is perhaps the best performing of the new drivers, regularly outclassing Chilton and both Caterhams by a large margin. He may well get a drive elsewhere, especially if Gutierrez and Bottas don't improve.

The worst team on the grid, although they did have a better race in Bahrain. Pic jumped ship from Marussia but that doesn't look so wise now and he, along with Van Der Garde, have seen the ghost of driver past (Kovalainen) return to provide some development assistance.

Their main hope is that next year there are significant regulation changes.

Incidentally, I've backed (with a small stake) Raikkonen for the title at 7.4. My thinking is that his car is kind to its tyres, he's very fast and very reliable and I expect him to be in the hunt throughout the season. Hopefully that'll mean his odds will shorten nicely to enable hedging.

The Spanish Grand Prix is next up (10-12 May). I'd expect hefty upgrades for just about everyone, but perhaps the most interesting team to watch out for is McLaren. The order may well be rejigged a bit, but I'd be surprised if there were enormous changes.

As always, comments, tips, questions and cogitations are all welcome in the comments section.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Bahrain: post-race analysis

A slightly frustrating race, from both a spectator and gambler perspective. Alonso's DRS problems robbed us of any chance of a fight for the win and Massa's double tyre issue prevented him from getting anywhere near the podium. However, congratulations to Mr. Putney, whose Vettel bet paid off handsomely.

The start saw Rosberg get away cleanly, Alonso pass Vettel and then lose second to the German swiftly. It was clear early on that Rosberg's primary direction of travel would be backwards, with both the others much faster. However, Alonso's DRS became jammed open and his hope of victory disappeared like a virgin in a brothel. He managed to reach the pits, they manually slammed it shut, but then it came open again and a second pit stop was necessary.

This screwed up his race. Not only was his first pit much earlier than he would have liked, the second cost him another 19 seconds or so and lack of DRS cost him pace and overtaking opportunities.

I'm not sure if Stefano Domenicali spent the weekend punching mirrors but Massa had problems too. His front wing was damaged slightly, he suffered massive rear tyre delamination[sp] (not just degradation, the whole thing was falling to pieces, akin to Hamilton's practice problem) and then suffered another significant rear tyre issue later.

Vettel sailed away into the sunset, but the competition was much closer behind him. The Lotus team had great strategy and it's nice to see Grosjean return to some form after a quiet start to the season. He took the last podium spot, behind his team mate, away from Di Resta, which must be galling for the Scot. However, fourth is still a strong finish.

Hamilton's race was a bit unusual. He seemed destined for a poor return as he was 8-10 throughout, but then his tyre management seemed to pay off and in the latter stages he ascended to fifth, after a titanic tussle with Webber. The Australian also lost out, possibly on the last lap, to Perez. After Martin Whitmarsh said the Mexican needed to 'get his elbows out' the young driver certainly seems to have done that, passing multiple drivers, driving hard and, arguably, dirty. Button and Alonso both complained about his behaviour on the radio, but that's impossible to assess just listening to it on the radio.

Alonso finished eighth, which isn't bad considering his problems but it seemed that a sixth place could've been possible before Perez passed him fairly late on.

Rosberg had a bloody awful race, going all the way back to ninth. Given his team mate started there but rose to fifth it must be pretty disheartening. Chewing up the tyres remains the problem of Mercedes. Button got the last point, but he looked like a higher points position was achievable earlier in the race.

Sutil was unlucky to finish thirteenth. He had a puncture very early on, and that basically ruined his race. Massa ended up fifteenth, but that wasn't his fault. Pic (in the Caterham) managed to beat Gutierrez (Spanish for "Fired after one season if he doesn't improve"), which is a nice little result for the team.

Had he not had terminal woe, I think Alonso would've contested the win with Vettel. However, I still think that Mr. Putney's bet on Vettel was better judged than mine on Alonso, because Alonso was 2.6 and Vettel 4.1 (well, that and Vettel actually won, but you see what I mean). I was quite surprised that whilst some (especially Mercedes) were chewing their tyres the Red Bull seemed to have no real issue.

Worth also remarking that the Lotus remained kind to its tyres, and a double podium finish is very tasty for them.

After four races, here are the standings:
Vettel 77
Raikkonen 67
Hamilton 50
Alonso 47

And Constructors':
Red Bull 109
Lotus 93
Ferrari 77

Ferrari had a shocker of a day, but it was all bad luck. Their car is fast and pretty good on its tyres, and both its drivers are doing well. There's also team harmony, unlike in Red Bull and perhaps McLaren. If Grosjean can maintain his form then Lotus could yet challenge for the Constructors' title. I still think Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen will be the main contenders for the Drivers' title.

I'm a bit irked that a bet which I think was reasonable and could've come off didn't due to bad luck. However, luck's all part of gambling and over the course of a season these things tend to even themselves out.

With a standard £10 stake, this weekend was a loss of 46 pence, with hedging, and £20 without (first weekend where there's a divergence between hedging and not). After a tasty start in Australia things haven't been so good, but it was nice to get the first qualifying tip right and overall the first four races are green either way.

I'll be doing my usual mini-review of the first part of the season between now and Spain, which is in 3 weeks.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Bahrain: pre-race

The failure Hamilton suffered during the final session of practice was due to high tyre degradation, it turns out.

The first qualifying bet of the year was green, with hedging, and red without. Reasonably happy with that, though obviously I would've preferred Alonso to be on pole.

Q1 was as tedious as usual, with the exception of a statistical quirk. Both Williams drivers had identical lap times. Bottas went through because he set his first, Maldonado joined Gutierrez (who has not been very impressive so far this year) and the pointless teams.

Q2 saw the remaining Williams and Sauber exit, and likewise both Toro Rossos. Perez and Grosjean, unlike their team mates, both failed to reach the final phase of qualifying.

Q3 happily saw everyone actually trying to set a fast lap time. Hamilton's 5 place gearbox penalty and Webber's 3 place penalty afforded the Force Indias a great opportunity to be higher than they usually would be, and Massa slyly went out on hard tyres, knowing this. Rosberg was fastest, slightly surprisingly, with Vettel second. Alonso was third and decided against finishing his final lap. Hamilton and Webber are next, but both will be shuffled down, so Massa will start fourth, alongside his team mate. Di Resta and Sutil are next, with Raikkonen a surprisingly lowly ninth and Button a less surprisingly lowly tenth.

Given long run pace I think Ferrari are sitting pretty. The Lotus is also quick but they start ninth (eighth, upon checking, due to the penalties) and eleventh. Red Bull may be a tiny bit slower than the two rival teams and will probably suffer worse tyre degradation. Not sure why the Lotus is so slow. They may've cocked up the setup, or made it very biased towards the race rather than qualifying. We've seen in the recent past Raikkonen climb from seventh to first, so they may yet do well.

With grid penalties, here's how the top 10 stacks up:
Massa (hard tyre)
Di Resta

Mercedes are worried about their rear tyre wear, as epitomised by Hamilton's problems in P3. Red Bull seem to have worse tyre wear and slightly slower pace than Ferrari, and Alonso is driving very well. He improved in both races he finished, and I've therefore backed him at 2.62 for the win (hedged at 1.25) despite my dislike of short odds.

As Mr. Nigel pointed out in the comments of the pre-qualifying piece, Lotus really seem to have lost a lot of pace. I can't see the Force Indias going further ahead, and expect Rosberg to go backwards. Hamilton will be interesting to watch as he's fast but the tyres might not be his friend on Sunday. It'll also be fascinating to see how Massa's oddball strategy plays out. Fourth on hard tyres is a good place to start, but he may suffer slightly at the start (softer tyres start better).

Hard to try and bet on, but the grid is set up nicely for the race. I'm hoping for an exciting, and profitable, race.

Morris Dancer

Bahrain: pre-qualifying

Seems that articles put up on Monday become auto-moderated by Friday, so when timezones mean I won't offer a qualifying tip I'll put the early discussion up on Monday, and when that's not the case I'll put it up on Tuesday.

The tyres for Bahrain have been changed from soft-hard to medium-hard.

P1 saw Massa edge Alonso, with Rosberg, Vettel and Di Resta following. Button was sixth, and followed by Webber, Sutil, Raikkonen and Grosjean. Hamilton was on a fast lap but eased off, so his 13th is not representative.

In P2 Raikkonen topped the timesheets ahead of Webber, Vettel, Alonso and Di Resta. Massa was sixth, then came Grosjean, Rosberg, Sutil and Hamilton.

On the long runs it seems to be between Ferrari and Raikkonen for the best pace, with the Lotus perhaps a shade easier on the tyres. It also looks like Force India, especially Di Resta, are in good shape.

In P3 Vettel had a lap ruined by traffic so his pace is not perhaps the most representative, unhelpfully. Alonso was fastest, then Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Grosjean, Sutil, Di Resta, Rosberg and Hulkenberg. Massa, surprisingly, was just 11th.

Tyre wear will be critical for the race, so that's something else to watch. Red Bull have had worse degradation than other teams and the Lotus is nice to tyres, so that's worth considering.

Gary Anderson was of the view that Vettel's quick lap still wouldn't've been fast enough. Alonso was 4.5 for pole, which I backed immediately (hedge at evens), but his odds then lengthened (5.3 at the time of writing). So, I'd back at 4.5 or longer and hedge at evens (for the record it'll count as a 4.5 tip).

Updated extra bit: he's 5.5 at Ladbrokes. So, if you haven't bet yet, I'd advocate backing that and hedging on Betfair.

Several other potential bets interested me (backing either Force India to reach Q3, laying Button to do so) but none had appealing odds.

So a single, and unusually quick, tip. Alonso to get pole at 4.5, hedged at evens. Let's hope the Prancing Horse proves faster than the Red Bull.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 15 April 2013

Bahrain: early discussion

Yes, the Chinese Grand Prix was only yesterday but Bahrain is only a few days away, so the discussion starts now. After Bahrain there's a bit of a break to the European season, and in that gap I'll write a brief review of the season so far (as usual).

For what it's worth, here's my approximate running order for the teams:
Mercedes-Red Bull

Red Bull-Lotus

However, it's fair to say it's very tight, and that I could've written 'Raikkonen' instead of 'Lotus'. Grosjean needs to hurry up.

Bahrain is amongst the most boring of circuits and, without checking, I think it might've been the only race last year that was properly tedious. Cars tend to get spaced out very quickly, probably due to bad circuit design, and overtaking is harder than a man trapped in a lift with the Promiscuous Liaison Committee of the Swedish Nymphomaniac Association.

Historically it's been good for Ferrari (Massa especially) although recently, possibly due to the Prancing Horse being a bit lame, this has not been quite the case. They have a better car now, though. Upgrades will be minimal from China so pace should be the same, but the circuit works the rears more than the front tyres, the opposite of Shanghai (which is peculiar in this regard).

Anyway, time for me to stop rambling. Comments, insights, tips and guessing how Webber's car will mysteriously fail to finish the race are all welcome.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 14 April 2013

China: post-race analysis

A great race to watch, but the betting did not go so well. In short, my judgement was entirely wrong and the hedge didn't get matched. It was a tricky call, but I clearly leapt the wrong way.

Raikkonen had a shocker of a start and the two Ferraris had a flyer, as is so often the case. Webber started from the pits with brand new soft tyres.

The varying strategies makes it hard to give a proper chronological account of the race, but I'll try to cover the major points.

Hamilton looked off the pace, a little, at the start. He couldn't break away from Alonso (then second, with Massa third) and both Ferraris passed him at one corner. After the first stops of the soft chaps Hulkenberg led (annoyingly, this may've prevented the Vettel hedge getting matched) with Vettel second and Button third.

Alonso pitted before Massa, but when the Brazilian came out of the pits he was well down the field and, although he recovered somewhat, that did mark the end of his challenge for a podium.

Rosberg had a dire day. He fell down the order early on and then had some sort of mechanical issue and had to retire. Just as bad was Webber. He made good progress early on with his new soft tyres, but after a pit stop either something broke or a tyre was incorrectly attached. He was slowly returning to the pits when a rear tyre broke free and rolled across the track, right in front of Vettel.

To add insult to injury, Webber has a 3 place grid penalty for Bahrain due to a failed pass attempt on Vergne which resulted in a collision. It was perhaps a shade clumsy but I felt it was a racing incident.

Sutil also retired after he was taken roughly from behind by Gutierrez, whose approach to cornering speed at the hairpin can be most positively described as creatively optimistic.

Meanwhile at the front (in real terms if not track position) Alonso was flying, and a mile ahead of everybody else. He was told not to push after setting two or three fastest laps in a row, and reported back that he wasn't, which shows just how good the Ferrari was. Important to remember that China is all about wear on the front tyres. Maybe this will bode well for Hungary which is a circuit dominated by front end grip.

Behind Hamilton and Raikkonen were tussling for second and third, with the Finn ahead in the closing stages. Vettel was second on track but had to pit late on for the soft tyre. The last few laps were very exciting as he rapidly closed by 3-4s a lap on Hamilton, but just didn't make it by two-tenths on the line.

In the end, Button was fifth. That's pretty good considering the relative pace, of lack thereof, of the McLaren to the other top teams. In addition it's worth pointing out that Button went for 2 stops, whereas Vettel (just ahead) and Hulkenberg (tenth) went for 3. Hard to say which strategy was better in the end. It may be that Button's driving style and/or the degradation on the Red Bull dictated the strategy.

Massa got sixth, which is ok but no more than that, and Ricciardo should be very happy with seventh. Di Resta got a solid eighth, with Grosjean ninth and Hulkenberg tenth.

Hulkenberg may be a bit disappointed given he was running with Vettel for much of the race. This season Grosjean has had quieter starts, but also quieter races. He seems to have lost some pace, although that could be down to the new car/tyres.

After three races here are the standings:
Vettel 52
Raikkonen 49
Alonso 43
Hamilton 40
Massa 30
Webber 26

Given Alonso had a DNF in Malaysia he'll be very happy to be just nine points off the lead. I suspect the top three, possibly with Hamilton as well, will end up fighting for the title again.

Red Bull 78
Ferrari 73
Lotus 60
Mercedes 52

Because the Mercedes is perhaps half a step back on pace and Grosjean is a bit slow so far I suspect the title will be down to Red Bull and Ferrari, with Lotus and Mercedes battling for three and four. Personally, I'd be inclined to back Ferrari over Red Bull. The cars are comparable in terms of pace, but I think the two Ferrari drivers are working well and working together.

I'm a bit disappointed that my judgement was entirely wrong, but betting's very black and white, so at least I don't lose double my stake for being enormously incorrect. After a good start (with an uncharacteristic pre-qualifying race tip) the season has returned to the slightly dodgy tradition with which I tend to start F1 betting. However, I do think I've got a better handle on where the teams stack up, and there's unlikely to be such a vast yawning chasm between the two compounds in Bahrain, which should make the race, hopefully, easier to forecast.

Incidentally, half the field (about 6 cars) are under investigation for passing under yellow flags, which waved for a few laps near the hairpin at the end of the long straight. This includes both Red Bulls. Not sure of the penalty, if there is one, but a grid penalty or time added to the China result seem likeliest.

Bahrain is just next week, and as P3 ends at 10am I'm hoping to have a qualifying tip as well as one (or more) for the race.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 13 April 2013

China: pre-race

That must be one of the most boring qualifying sessions in recent years. On the betting side, I'm glad Massa was eminently hedgeable before the session because I doubt he would've been during it. I also wish I'd hedged a bit more to be green either way, but that's something to remember for next time.

Q1 saw the entire pit lane fall asleep. After about half the time was over they came out and we had 10 minutes of the usual business, with the pointless teams being joined, again, by Bottas and Gutierrez. Excepting Bianchi, the rookies do not seem to be shining this year.

Q2 was a bit more surprising as it saw both Force Indias jettisoned. Perez could only manage 12th (behind Di Resta and ahead of Sutil) with Maldonado and Vergne bottom of the timesheet. Fourteenth was occupied by Webber, as he suffered a dastardly fuel problem. It's not entirely clear what the situation is at the time of writing, but I'd expected him to be put to the back of the grid.

Q3 even managed to be dull. Nobody came out for the first half, although there was some interest when three drivers (Button, Vettel and Hulkenberg, who did well to make the last session) decided to go out on the medium tyre. Hamilton got a great pole, and Raikkonen claimed 2nd after flying in under the radar. Alonso could only manage 3rd, but he may well be happy with that given he beat Massa for the first time in five qualifying sessions. Rosberg, who missed out on some setup time due to a P3 problem was 4th then came Massa, Grosjean and Ricciardo, who did very well to reach the session at all. Button came 8th because he was the only chap who went out on the medium tyre and set a time (a comedy time 31 seconds off the pace, but still), whereas Vettel and Hulkenberg trundled around and didn't bother setting a lap time.

There's a huge divergence between the tyres despite them being adjacent in the quartet of Pirelli's dry range. The soft is crumbly like cheese and will not be the tyre of choice in the race. The medium is a bit slower but surprisingly durable.

The race is expected to be dry, so those starting on softs will probably pit pronto and those who opted for medium will probably try and leave the soft tyre until the very last laps. The Force Indias and Perez will lose, to a degree at least, the usual bonus of being top of the Q2 departure list because the three chaps ahead of them will start on the medium tyre (as Vettel and Hulkenberg did not set a time they could go for the soft tyre initially, but that would be rather a surprise).

Ferrari, and Massa in particular, seemed to be better on the soft tyres with high fuel in P2 than anyone else. This will help, but medium tyre pace and wear will matter more. That was pretty close amongst all the top teams although Ferrari seemed a bit off the pace. Mercedes had very bad soft tyre wear in P2, no idea if they managed to fix it later (they were good on the medium tyre, in terms of pace, however).

Interestingly, if you believe that starting on the medium gives a serious advantage, that would make McLaren and Force India contenders to top score, although Button sounded very downbeat (0.8s off the pace on medium) after qualifying. If it turns out that grid position matters more then Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari are set fair.

The race will be 56 laps, I think, with 4-10 laps expected for the first stint on softs with the medium expected to be good for circa 20 laps. So, a two-stopper seems on the cards, regardless of starting tyre, although three or four are possible.

Webber starts from the back after being penalised for lack of fuel. This does not mean he's out of the running even for a podium, although obviously it's a big setback.

I was thinking about looking at McLaren to top score or for Button to get a podium, but he sounded very downbeat during his post-qualifying interview (I missed the last 20 minutes and just caught it on the iPlayer). 0.8s off the pace on medium tyres is significant, although if he can be kinder to the tyres and make one fewer stop then that'd make up for it.

Apologies for the forthcoming ramble. I'm hoping it'll help me decide what to bet on.

The race, as is often the case, is very hard to call but we should have a clear(ish) idea of how it'll go initially. After the start the top 7 (all on the soft tyres with which they qualified) will pit fairly shortly (Horner estimated 4-10 laps). This will automatically mean that those from 8th and down (Button, Vettel, Hulkenberg et al.) will be in the lead. Now, the soft tyre is reputedly a second a lap faster, but degrades at about half a second a lap. This varies a bit and Massa was impressive on soft tyres in P2 but the broad picture is accurate. So, after 4-10 laps the top 7 on the grid will probably pit and come out into traffic (I imagine almost everyone 8 and lower will start on the medium tyre). Not sure how long a pit stop takes in China but about 18s give or take seems reasonable.

So, the traffic and potentially one fewer pit stop should give the medium-starters a strategic advantage. Weighed against that is the possible pace advantage of the Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari.

After the first stops of the softs we should expected Vettel, Button, Hulkenberg etc to lead the race for a few laps whilst they stay out and take advantage of their durable rubber.

It's very tough to try and call whether the top 3 on the grid stand a better chance of victory than the highest-placed medium tyre drivers. I've decided (after prolonged contemplation) to go for Vettel for the win at 7, with a hedge set up at 2.5.

There's the 50/50 possibility that the medium-starters will have a pit stop in hand or just benefit from the soft tyre being used last (when fuel loads are light and degradation is a little less), and I think it's reasonably likely that he'll either be leading or in the top 3 after the initial stops of those who begin on the soft tyre, which will hopefully see the hedge matched.

Hamilton made a slight jibe about Vettel being a lucky driver. Let's hope that's true.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 12 April 2013

China: pre-qualifying

As suggested in the comments (by Mr. Nigel, I think) Massa did indeed prove to be faster in practice than the markets suspected. More on that below.

The weather for both sessions was entirely dry, and is expected to remain so for the entire weekend.

In P1 Rosberg led Hamilton, and then Webber led Vettel. Alonso was fifth, followed by Button, Massa, Sutil, Grosjean and Di Resta.

In P2 Massa was fastest, followed by Raikkonen and Alonso. Rosberg, Webber and Button were next, followed by Hamilton, Sutil, Di Resta and Vettel.

So, the Force Indias seem to have kept their good pace, although we'll have to wait and see how their pit stops go.

The tyres are soft and medium. There's a pretty substantial pace difference so, at the sharp end, qualifying will be on the softs. However, the medium tyre lasts far better, so 2 stops seem possible. Starting 11th or 12th the drivers may be tempted by going for a long medium stint. The potential problem is that they'll be slower, get passed and end up not making much headway. On the other hand, they'll have perhaps a pit stop in hand, which is a big advantage.

I caught the back end of P2 and it seems that the Ferraris are perhaps best in terms of outright pace. However, because medium tyre pace is pretty close between all the top teams this means that there could be an extra premium on qualifying and the start. Mercedes also look good, with Rosberg ahead of Hamilton in both sessions to date.

However, it would be foolish to write off Vettel's prospects (although Webber could be in with a chance of pole). It's interesting that at Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull the driver who has not won a championship is putting in better times than the one who has (although Alonso was faster than Massa in P1).

At the moment I suspect Massa, Vettel, Webber and Rosberg are the prime contenders for pole.

McLaren's looking alright on the longer runs but it's qualifying pace is not looking quite so good.

No tip for qualifying, as P3 is 4am to 5am and qualifying itself starts at 7am.

Massa may actually have a shot at the win, if he qualifies well and Alonso's a bit further back the team can hardly afford to tell him to back off. He was something like 38 for the win and 32 for pole. I put on a tiny sum for the pole and am looking to hedge before P3 (probably do it so that I'm evens for any other winner and ahead for Massa).

Good to see the pb2 early discussion thread yielding a couple of good trading bets.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 8 April 2013

China: early discussion

Well, it's three weeks from Malaysia to the next race (this weekend), but I'd be surprised if Webber's best friends forever with Vettel. Given Red Bull appear to be offering no punishment at all Horner looks pretty weak. Even Schumacher obeyed team orders on the rare occasions they were against him (I believe he did this the year he broke his leg and Irvine was Ferrari's hope for the title).

In other news, Claire Williams has been appointed deputy team principal and heir apparent to her father, Sir Frank. However, from what I've read this is not a pat on the head sort of appointment, and she really deserves it. So, in a few years (assuming Kaltenborn still leads Sauber) we could have two female team principals.

Early forecasts all point to the race being dry.

Speculation, opinions, predictions and the like all welcome in the comments. [NB I've been unable to get confirmation, despite asking a few times, that the threads are being monitored by a moderator, although last time round the spam was pleasingly axed pretty quickly].

Morris Dancer