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

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