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


Peter said...

An excellent piece from you Morris and I would say a very wise selection in going for a Vettel win at 7 decimal (6/1). It's unprecedented to see him at odds as long as this and typically he's usually around 3/1 in the pre-race win markets.

Such apparent generosity from the bookies seems to relate entirely to his NINTH position on the grid, but they are overlooking the fact that this was principally of his own choosing on account of his tyre selection. They seem to have forgotten that he was sitting in a close SECOND position in Q2 showing his true competitive pace!

I'd already backed him at shorter odds yesterday but I'm happy to top-up if only to insure against my spread bet position on his season's points should he indeed go and win tomorrow.

Speaking of my spread bets, my stop loss level has been reached on Bottas and I've therefore closed my bet involving a loss of approx £60. Not good, but I see absolutely no prospect of any improvement in prospect from either the driver or the Williams team.

Morris Dancer said...

Thanks, Mr. Putney.

Worth mentioning (which I managed to forget despite a very long piece) that ninth may be on the dirty side of the track (odd side is clean down to a certain point), although that shouldn't play a huge role. Hope not, anyway.

Bad luck on Bottas. He was expected by many (not just me) to be the rookie of the season and the Williams looked pretty good, pre-season.

Peter said...

"Bad luck on Bottas. He was expected by many (not just me) to be the rookie of the season"

Tell me about it - I wish I'd bought Daniel Ricciardo's season's points instead. Listening to Eddie Jordan this morning, he rates him as being destined to become one of the great drivers of the future.

Nigel said...

I quite like the long Vettel odds, but if he gets stuck behind Button, it could be game over - and would likely spoil your chances of laying the bet.
I've put a very small bet on to hedge my Hamilton position, but I remain skeptical.

Amusingly, just about all of the top qualifiers are playing down their race chances, with the exception of Rosberg who is quite bullish about the Mercedes race pace.
Looking at the weekend's practice times, I agree with his analysis, and am tempted to back him for a podium. Instead, I've put another small bet on for him to win at 16/1, which seems exceptionally generous for what is probably the fastest car in the race.
Although he might lose out on the first stop, as Hamilton has first call on strategy virtue of his qualifying position, it's equally possible that he stops even earlier for the undercut.

I was previously rather doubtful about the possibility of a really short first stint, but thinking about it some more, it could be workable.

Given the durability of the mediums, and the apparent lack of a significant drop off in pace over their first 10-15 laps, a stop as early as lap 3 or 4 could still work with a three stop strategy with three new sets of the prime. As a bonus, there ought to be little need to nurse the tyres - a major advantage in dealing with traffic.

Dropping back into the pack is not ideal, but doing so early actually has some benefits.
The quick cars should have no problem at all disposing of the back-of-the-grid cars, since the pace disparity is huge, and...DRS.
The only midfield runners likely to present a problem are the Force Indias with their Mercedes powered top speeds. An early stop will mean they won't be encountered on track for at least 10 laps of Rosberg's second stint, by which time their tyres will be getting rather old and the field will have spread out, both of which circumstances will make using the DRS zones that much easier.

The undercut might just enable Rosberg to get ahead of the whole field.
I'm not predicting that it will happen, but 16/1 ???

If you don't quite buy any of that, a podium might still be worth a look.

Morris Dancer said...


But if the Mercedes is that good, won't Hamilton stand a rather better chance? Raikkonen and Alonso won't be easy to beat either.

And yet... I must admit that's pretty tempting. I may place a crafty fiver on Rosberg. Your calls so far this week have proven as cunning as a fox that was recently made chief cunning officer at the Institute for Cunning.

Nigel said...

"But if the Mercedes is that good, won't Hamilton stand a rather better chance"

Yes - but I have a decent bet on him already (back when he was 9/1). The Rosberg bet is just a few quid at hefty odds.
If the Mercedes is indeed the quickest car, Rosberg only needs to get a bit lucky with a very early stop, and he could be in the lead.

That's the nice thing about an early bet at longish odds coming good - you can afford to cover various eventualities.

Morris Dancer said...

But the nasty thing about early bets is that the assumptions built into the bet could prove to be wildly wrong.

That's why I prefer betting nearer the time, when there's the most information available.

(That said I am mildly amused by the 5.5 or whatever it was winning tip on Ferrari in Australia, when I basically guessed so I didn't have 0 tips for the weekend. My very clever and well-informed tip on Massa in Malaysia, however, was wrong as wrong can be).

Nigel said...

The other worry I have about my Hamilton bet (and why I thought about the possibility of the Rosberg undercut) is the danger he spends too many laps defending his position from Alonso and Raikkonnen, while the pace on the options drops below that of the following prime shod pack.

In some respects, it would be best for him to be passed early, so he doesn't stay out too long on the option tyres.

Morris Dancer said...

It'll be interesting to see how many overtakes there are on track (barring those due to wildly differing tyres). There were already a lot of marbles during P2. Going off-line could be rather brave.

Nigel said...

The truly nasty thing about early bets is that they are rarely right.
For once I got lucky, as practice pace translated to qualifying performance.

Agreed - it should be a fun race.

If the Force Indias are as quick as I expect, and one or both of them decide to two stop, it could get very interesting. Overtaking them could prove to be quite tough.

Webber might have an advantage over Vettel, as he's probably starting from the pitlane, and can tweak the setup for race pace and top speed.

Nigel said...

Well, that was very disappointing.

Hedged my Hamilton bet a bit, but not impressed by the Mercedes race strategy.

Had they pitted Hamilton a lap earlier (or had he done so himself), he would probably have won the race. The extra lap on options would have cost them nothing.
As it was, they lost track position, and Hamilton spent most of the race in traffic, often behind cars on fresh tyres, with the resultant effects on his tyre performance.
They also completely screwed Rosberg's race. As I suggested yesterday, he should have stopped as early as lap 2 or 3.

I still think Mercedes probably had the best race pace (if only marginally). They didn't give themselves a chance to show it, though.

The whole race was one in which the undercut worked (as Raikkonnen proved with his last stop).

Fantastic race by Alonso, who did not put a wheel wrong.

Peter said...

"Had they pitted Hamilton a lap earlier (or had he done so himself), he would probably have won the race. The extra lap on options would have cost them nothing."

One could of course say the same thing about Vettel - had he pitted onto softs a lap earlier (around the same time as did the ever canny Button), then he would assuredly have pushed Hamilton off the podium by the finish instead of finishing barely a fifth of a second behind him in fourth place.

Peter said...

..... Indeed he might even have caught Raikkonen to take 2nd place!

Nigel said...

"One could of course say the same thing about Vettel"

Difficult to say - the softs degraded so quickly he might have got ahead and then been re-passed.
Red Bull brought him in when they did because they knew pretty well how long the tyres would last - when the options go, they do so very rapidly.

Mercedes case was entirely different - a clear blunder, IMO.