Sunday, 26 May 2013

Monaco: post-race analysis

Red race, and one that sounded criminally boring.

The start was textbook. In fact, the first seven held their positions. Sutil lost his nose and Button correspondingly got promoted to eighth. Perez cut the chicane to keep his position, and was told by the team to give it up (perhaps pre-empting a penalty), which put Button up to seventh.

Di Resta was pitted early when Pic’s car stopped (and then burst into flames) near the pit entry, but no safety car came out, and he was dropped back down the grid (although he did benefit when it came out later).

On lap 30 Massa had a crash very similar to that he had in practice. The safety car emerged, at which point Mercedes were slightly compromised as they had to pit, which meant Hamilton losing a few seconds (and then places) because Rosberg was still in the lead. Sheer bad luck for Hamilton, who dropped from second to fourth.

The safety car stayed out for quite a few laps, which was perplexing. At this stage it was unclear whether another stop would be necessary.

On lap 46 there was a crash involving Maldonado and Chilton which tore into the softer barriers, so that the barrier material largely obscured the track. This prompted a red flag.

This enabled the drivers to change for fresh tyres whilst waiting on the grid for the race to restart, unfortunately.

Red Bull were tremendously lucky with both incidents. The safety car allowed them to pass Hamilton, and the red flag gave them a much needed tyre change, whereas the Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari *may* have been able to get to the end without another stop.

The race resumed at 2.35pm behind the safety car, with most cars on the supersoft.

Anderson reckoned Alonso was competitive on softs, but very poor on the supersoft tyre.

Ricciardo and Grosjean collided, creating much debris on the track and prompting another safety car.

Perez was doing many slightly dodgy passes. He tried one on Raikkonen, the Finn had none of it and blocked him, damaging Perez’s front wing. However, Raikkonen then suffered a puncture and had to pit.

In the end, Perez had to retire and Raikkonen scraped into the final points position, having previously been in fifth.

Perfect race from Rosberg who secures a deserved win, Vettel and Webber were fast but also benefited enormously from the various incidents.

Hamilton was unlucky due to the safety car timing (not unlike Australia in 2012, actually) to be down in fourth. Sutil’s fifth was brilliant. Unlike Perez, his passing was rather more considered. Button will be pleased with sixth (and that Perez got nothing) and Alonso will be disappointed with a surprisingly poor race pace to finish seventh.

Vergne got a solid eighth, and Di Resta, having qualified only seventeenth, got ninth. Raikkonen fought back to gain but a single point.

I’m posting this prior to the highlights (I may watch them just to see what I make of Perez’s passing and the various other incidents), but from the radio it sounded as exciting as watching beige paint dry in an old people’s home. With a few exceptions (Force India, Raikkonen) there was sod all passing, a procession of a race and the safety cars/red flags even robbed us of any tactical cunning which could’ve seen varying pit stop strategies shuffle the pack a bit.

The Raikkonen bet may’ve stood a chance but for the red flag. Vettel was told by his engineer that it was touch and go regarding another stop, but the red flag allowed an extra free change. It’s a bit frustrating, not only because the bet lost (hedge was unmatched) but also because I don’t know what would’ve happened. It’s a coin toss situation: either Raikkonen would’ve easily passed the Red Bulls or he wouldn’t, but we’ll never know now.

In terms of performance, Ferrari had a shocker. Alonso had poor pace throughout and actually went backwards (despite Perez retiring and Raikkonen pitting late on) from his grid slot. Meanwhile Massa retired with another crash.

Force India should be chuffed. Sutil’s been very fast during his comeback but dogged by rotten luck. Bad luck was absent today for him and he made the most of it to achieve a great fifth. Di Resta also put in a good performance after a very poor qualifying.

Mercedes will be happiest, though. Not only did they get the win, their pace looked good. Rosberg was peerless all weekend, and thoroughly deserved the victory.

In title terms Vettel stole a march on his rivals. Throughout the race (excepting the possibility of a pit stop pass that never happened for Raikkonen) he was ahead of the Finn and Alonso. The Spaniard’s poor pace and the Finn’s ill fortune meant that Vettel significantly extended his lead at the top of the table, and Red Bull did likewise for the Constructors’.

Vettel 107
Raikkonen 86
Alonso 78

Red Bull 164
Ferrari 123
Lotus 112
Mercedes 109

Thankfully, the Canadian Grand Prix, which tends to be rather more interesting, is in a fortnight. The BBC coverage even involves fancy moving pictures as well as sound.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Monaco: pre-race

A sudden rain shower shortly before qualifying meant that the first part of qualifying was on intermediates. Grosjean managed to get his car fixed in time, but Massa did not and will start last.

In the soggy first session we lost Di Resta, Pic, Gutierrez, Chilton, Bianchi and Massa. That’s tremendously disappointing for Di Resta, and for Massa (who never got to put in a lap). However, Van Der Garde will be delighted to escape Q1 for the first time (I think).

More rain started falling before and during Q2. With a few minutes to go the rain eased, Van Der Garde switched to supersofts and was then followed by everyone else. Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Bottas, Van Der Garde and Maldonado left qualifying at this stage. Pretty disappointing for Grosjean.

Q3 began on supersofts, but rain started to fall halfway through. I thought Vettel, who led after the dry first half, was guaranteed pole. Happily, Rosberg nabbed it at the end, just a tiny bit ahead of Hamilton. Vettel and Webber share the second row, with Raikkonen and Alonso behind. Perez and Sutil follow, with Button and Vergne rounding out the top 10.

So, the tip came off, which I was very surprised at given the weather conditions. I’m also pretty pleased that I backed (small stakes and not tipped) the Mercedes’ drivers at 8 each to win.

Happily the weather forecast for tomorrow is entirely dry, so let’s hope the elements don’t intervene as they did in qualifying. A few ideas for bets did present themselves, but the odds were surprisingly poor. I happen to think the Silver Arrows will do rather better than in recent races and would be slightly surprised if they don’t end up with at least one chap on the podium.

Finding the race very hard to bet on. I suspect that from the line the top 3 will remain more or less as they are. Webber could well lose a place or two (he starts poorly and Alonso tends to start well).

Given a dry race that means we’ll be in for a procession. One or more safety cars is likely, and the timing could provide cover for pit stops. If there isn’t one until later on then it’s possible a single-stop for Raikkonen could deliver him victory. I was very tempted by this, safety car timing, traffic and Lotus potentially being a little off the pace put me off.

I suspect it’ll be a procession (good for the Silver Arrows), but finding a bet with remotely decent odds is rather difficult.

In the end I backed Raikkonen for a podium at 2.86, hedged at 1.4. I suspect the potential for an extra pit stop could play into his hands, and there’s the opportunity for him to pass Webber off the line. He’s also highly consistent, which rather helps when the boundary of the track is steel.

Well, that took a while to come up with. I hope the hedge gets matched now.

Morris Dancer

Monaco: pre-qualifying

Gary Anderson said during practice that the tyre woe for Mercedes could disappear in Monaco. In P1 Red Bull were locking their brakes up easily.

P1 had Rosberg fastest, followed closely by Alonso and then Grosjean, Massa, Hamilton, Maldonado, Webber, Button, Perez and Vettel.

In P2 the Silver Arrows did even better, with Rosberg top, then Hamilton (three-tenths down the road), Alonso, Massa, Webber, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Button, Vettel and Di Resta.

However, Grosjean did have a crash in P2, and will be glad that in Monaco Fridays are a free day (the above sessions occur on Thursday), giving more time to mend the car.

At this stage I’m thinking of splitting a pole bet between Rosberg and Hamilton. The Ferraris also look good. Vettel seems quite unhappy with his pace and was 0.3s and 0.6s off of his team mate (in one session he lacked KERS, however). If he does badly (without traffic) in P3 there’s the off-chance of laying him for Q3, but that’s unlikely (although worth keeping an eye on because the odds would be tasty).

Aerodynamics matter less in Monaco, so this may help McLaren. They won’t be competing for pole, but they should be better than usual.

There’s a small chance (30%) of very light rain in qualifying. It shouldn’t disrupt things much, if it arrives at all.

In P3 Vettel had to abort his fastest lap. It’s unlikely it would’ve beaten Rosberg, but it probably would’ve been fast (a second Grosjean crash produced a late red flag preventing Vettel having another crack at it). The red flag means we don’t have an absolutely accurate picture for qualifying. However, the standings were Rosberg, Grosjean, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Webber, Di Resta, Maldonado, and Hulkenberg.

I’ve backed Rosberg for pole at 1.95, no hedge. He was fastest in every practice session and often by a significant margin. Vettel may challenge, but I don’t think he would’ve been fast enough in P3. Things can always change in Monaco, but unless there’s an accident or another out of the blue event I think he’s very likely to get another pole position.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Monaco: early discussion

Pirelli are to change their tyre compounds for Canada, which is the race after Monaco:

Now, the difference to the pecking order obviously depends on how big the change is, but here’s how I see it playing out:
Winners - Red Bull, Mercedes
Losers - Lotus, Ferrari

If I’m right and Pirelli overcook the changes we could see a very tight, interesting title race devolve into a Red Bull procession. I really hope that doesn’t happen, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

During the Spain-Monaco interval I backed Red Bull for the Constructors’ at 1.9, because I was green for Ferrari and Lotus and wanted to cover that possibility. I also put small sums (NB this is not a tip) on Hamilton and Rosberg to win in Monaco.

Although 4 stops in Spain was excessive it’s worth pointing out that every team has the same tyres and if Lotus have made theirs work very well then fiddling with the compounds now is unfairly penalising them. For all Red Bull’s bleating they are leading both title races.

As Gary Anderson wrote: “In 2011, Vettel won the Spanish Grand Prix. He also made four pit stops and there were 77 pit stops in the entire race. There were no complaints from Red Bull then.”

However, since then the FIA has stated that changes to the tyres can only occur to help safety (in this case reducing the risk of the dramatic delamination  a few drivers have seen). So, with luck, this will minimise the impact upon the pecking order.

It’s also been announced that in 2015 McLaren will switch to Honda engines:

Many BBC chaps reckoned that Mercedes could be the team to watch in Monaco, as the third sector of Spain is apparently a very good guide to Monaco pace and the Silver Arrows were fastest in that sector.

Your thoughts, tips and insights are all welcome in the comments below. (NB P1 and P2 are on Thursday rather than Friday, as is the norm for Monaco).

Morris Dancer

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The EU and Britain

The EU

The EU is in crisis.  Scrub that, the EU is in crises.  It is currently undergoing at least four different crises simultaneously:

1.     An economic growth crisis
2.     A debt crisis
3.     A crisis of purpose
4.     A democratic crisis

Others will probably add to this list.  These are lousy times for the EU.

The first two will probably sort themselves out, sooner or later (my money is on later).  Their significance is mainly as mood music for the other two.  When times are good, the public won’t care very much whether legislation has a true mandate or whether the EU has a clear way forward.  But when times are bad, the public mood will turn sour and every aspect will be examined in minute detail.  This is what is happening now.

So for me, the two important crises are the crisis of purpose and the democratic crisis.  Let’s take these in order.

Crisis of purpose

Since its foundation in the 1950s, the EU has had overlapping purposes of varying degrees of salience at varying times:

1.     To foster peaceful co-operation between its member states
2.     To act as a bulwark against Communism
3.     To help its poorer members become more economically developed
4.     To develop economic prosperity for its members
5.     To project European presence and set European standards for a wider world

In the immediate post-war generation, peaceful co-operation was incredibly important.  Continental Europe had seen three wars between Germany and France in 75 years, and the continent had been devastated.  But time has passed, and it is now nearly 70 years since the end of the Second World War.  Only the very oldest European citizens remember the war, and the thought of war between member EU states (certainly in the west) is barely conceivable.  In the hierarchy of wants of international politics, peace is now taken as read. 

The Berlin Wall fell nearly 25 years ago.  Whatever the EU is for now, it is not against Communism.

The EU has historically done well at helping its poorer member states become more economically developed.  But the economic growth crisis and the debt crisis have put these achievements in jeopardy.  Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus would not regard the EU as offering them much on this front at present.  So the two economic crises feed into the crisis of purpose.

And so they do with the fourth purpose.  For nearly 60 years, the EU has encouraged much greater trade between its member states – mostly successfully.  But at a time when economic growth in member states is weak, non-existent or worse, that purpose looks thin.

What this means is that in practice, most EU citizens can see only one aspect of the EU functioning at present, which is the projection of the EU presence onto a wider world.  This is not healthy for any institution, because the public will reasonably conclude that the prime beneficiaries of the EU are the politicians and the bureaucrats. 

This in turn leads onto...

The democratic crisis

The EU is an unwieldy beast, owing to its topsy-like development.  That’s not that unusual – many national states grew in a similar way (and quite a few of them had revolutions to establish the boundaries between different competing interests).  But different decisions in the EU require agreement between member states in different proportions, votes of the EU Parliament of different proportions or combinations of the two.  We have never been given a clear underlying principle as to when the EU should decide to intervene or through what mechanism – because there is none.

As a result, a lot of decisions get taken in the EU without any clear public backing for the mechanism under which they are taken.  At a domestic level, voters are used to the idea that they might not support the current government but that government has a mandate for doing what it is doing.  Citizens do not identify particularly at an EU-wide level, particularly when decisions are made that conflict with national priorities.

This has always been a problem for the EU, but is especially a problem at a time when voters don’t see many tangible benefits from the EU.


So far, I have mentioned Britain only once – in the title.  This is quite deliberate.  In Britain, far too much time is expended on considering Britain’s problems with the EU, when the big story at the moment is the EU’s problems.  And Britain’s optimal relationship with a successful EU would be a very different proposition from Britain’s optimal relationship with a struggling EU.

Britain has always had a different view of the varying purposes of the EU that I listed above from other member states.  It was never devastated by war in the way that France and Germany had been, because it was never invaded.  Britain was always more outward-looking than other member states, owing in large part to its history of Empire.  It was fiercely anti-Communist when this was relevant, and approved of helping poorer European countries (it still does) but this was a second order aim for it.

Britain was always in it primarily for the money – though it was happy to project European presence onto a wider world if that helped Britain remain relevant and influential.  So while the EU was prospering, it was able to put up with the empire-building regulation that came out of Brussels.  It was part of the tariff for admission for access to a more deeply integrated community.  The four fundamental freedoms were of great importance to Britain.

But the EU is now stalled economically.  Britain also is flatlining.  Does Britain continue to benefit from the EU or could it do better elsewhere? 

The answer to this question does not lie in Britain.  The answer lies in where the EU would be heading with or without Britain.

Without Britain, the EU would almost certainly become more protectionist.  One of the main voices in favour of free trade would have been removed from the EU.  The EU would become more French-influenced and more southern.  It would be more explicitly anti-banker and anti-City.  Whether or not we maintained some form of free trade arrangement with the EU (within the EEA, EFTA or entirely freestanding, and I expect we would), the scope of that arrangement would probably not be as great as it otherwise would be, and we could expect to see soft barriers put in Britain’s way.  These barriers would be especially strong in the area of services, which is particularly unfortunate given that the services sector of Britain’s economy is its strongest suit.

So we should definitely stay in?  Not so fast.  We need to consider where the EU would be heading with Britain.  And the direction of travel at present is also alarming.  The Eurozone has been integrating rapidly in the last couple of years – it has had no choice – and is going to need to do more.  With the continuing need for fiscal transfers between Eurozone member states, there is going to be a need for more enforceable financial discipline.  This in turn is likely to lead to more integration of taxation.  The financial transaction tax is likely to be only the start.  The Eurozone states will – unless the matter is addressed vigorously right now – inevitably pre-decide matters among themselves, leaving those outside to scrabble to form a blocking minority.  Progress without the Eurozone bloc would be impossible.  Britain would only ever be a brake in future.

Worse, Britain has lost a lot of influence within the EU in recent years.  Other EU member states are now ignoring past conventions of not overriding member states in areas where they are pre-eminent, at least so far as Britain’s financial services industry is concerned.  This is in large part Britain’s own fault, but the rest of the EU is also being shortsighted.  If they want to keep Britain as a member, they have to reach a stable accommodation with Britain which allows Britain to opt out of many aspects of developing EU law far more easily than it can do at present. 

And there’s the key word: if.  Other EU member states have not really engaged with the question whether they want Britain to remain in the EU.  They have got very used to tantrums from London, and have quite enough other problems to be getting on with without worrying about how the world looks from across the Channel.

But the problem is not confined to Britain.  Other non-Eurozone countries will be looking for similar protection against Eurozone dominance.  So whether the EU likes it or not, it is going to have to decide how to accommodate those member states who do not wish to or cannot join the Eurozone.  It is hardly as if they are all supplicants.  Sweden and Denmark are in a very different position from Hungary and Romania.

This goes right the way back to my original point about the EU’s crises, and in particular its crisis of purpose.  What is the EU there for?  The EU needs to revitalise the concepts of peaceful co-operation and developing economic prosperity for its members: all of its members.  If it wants to develop a European-wide demos, it needs to make sure that it works on a European-wide basis, rather than for a few preferred member states.  The concept of subsidiarity needs to be revisited with much more intellectual rigour – and then observed strictly.  That might be enshrined in law by retreating in quite a few areas from the idea of Qualified Majority Voting back to voting by unanimity.  This would result in less law, but law that was not vigorously opposed at national level.  If we want the EU to have the moral as well as the legal authority to intervene in member states, it must intervene more judiciously.

Is the EU capable of such change?  Candidly, I doubt it.  But it needs to be tried.  What if that fails?  Much depends on how it fails. 

Britain could have joined the intellectual leadership of the EU if it could resist the temptation on every occasion to throw rocks at the other member states.  But there are too many otherwise-sensible British people whose pupils dilate and throw back their heads to howl, the moment the full moon of the EU appears from behind the clouds.

So I find myself, rather to my surprise, believing that David Cameron has got essentially the right policy on the next stage with the EU, though I should stress that I don’t believe that he’s got to that position by careful consideration of the geopolitical concerns but purely through (largely misconceived) attempts at internal party management.  But sometimes people can do the right thing for the wrong reasons.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Spain: post-race analysis

That was a frustrating race. As a spectator, the first half was pretty good but the latter half less so as substantial gaps opened up at the sharp end (although there was still some action further down the field). As a gambler, I’m also frustrated. Raikkonen had a slightly bad start and that may’ve compromised his victory hopes, but even if he’d started better and still finished second I think he would’ve gotten much closer and the hedge may’ve been matched. On race pace the Ferrari and Lotus were fairly closely matched. Hard to be certain if it was just bad luck or also a misjudgement.

Another red weekend, I’m afraid. Although things appear less topsy-turvy than last year I’ve not been doing all that well. Still, at least I got one qualifying bet right (hedged, anyway) and the result was nice for my title bets (more on that near the end).

The start was almost as bad as it could’ve been for me. Both Vettel and Alonso passed Hamilton, who had an unusually poor start, whereas Raikkonen dropped a place and got trapped behind the slower car for some time. Rosberg, at least, held up Vettel and Alonso initially before beginning an inexorable march backwards.

Button had a bad start, going backwards, and so did Webber (unsurprisingly). Perez leapt forward a few places but it may be Massa who had the best of starts. From 9th (demoted there due to impeding someone in qualifying) he leapt up to about sixth which he briefly duelled over with Perez before securing.

The Mercedes is a strange beast. Untouchable in qualifying, it was appalling in the race. Hamilton despondently muttering on the radio “Now I’ve been passed by a Williams” rather summed it up.

The Ferrari, by contrast, looked extremely nice. Both Alonso and Massa started well and then capitalised upon that, aided by a very fast, reliable car. Lotus is slightly harder to assess because Raikkonen was held up by Hamilton somewhat early on and he ran a different strategy (3 stops rather than 4) compared to the prancing horse. Grosjean’s suspension failed, forcing him to retire and meaning we can’t look at his pace/position for comparison.

The Red Bull was clearly the third best car today. On the same strategy as Raikkonen and with an early advantage due to a better start Vettel ended up some way down the road in 4th.

Mercedes needs to sort their car out. Three poles in a row, the best car in qualifying and just the one podium, with zero wins. It’s not good enough. Rosberg slid from pole to 6th and Hamilton went all the way from 2nd to 12th. Even allowing for a dodgy start that’s atrocious.

Force India had an ok day, with Di Resta finishing 7th, although Sutil was only 13th. McLaren should be fairly happy with 8th and 9th and no on-track fireworks between their drivers and Ricciardo did well to nab the final point.

I feel a bit sorry for Gutierrez, who qualified about 16th and then got a 3 place grid penalty and just missed out on the points in 11th. However, that will encourage him and it’s good to see him showing some pace.

Raikkonen was 9.3s off Alonso at the end. I do feel that he could’ve contested the win but for the poor start, but that sort of thing happens and it’s all part of the game, so there’s no point complaining.

On the plus side, I think it’s bloody mental that he’s still 7.2 for the title. The title now appears to be a 3 horse race. Vettel and Alonso are 2.5 (ish) each. Although already green on Raikkonen I’m going to put a few more quid on him because those odds are stupid. He’s had a win and something like four podiums. Here are the driver standings:
Vettel 89
Raikkonen 85
Alonso 72

Red Bull 131
Ferrari 117
Lotus 111

I’ve also (previously) backed Ferrari at about 3.9 for the Constructors’. If the price drops a little I’ll see about hedging that.

It’s slightly ironic that the bet I almost didn’t make was the only one that remotely paid off. Right now hedging is still green but (overall) a bet-and-forget approach would put you into the red. Not too pleased with how things are going, but hopefully Monaco can be a little better.

Apparently the third sector of Spain is a great guide for Monaco pace, so that may be useful for qualifying betting. The next race is in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Spain: pre-race

Well, that was immensely surprising and interesting from a spectator’s perspective and immensely disappointing from a betting one. I was more confident than usual of Vergne getting through. He matched Di Resta’s pace in two sectors but failed in the third and got nudged out. The Massa tip was just a big misjudgement on my part, but the hedge got partially met, to the extent that that bet ended up being green.

Without hedging it’s s straightforward two stake loss, and with it was a small loss (for stakes of £10 the loss was £1.46). That’s not abysmal, but at the same time I’d rather have a better result than avoiding calamity.

Kudos to Mr. Nigel, whose 11/1 spot on Rosberg in the early discussion commentary proved rather inspired.

Q1 was largely predictable, although both Williams got knocked out for the first time this year.

Q2 was very tight. Button had a pretty atrocious performance to finish 14th, ahead of the Saubers, Sutil was a bit below par in 13th for Force India and the two Toro Rossos finished 10th and 11th. Interestingly Perez managed to break into the top 10, and outqualified his team mate for the first time.

Q3 was a bit of a shock. Mercedes locked out the front row, and the commentators pointed out that the last team to do this was the Mercedes forerunner Brawn. However, I wonder whether they’ll be able to make it in the race. Contrary to what I’d heard in P2 in P3 Gary Anderson was saying the fastest chaps on the long runs were Raikkonen, Alonso and Rosberg (although the latter lacked a bit of consistency). I was also a bit surprised Vettel managed 3rd, after which came Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, Webber, Perez and Di Resta.

I suspect the Ferraris and Lotus will move forward during the race. It’ll be interesting to see how well Mercedes can hold on. Indeed, that’ll be the key to the result and also critical for betting.

So, let’s take a scientific(ish) approach. The hard compound is new, so we don’t have a perfect comparison, but two other races have used the medium-hard arrangement: Malaysia, and Bahrain.

In Malaysia, Hamilton qualified 4th and finished 3rd, Rosberg qualified 6th and finished 4th.

In Bahrain, Hamilton qualified 9th and finished 5th, and Rosberg qualified 1st and finished 9th.

Here are the other two races:

In China, Hamilton qualified 1st and finished 3rd, and Rosberg qualified 4th and failed to finish due to reliability issues.

In Australia Hamilton qualified 3rd and finished 5th, and Rosberg qualified 6th but failed to finish due to reliability issues.

Hamilton has gained 1 place, gained 4, lost 2 and lost 2 again, meaning that from 4 starts and finishes he’s gained a net 1 place.

Rosberg has only finished twice (not his fault the other times), and in those he gained 2 places and lost 8, meaning a net loss of 6.

Overall, in six finishes, Mercedes has lost 5 places. Both times the team has had pole previously the pole-sitter went backwards in the race. Every time one of them has qualified 3rd or above they’ve gone backwards in the race [in fairness, you can’t exactly go forwards if you’re 1st].

However, in Barcelona all but once in the last 20 odd years has the winner come from the front row. So, we’re going to see something interesting. Either Mercedes will finally manage to sort out their tyre issues, or we’ll get a winner from further back.

Last year Schumacher still had gremlins and Rosberg lost a single place, but in 2011 they did a little better (Schumacher rose from 10th to 6th and Rosberg stayed in 7th). So, perhaps the Mercedes will have better pace than is widely expected. Hmm.

Andrew Benson (BBC F1 chap) had some handy tweets about their race pace:
“Re Merc race pace. P2. ALO med tyre race sim avg 1:29.906; ROS 1:31.85. Fastest lap during it: ALO 1:29.073; ROS 1:30.880. Fuel, yes, but...”

Despite being probably the best qualifiers (certainly around the top) Mercedes have not only had zero wins so far, but fewer podiums than Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari.

Based on that, their tyre wear issues, the long run to the start (high potential for getting passed off the line), and his strong race pace I’m going to back Raikkonen for the win at 4.8, with a hedge at 2.2. He’s also improved at every race from grid to flag, except China where he started and finished 2nd. If the Mercedes eat their tyres he should have the race pace to beat Vettel, with luck.

Anyway, let’s hope the race is nice and green.

Morris Dancer

Spain: pre-qualifying

The race is expected to be dry, and the compounds are medium and hard this weekend.

Practice 1 was slightly spoiled because it was rather soggy at first, then dried later. In the latter stage the rapidly drying nature of the track meant that times (and gaps between them) were somewhat exaggerated, limiting its use as an indication of speed. However, Ferrari will still be happy to get a 1-2 (Alonso fastest), followed by Vergne, Grosjean, Sutil, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Rosberg and Di Resta.

P2, thankfully was nice and dry. The top 10 were Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Raikkonen, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Sutil, Vergne and Di Resta. At this stage it looks like a 3 horse race, with the Red Bulls and Ferraris vying for pole and Lotus a shade slower over a single lap but very competitive in race trim.

I saw only a tiny bit of P1 but almost all of P2, and decided to try a slightly new tactic by making a few notes. The commentators were James Allen and Alan McNish, who seemed to offer quite a lot of interesting opinions/insights.

On high fuel with the medium tyre Vettel’s times were about 1:29.5 to 1:30.3, whereas Grosjean managed a lap of 1:28.4 and several faster than Vettel’s best. Mercedes suffered badly, with (if I heard correctly) times of around 1:30.8 degrading to 1:33. Looks like the Silver Arrow will be going backwards again.

Interestingly, Vettel has never had pole in Spain. Doesn’t mean he won’t this time, but his P2 fastest time was a teensy bit lucky as Alonso was 0.017s behind but got held up very slightly and probably would’ve been fastest. Although the commentators didn’t refer to his high fuel times directly I noticed myself one lap of 1:29.118, which is rather nice.

Lotus may well be fastest on race pace but overtaking in Barcelona isn’t easy so they need to start high up the grid. 2 or 3 stops can work at the circuit, and that decision may affect qualifying.

McNish was also bullish about Force India’s prospects in the race, despite slightly lacklustre single lap speed.

So, qualifying speed would seem to be Red Bull/Ferrari equal first then Lotus, with race pace Lotus fastest, then Ferrari, then Red Bull.

Oh, and a tyre on Di Resta’s car was completely destroyed, similar to Hamilton/Massa in Bahrain. Nobody else was affected, but that must be a concern.

In P3 the top 10 were Massa, then Raikkonen (separated by a tiny margin), then Webber, Grosjean, Vettel, Alonso, Di Resta, Sutil, Hamilton and Vergne. Critically, Vergne’s 10th fastest time was on the hard compound tyre (he didn’t set a fast time on the medium).

I’ve backed Vergne to reach Q3 at 3.8 (hedged at 1.6). He was top 10 in every practice session, and I’d suggest the true odds are around 1.8. It’s not a dead cert, but I do think it’s eminently possible.

Toro Rosso are one team whose updates seem to be working nicely. Williams also have taken a step forward, but Sauber and McLaren appear to be treading water. The Force India is looking pretty competitive once again.

Right now this looks like a Lotus/Ferrari duel to me, with Red Bull possibly vying for pole but unless they can start ahead and retain that advantage I suspect the prancing horse and Lotuses will beat them this weekend. Mercedes are looking less speedy than I’d imagined, and I think their imploding tyres will lead them to go backwards in the race.

The harder tyre is apparently better for the race (so says Gary Anderson, who knows his beans) so this should mean we see everyone unafraid to run through the mediums in qualifying, huzzah. Williams appear to suffer more on the mediums, so may qualify poorly but still have the prospect of snaffling a point or two in the race.

Incidentally, Webber has had two poles in Spain (Barcelona) and Vettel none.

After some prevarication (I’m not fond of multiple qualifying tips) I decided to back Massa at 14.5 to get pole (hedged at 5). He was fastest (effectively joint fastest as the margin’s so small) in P3 during the qualifying simulation with Raikkonen, a tenth and a half ahead of the rest. In P1 he was second to Alonso. The Ferrari is clearly a contender for pole and Massa has (over the last 5-6 races or so) been beating Alonso as often as not.

Anyway, let’s hope both tips come off, and that qualifying is delightfully green.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Spain: early discussion

It’s only been three weeks since Bahrain but it feels like a lot longer.

Pirelli are making some extra tyres available in practice to encourage teams to actually go trundling around instead of sipping energy drinks in the garage.

Naturally, most teams will be bringing significant upgrades to the European part of the season. The races are both closer to one another and to the factories of the teams (most of which are based in a small part of England) so upgrades should be coming thick and fast during this portion of the season.

Will McLaren have improved? Will Webber’s car run out of petrol? Thoughts, tips, insights and the like are all welcome in the comments below.

And [this is the only bit of plugging I’ll do here, promise] my latest book, Journey to Altmortis, is out now. It’s up on Amazon and Smashwords right now. The latter site offers a variety of formats to download and if you use the code XK87G (expires the 14th of May) you get it for a third of the usual price.

Morris Dancer