Sunday, 24 March 2013

Malaysia: post-race analysis

Another exciting race, from the sounds of it, but the bet didn't come off. Massa had a poor start, went backwards rapidly and never really seemed in a position to get a podium. So, a significant misjudgement on my part. However, given that my seasons typically start with a sequence of red races, one green and one red isn't too bad.

The race itself was odd. In fact, I think we learnt a lot about relative pace but the final result didn't necessarily bear too close a relationship to that.

It was wet on part of the track at the start so everyone began on intermediates. Alonso tagged Vettel early on, broke one of the Ferrari's two nose-struts and opted not to pit (still too wet for a tyre change so he wanted to eke out a few laps). His nose ended up snapped and he beached the car in gravel shortly after declining to enter the pits.

Massa, annoyingly, had a very bad first few laps and went inexorably backwards. Raikkonen also fell to 13th, but Button had a better start.

The Mercedes were fast. They ended up 3rd and 4th, but that was at least partly because Hamilton was under-fuelled (the team may've expected more rain and possible safety car appearances) and had to drive carefully to the end and Rosberg, despite appeals on the radio, was told to hold station in 4th (this was near the end of the race). At stages Hamilton seemed like he'd be fast enough to take second (from Vettel, at the time) and Rosberg also had good pace.

The Ferraris are hard to assess as Alonso exited early and Massa never seemed up to the pace of the front-runners. It may simply be that the car didn't like the half-wet, half-dry conditions of the first few laps and that losing so many places (and with only one dry line initially) made it hard for the Brazilian to recover.

Sauber had a nice racy day. Hulkenberg was impressive, particularly when the track was in its awkward half-wet, half-dry phase. He ended up in 8th, and drove well. Gutierrez was 12th, which is ok for a rookie in his second race.

Force India seem to have taken to copying McLaren from last season. Good pace from their cars but two weird pit stops took ages (one per car). Each was subsequently retired, perhaps because the long stops had damaged them (could be an issue with the single wheel nut. If that fails then the car becomes a three-wheeler and it's safer to just retire it). Strong pace, good drivers, no points.

Lotus had a steady rather than spectacular race. Grosjean and Raikkonen made progress, but it was slow, and 6th and 7th (the Frenchman leading) is alright but no more than that. It may be that being soft on the tyres in the dry means they struggle to get heat into them when it's slippery.

McLaren had a bad points result (Perez got 2 for being 9th) but their performance was actually better than that. Button was in 5th, on pace, and would've almost certainly kept that had he not had a pit stop problem (the team only fit 3 wheels). He stopped in the lane, got pushed back and the 4th added, but a minute was lost and the car was later retired (probably so they can fiddle with bits for the next race without paying a penalty). However, make no mistake, the car was off the pace of the front-runners but still significantly improved from Australia. With 3 weeks to the next race there's every chance they'll close the gap a little more.

Of the other teams, Ricciardo was near and in the points for much of the race but retired, and Bianchi continues to impress in the Marussia. So much so there's talk of Kovalainen being re-employed as a driver by Caterham, who are worried they'll lose the estimated £30m for 10th in the Constructors' to their Marussia rivals.

However, the story of the day was Red Bull. Fastest at the front and only occasionally troubled by Hamilton's Mercedes, Vettel was told to stay behind Webber. He didn't, there was much tussling and eventually he got ahead and stayed there. I think Webber had been told (whilst leading) to turn the engine down and that Vettel would stay second. Not a happy camp, despite a 1-2 finish.

Not seen the highlights at the time of writing, but apparently the driver reactions were:
Vettel - bit ashamed of himself
Webber - pissed
Hamilton - bit embarrassed, felt Rosberg should've had the podium

Here's the Drivers' standings after 2/19 rounds:
Vettel 40
Raikkonen 31
Webber 26
Hamilton 25
Massa 22
Alonso 18

Red Bull 66
Lotus 40
Ferrari 40
Mercedes 37

So, it's very tight, especially for second in the Constructors'. I hope it's bone dry in China so we can get an even better handle on who's where in terms of pace. With luck, I'll also have moderator powers then so I can axe any spam comments.

We visit China in 3 weeks.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Malaysia: pre-race

Qualifying was interesting, as the first session and a half was dry, and the latter was wet. Not torrential, but wet enough for intermediates.

Q1 saw the pointless teams depart, although Bianchi seems to really be punching above his weight with the Marussia's times. Bottas and Vergne also left the show at this point.

Q2 began dry and then became wet. Di Resta's team decided against an early banker, and lived to regret it as he lacked the dry track time to make it into the top 10. McLaren were delighted to get both cars into the last session, and Lotus were disappointed Grosjean only managed 11th. There's no tactical advantage to that in the race as Q3 was also wet so every car on the grid can pick and choose their tyres for tomorrow. The Saubers, Maldonado and Ricciardo also failed to reach the top 10.

Q3 was entirely wet, so we got a decent look at the pace on inters. Vettel remained tediously competent and got pole, with Massa again out-qualifying his team mate for the Ferraris to start right behind the German. Hamilton will be happy in 4th, but Webber probably won't be chuffed with 5th, and he starts alongside Rosberg. Raikkonen was slower than expected in 7th (although that's where he started from last week), and is followed by Button, Sutil and Perez.

After the session Raikkonen was given a 3 place grid penalty (so starting 10th) for impeding another driver in qualifying.

Rain is hard to call, but I think it's probably odds-on tomorrow. However, it looks like being wet but not torrential, as per today. If that's the case then the pace in Q3 should provide an approximate guide to race pace when it turns soggy (the track was constantly drying which led to artificially enormous gaps in the times).

Took me a while to come up with something, and ended up backing Massa at 2.64 for a podium. I've set up a hedge at 1.3. The Ferrari looks good wet and dry, and Massa's been driving well. Off the line team orders can't work (if he went slowly to let Alonso past he'd be swamped by a dozen other cars) so that shouldn't be an issue.

So, let's hope Ferrari's form continues.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 22 March 2013

Malaysia: pre-qualifying

First off, a service announcement. As will have been noticed, there's a significant increase in spam comments this year compared to last. I don't have the ability to delete these myself, at the time of writing, but am hoping to acquire it. With luck, this will be in the next day or two, but there's a three week gap to China so I should have it by then.

It turns out that Webber's bad start was at least partly due to an ECU (electronic box thingy) that McLaren provide to all teams failing. This is a very rare failure and they've apologised to Red Bull:

Rain is possible for qualifying and the race, and the tyres used will be medium and hard. It's worth remembering that without rain Malaysia is very unlikely to see a safety car because the track is wide and there are tons of run-off areas.

Both practice sessions were dry.

P1 saw Webber fastest, followed by Raikkonen and then Vettel. Alonso, Rosberg and Sutil were next, with Massa, Di Resta, Hamilton and Grosjean rounding out the top 10.

P2 had Raikkonen top, with Vettel second, and the Ferraris of Massa and Alonso next. Webber, Grosjean, Rosberg, Di Resta, Hamilton and Sutil finish off the top 10.

At this stage Raikkonen looks good, as do the Ferraris and Red Bulls. It seems Force India are continuing to punch above their weight and the McLarens remain rubbish (11/13 and 11/12).

P3 is from 5am to 6am UK time, and qualifying starts at 8am, so I won't be offering a tip on that. At the time of writing a thunderstorm is slightly odds-on. If you believe that then you may wish to consider a McLaren bet, as their car appeared more competitive in the wet last week.

Morris Dancer

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Malaysia: early discussion

This weekend we're off in Kuala Lumpur, where the medium and hard tyres will be used.

Will Red Bull be able to qualify as well on the medium compound? Will Lotus be able to make one fewer stop than everyone else? Will it rain? Will McLaren/Williams make some progress in the short space of time they have between the last race and the next?

I'll check nearer the time but right now it seems that rain is possible over the weekend. It's worth remembering that without rain the circuit is probably second only to Hungary in its unlikelihood to have a safety car (flat, very wide circuit with lots of run-off).

Comments, thoughts, predictions, tips and so forth all welcome in the comments.

Morris Dancer

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Australia: post-race analysis

That was a very exciting race, and one that did not run to plan. I'm writing this before the highlights, which I intend to watch.

On the betting front, I was more nervous even than usual (I'd only made the bet because I didn't want to break over 3 years of continuous tipping). Ferrari started 4th and 5th, which gave me some hope, although the Red Bull lockout of the front row was displeasing. Happily, Alonso got 2nd and Massa 4th, giving the Prancing Horse the most points and heralding a profitable start to the season (unusually).

Unhelpfully (possibly due to lime jelly poisoning) I fell asleep 2 minutes into qualifying. I therefore heard it was wet, and little else. The grid had the boring presence of Vettel on pole, with Webber by his side. Hamilton had a great third slot, with Massa next to him, and Alonso and Rosberg shared row three. The Lotuses (Loti?) of Raikkonen and Grosjean were next with Di Resta and Button rounding out the top 10.

Hulkenberg qualified 11th, but a major problem with his car meant he couldn't start, and the slot was left empty.

Worth mentioning that Perez started a pretty abysmal 15th. Looks like Hamilton jumped ship just before it hit an iceberg.

The start went almost as I expected. Webber left his handbrake on and the Ferraris had good starts. Within a lap or two Vettel was first (boringly) and was followed by Massa and Alonso. Interestingly, Massa, who has significantly recovered his form, was allowed to race properly and his gearbox was left unmolested.

Webber's start was atrocious. He was back to something like 8th after the first lap. This pretty much ruined his race. Raikkonen had a decent start and soon passed Hamilton to run just behind the Ferraris. 

Happily, the Red Bull pace in the race was not equal to their dominance in qualifying. If anything, the Ferraris looked a little faster, and Mercedes and Lotus were also very similar.

After the first round of pit stops Alonso had leapfrogged Vettel (who was trapped behind Sutil). It worked less well for Massa, who had stayed out a bit longer, though he was still in the hunt for a podium.

Both the Mercedes and the Lotus of Raikkonen attempted a two stop strategy. Rosberg was foiled by his car breaking, and Hamilton could not make the tyres last well enough. Raikkonen, however, managed to combine strong pace with great tyre management.

Sutil did manage a two stop strategy, but he started on the medium tyre. Force India had a good day at the office, with Sutil leading Di Resta to 7th and 8th.

The one fewer stop meant Raikkonen led Alonso in the latter stages. Briefly, the Ferrari driver was significantly faster but then his tyres started to grain. Happily, Vettel's (then 3rd) suffered likewise, and the running order remained unchanged.

Massa got 4th, a great improvement in terms of both points and performance from last year. Hamilton, despite having to change strategy late on, got 5th and Webber recovered somewhat to 6th.

Button could only manage 9th, which is pretty poor for McLaren. Their best hope of still mounting a title challenge might be the very tight nature of the battle at the sharp end, which should prevent anyone dominating early on and building an unassailable lead.

Grosjean was strangely anonymous in 10th (having started 8th). He was on a three stop strategy, unlike his team mate, but given the concerns over his starts I imagine a quiet day will not be the worst thing that could've happened to him.

So, I was wrong not to go for the Raikkonen podium at 2.75, but given Ferrari top-scored at 5.5 I'm not complaining.

It's very likely both Mercedes would've been top 6 had Rosberg's car not broken, as The WPT suggested. Reliability does seem to be an issue for the Silver Arrows (Rosberg in particular).

However, let us not get carried away. It's a 19 race season, after all.

Obviously, the finishing order and Drivers' standings are identical. Raikkonen, the Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari drivers are all pencilled-in as contenders right now. Have to wait and see how Grosjean does. He is fast, but if he's retreated into his shell and playing it safe he'll get left behind.

Nightmare start for McLaren. Turns out massively changing the fastest car on the grid has the potential to bugger it up.

Next stop: Malaysia, next week.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Australia: pre-race

Well, this is less than ideal.

After already inconveniencing us all with its awkward time zone, Australia then decided to import some British style rain. So, a soggy Q1 went ahead (delayed) and Q2 and Q3 got pushed back to 11am Sunday (Oz time) or midnight in Blighty.

I'm loathe to bet on the race after staying up for Q2 and Q3. No, midnight isn't all that late, but it'll be 1am, or slightly earlier, before the markets get going and I'd rather not try tipping at that time (especially as this is the first race of the season).

A quick check has discovered that the last time I offered no tip for an entire race weekend was the European Grand Prix of 2009.

Anyway, here's a quick rundown of Q1:
It was very rainy, and almost everyone was on wet tyres throughout. It was briefly better (but by a significant time) to be on intermediates.

As well as the predictable demise of the Caterhams and Marussias (Chilton coming last) Gutierrez was a slight surprise, and Maldonado a more significant one. Bottas made it through in 15th and will be pleased to have beaten his team mate, and Hulkenberg was 13th. [Remember, kids, that because we only have 22 cars this year 6, rather than 7, get eliminated in Q1 and Q2].

P3 was also wet, and it looks like Grosjean and the Ferraris quite like the rain.

I looked at a few potential bets. Alonso for a podium was my favourite, but 1.6 is very short and reliability or bad luck could easily ruin it. Likewise Vettel for pole.

Raikkonen (I could've sworn it was single K double [triple, but not together] N last season…) at 2.75 for a podium also tempted me. However, reliability and Grosjean's strong pace put me off.

In the end I opted for Ferrari to top score (Ladbrokes) at 5.5. No hedging, obviously. My reasoning is thus: I expect both cars to be top 6, and quite possibly top 4, on the grid. Alonso especially has a record of good starts, and Webber quite the reverse. I can see Webber finishing behind enough cars for Ferrari to get this even if Vettel wins. If Alonso starts second he could well take Vettel off the line.

So, although I think the Red Bull is a better car I think that Massa's returned to form, Alonso starts well and Webber poorly, hence the tip.

It should be noted that there is a Morris Dancer tradition of starting new seasons badly, so (as always) do at your own risk.

Let's hope the Prancing Horse trumps the Red Bull.

Qualifying resumes at midnight UK time, and the race is from 6am.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 15 March 2013

Australia: pre-qualifying

A day earlier than usual, as the time difference between the UK and Australia means P3 will be at a very early hour.

Both P1 and P2 were dry, and there is the possibility of rain tomorrow for qualifying. If that is the case then obviously it could make it a bit of a lottery. The race, however, is expected to be dry.

In P1 Vettel refused to be anything but boringly predictable and was fastest, closely followed by Massa. Alonso was 3rd, followed by, Hamilton, Webber, Raikkonen and Rosberg. Sutil, Button and Grosjean rounded out the top 10, and Perez was 11th.

P2 saw Hungry Heidi (Vettel's car) remain at the top, ahead of Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean. Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Sutil and Hulkenberg were 6-10.

I'm a bit surprised by how poor the McLaren is. There were pace concerns, and these seem to be entirely genuine. The team is insisting that whilst the car is dodgy now (11th and 13th in P2) the foundation for the season as a whole is sound. We'll see.

At the moment Vettel is clearly favourite for pole. The battle for 2nd will be more interesting, and could perhaps go to Webber, Mercedes or Ferrari. Also worthy of note is Sutil's strong performance in the Force India, coming 8th and 9th, both times ahead of both McLarens.

P2 did see a bit of reliability go wrong for the Mercedes, which may be a problem for qualifying and/or the race. We'll have to wait and see.

Tyre degradation appeared to be much less than in the colder pre-season tests (as Raikkonen and Button foresaw). Although this means the comedy spectacle of half a dozen pit stops appears off the table tyre conservation will remain critical.

Vettel's odds for pole are just 1.76. Given it's a brand new season, and qualifying may be wet, (and my early season form tends to be ropey) I'm not tipping that or betting on it. If things play out broadly as expected I may have a tip in mind for the race, based on a couple of the possible grid results.

If the qualifying session is wet then it's anyone's guess as to how the cars and drivers cope with the different conditions. Last year the Ferrari, generally thought of as a dog, was actually pretty handy when the rain came down.

As Nigel said in the comments to the previous post, seeing who burns through what tyres (especially if qualifying's dry) could be useful when considering the race result.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 11 March 2013

Australia: Early Discussion

Testing is done and the new season awaits us. Who will be great and powerful in Oz? Idle musings, betting and tips all welcome in the comments thread.

At this early stage, I think that the starting grid could be enormously different to the final result. I think this because the cars are thought to be extremely close, meaning that a spectacular/poor qualifying lap could put a car out of position, which will be corrected during the length of a race. In addition, the tyres are thought to be softer than Softy Walter so some might end up cocking up their strategy.

At this stage I'm thinking that P2 might be the critical session, as that's when high fuel running tends to be done.

It's unlikely I'll be offering a qualifying tip due to the timezone being awkward, and the pre-qualifying piece will probably be before P3 rather than after it.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 1 March 2013

2013 pre-season discussion

After literally some demand, I've decided to put up this pre-season piece. It's going up a few days earlier than anticipated because reasons of a personal nature mean I may not be around to do so immediately after the third test finishes. Hopefully there'll be no problem regarding the articles for the Australian race.

At this stage of the season I've made a couple of bets but only with very small stakes, and they're not tips. I've backed both McLaren drivers (Button 8 and Perez 24) and Lotus (14).

One of the most interesting snippets of information to come out is that Paddy Lowe, technical chap at McLaren, is on gardening leave and thought to be on his way (in 2014) to Mercedes. This would suggest Brawn, who has been involved in 8 title victories, is on his way out.

The new Pirelli tyres (with orange replacing the hard-to-see silver of last year's hard tyre) are softer than cheese and degrade more rapidly than ever. So, we may see a slight rise in pit stops and/or a premium on tyre management.

Pirelli have announced their compounds for the first few races:

Australia has the supersoft and medium
Malaysia medium and hard
China soft and medium
Bahrain soft and hard

So that's a single supersoft use, two soft, three medium and two hard. It's also worth pointing out that every combination is different, though for the last two the softer (and therefore qualifying) tyre is the same.

After the first two tests the mood music suggested it'd be tight at the start of the season. McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus look in good shape, Ferrari look competitive and the Mercedes seemed pretty good. Williams also appear to have taken a step forward, although it remains to be seen how fast Bottas is and whether Maldonado will manage to avoid ramming anyone else.

Force India have, as of 26 February when I wrote this bit, still only got one driver. This seems late to the point of stupidity to me. A day or two later it was announced, at last, that Sutil has the job. Bianchi will probably be their test driver, though there's a chance he, or someone else, may take Razia's seat at Marussia.

On the second day of testing Gary Anderon's view (bearing in mind the track had mostly been somewhat wet) was this:

"The Red Bull looks well balanced with lots of grip. The McLaren and Sauber have understeer (a lack of front grip) and the Lotus is well balanced but not as planted as the Red Bull. The Ferrari lacks rear grip. It really has no traction in the wet."

On the green line:

I've decided not to try and keep the green line (commentators tips) going in the same way as last year. This is only a matter of me not recording them, I'm still very keen for tips to be offered and will refer to their success or failure in much the same way as I do my own. So, when I post graphs we'll go back to just the hedged and unhedged lines.

It's pretty hard to be sure where everyone is. I think that it may also be the case that wet weather in the third test means that teams may not have a full understanding of their cars in the initial part of the season, which could lead to unpredictability and/or hilarity.

Anyway, please do let me know your thoughts and bets in the comments below.

Morris Dancer