Only two more sleeps until race day! After the cancellation of the scheduled Grand Prix in Bahrain two weeks ago, Melbourne is to once again host the first Grand Prix of the new season. As always, F1 management have made numerous rule and technical changes, which always adds uncertainty to the first race. There’s also the matter of pre-season testing and how 2011 model cars are coming along.
Below is a brief overview of what to look out for this weekend.
You can view a comprehensive guide to the regulation changes here, but below are the changes that will have the biggest impact on race betting. Overall, the regulations should lead to more pit stops and more overtaking.
- Adjustable rear wings
Drivers may adjust the rear wing angle within a set range from the cockpit. The moveable front wing, which was permitted in 2010, has been dropped. The system can be used at any time in practice and qualifying, but during the race can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car at pre-determined points on the track. The system is then deactivated once the driver brakes. In combination with KERS, it is designed to boost the ability to overtake. Also like KERS, it isn’t compulsory.
Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) – have been reintroduced in 2011 after their use was suspended in 2010. KERS take the waste energy generated under braking and turns it into additional power. This is then made available to the driver in fixed quantities per lap via a steering wheel-mounted ‘boost button’. The systems are essentially the same as those seen in 2009.
Following Bridgestone’s withdrawal at the end of 2010, Pirelli has taken over as the sport’s sole tyre supplier for the next three years. The tyres have been designed to not be as durable as previous seasons. This should result in more pit stops and more uncertainty, especially in bad weather. Some drivers have said that more pit stops mean that qualifying is less important, because you will have more over taking opportunities due to different pit windows. According to the BBC, Virgin Racing chief operating officer Ian Phillips says a lot of teams are mentioning four pit stops for the race on Sunday. The faster degrading tyres could play into the hands of the drivers who are known for gentler tyre use, i.e. Schumacher, Alonso and Button. We may see Hamilton in the pits a lot this season! This year there is new system for identifying tyre types with colour coding on the side lettering: wet = orange; intermediate = light blue; super soft = red; soft = yellow; medium = white; hard = silver.
- 107% qualifying rule
During the first phase of qualifying, drivers who fail to set a lap within 107% of the fastest Q1 time will not be allowed to start the race. In exceptional circumstances, which could include a driver setting a suitable practice time, the stewards may permit the car to start. Presumably the exceptions are designed to assist the top teams who fail to complete a flying lap in Q1.
Stewards now have the power to impose a wider range of penalties for driving and other rule transgressions. Stewards can impose time penalties, exclude drivers from race results, or suspend them from subsequent events. Schumacher backers be warned, especially if Barrichello is anywhere near him!
- Team orders
The ban on team orders has been removed. This will impact teams where one driver is consistently faster than his teammate. Alonso could be a major beneficiary of this change.
Selected Team Forms
McLaren have experienced problems during testing, with their car not as competitive as last season. Hamilton and Button have both voiced concerns about the new car after Red Bull and Ferrari dominated testing sessions over winter. The cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix has been a huge blessing, because it enabled McLaren to make more changes. I’ve heard they’ve taken a second off their testing lap time in the last two weeks, but that they’ve had to take “risks” to achieve this. However Hamilton admits they’re still behind the front runners. “We’re hopefully within half a second, maybe within eight tenths of a second, which means hopefully by the time we get back to Europe we are able to be a little bit closer to them.”
Michael Schumacher believes that Mercedes will be stronger this season, and based on preseason testing, this is probably true. Schumacher managed to post the quickest time of the recent Barcelona test. According to The Guardian, Schumacher said that “Mercedes has taken a huge step forward with this year’s car. It is a very performance-orientated car and it has paid off.” However, he’s only cautiously optimistic. “As for the championship, you have to be careful with this one. I don’t think we are prepared and developed for this yet.” Be sure to keep an eye on Rosberg, because he consistently outperformed Schumacher last season.
Last year I said that Vettel and Webber were the best value bets on the drivers championship (insert bow here). Odds will change drastically as the weekend goes on, but below are the current offerings in the drivers and constructors championships.
Massa’s odds stand out to me here. To give Alonso 3.55 odds to win the title with Massa languishing at 40.00, you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This disparity in odds for the two teammates reflects Massa’s poor relative performance last season. It will be interesting to see if he can turn things around in 2011. There is some disparity between Vettel and Webber, but not quite as much as last season. I think bookmakers constantly underestimate Webber. If the new tyres cause as much havoc as people hope they do, Button could be good value. He’s certainly much better value than Hamilton.
Because they have two very strong drivers, I would back Red Bull for the constructors title. Massa was arguably the weakest driver in the top three teams last year, so he may hold Ferrari back a bit. Let’s hope he proves me wrong. McLaren has been off the pace for most of preseason, so their slow predicted start to the season will thwart their title aspirations. Is 1.96 good enough odds to back Red Bull? I think so, but remember you won’t see any money until November unless Red Bull reach a mathematical victory earlier in the season.
I recommend waiting until the end of race 1 before making any futures bets. We may well see some surprises this weekend which could cause a stir in the odds. There’s just too much uncertainty at the moment on how the new tyres and regulations will impact race results. If you want to bet now, take a look at the outside contenders (Schumacher, Rosberg, Massa, Button), because one good race will shorten those odds very quickly.
The Best Places to Bet
bet365 and Betfair are my two favourite places for F1 betting. You tend to get better value on futures markets with Betfair, and bet365 provides live online betting during all testing and qualification sessions. Australian based bookmakers tend to disappoint when it comes to Formula 1 offerings.