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Russian GP - Preview

2017-04-30 00:00:00 (This report was created at 2017-04-26 11:37:57)

The Russian GP isn’t one that keeps anyone awake with anticipation but so far the championship has been very interesting, especially compared with the dull fare served up for the last few seasons. The Sochi Autodrome is a modern Herman Tilke design and very artificial looking track. Built around the perimeter of the winter Olympic park it features no less than nine 90 degree corners and its signature corner is turn four, a 180 degree semi-circle which puts a huge load on the car, driver and right front tyre alike. With the extra grip of the 2017 cars, it will be much faster and very physical.

The track has a street circuit feel to it and is not unlike Melbourne in terms of its point and squirt nature and concrete barriers lining much of the track. It is also similar to Bahrain in terms of its long straights and many slow corners. So it has some similarities with the two tracks on which Ferrari and Vettel has won but at the same time the fact that it’s the front tyres that take a beating here is very much like China, a track on which Mercedes have dominated over the years and where Hamilton won again this year. The tarmac is very smooth and tyre degradation is low which again suggests it will be Mercedes friendly although the use of the three softest compounds is not ideal but the low degradation should balance that out. The temperature is usually fairly cool and that again should suit Mercedes as Ferrari does seem to be very competitive on the hotter circuits, but just competitive on the cooler ones. The latest forecast is for temperatures to be around 20 degrees all weekend which is a little warmer than in past years but it will not be Ferrari hot.

We have only had three races here and a Mercedes has lead every single lap raced, had all three pole positions and all three wins. It is safe to say that it has suited the Silver arrows perfectly. Hamilton has two wins and a second place to his credit and starts as the even money favourite but his Mercedes team mate has to be respected here as Bottas has been 3rd once, 4th once and was on route to a second podium finish in 2015 when he was punted out by Raikkonen in the dying laps of the race, and they were all in the Williams, albeit a Mercedes powered Williams.

While Hamilton and Mercedes have the best track records, its Ferrari and Vettel who are leading the 2017 championship so we do have a good puzzle here. As things stand it’s still a two team championship as Red Bull will not have its B spec car ready until the Spanish GP and the upgraded Renault power unit until Canada. So far it has been Vettel vs. Hamilton but with Bottas getting his debut pole in Bahrain and coming to what is arguably his strongest track, the younger of the two Finns in the race has to have a decent chance. The same can’t be said for Raikkonen who has disappointed for Ferrari so far and he was poor in Bahrain, a track on which he is usually very strong, which doesn’t bode well for his chances on a track on which his record reads 9/8/3 and that his sole podium was rather stolen from Bottas after they collided.

Bottas has had two 3rd places from his three races with Mercedes and while he hasn’t been faultless he is growing into his new team pretty well and he must be excited coming to a track on which he has gone so well on in the past, but this time with a race winning car at his disposal. Hamilton is the track master and even money is a perfectly reasonable price but I like to try and find an alternative to the obvious, if possible, and that has to be Bottas. He enjoyed a good post Bahrain GP test, setting the fastest time and getting 143 laps under his belt, valuable in car time for the ‘new boy’ as Mercedes try to fully understand the 2017 Pirelli tyres characteristics.

2 points e/w Valtteri Bottas to win the Russian GP @ 15/2 with Bet365, MarathonBet (7/1 generally available)

Red Bull is filling the gap between the top two teams and the midfield battle which is rather surprisingly being led by Force India. Williams seem to have the fourth best car, as evidenced by Massa’s qualifying times, but they are failing to deliver in the race thanks to Lance Stroll failing to even finish a race. Force India have managed double points finishes in all three races so far despite some poor qualifying results, only once having a car reach Q3. The car is weak in slow and medium speed corners and a new floor is being prepared to solve the problem but it will not be ready until Spain. This circuit, with plenty of slow and medium speed corners should pose a stiff challenge for Force India so another double pointer may be asking a lot but Perez goes well here with points finishes in every race and a podium in 2015.

McLaren had a hellish Bahrain GP with the Honda PU suffering multiple failures and day one of the post-race test was a non-event with the car in the garage for all but seventeen laps. Day two however saw a ‘reliability fix’ from Honda and Vandoorne managed 81 trouble free laps and the 4th quickest time. That was very valuable track time and will help them develop the chassis as they wait for Honda to come up with more power. They are not a million miles away from scoring a point but Alonso is only 11/4 and has yet to reach the end of a race yet. Vandoorne is a more realistic 8/1 but if you want a long shot points finisher you are better considering Werhlein at 16/1. Sochi is a very high fuel use circuit and Honda have a very thirsty PU so they may have to throttle back to ensure they can last a race distance so it’s hard to see any points this weekend.

Renault got both cars into Q3 in Bahrain but they have a car that goes backwards in the race. Hulkenberg has qualified 7th in the last two races which shows the car has good speed but come the race and they are losing places. New parts are being designed to solve the problem but they will not be ready for Russia. Renault will use their Russian test driver in FP1 so Hulkenberg will miss valuable track time which is not ideal but Renault sell a lot of cars in Russia. Hulkenberg has never scored a point at Sochi; indeed he hasn’t completed the first two corners in the last two seasons so maybe he won’t be too upset at sitting a session out.

Toro Rosso are only five points off Force India in 4th place but after a great double points finish in Melbourne they have struggled a bit with two DNF’s and just Sainz’ fortuitous 7th place in China has added to their points haul. This is Kvyats home race but he will have bad memories of last year’s race, where he crashed into Vettel twice on the first lap and was demoted to Toro Rosso from the senior Red Bull team (it was a convenient way to shoe horn Verstappen into Red Bull and keep him away from competitors with big cheque books). Toro Rosso have only ever scored one point in Sochi (Verstappen 10th in 2015) and it’s hard to get excited about odds of 7/10 for Sainz to score points or Kvyats 11/8. Sainz has a three place grid penalty as a result of his crash with Stroll in Bahrain.

Haas have had one car finish 8th in the last two races and the other DNF, which makes it three DNF’s in the first three races which is not good in the reliability department, but the car does have some decent race pace. Grosjean was 8th here last year (Haas lucky number?) but his team mate Magnussen has a 5th and a 7th place from his two races here so he comes with a good mental association with the track. Haas tested a different brake manufacturer in the Bahrain test but they will not be making the switch despite Grosjean preferring the new supplier. They are struggling in qualifying compared to their race pace and while it would be no surprise to see another points finish, this track is hard on brakes going into so many 90 degree corners. It seems best to watch how they cope with the track and consider them after qualifying.

Sauber remain on zero points along with McLaren but Pascal Wehrlein drove a good race in Bahrain to finish 11th (Giovinazzi managed 12th in Australia) and in a high attrition race they could yet surprise me and score a point, but it will have to be sooner rather than later as McLaren and Renault in particular spend money and improve rapidly while Sauber are stuck with last year’s Ferrari PU. A high attrition rate race is their most realistic hope but Russia has seen a total eleven DNF’s from its three races so it has not been a car breaker, but there have been a few accidents to up the numbers.

That’s it for now. This looks like a race were most of the bets will be post qualifying but there will be a an update around 30 minutes before qualifying just in case there is anything of interest in the markets.


Russian GP - Race Day Update

2017-04-30 00:00:00 (This report was created at 2017-04-30 11:26:12)

Bottas was only third in qualifying yesterday but only 0.09 off the pole position time of Vettel who will start this race as the 4/7 favourite. He has the best car, especially over a race distance, but odds like that offer no value in F1.

The race is expected to be a one stopper so it could be a fairly uneventful unless Mercedes can get in front on lap 1. Nobody has really fluffed their lines at the start so far this year, against expectations, so if it all goes the same way as the other races, Ferrari should be able to hold position and then the Mercedes will struggle in the dirty air of the Ferrari duo ahead.

Further back in the field I like the look of Perez to beat Hulkenberg. The Force India is proving to be a solid race car that lacks qualifying pace. Perez has so far finished higher than his qualifying position in two of his three races. Hulkenberg has a car that is doing the opposite, fast over a lap in qualifying but over long runs its lack of balance makes life hard for its driver and Hulkenberg has finished in a lower position than his grid position in the last two races. This also something of a bogey track for the German having never scored a point and has failed to last further than the second corner for the last two years. Perez has scored points here in all three years, including a podium in 2015.

4 points Perez to beat Hulkenberg @4/5 with Coral

In the ‘to finish in the points’ market pretty much every driver looks too low when it comes to the odds. I do like Magnussen on this track and he usually does better over a race distance than in qualifying. Starting 13th means he has some work to do and needs to stay safe on lap 1 but his prospects of points are good. However odds of 6/5 are not oozing value.

As I write Max Verstappen’s mechanics are struggling to change in PU in time for the start of the race. He has not enjoyed much luck in reliability terms this week and he may not even make the start, and if he does his car may not be in perfect order. Those PU’s are very complicated beasts to drop into the back of an F1 car and every screw and connection needs to be perfect otherwise the whole thing can go pop. Ricciardo hasn’t got a great record here (only one points finish), Verstappen may not even start.

Massa starts 6th, has finished 4th and 5th in the last two years on this power hungry circuit and even crash boy Stroll is not out of the frame for his first points finish, starting from 11th. Williams have gone well here in the past and might just have the better car compared to Red Bull this year again. Stroll is the weaklink in the chain but the odds are just enough to warrant a modest bet.

2 points Williams to beat Red Bull @ 5/2 with Betfred