We’re now four races into the season, with plenty more to come yet so it’s far from all over. If you’re not happy with how your campaign has started, fear not – our resident Fantasy GP analyst is on hand, Jamie Sawyer.
Two races have now flown by in quick succession, Lewis Hamilton has managed to increase his lead in the driver’s championship even with the prancing horses getting a gallop on. The first European race is in just 2 short weeks, and traditionally this brings with it a raft of changes and upgrades for the teams – so let’s take a look at how the season’s been progressing from the perspective of the all-important Fantasy GP World Championship.
Following the superb performance of Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia, expectations were high in China for a real tussle out front. When practice rolled around, however, it was Lewis Hamilton who took charge, topping the time sheets in all 3 practice sessions. Further down the order, it was all looking quite mixed up – the Red Bulls sitting fairly comfortably behind the Mercedes and Ferrari teams, Sauber all over the place (Nasr in 5th in P1, and 14th in P3), and Williams sat surprisingly far down the order.
Where Practice always throws up oddities, with race simulations interspersed with quali laps, qualifying itself would settle the field, and give us some insight into the cars’ true pace. No major surprises in the first qualifying session, with Nico Hulkenberg joining the McLarens and Manors sitting on the sidelines. Although not likely to get points in the driver’s championship this weekend, Hulkenberg does have form for getting good bonus points from overtakes in the race – can the Force India drag him through the field on Sunday? Although not necessarily representative of fastest times, Vettel and Raikkonen did top the time sheets in Q1.
Q2 comes around, and Lewis is on top, over 0.5 seconds ahead of Vettel in 3rd. Mercedes again appear to have a huge pace advantage in qualification. The first big scalp is taken in this session, with Daniil Kvyat coming round in 12th position – after such good pace being shown in the practice sessions by the Red Bull pair, this was sure to come as a disappointment. Also bound to be disappointed were Toro Rosso – just 13th and 14th. It’s lucky that I didn’t suggest that Toro Rosso were a good 3rd team for the Fantasy league after Malaysia. Oops.
Lewis Hamilton picks up 15 points for his pole position, and Williams split the Ferraris. The Saubers line up at the back of the top 10, with a real potential to bring home some good points for anyone with them in the team.
Sunday come around, and what looks like a great start for Bottas – jumping his team mate straight out of the gate, results in Raikkonen jumping the pair of them further down the road. Hulkenberg and Kvyat have early retirements, with Kvyat’s engine exploding in spectacular fashion – the young Russian just can’t catch a break this weekend.
Verstappen provides entertainment, throwing his car down the inside of both Saubers and Sergio Perez at the hairpins – from 13th on the grid, Max is looking good for 8th place – 24 points for the weekend is looking like great value!
Out in front, the Mercedes pair seem to have control of the race, notwithstanding Nico’s complaints of Lewis backing him into the clutches of the Ferraris – it looks like today Seb will have to settle with best-of-the-rest.
Our old friend Pastor is having a right ‘mare, crashing on the pit entry and spinning on his own out on the track. This puts him behind the McLarens, and Pastor’s race is finally ended after Jenson Button taps the back of his car in the entry to turn one.
4 laps to go in the race, and after providing much of the on-track excitement, and looking to be a huge value drive for the Fantasy GP, the race of Verstappen is ended ignominiously, with a rather unspectacular engine failure stranding his car on the start/finish straight, and drawing out the Safety Car for the first and only time this race.
So, where’s the value today?
Well, the main part of the best team is the same old story again – Hamilton, Mercedes and Ferrari appear in all of the top 10 best-scoring teams. Joining them in being best-value are Perez (enjoying a total of 17 points) and for another week, another Manor driver – Will Stevens taking advantage of a slow but reliable car, and also bringing home a good haul of 17 points. For the third team, it’s Sauber’s turn at the top – picking up just 5 points, but being cheap enough to make that a rate of 1.25 points per million.
The best team could have gained an impressive 229 points, but for this race it was down to David Ashcroft with his team Obvious really and David Pinder with his Pitstoppers to bring home a very impressive 224 points to top the table.
One thing to note here was that a lot of players managed to grab the full 80 points from predictions this week, and this is really key to topping those tables – there are a few people around who may well have been able to beat both Davids but just dropped a couple of points through their predictions.
What lessons do we learn here? Well, first of all, our tried-and-true concept of Hamilton, Mercedes and Ferrari have come through for us once again. Secondly, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – don’t discount the value of the Manor drivers – when they’ve been able to get out on track, they’ve been consistently bringing home their cars, and in attrition heavy races this equates to 3 points per retirement. Finally, Sauber well and truly took the crown back from Toro Rosso, but this looks to change regularly – teams now being locked down means that it’s going to be a bigger gamble here than in the past.
With the Chinese GP over, there was no time to rest, as it was just 1 week until our first night race of the season. Unlike the previous week, Lewis did not get it all his own way in Practice, with Raikonnen and Rosberg topping the tables in the first 2 sessions. This said, with P1 and P3 taking place during the daytime, the temperature difference meant that these would not be representative runs – making it much more difficult to make our team decisions. Another toss-up between the Toro Rossos and the Saubers in this race, but the Saubers seemed to have an edge in the more-representative P2.
As Qualification was taking place, I was getting into my suit for a friend’s wedding, so was limited to updates on the BBC Sport app. Q1 saw further pain for Kvyat and Maldonado, following their disastrous Chinese GP one week earlier, both dropping out. Alonso, however, was able to push the car through to Q2 by quite a margin – safe by almost 0.5 seconds. Is this a sign of the resurgence of McLaren? Could they become decent value in the Fantasy GP by the end of the season? Probably not, but it’s a nice thought, eh?
Q2 comes around, and the Saubers have something of a disaster, coming through in just 12th and 13th on the grid – potentially good for bonus points, but not where you’d like to see them if you’ve just happened to put them into your team. This being said, Max Verstappen, something of the star of China, disappointingly ended in just 15th place – although if he can continue his great overtaking form from China, this might not be so bad! Finally for Q2, a special mention should go out to Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India, for getting the Silverstone-made car through to Q3 for the first time in 2015.
Q3, and I’m walking to the church, desperately trying to check my phone to see if Ferrari can cause an upset – 5 minutes left and Hamilton’s out in front, with the Ferraris nowhere to be seen – chequered flag comes out, with the drivers out on their final runs. Vettel comes through in first with blazing lap, as I repeatedly refresh the page to find out where Rosberg and Hamilton are. Walking toward the church now, Rosberg pops up in second! He can’t beat Vettel – can Hamilton ensure it’s not a huge upset? I walk into the church and do one final refresh, just as Hamilton comes over the line in first, by over 0.4 seconds from Vettel. Phone away, I enjoy the wonderful wedding – huge congratulations to Paul and Sarah Ellis!
Sunday morning, and I have one heck of a hangover. An early breakfast in the hotel and a trip back down from Birmingham face me before I can chill out and enjoy the race.
Felipe Massa can’t pull away for his formation lap, and starts from the pit lane. Raikonnen gets a good start, and runs around the outside of Rosberg to put both Ferraris between the Mercedes, and scupper any hopes of Rosberg helping Hamilton to stay out in front. With a rough track and hot temperatures, it seems likely that tyre strategy is going to be all-important in this race – as with Malaysia a few weeks ago. Rosberg fights with the Ferraris as Lewis runs out and extends his lead in front. Vettel pits first and undercuts Rosberg well, putting in a great lap on his new soft tyres. Hamilton follows up in the pits, and Raikonnen takes the lead of the GP, as Rosberg and Vettel fight for 3rd place just behind Hamilton as he exits. It’s all very exciting up front.
Following his first stop, Kimi Raikonnen manages to pull out some great lap times on the Prime tyres, beating out the leaders on the options – could Kimi pull out a surprise win under the lights of Bahrain? It’s looking good for the fun-loving Finn until the end of his second stint – a radio issue appears to cause him to stay out just that little bit too long, and puts him well behind the Mercedes pairing after his second stop, albeit on the faster Option tyre. 2 laps to go, and Raikonnen is right up on Rosberg, and manages to pass him on the first corner following a small brake failure for Rosberg. Final lap, and Hamilton is losing time hand-over-fist as his Brake-By-Wire fails – just 3.5 seconds separate Lewis and Kimi at the end, having been 6 seconds behind the lap before.
Another race, another Hamilton/Mercedes/Ferrari grouping at the top. Unlike last race, however, Raikonnen provided a strong alternative for Hamilton, picking up 24 points for £15m, to Hamilton’s 40 points for £22m. Overall though, the best team picks Hamilton, alongside Kvyat (making up a huge 8 places for 24 bonus points) and Will Stevens (getting a decent haul of 11 points for just £3m). Interestingly, however, the top team also includes Manor – a team that got 0 points, but only cost £2m. Although that £2m is essentially wasted, it freed up the money to spend on the £11m Daniil Kvyat.
The best possible score was 225, but top of the table this week was tlunn01 with their Lunn Racing team, at 205. Although this could have been a perfect team (for 145) with a missed prediction (for a further 60), it seems more likely that it was an imperfect team with perfect predictions.
The result of this race was interesting – having Manor in the team just to give more budget for the rest is an interesting option – it came up a couple of times last season as well with Marussia and Caterham – but generally speaking it’s not likely to be a viable tactic in the longer term. The third-best team of Grosjean, Hamilton, Stevens, Mercedes, Ferrari and Sauber actually came in 2nd and 3rd in the last two races, and really does seem to be a very strong group. Also worth noting here is that Stevens actually costs the same as Felipe Nasr, and the Brazillian could be a good contender for that third spot in the upcoming races.
Taking this further, we’ve had 2 races now with the teams locked down – so what’s been the best team for the pair? Well, Hamilton, Mercedes and Ferrari are key to every option available. The third team seems to be between Sauber, Manor and Lotus, but it’s the other driver spots that are particularly interesting. Will Stevens appears in 7 of the top 10 teams, with his teammate Merhi in 2 of the other 3 best teams. Grosjean and Perez also seem to be in most of the best teams at the moment. Will this continue or not? I couldn’t say – the situation for the other teams has changed too regularly in the first few races of the season. This said, I know it’s going to be exciting to watch, and I can’t wait for the Spanish GP in 3 weeks’ time!