What.  A.  Race!  Mercedes have been toppled in just the second race of the season, and Vettel’s finger has returned to the paddock after its enforced gap year.  A tactical failure by Mercedes, or a huge improvement in performance by the Ferraris?  Only time will tell.  For now, let’s take a look at the effect of this turnaround on the Fantasy GP!

Qualifying

Not such great value in Malaysia

Coverage opens to grey skies, with a dry track – so there shouldn’t be any major surprises at this stage then.  A couple of minutes before the chequered flag comes out, it’s looking unsurprising – the McLarens, the Manors and Sergio Perez in the Force India are looking ripe for getting dropped.  Final laps come through, and I almost lose my coffee – Mr. Value from the Aussie Fantasy GP (Felipe Nasr) gets jumped by Perez, and is leaving in Q1.  After his performance in the last race, Nasr was sure to be in a lot of teams – could 16th place turn into a large number of bonus points as he scythes through the field?

The second part of qualification is foreshadowed by the storm clouds closing in, and this has effectively become a one-shot qualification session for all drivers.  Lewis has a scary moment, ending up just 2 tenths of a second above the dropzone, but Malaysia Q2 is far worse for a couple of other drivers.  Carlos Sainz Jr. gets knocked out in 15th place – the Toro Rosso cars had been looking particularly strong this weekend, so this is quite the ignominious exit.  A bigger shock was Kimi Raikkonen, who had shown very impressive form during practice, and seeming to be the Mercedes’ primary competition for the race, ends up in 11th.

With 3 drivers seemingly out-of-position (Nasr, Sainz Jr., Raikkonen), they could provide good value from bonus points.  Each of these drivers have missed out on the bonus 5 points for out-qualifying their teammates, but this could be made up through overtakes in the race with each position gained being worth 3 points.

*RAI_7_01

As drivers move from the full wets to the intermediate tyres, times begin to fall in Q3– an impressive time from Vettel gives him P2, Nico and Lewis mess about a bit (or not, if you believe Lewis), and both lose a lap, as Vettel splits them.  Verstappen up in 6th place (matching his dad’s best ever grid position on just his second race!). Some of the good-looking options from last race and practice (Nasr and Raikkonen particularly) ending up way out of position, roll on race day.

Grand Prix

Skies look clear, but as always with Malaysia, the threat of a downpour is just around the corner.  Light go out, and Rosberg is immediately putting pressure on Vettel, braking just too early into the first corner to make it stick.  Raikkonen’s weekend is going from bad to worse, bogging down off the line and dropping 3 places before getting through the first complex.  After so much promise in practice, it looks like the Finn is not going to make up those bonus points.  Lap 2, and Raikkonen just can’t get a break – a tiny tap from Nasr as they pass the pits causes a puncture.  Kimi will have to do a full lap with a tyre flapping around destroying bodywork to make it back.

*ERI_9_01

Lap 3, and a safety car!  Marcus Ericsson spins out and beaches his car in turn one and Kimi Raikkonen is able to latch onto the back of the field – maybe his race isn’t over yet?  Safety car in, and Lewis works his way back up to 2nd place on lap 10, by which time Seb is sat 10 seconds up the road, on older soft tyres.  Ferrari manage a blistering stop on lap 18, putting him on 2 stops compared to the Mercedes pair’s 3 stop strategy.  Newer tyres and a legitimately fast car mean that Vettel catches Nico at quite a pace – overtaking him on lap 21, and Lewis as he goes into the pits on lap 24.   Even Raikkonen, after his disastrous start, has made it up to 4th place by lap 28.

And so the race progresses – Vettel holds onto his unassailable lead, penalties are handed out to both the Force India boys, both McLarens retire their cars (albeit after some promising driving in the corners), and Maldonado makes one of his least spectacular exits – retiring the car just 4 laps from the end of the race.  Forgetting the Fantasy GP for a moment, I’m actually cheering at a German 4-time World Champion in a Ferrari being on the top step of the podium!  This season has just got interesting.

2020hindsight

And so what does this all mean?

Ferrari suddenly look like a good choice... for now.

First of all, let’s take a look at our optimal team:

  • Vettel or Raikkonen or Hamilton
  • Sainz Jr.
  • Merhi
  • Ferrari
  • Mercedes
  • Toro Rosso

Total: 235 points – The first thing to notice is that we could have taken either of the Ferrari drivers or Hamilton as they all scored the same number of points (33) – more than that, they got those points for remarkably different reasons.

Hamilton got 10 points for coming on pole, plus 5 for beating his teammate – getting him almost half of his points before the race even started.  The additional 18 for second place rounded up his decent haul.  Vettel also got his 5 points for beating Raikkonen in qualifying, 3 points for his improvement, plus the full 25 points for first.  Raikkonen was the interesting one, and shows how much value you can get from picking a car that starts the race out of position.  7 places gained gave him 21 points, plus 12 for his position gave him the 33 points matching his rivals.

Although Raikkonen is strictly speaking best value (at only £15m compared to the £18m and £22m of the others), in this particular case it didn’t matter – the extra £7m could not have got you more points in this case.

Good value: Sainz Jr.’s inclusion is also interesting – starting well out of position down in 15th place, his fight back to 8th got him an impressive 21 bonus points along with 4 points for his position.  25 points for a driver worth just £5m is pretty good!

Best value: That being said, value driver this race actually goes to Roberto Merhi – limping home in last place, but in so doing making up 4 places (12 points), and getting 5 bonus points for out-qualifying Will Stevens, that’s 17 points for £3m, giving him 5.7 points per million!

Teams: For the teams, no major surprises – Mercedes and Ferrari giving great value, and Toro Rosso taking the banner of ‘best value of the rest’ from Sauber in Australia.

Toro Rosso - a bargain, maybe.

One item of note is that a team made up of those mentioned earlier as out of position (Raikkonen, Sainz Jr. and Nasr), with the teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Toro Rosso, could have gained an impressive 230 points – just 5 behind the theoretical maximum.

Maximum Points: The maximum score for this race among the 8,500+ Fantasy GP teams was from Karl Boycott’s team Iamnotverygood – I think most of the Badgers would disagree with you there Karl!  This being said, the score was only 183 points – over 50 points lower than the theoretical maximum.

I think it’s fair to say that the result of this race was rather more surprising than the last and took a lot of us off guard!

And so how do you win?

First of all – bloody hell, the Ferraris are storming!  Whether they can keep up this level of performance remains to be seen, but the “guaranteed” 43 points for Mercedes seem to be at risk.  This being said, another race passes with both Mercedes and Ferrari being in the optimal team, so keeping this up seems to be a good idea.

As much as the Saubers were looking special last race, this race they were questionable at best.  Ericsson’s crash early in the race was a signal of inexperience, as was perhaps Nasr’s failure to get out of Q1.  This being said, the other primary option for 3rd team is probably Toro Rosso, which has another 2 newbies – my suggestion is to keep a close eye on practice and select whichever appears faster at that track, then hope that the drivers’ inexperience don’t scupper your chances!

For drivers, although Hamilton didn’t have as storming a race as last time out, he was still an option for optimal team – primarily due to the 10 bonus points for qualifying on pole.  If the Mercedes pair can keep up their one-lap performance, grabbing your favourite for pole seems a sensible option.

Merhi was an interesting one this race – miles off the pace, but actually the best value driver out there, if the Manors can stay on the road, the quickest of the two in qualification is a good shout to fill out any small gaps in budget.

The Toro Rosso drivers were on fire in Malaysia, Carlos Sainz Jr. managing to pull back from his disastrous qualification to come home in 8th, giving some great value.  This being said, it could have easily been Nasr that managed that feat – it really is a toss-up between the Italian and Swiss teams.

Finally, and most importantly, as much as statistics can help you to mitigate your risk, bad luck can really scupper your chances in a race – I’d hate to be the poor soul who picked Ericsson and Maldonado in their team for the last race…  Oh, hang on…  That was me.

class-of-2015-mini

Next race is China, and it’s our last chance to adjust our teams before the lockdown comes into place – although we do have limited team changes available over the rest of the season, targeting one change every 3 races or so is ideal (since each change will typically be made up of 2 individual changes).

Are Ferrari on the up-and-up, or are Mercedes going to come back with a vengeance?  Can Sauber replicate their spectacular performance in Australia, or was that just a one-off?  More analysis and 20/20 hindsight coming your way in 2 weeks time!