Monthly Archives: March 2014

F1 2014: Malaysia GP Preview

So the new F1 season is underway with a whole race under our belts. And for once there wasn’t a lot that we hadn’t already guessed from testing. Mercedes are the team to beat and the Mercedes engine looks to have a significant advantage over the others at the moment. Reliability is going to be an issue for the opening quarter of the season at least, but the new drivers for 2014 look like being something special. But what does that mean for Malaysia and for 2014 in general.

One race does not make a season, but if there was one thing that stood out more than the comfort of Rosberg’s win it was the performance of Magnusson in the McLaren. Taking ‘Old Man Button’ to school he secured an excellent second place (as adjusted after Ricciardo’s unfortunate exclusion). Bottas carved through the field (mainly due to his own error) showing a confidence and maturity that hasn’t been seen in a Williams for many years, whilst even Kvyat must be happy with a 9th place on his debut. On the other hand Ferrari will (yet again) be disappointed with their opening race performance, and Red Bull’s testing troubles are a long way from being sorted. At the moment we just don’t know if Ricciardo’s second place finish was a distortion caused by excessive fuel flow at certain times, or a more honest representation of the pace of the Red Bull when it is actually working. Assuming the gremlins can be kept at bay, for at least a significant portion of the race in Malaysia, we may see an indication of their true potential. Lotus, on the other hand, are having the proverbial ‘mare’, and will need to sort out their troubles quickly if the team, and investors, aren’t to lose confidence.

This all makes any predictions very difficult. It usually is for an early season race, and more so when the rulebook has been rewritten as in this case. The weather variable in Malaysia doesn’t help things either! One third of the races have had wet weather, including a finish after 31 laps in 2009 and a weather delay in 2012. Combined with hot temperatures this doesn’t bode well for reliability, with an average of 6 retirements each race, or an average of 30% of the starters. Given what we saw in terms of rear wheel spin in Australia, the concept of a wet or even greasy track is likely to see a fair number spin off.

With the above, the first thing to consider is the podium. It is difficult to look beyond the Mercedes, but similarly it is difficult to make a call as to who is going to take the advantage as there seems little between Hamilton and Rosberg, with Rosberg holding the main cards of being ahead (even at this early stage). Ladbrokes are offering a dual forecast (where the two selected drivers can finish in either order as long as they are first and second) at 2.63 (13/8). Now consider – this represents a 38% chance. The other 62% has to be accounted for by either driver not finishing, or another driver taking first or second. Well the latter just doesn’t seem an option – Mercedes are well ahead of the opposition. So we are down to the only chance of not seeing a Mercedes 1-2 being mechanical (or an accident). At an average of 2 cars per race retiring due to accidents, that doesn’t seem likely especially as such incidents are likely further down the grid (that is a gut call by the way). Personally I would put the odds of an accident or mechanical failure down at 30%, meaning the chances of a Mercedes 1-2 are 70%; although I’d take that down to 60% for caution! That is odds of 1.67 (2/3), or even 2.00 (1/1) for a 50/50 chance. Either way, the odds on offer are just too high, and possibly overplay the chances of rain or the potential damage from the high temperatures as far as the engines are concerned.

My other favourite markets are the number of classified drivers and the safety car. 13 out of 22 finished in Australia (not 14 as the BBC says, but that is no surprise given its abysmal F1 coverage), with five retiring with engine related issues. The Bet365 market is for 14-15 finishers (4.50), with more or less at 2.25. This might be one to wait for the day – if it is dry I’d go for fewer than 14 finishers, if it is wet more than 15 (as they are quite likely to stop the race!).

Safety car odds are 1.40 (or 2.75 for no SC). This reflects the frequent deployment of the cars for almost any issue, but will be adjusted by the increased likelihood of a mechanical problem leaving a car stranded as well as the car coming out for torrential rain. 1.40 represents a 71% chance of a SC, which I think is fair. There is no value in the bet, although I think there will be a SC.

So to summarise:

  • Selected Bet
    • Hamilton/Rosberg dual forecast (2.63 at Ladbrokes)
  • Other predictions
    • Safety car to be deployed (1.40 at Bet365)
    • Finishers:
      • Under 14 if dry (2.25 at Bet365)
      • Over 14 if wet (2.25 at Bet365)

 

2014 Six Nations Review

So the 2014 6N has finished, with Ireland running out the Champions in a closely fought finish. It is worth having a look back over the tournament, both in general terms but also looking at the numbers.

The Review

The teams of 2014 naturally fell into three groups. The top two of Ireland and England were a cut above the rest. Both only lost once, and only narrowly at that. All elements of both teams seemed to perform well, from the forwards, through the playmakers to the backs. In offence and defence both teams showed a composure and ability that will serve them well. Neither team looked like the finished article; there was nothing there that would cause the Southern Hemisphere nations to start trembling in their boots, and whilst England will need to refine some elements (discipline and underutilised wingers) whilst Ireland will need to address personnel changes in losing BOD, both teams will see themselves on an upward path in preparation for next year’s RWC.

Wales and France formed the next band, and both teams will leave the 6N with more concerns than when they came in. Wales appear to be declining, but this may have been a glitch. The changes in squad members for the tour mean that it will be the Autumn before any real assessment can be made as to whether they just stumbled this year, or are falling. France remain the enigma of international rugby. Undoubtedly talented in terms of players, they just seem to self-destruct when things move against them. When taking the initiative from the start they are a threat to anyone, when falling behind at the start they can lose their way. The discipline of the players is often at a knife edge, and this year went across the line (although was managed well for the benefit of the sport).

As usual, Scotland and Italy provided the foundations for the table. Italy will feel hard done by with their wooden spoon, as they put in some good performances, at least until the last two matches. Scotland will point to their win, and their near win against France, but this masks a greater concern. The club game is clearly not able to support a quality international team, but my greatest issue was with the Murrayfield pitch. I appreciate that that is not something within the team’s control, and the usual caveat of both teams playing on the same surface applies, but at what point does a pitch become unacceptable for an international match?

So at the end of the tournament Ireland and England will no doubt sleep best. The performances were good, and are heading in the right direction. Wales and France will be concerned about their ability to put their talent onto the pitch, but they are clearly not bad teams. Scotland and Italy will be concerned, as the repeated presence of such a gulf between those two teams and the rest of the 6N will increase calls for a review of the competition in light of the European Nations Cup.

The Numbers

This was the first year that I looked at the numbers behind the performances in any detail. With limited experience in this, I kept things simple by looking at a few parameters (in addition to the obvious ones about the scores!). Tries and conversions, metres made, penalties conceded and possession were the elements reviewed to look for any patterns.

The issue with any analysis over such a small sample of games is that data can be skewed, especially in the late games that Ireland and England had against Italy. But just looking at the points average there is a clear gap between the top four (20 to 28 points per game) and Italy (12.6) and Scotland (9.4). If there was a target for those two, getting more points on the board would appear to be the main objective.

England made substantially more metres with the ball, nearly 100 more per game than second places Ireland. The fact that this only resulted in an average of one more point per game though would suggest that England can control the possession, but can’t exploit it for the points that are needed. In terms of possession alone, Ireland dominated with an average of 59% per game, but England slightly edged them in terms of points per 1% of possession with 0.51 to 0.45. Scotland’s 0.18 was a dreadful return on an average of 51% possession per game, and supports the idea that their issues lie in what Americans often call ‘the red zone’.

The penalties make for interesting reading. Ireland gave away the fewest with 36, whilst Italy, Scotland and Wales gave away the most. But cross referencing this with the number of points conceded through penalties gives a better indication as to the penalty impact on the final score, and in this case the average was from 6 points (Italy) to 7.2 (England, Scotland and Wales). But Ireland really stand out by losing only 4.2 points per game – that is 21 points to England’s 36 – enough points to determine the destination of the title! In a very simplistic fashion, Ireland’s discipline when under pressure secured them the title.

So the numbers didn’t seem to show anything particularly exceptional or revealing. Italy did better with less possession, Ireland’s discipline helped and England controlled the ball. But these are to be expected with the results, in other words they were not really causal factors in the performances. For the future, more ‘in game’ items that aren’t necessarily directly related to points should be looked at – in particular the scrummaging performances and line out success may give a better indication.

Title Decisions

Being an England supporter, naturally my first impression was that as England beat Ireland they should have won the title! But that led me to consider the impact of dividing teams based on head to head (H2H) record rather than points scored. There are two distinct interpretations:

  • If the teams are level on points then to split them the most logical decider is the match between the two – clearly the better of the two teams would have won
  • The H2H record will always favour the home team (as home and away doesn’t come into play), and this is a Championship of five games and all five games should be used as the decider

Looking back over the history of the 6N since Italy joined in 2000, there have been five times when the top teams shared the same number of points, and each time only two teams.

  • 2001: England beat Ireland +149 to +40, but lost the H2H (England away)
  • 2006: France beat Ireland +63 to +34, and won the H2H (France home)
  • 2007: France beat Ireland +69 to +65, and won the H2H (France away)
  • 2013: Wales beat England +56 to +13, and won the H2H (Wales home)
  • 2014: Ireland beat England +83 to +73, but lost the H2H (Ireland away)

This shows that 80% of the time the team topping the title in a tie also won the H2H. Of the other two times, the title winners who lost the H2H were playing away.

What this does show is that there is not a problem with the eventual 6N winners frequently having lost the H2H fixture. There is therefore no overwhelming case for a change, especially without both a home and away fixture. And this fits in with a more general assessment – the Championship is awarded to the best team over all matches, and to start introducing single match elements would overemphasise the importance of an individual match in such a tournament. It may be more appropriate for a tournament rather than a Championship, but any sudden claim for a change would be unfair.

Still, I had to look at it to see if my gut call after the disappointment of 2014 had any basis in fact. It didn’t!

Attention will now move to the tour matches (often tricky to assess), the Autumn Internationals and, naturally next year’s events. England and Ireland have every reason to be optimistic, Scotland and Italy less so – and would the real Wales and France please stand up?!

Six Nations Predictions – Round Five

So week four saw all three winners predicted. Not really a stretch there. Woefully underpredicted Ireland’s win over a poor second half Italy though, but England’s 11 point triumph was a lot closer to the 6-10 predicted. France’s 2 point win wasn’t quite 21-25, but I shouldn’t be surprised as this was the surly version that turned up rather than the talented and exciting French team that lurks somewhere. Recommended bets weren’t any better, with all three failing (who knew Wales would be so poor or that England would constantly give away penalties?!). With that in mind, onto the final round.

Saturday opens with England taking on Italy in Rome. England should be able to beat an Italian team that will probably be looking to draw a line under this year’s campaign which started promisingly, but has petered out. England also know that there chances of a 6N triumph are likely to rely on points – and 50 will be the minimum target in that case. Two things stand in the way; England’s inability to get it out to the wingers whilst they are in space and the somewhat traditional forward game. England are 23 point favourites, and I think that may be low, but they won’t break the 50 mark (especially as they are due their misfiring, poor game).

Wales face Scotland in the ‘let’s go out and do the shopping now’ game. At least it won’t be on that travesty of a pitch at Murrayfield. Seriously, how does an international organisation let things get that bad? Anyway, this one should be clear. Wales will want to exercise some demons, and Scotland will still be deflated after throwing away a chance to beat the miserable French last time out. Wales are 14 point favourites; again I’d think a wider margin is likely.

Finally the game it all hinges on, Ireland taking on France in Paris. Ireland know that a win will most likely win them the title (and will know for sure what is required by kick-off). That they will be utterly committed to that is without doubt. But this is France. This is the team that was quite good (but lucky with the mistakes by the opposition) against England, ok against Italy, utterly dreadful against Wales and poor against Scotland. What is missing from that list? It is the one spectacular display of Gallic flair and aggression that can sweep across almost any other team in the Northern Hemisphere on its day. Whether this France is capable of it is another matter, but there likely to be as many French players looking to ‘stick it’ to PSA as there are looking to raise their profile as a regular player. It should be a tough game for both teams, and I can see a single moment of brilliance from a winger deciding it. That said, France rely on those wingers (4/7 tries) whilst Ireland seem to be able to get over the try line with almost any position (albeit skewed by the Italy game). This really is going to be close to call (as indicated by the fact that Ireland are only 2 point favourites), but in my mind’s eye I can see Huget running 80 yards in the 80th minute to take the win and break Irish hearts.

So to summarise for the last time in this 6N competition:

  • Italy – England
    • Result: England to win by 36-40 at 10.00
    • Bet: As above
  • Wales – Scotland
    • Result: Wales to win by 21-25 at 7.00
    • Bet: Buy Wales supremacy at 16
  • France-Ireland
    • Result: France to win by 1-5 at 5.50
    • Bet: Ireland-France as the Double Result (Half time-Full time) at 8.00

Six Nations Predictions – Round Four

The last round was a bit of a bust. One winner correct, and all the bets way off. I didn’t expect France to pretty much fail to turn up against Wales, nor for England’s win to be so low scoring. The Italy-Scotland game was a bit closer, but there are no prizes for close (well, there can be in some betting, just not the one I predicted…).

Can round four be any better? I am not so sure; these games are likely to be very tight, as it will almost certainly rule out one potential team from the title, whilst Ireland and France need to put as many points on the board as possible in case it comes down to points difference.

Ireland take on Italy in the first match, and it is difficult to see anything other than a solid Irish win. But the spread is +24.0, and that might be a bit high. Ireland are only out-scoring Italy by just over six points per game, despite being the highest scorers in the 6N so far. Changes to both teams won’t help Italy, with the talismamic Parisse out, and Ireland’s notoriously tight defence won’t allow for many try scoring opportunities for a team that simply can’t rely on kicking points.

Scotland will be on a high after winning in Italy, and have the advantage of one of the worst pitches in international sport. But France will be highly motivated to make amends after a dreadful performance against Wales, including some unfortunate loss of discipline in a sport that rightly prides itself on the relationship between the players and officials. France also know that they need to win ‘big’ as their Italy match is behind them, and I think this will be too much for the Scots and their bog. France are 8 point favourites for the game, and this seems low to me when they average 11 more than Scotland in each game. A combination of the teams and the pitch might see a market favouring penalties work.

The ‘highlight’ game (no offence intended) will see Wales take on England at Twickenham with the loser effectively out of the 6N running. This has every chance of being an excellent game, despite the gutter dwelling, knuckle dragging element of the media trying to foster some concept of nationalistic hatred (clearly jobbing football writers marking time before the World Cup and some witty reference to Mussolini and coffee….). England are 4 point favourites, which seems about right to me. Home advantage will help, but their performances have generally been solid if not spectacular – only the first 15m in France costing them so dearly. I am still not convinced about a number of players (and admit I pay more attention to the English players – that’s bias for you!); Nowell has been no better than, say, Sharples who only got the one game, Farrell is not as consistent as one needs from a fly-half, the scrum looks vulnerable. But there are some excellent reasons to be confident with Brown arguably the player of the tournament thus far (happy to receive other nominations that I may well have omitted!). Wales present a solid attacking threat from all backs, have a solid scrum and will be bolstered by Davies’ return whilst England will be all the poorer for the lack of Billy Vunipola. This one is almost too close to call, but I’ll go for England simply out of personal bias!

So to summarise:

  • Ireland – Italy
    • Result: Ireland to win by 11-15 at 7.50
    • Bet: Italy +24.0 at 2.00
  • Scotland – France
    • Result: France to win by 21-25 at 10.00
    • Bet: Buy France on supremacy spread of 6-8
  • England – Wales
    • Result: England to win by 6-10 at 5.50
    • Bet: Under 36.5 points at 1.90