Category Archives: Review

Aviva Premiership 2014-15 Preview Part One: Last Season Assessment

Before the last season started I made a prediction of how the final regular season table would look. This post will revisit that to see how well things panned out.

First of all, a look at the predicted table compared to the final table. Note that the difference relates to the final position achieved by the team in the predicted table. And yes, it could have been laid out better.

2013_14 Rugby Tables

With the average being 1.83 places off where predicted, I can hardly call this a success. In fact, the sum of the positional differences for each method were:

  • Pythagorean – 24
  • Bookies – 16
  • Press – 22
  • Gut Call – 24
  • Overall – 22

But that belies some important considerations. The summary table did predict the play-off contenders correctly, which only the Bookies did in isolation. Similarly the bottom three were correctly identified, although that will be of scant consolation to fans of Worcester as they effectively swapped with London Irish. The mid-table is where the damage was really done, as no model predicted the calamitous season that Gloucester endured, whilst others such as Exeter, Bath and Sale all exceeded or failed to meet expectations.

What conclusions can come from this quick review? Well, not many unfortunately. This is my first attempt at applying various models to the Premiership, and there is a long way to go. It appears that for 2014-15 a degree of weighting (to favour the Bookies assessment) would be the best option, but this is something of a dark art for me and I am unsure as to how I should apply it. Comparing their success rate with the others, increasing their weight by 33% would appear to be logical – although applying that might be interesting.

Similarly even at the outset some elements looked wrong. I would like to claim great foresight when I said that I felt Worcester’s predicted 10th place was too generous, but that would be to ignore the other ‘feeling’ I had that Gloucester’s predicted 5th was too low – how wrong I was!

So for the next post we’ll repeat the process carried out before last season, but with a slight amendment to cater for Bookie weighting (if I can work it out). I am hoping to pay more attention to the season as it is underway, and in particular I am looking to identify any ‘rules’ that might offer an edge in match betting – calculating the home advantage figure might help.

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EPL: The Palace Experiment – Betting on a Promoted Team

Betting is really a matter of finding value. Bookies aren’t mugs, and the odds that they offer are generally a fair representation of the underlying probability (slightly less usually, to give them their margin), and so the aim is to find those cases where the odds are not quite right. When multiple opportunities are available, such as in a horse race, there is a much higher chance of finding such value than in a football scenario with only three options – win, lose or draw. That is one reason why accumulators combining the results of multiple matches, goal supremacy, Asian handicaps etc. have risen in popularity in order to find some more markets where an edge is possible. But bookmakers also generally react to the market itself – they may think the appropriate odds are something in the region of 3.50, but if the money is flowing in on that selection then it will come in (and usually the other side goes out).

Finding value is often either a matter of a gut call, or the application of statistical analysis, or – as is more often the case – a combination of the two. Knowledge of the sport is essential, knowledge of what has happened in previous games/seasons/tournaments is vital. Whilst I have tried this approach with posts in this blog (particularly on F1 this season), there are many others that are worth reviewing. There are many covering exchange betting, but you could do a lot worse than checking out Dav Aulak’s blog (http://davaulaksportsbetting.blogspot.co.uk/) which covers football, tennis and a number of other sports on both sides of the pond. His picks are always accompanied by a clear analysis, and someone looking at taking their betting forward won’t go far wrong by checking the blog out (and this is from a Man City fan, the relevance of which will come clear if you visit).

So for the 2013-14 season I wanted to look at a season long market that could be checked and tested. I had read (and I apologise for the lack of an original source) that the promoted teams are often under-rated when it comes to their home matches. In this case I thought that Crystal Palace would be the team that could offer the best value, and so backed them for the win for each match at Selhurst Park (fixed odds) and laid the opposition on the exchanges (to cover both a Palace win and a draw).

With the fixed odds, the 19 home games came in at an average of 4.75 for a Palace win. That only goes down to 3.26 when the final top 4 are excluded. There were 8 wins from the 19 matches, for a +9.05 return on level stakes of 1 unit. Of course, the big result here was a win at 10.00 at home to Chelsea, but this is exactly what was expected in the theory – the odds offered would be higher than they should be, and at least once the team concerned would provide the upset.

On the exchange side of things the level stakes were at 2 units. This market returned a profit of +5.94 units. There were 11 winning matches here, and the average lay price was 2.48.

But let us not get too excited and think that this will result in 9.05x(stake unit) for every season! Palace finished with a home record of W8 D3 L8. The other promoted teams were Hull (7/4/8) who may have had a positive return (but I believe the odds would have reflected higher expectations of Hull – another thing to check!), and Cardiff (5/5/9). That said, Cardiff did beat Man City at home early in the season, and may have broken even but I doubt they would have hit the highs of Palace.

So we can restrict the conclusions to the play-off winners. Palace went up as the play-off winners having finished in 5th place in the Championship. What of this season? Leicester City won the title, and have been playing at the sharp end of the Championship for a while. I can see them doing rather well next season in the Premiership, and I am sure the bookies will as well. Burnley accompanied them as the other automatic promotion. This time the play-off winners were QPR, back up in the Premier League from a short stay in the Championship. Will they provide the same returns? QPR’s last stay in the Premier League was a disaster, notably at home where they won only 2 games, but a year out will have changed their approach and allowed them to get rid of a number of freeloaders. I don’t think the same value will be on offer this season, but it will be worth repeating the experiment to see if lightning strikes twice.

 

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?!

NFL Regular Season Prediction Review

It has been a while, but as the regular season ends and the post season activity starts it is worth reviewing the NFL predictions made in August of 2013.

AFC Review

At least the prediction of Denver and New England was right, and if I was generous I’d say that was a 50% rate on divisional champions! New England were clear winners, and the AFCE was only disappointing this year. Denver are looking very good, with Manning dominating the QB position, but they were pushed very hard by the surprising Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh, the prediction for the AFCN, were pretty poor this year, but rallied to an 8-8 just missing out on the play-offs. Houston, the remaining divisional prediction, were nothing short of dreadful. 2-14, with a 14 game losing streak shows a team in disarray. The wild card predictions I made were Cincinnati and Baltimore. The Bengals have made the post season with a solid victory of the AFCN, but Baltimore also had a very disappointing season when considering they are the reigning champions. San Diego made up the play off teams, but only (in my opinion) by being the best of the rest.

In summary, of the six teams predicted to be involved in the post season action three will be. 50% is not really a great return when considering that any team has a 37.5% chance of making the post season on pure random chance.

NFC Review

The NFCN was predicted as a Chicago – Green Bay battle, and so it turned out, although how much of this was due to the GB QB injury is another matter. Detroit did finish under .500, and the Vikings had a terrible season that was closer to the 3-13 than the 8-8 hoped for. The NFCE was a disappointing division this year, with the predicted dominance of the Giants and Redskins being woefully off the mark. The Cowboys did finish with the predicted 8-8, but my tip for the bottom rung ended up winning the division! The NFCW was probably the best return, with Seattle edging out a solid 49ers team just as was predicted. However, Arizona were a lot closer to the top two than had been predicted, and the NFCW must be seen as one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. If the NFCW was a good prediciton, the NFCS was dreadful. Atlanta didn’t push on, and Tampa were poor leaving the Panthers to dominate a division I predicted them to barely hit .500 in! New Orleans did push on though.

Again, three out of six post season teams were predicted, with two correct divisional champions. Not brilliant at all.

Summary

Not a very good year at all really. Some came off well such as the NFCW, but others were way off the mark such as Houston. More work is needed for next season!

F1 2013 Review

As the season concludes it is worth looking back over the season and to assess the relative achievements of the different teams. Usually at this point it would be possible to make some attempt at anticipating the potential for next season, but given the huge raft of changes that are in line for 2014 that would be an exercise in futility.

Red Bull

As the runaway title winners it is difficult to say much against the team. However, the problems they faced early in the season before the tyre changes seemed to indicate a degree of fallibility and a slight hope that they won’t start next season as they finished this one, at least hope for the other teams.

From a driver perspective, Vettel was simply untouchable. Suffering now from the jealously and thinly veiled hatred that accompanies success he has managed to maintain a private life, and his head above the petty machinations of lesser drivers. Webber, as usual, made up the numbers. He is worshiped by many, but I have never seen the pride in constant bitching about everything being against you whilst voluntarily signing up for more of the same. A lot of people indicate he will be missed in F1. Not by me.

Daniel Ricciardo is an interesting choice. I confess that I haven’t seen anything of him that Vettel displayed, but that might be more the fault of the car than the driver. I don’t see him competing with Vettel in 2014, all things being equal, but Red Bull will expect him to line up in the top four every race.

Mercedes

If anything Mercedes had the best season. They couldn’t turn some early season pace into a realistic challenge; for Mercedes the tyre change worked against them (and thereby fuelled the fires of conspiracy from the intellectually challenged ‘F1 fan’ who thinks Eddie Jordan says anything worth listening to). That the team was a regular top runner is undeniable. Both drivers showed management of the car to an extent, and over a single lap it was one of the fastest cars on the grid. However, the changes within the team – that is the loss of Ross Brawn – could mean trouble for the new year.

Maintaining the current driver line up will be a great help to Mercedes. Hamilton and Rosberg were consistently the 2nd/3rd best throughout the season, and as long as they work well together could prove a real threat in 2014. How the drivers will work together if a DWC is on the cards is another matter; one that I hope we see next season.

Ferrari

As usual the team flattered to deceive, and Alonso drove well to maintain a challenge into the last quarter of the season. The ‘Prancing Horse’ has been a disappointment for a number of years – but that might just as well be due to the performance of the Red Bull! Ferrari hold a privilged place in the F1 hierarchy, but that will not last if the team cannot turn around the performance where 2nd is nothing.

Alonso drove well throughout the season, but at times appeared to be frustrated with the team. To the extent that I think the pairing with Kimi is a recipe for disaster. Massa showed glimpses of his talent, and one can only hope that he can express that more fully in a Williams. Above all, there is the hope that he doesn’t fall into the trap of Barrichello and spend his remaining years in F1 complaining about his treatment at Ferrari after having taken the pieces of silver year after year. I am hopeful that won’t be the case, as Massa was always a better driver than Barrichello could ever hope to be.

Lotus

Ah, Lotus. That black and gold livery excites every F1 fan over a certain age, and for a brief moment it looked as though this could be the season where would could Photoshop a JPS logo onto a new F1 title winning car. It was not to be though, and the team has lurched from early season success to later season penury. Given the state of the finances, there is real concern that they will finish the 2014 season, let alone start it.

On the driver front Grosjean was a revelation this season. He seems to have learned the lessons from the frequent incidents earlier in his career, and has developed into a solid driver. He deserves a win, and personally I would have preferred to see him in the Red Bull. Kimi drove well enough, but, as usual, seemed to lose motivation – although not being paid would tax anyone’s motivation – and his departure was inevitable. But the biggest concern has to be the signing of Maldonado for 2014. A legend in his own mind Maldonado has experienced the greatness of an F1 win, but singularly failed to parlay that into anything approaching a reputation as a decent F1 driver. I do not know of a single person who thinks Maldonado is driving for Lotus for any reason other than the cash he brings with him. A real shame.

McLaren

A disastrous season for the team – again – and some radical changes that scream of a knee jerk reaction. The car wasn’t good enough, of that there is little doubt, but for now there is a concern as to whether this can be turned around with the current personnel.

Perez’s departure certainly seems a little harsh. McLaren seems to be a team that can only offer support to one driver, and that wasn’t Perez. He certainly made errors, and his performances weren’t exceptional, but worthy of dismissal? Button’s performances certainly were better, but nothing special themselves. Radio traffic may be misleading, but did JB ever say anything that wasn’t complaining about the car or his teammate (when Perez had the temerity to try to overtake him)? Next season will be the making or breaking of McLaren I fear, but I also think that it will see a very talented rookie utterly demolishing the older driver.

Force India

Force India are a well-liked team, not least because their colour scheme is at least something different to the usual red and blue! But, as with others, they really suffered with the tyre changes during the season. However,it always appeared that the weak link in the team was the driver line-up, and so there are high hopes for next season,

Sutil appeared happy to toddle along in the midfield, whilst di Resta appeared to have had his ego fueled by links to top teams last year and failed to deliver when it mattered. The team did let him down at times, of that there is no doubt, but his very public condemnation, when combined with less than impressive performances, did his career no good.

If the team do have access to a good Mercedes engine then with Hulkenberg they have every chance of breaking through. It would be a welcome addition to the top of the final classifications.

Sauber

Sauber always seem to exceed their resources, and did so this year although that was reliant on Hulkenberg’s performances. The team itself appears to be a beacon of hope for midfield runners. Gutierrez may be another pay driver, but was relatively solid nonetheless with some real flashes of talent.

Hulkenberg’s move to Force India is something of a surprise, but Sauber’s finances may demand it. The Hulk is worthy of a place in a top team, and I would have thought he would have made a far better teammate for Magnusson that Button.

Torro Rosso

I am never sure what to make of Torro Rosso. Are they just Red Bull’s B team, or are they more independent but generally run as a ‘driver academy’? How close can the relationship be when there are different engine suppliers?

Overall the team finished almost where expected, but I am sure that they would have wanted to beat Force India and Sauber. JEV showed some early season promise which petered out (probably around the time he realised he wasn’t going to get the Red Bull seat), but the number of retirements didn’t help him, nor did his qualifying performances at the beginning of the season. Ricciardo was solid if unspectacular. Next season will be interesting given the Torro Rosso standard to blooding new drivers.

Williams

Oh dear, oh dear. Another season of underperformance. Maldonado appeared to be running through the motions, convinced in his own abilities even if nobody else was. Bottas appeared to shine as the season went on, and is well placed for next season if the car can deliver.

The team also failed to deliver in particular with the wheel tethering issue post pit-stop, and were lucky to only receive fines rather than a more draconian punishment. Next season a more professional approach should deliver; indeed it has to deliver as I fear another bad year could be the end of one of the great names of F1.

Marussia and Caterham

I bundle the two together as there is little to say. Bianchi was the best of the lot in driving terms, but early season promise didn’t appear to develop. As for the teams, I am afraid that I cannot see the point in them. They are still at the back, still way off the pace, and offer nothing to F1 whatsoever. Fortunately the farce that was HRT has gone, and at least these two teams are at least in the same time zone in terms of lap times, but they offer no threat to Q2, no threat to the midfield teams.

A far better option would be for both teams to be taken over as a main runner’s B team – similar to the Red Bull and Torro Rosso relationship. That might at least improve the basic performance level. At the moment, claiming a positive of a driver completing ever lap is utterly ridiculous – I could complete every lap in a bloody Fiat 500 and it would be a lot cheaper.

Overall

The season was not as bad as some think – those that complain most usually have the F1 knowledge of a potato and can’t see beyond ‘their’ driver. Sure, Red Bull dominated but there were some excellent battles behind them. Interesting how the domination of F1 by McLaren and Senna a number of years ago is looked upon as an exemplar of when everything comes together to produce something exceptional, and yet if it happens to be a German then it is a disaster.

Next season will be an interesting one with all the changes. Ferrari have to improve, Red Bull have probably the best designer but one who doesn’t like to be curtailed in his design the way the new rules will force him to be, McLaren haven’t produced a successful new design element for years (the F duct didn’t really offer much) and Mercedes appear to be pinning a lot on the new engine but need to solve the tyre wear issues. There is a lot of play for in 2014, and it will be a very interesting season!

As the season concludes it is worth looking back over the season and to assess the relative achievements of the different teams. Usually at this point it would be possible to make some attempt at anticipating the potential for next season, but given the huge raft of changes that are in line for 2014 that would be an exercise in futility.

Red Bull

As the runaway title winners it is difficult to say much against the team. However, the problems they faced early in the season before the tyre changes seemed to indicate a degree of fallibility and a slight hope that they won’t start next season as they finished this one, at least hope for the other teams.

From a driver perspective, Vettel was simply untouchable. Suffering now from the jealously and thinly veiled hatred that accompanies success he has managed to maintain a private life, and his head above the petty machinations of lesser drivers. Webber, as usual, made up the numbers. He is worshiped by many, but I have never seen the pride in constant bitching about everything being against you whilst voluntarily signing up for more of the same. A lot of people indicate he will be missed in F1. Not by me.

Daniel Ricciardo is an interesting choice. I confess that I haven’t seen anything of him that Vettel displayed, but that might be more the fault of the car than the driver. I don’t see him competing with Vettel in 2014, all things being equal, but Red Bull will expect him to line up in the top four every race.

Mercedes

If anything Mercedes had the best season. They couldn’t turn some early season pace into a realistic challenge; for Mercedes the tyre change worked against them (and thereby fuelled the fires of conspiracy from the intellectually challenged ‘F1 fan’ who thinks Eddie Jordan says anything worth listening to). That the team was a regular top runner is undeniable. Both drivers showed management of the car to an extent, and over a single lap it was one of the fastest cars on the grid. However, the changes within the team – that is the loss of Ross Brawn – could mean trouble for the new year.

Maintaining the current driver line up will be a great help to Mercedes. Hamilton and Rosberg were consistently the 2nd/3rd best throughout the season, and as long as they work well together could prove a real threat in 2014. How the drivers will work together if a DWC is on the cards is another matter; one that I hope we see next season.

Ferrari

As usual the team flattered to deceive, and Alonso drove well to maintain a challenge into the last quarter of the season. The ‘Prancing Horse’ has been a disappointment for a number of years – but that might just as well be due to the performance of the Red Bull! Ferrari hold a privileged place in the F1 hierarchy, but that will not last if the team cannot turn around the performance where 2nd is nothing.

Alonso drove well throughout the season, but at times appeared to be frustrated with the team. To the extent that I think the pairing with Kimi is a recipe for disaster. Massa showed glimpses of his talent, and one can only hope that he can express that more fully in a Williams. Above all, there is the hope that he doesn’t fall into the trap of Barrichello and spend his remaining years in F1 complaining about his treatment at Ferrari after having taken the pieces of silver year after year. I am hopeful that won’t be the case, as Massa was always a better driver than Barrichello could ever hope to be.

Lotus

Ah, Lotus. That black and gold livery excites every F1 fan over a certain age, and for a brief moment it looked as though this could be the season where would could Photoshop a JPS logo onto a new F1 title winning car. It was not to be though, and the team has lurched from early season success to later season penury. Given the state of the finances, there is real concern that they will finish the 2014 season, let alone start it.

On the driver front Grosjean was a revelation this season. He seems to have learned the lessons from the frequent incidents earlier in his career, and has developed into a solid driver. He deserves a win, and personally I would have preferred to see him in the Red Bull. Kimi drove well enough, but, as usual, seemed to lose motivation – although not being paid would tax anyone’s motivation – and his departure was inevitable. But the biggest concern has to be the signing of Maldonado for 2014. A legend in his own mind Maldonado has experienced the greatness of an F1 win, but singularly failed to parlay that into anything approaching a reputation as a decent F1 driver. I do not know of a single person who thinks Maldonado is driving for Lotus for any reason other than the cash he brings with him. A real shame.

McLaren

A disastrous season for the team – again – and some radical changes that scream of a knee jerk reaction. The car wasn’t good enough, of that there is little doubt, but for now there is a concern as to whether this can be turned around with the current personnel.

Perez’s departure certainly seems a little harsh. McLaren seems to be a team that can only offer support to one driver, and that wasn’t Perez. He certainly made errors, and his performances weren’t exceptional, but worthy of dismissal? Button’s performances certainly were better, but nothing special themselves. Radio traffic may be misleading, but did JB ever say anything that wasn’t complaining about the car or his teammate (when Perez had the temerity to try to overtake him)? Next season will be the making or breaking of McLaren I fear, but I also think that it will see a very talented rookie utterly demolishing the older driver.

Force India

Force India are a well-liked team, not least because their colour scheme is at least something different to the usual red and blue! But, as with others, they really suffered with the tyre changes during the season. However, it always appeared that the weak link in the team was the driver line-up, and so there are high hopes for next season,

Sutil appeared happy to toddle along in the midfield, whilst di Resta appeared to have had his ego fuelled by links to top teams last year and failed to deliver when it mattered. The team did let him down at times, of that there is no doubt, but his very public condemnation, when combined with less than impressive performances, did his career no good.

If the team do have access to a good Mercedes engine then with Hulkenberg they have every chance of breaking through. It would be a welcome addition to the top of the final classifications.

Sauber

Sauber always seem to exceed their resources, and did so this year although that was reliant on Hulkenberg’s performances. The team itself appears to be a beacon of hope for midfield runners. Gutierrez may be another pay driver, but was relatively solid nonetheless with some real flashes of talent.

Hulkenberg’s move to Force India is something of a surprise, but Sauber’s finances may demand it. The Hulk is worthy of a place in a top team, and I would have thought he would have made a far better teammate for Magnusson that Button.

Torro Rosso

I am never sure what to make of Torro Rosso. Are they just Red Bull’s B team, or are they more independent but generally run as a ‘driver academy’? How close can the relationship be when there are different engine suppliers?

Overall the team finished almost where expected, but I am sure that they would have wanted to beat Force India and Sauber. JEV showed some early season promise which petered out (probably around the time he realised he wasn’t going to get the Red Bull seat), but the number of retirements didn’t help him, nor did his qualifying performances at the beginning of the season. Ricciardo was solid if unspectacular. Next season will be interesting given the Torro Rosso standard to blooding new drivers.

Williams

Oh dear, oh dear. Another season of underperformance. Maldonado appeared to be running through the motions, convinced in his own abilities even if nobody else was. Bottas appeared to shine as the season went on, and is well placed for next season if the car can deliver.

The team also failed to deliver in particular with the wheel tethering issue post pit-stop, and were lucky to only receive fines rather than a more draconian punishment. Next season a more professional approach should deliver; indeed it has to deliver as I fear another bad year could be the end of one of the great names of F1.

Marussia and Caterham

I bundle the two together as there is little to say. Bianchi was the best of the lot in driving terms, but early season promise didn’t appear to develop. As for the teams, I am afraid that I cannot see the point in them. They are still at the back, still way off the pace, and offer nothing to F1 whatsoever. Fortunately the farce that was HRT has gone, and at least these two teams are at least in the same time zone in terms of lap times, but they offer no threat to Q2, no threat to the midfield teams.

A far better option would be for both teams to be taken over as a main runner’s B team – similar to the Red Bull and Torro Rosso relationship. That might at least improve the basic performance level. At the moment, claiming a positive of a driver completing ever lap is utterly ridiculous – I could complete every lap in a bloody Fiat 500 and it would be a lot cheaper.

Overall

The season was not as bad as some think – those that complain most usually have the F1 knowledge of a potato and can’t see beyond ‘their’ driver. Sure, Red Bull dominated but there were some excellent battles behind them. Interesting how the domination of F1 by McLaren and Senna a number of years ago is looked upon as an exemplar of when everything comes together to produce something exceptional, and yet if it happens to be a German then it is a disaster.

Next season will be an interesting one with all the changes. Ferrari have to improve, Red Bull have probably the best designer but one who doesn’t like to be curtailed in his design the way the new rules will force him to be, McLaren haven’t produced a successful new design element for years (the F duct didn’t really offer much) and Mercedes appear to be pinning a lot on the new engine but need to solve the tyre wear issues. There is a lot of play for in 2014, and it will be a very interesting season!

F1: Korean GP Comments

No predictions or betting tips for this one. There just isn’t a lot of data on the race, nor is there anything particularly special about the circuit (unlike Singapore’s street circuit nature), and let’s be honest, the winner market is as dead as Button’s DWC chances. However, the race weekend has thrown up some points of contention.

Tyres

The first, and greatest, bone of contention in F1 at the moment relates to the tyres; the accusation being that they go off far too quickly meaning drivers can’t push meaning we aren’t getting a true reflection of driver/car performance (note the combination there). Well, duh! Pirelli don’t deserve anything like the amount of flak that they are getting – they have designed the tyres that Bernie wanted them to design, tyres that wouldn’t last more than a few laps to push for variable strategies and ‘exciting’ racing. Now Pirelli haven’t got it right, and sometimes their tyres are a bit too fragile or even a bit too resilient, but they are working to order. If the journalists, teams, drivers and followers of F1 (I won’t call them fans as most of them disgust me) don’t like it then they need to raise the issue with the right party (Bernie – not Pirelli, not the FIA) and say what they want; how long should each compound last and with what performance difference between the compounds. For that matter, Pirelli should release full details of the F1 contract – surely that indicates what type of tyre they are meant to be producing – and a line could be drawn under the blame game once and for all. But the teams, and their members, should remember that those people who do follow F1 and have an IQ in excess of double figures also know that everyone has the same tyres available and yet some work better than others.

All that said, wherever the responsibility lies something needs to be done for next season (although with all the other changes coming who knows what that might be). The option tyres have to last more than 5 laps at 100% pace surely? But how do you design a tyre that can do that, but then go off so that the driver can’t do 20 laps at 95% and therefore possibly a 2 stop rather than a 3 stop. The balancing act is far trickier than people give them credit for – I bet they could design a tyre that would last the entire race for any track within a week, controlling wear is another thing and F1 either has to embrace it or look somewhere else.

The Vettel Problem

I don’t mean a problem with Vettel, I mean the problem that people have with Vettel. First of all there is the booing when he is on the top step of the podium; such subhuman scum needs to be removed from the sport and, preferably, the gene pool. But there remains the problem as to what does the poor guy have to do to convince the (predominantly English) armchair experts that he is one of the greatest F1 drivers? He has outperformed his teammate consistently, and that even dates to the time when Webber was getting more support but just couldn’t turn it into results. He has won races easily and fought tooth and nail for every place. He has won a race with a team that is not one of the top four. Sure he has made mistakes, but who hasn’t? Other, that is, than Prost, where I am struggling to think of one, but we all know about Schumacher (M), Senna, Mansell, Villeneuve (G), Lauda, Hunt, Rindt etc. etc. Vettel cannot be blamed for the performance of the car, or of the team, and deserves more credit than he gets from the public. He could do without the backhanded and snidy comments from some other drivers as well.

The Korean GP

I like the Korean track. I think it is a shame that there is even consideration as to its future when circuits such as Bahrain are on the calendar (for both sporting and political reasons), and the USA (which has never really embraced F1) has the chance of two. The Yeongam circuit is an ambitious attempt to combine long straights, fast curves and a technical street-like element in one track. I still think that it works, and is not only great to watch but also a challenge rather than the somewhat soporific tracks found elsewhere. One thing that certainly needs some tightening up is the deployment of the fire response vehicle which seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Apparently the white flags to indicate another vehicle on track were being waved, but it certainly wasn’t ideal and the FIA will want to stop it from happening again. If only they could be so proactive about the safety car. The need for the SC is clear, and few would dispute it given the alternatives of stopping the race or trying to clear a dangerous situation under waved yellows. But the whole business of letting lapped cars unlap themselves is pointless. Just send the lapped cars to the back of the train in race order – hell count them as having unlapped themselves if you have to – and get on with the racing. Six laps to pick up some rubber in one place? Not acceptable when it can totally destroy a race.

The media coverage after the event was, understandably, dominated by Seb, Lewis and Fernando. Disappointing, I thought, considering that Hulkenberg put in one of the performances of the season to fairly, and clearly, keep two world champions behind him for lap after lap (even overtaking one when required). And I do wish that sports journalists had to demonstrate an IQ in excess of a plank of wood – Webber’s 10 place grid penalty (and possibly the origin of all his woes in Korea) was not for hitching a lift in Singapore, it was for three reprimands over the course of the season. That puts a significantly different slant on things.

NFL Week 2: The 2-0 and 0-2 Review

As mentioned in the last NFL round up, a week is a long time on the road to the Superbowl. Each game represents 6.25% of the regular season; that might not seem a lot but compared to rugby (4.5%) and football (2.6%) it certainly represents a more significant chunk of the ‘margin of error’ that may be needed to get into the post season. Whilst there is a long way to go, it is possibly appropriate to look at those teams that have had the good, and the not so good, starts to the season and focus on the 2-0 and 0-2 brigade before we head into week 3.

The 2-0s

Heading into week 3 there are eight 2-0 teams, with five of them in the AFC. Two of those can be found in the AFC East where the Patriots are just ahead of the surprise package of the Miami Dolphins. Traditional domination of the division with a promising, but lucky, upstart? Far from it. The Patriots points difference of +5 shows how close things have been, only managing to beat the Bills by 2 in week 1, and the Jets by 3 in week 2. More than that, the relationship between their star QB Brady and the rest of the team appears to be slipping; this is a team that was the epitome of ruthless professionalism for so long, and yet the personnel changes in the team over the close season appear to have upset the balance. Then again, it is the mark of a good team that can win whilst playing ‘ugly’, and a 2-0 divisional record puts them in a very good place. They will be looking to secure a win against a poor (borderline imploding) Tampa in week 3, but this division could turn out to be far closer that anyone thought if the Jets can sort themselves out (unlikely given the QB trouble) and Bills maintain their impressive level of performance. Miami’s win over Cleveland is difficult to assess – the Browns look pretty poor – but the win at Indianapolis was another matter. This was a tight game that the Dolphins nearly let slip, but Tannehill had an excellent game with 23/34 for 319 yards and 1 TD. The next two weeks will be very difficult for the Dolphins (who are 2-0 for the first time in what seems like donkey’s years); Atlanta at home will be difficult and a trip to New Orleans certainly won’t be a picnic (although seeing that game as a meeting of 3-0 teams would be surreal). It is a bit too early to peg Miami as play off material, but they and their fans should take heart from an impressive early start.

Houston are secure at the top of the AFC South with a 2-0 record, but is this the sign of a dominant team? I don’t think so. A record 21 point fightback that was nearly too late against the unfancied Chargers in week 1 saw them squeak a win, and they required another 4th Quarter comeback to beat the Titans. This is not a team that is storming to the top in the way it appeared to do last season, although the same ‘win ugly’ epithet applied to the Patriots may apply here as well. Will they win the AFC South? Almost certainly, even if they don’t improve tremendously they should have enough to hold off their rivals, but this is not what Houston want. If they are to win the Big One, they’ll need to play better than this.

The AFC West is home to the other two 2-0 teams – the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. Kansas’ record may flatter them slightly with one win against the hapless (and utterly abysmal) Jacksonville Jaguars, but the defeat of Dallas in week 2 underlined their credentials. But this is a team that has now matched their entire win total from 2012. Is this a team that can set the NFL alight? Possibly not. Going from a 2-14 to the play-offs is certainly possible, but more time is needed to see if the Dallas win was due to an exceptional Chiefs team or a weak Dallas team. Denver, on the other hand, look as though they are justifying their pre-season status as one of the favourites for the Superbowl. A comprehensive beating of the reigning champions in week 1 was followed by a similarly dominating victory against the Giants in week 2. Manning (P) couldn’t match the 7 TDs of week 1 (but then again, who could expect him to), but his two TDs helped the Broncos rack up 41 points whilst the defence forced his younger brother to throw 4 interceptions. Both offensively and defensively the Broncos have impressed against good opposition, and if they – and particularly Peyton – can remain healthy they should go all the way.

The first NFC team with a 2-0 record is the Chicago Bears. Two narrow wins have secured this position, and I was able to watch the second of these against the Vikings on Sunday. Did they look like a 2-0 team? No. Even playing against the traditionally poor Vikings secondary they fluffed their lines, and Cutler was lucky to be given an escape route to take the win back (although, to be fair, he did at least run that drive well). They should be a 2-0 team at this stage, but by more than 4 points. They face a tricky trip to Pittsburgh next, and then at the Lions, by which time we’ll see if I am being unfair.

New Orleans have secured a 2-0 record beating both Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and whilst they haven’t blown out either team they have done enough to justify their position atop the pile in the NFC South. Arizona might just put an end to this run next week though. Seattle rounds off the NFC 2-0 teams, and whilst their win at Carolina might not have been impressive the victory over San Francisco certainly was. The 49ers have been heavily tipped for a return to the Superbowl this year, and the Seahawks restricted them to one FG in what is turning into one of the most ’emotional’ rivalries in the NFL. That victory, though, puts the Seahawks at the top of my NFC teams.

The 0-2s

These teams will start to worry. 0-2 teams have made the post season, so it isn’t all over, but for some it looks a much steeper hill to climb. Again there are eight 2-0 teams, mirroring the other side with five in the NFC and three in the AFC. Two of the AFC 0-2 teams are in the AFC North, namely the Browns and the surprising Steelers. The Browns loss to Miami may not have been completely expected, but few would have expected them to beat the Ravens – and that was before the Ravens were beaten in week one. But the Steelers are the real surprise having gone down to the Titans and the Bengals. The problem is that these weren’t really close defeats for the Steelers, and there isn’t a clear sign of when they might get over this bump in the road. True, they are suffering from injuries, but there is no depth in a team that is giving up a lot of penalties and turnovers. Chicago and Minnesota won’t be easy for the next two games, but two wins are needed to get this team back on track.

The final AFC 0-2 team is Jacksonville, losing to Kansas City and Oakland. Two games, two defeats, 11 points in total and no TDs. This is a truly dreadful team. Seattle in week 3 won’t help (although Sporting Gods everywhere have been known to use matchups like these to remind people that there are no ‘sure things’), but even looking down the ‘to play’ list it is difficult to find a potential win. This could be a 0-16 year for the Jaguars (only 2 worse than last year) – something Detroit would like to see I think.

The NFC North sees two surprising names on the 0-2 list: New York Giants and Washington Redskins. New York have had two tough games at Dallas and at home to Denver, so I don’t see a real worry here other than Eli’s ability to throw interceptions (that needs sorting sooner rather than later!). They should beat Carolina in week 3 to get off the mark. Washington don’t look anything like the team from last season, and questions have to be asked as to whether their charismatic QB has lost a step or two coming back from injury – even if it is only temporary. The Eagles should have been beaten at home, and although GB were always going to be tricky (especially after they had suffered an opening week defeat) they were utterly taken apart in the first half. Second half comebacks are something of familiar territory for the Redskins, but that only works if the lead the other team has isn’t too large! Detroit in week 3 is a game that the Redskins would expect to win all day long; a defeat here and their season could completely unravel.

Carolina in the NFC South have faced a very difficult Seattle whilst giving a good account of themselves before going down to the surprising Bills in a close game. 0-2 isn’t where a team that was looking to improve on last season’s 7-9 would want to be, and they will want to beat the Giants before their bye week, but it could be tough going. In fact, looking at the records thus far the Carolina – New York Giants game could be the match of the week! Tampa are also sitting on 0-2 in the NFC South, and rumours of an unhappy camp won’t help them. Two defeats aren’t a great start, even if they were very close at the Jets and at home to New Orleans, but when combined with apparent discord in the camp (or at least with the Coach) then a team stands on the precipice of a complete collapse. Travelling to New England is not an ideal way to foster unity, and with Arizona in week 4 it is quite possible that Tampa will be 0-4 before their bye week.

The last 0-2 team is the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, the greatest American Football team in existence has been consigned to the bottom of the NFC North (are my allegiances showing?). The defeat at Detroit was bad enough, but the loss to Chicago was painful after being in a winning position. Elements of the team played well throughout, but I am afraid that Ponder is not a franchise QB and without a franchise QB I can’t see the Vikings making a push for the Superbowl. Play offs will be tricky enough, but frankly the play offs are a waste of time unless you are going to win the title. Home to Cleveland will hopefully see a first win, before a home match against Pittsburgh that is a home match in London. Dear God don’t let that be an International Series match between two teams without a win…

Summary

So it would appear that some 2-0 teams aren’t a dominating as the record would suggest, nor are some 0-2 teams as bad as that would indicate (Denver and Jacksonville notwithstanding). The real surprises are in Pittsburgh, and, to an extent, in Tampa which might be worth following for the sheer soap opera aspect! I just wonder how this will all look after each team has 8 games under their belt?