Hello again race fans and gambling fans, the column is back and I didn’t have to set a 6:45 am alarm for qualifying this morning. F1 is just outside Austin this weekend at Circuit of the Americas, or COTA, for the US Grand Prix! 

An F1 weekend in the central time zone has greatly affected my weekend rhythm. I’m typing this before/during the third F1 practice session of the weekend, which is usually at like 5 am or something. But this weekend, (and at the upcoming races in Mexico and Brazil) we get the European joys of watching F1 in the afternoon, as was intended.

Before we dive into this weekend, let’s take a look back at our last plays from two weeks ago, some plays on the F1 Turkish Grand Prix and NASCAR’s playoff race at the Charlotte Roval:

  • Lewis Hamilton fastest qualifier even money: WIN
  • Hamilton fastest lap +165: LOSS
  • Charles Leclerc podium finish +165: LOSS
  • Kyle Larson to win Charlotte Roval race +450: WIN
  • Kyle Larson top 3 -115: WIN
  • AJ Allmendinger to win +1800: LOSS (car stunk!)
  • Alex Bowman head-to-head over Kevin Harvick -120: WIN
  • AJ Allmendinger over Christopher Bell +115: LOSS
  • Denny Hamlin over William Byron -120: WIN

5-4 and hit the Roval win bet with Kyle Larson for a very nice weekend. Charles Leclerc and Ferrari didn’t quite get the strategy right for the podium, and came up just short. Valtteri Bottas dominated the Turkish Grand Prix, showing the pace that Mercedes has gained over this F1 season.

In Istanbul a few weeks back, Mercedes just had a pace Red Bull and every other team simply couldn’t keep up with, primarily on the straights, where they gained a lot of time. Mercedes also has improved and grown faster in slow corners, navigating hairpins a vital tenth of a second quicker than their closest rivals at Red Bull.

This helpful graph from this article on Mercedes’ pace on F1’s website visualizes the time difference between the Mercedes and other cars on the grid. You can see where Red Bull and McLaren gain time in medium speed corners, and how Ferrari equals the Merc pace in the medium speed corners and actually has a slight advantage in straight line speed. 

COTA has a lovely mix of winding corners, fast corners, and the famous climb up to turn one, one of the reasons so many in F1 and F1 fans love the track. It’s a track drivers love because it offers a lot of different challenges, offering multiple spots for overtaking and close racing. 

As I watch Saturday’s practice and write this, Red Bull looks to have potentially found a little bit of extra pace, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez topping FP3 halfway through. Another FP3 revelation: the soft tire seems more viable than teams were anticipating, and with a presumably two-pit stop race, the quicker soft tire could play a big role in Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Before I go on any further, if you’re here for NASCAR picks, sorry, I don’t have a ton this weekend and don’t plan on watching the Kansas race as it is running directly against F1 on Sunday, in what I can only describe as a slightly puzzling scheduling decision by NASCAR when they could run a bit earlier and catch the pre-F1 crowd. 

Okay fine here’s a NASCAR pick even though I won’t watch: Denny Hamlin to win +550. It’s a 550 horsepower race, which plays into Hamlin’s wheelhouse. Hendrick Motorsports cars will be fast as they always are on 550 horsepower 1.5ish mile tracks, but I can’t tell anyone in good conscience to bet Kyle Larson as only a +200 favorite in the random blender of a NASCAR race.

Back to the F1 and my writing this as i’m watching FP3, something to keep an eye on this weekend will be track limit penalties, which has seen a lot of laps deleted in practice sessions too far. Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of Saturday’s practice, but had his time deleted for a track limit violation at turn nine. 

Verstappen, Bottas, and many others have also had lap times deleted in practices, so be wary of that going into Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session soon! This is time sensitive material! Enough prelude, let’s get to some picks!

Despite Sergio Perez topping the second and third practices this weekend, Mercedes has the pace, and Lewis Hamilton’s deleted FP3 lap was around four tenths of a second quicker than Perez’s lap. 

Lewis Hamilton has won more than the rest of Formula 1 combined at COTA, and even won a US Grand Prix at the Indy Road Course when it was still there. The man, and his Mercedes, are a near perfect fit for COTA, and won the 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions of the US Grand Prix. 

Lewis to win pole position -130, and Lewis to win -140 before it changes after qualifying, one side of it or the other, and I love it this weekend. Valtteri Bottas fastest lap should be around +200, and starting with a grid penalty, will potentially be in a better position to get a fastest lap run towards the end of the race. 

I didn’t even mention America’s F1 driver, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who got to drive Dale Earnhardt’s classic Wrangler NASCAR car at COTA on Saturday (and will again on Sunday). Danny Ric loves it in the US, and the US loves him. Take him to finish in the top six +115

It’s almost quali time. Let’s go racin’.