The European Grand Prix next weekend will be held at a new circuit for the teams: the Circuito Urbano Valencia in Spain.
The venue is so new it only held its first race a few weeks ago, so how are the teams preparing for this leap into the unknown? Here’s what Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Sam Michael and Lewis Hamilton’s race engineer have said about the Valencia street track.
Home driver Fernando Alonso expects the Valencia track to be different to Monte-Carlo. From the footage we’ve seen of the Circuito Urbano Valencia it certainly looks much wider and smoother, and very quick in places:
It’s not like a normal street track, it seems wide, like an American type of street circuit. But you will completely change your opinion and feelings when you run with an F1 car. We will need to maximise the Friday practice when we arrive there because it will be the only time to improve.
Phil Prew (Lewis Hamilton’s race engineer) explains how McLaren go about preparing for a new track and what he thinks of his driver’s prospects:
We look for similarities with other circuits to help give us a generic set-up. With street circuits, however, bumps and camber changes affect the car set-up more than on regular circuits.
You can expect a lot of evolution through a race meeting as rubber goes down. The biggest influence on this is if it rains, as this disrupts the process. Valencia is expected to be hot and dry.
It really helps if a driver is confident. It defines the level of margin that they’re prepared to accept. As he showed at Monaco, Lewis is prepared to leave a minuscule margin, and he finds the performance as a consequence. On street circuits, a driver who feels grip improve through the meeting is the one who finds the right solution soonest and learns where the bumps are and how to avoid them. Lewis will adapt very well to Valencia and Singapore as he proved last year that he’s quick to learn new circuits.
Sam Michael (Williams technical director) gives an insight into what information the team have about the circuit before the race:
Car set-up is selected based on the downforce level and the average corner speed. This is arrived at through mapping the circuit and then using that data to run it through a lap simulation programme.
Drivers work with their engineers to understand what the circuit will require. They may then use the simulator to drive the circuit if the circuit map is available prior to the event.
We’re only given limited data [before the race], such as a plan view circuit map. Sometimes we’re given CAD data so we can then create a more accurate map back at the factory. Additionally, Bridgestone are normally given access in advance in order to measure the track’s abrasiveness so they can pre-select the correct tyre compound.
Nico Rosberg said he would look at some of the onboard footage from the GT race at the circuit’s inaugural event a few weeks ago (you can see some of that footage here).
None of the F1 drivers went so far as participating in that weekend’s events. But a host of GP2 drivers did including Giorgio Pantano, Mike Conway, Luca Filippi, Vitaly Petrov, Ho-Pin Tung, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Javier Villa, Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna, Andreas Zuber and Davide Valsecchi.
Here’s what Rosberg had to say:
I’m going to watch the onboard from some of the GT racing to get a good idea of the track. But then it’s really taking a guess on the set-up, comparing with other street circuits, like Monaco, and from then we’ll just have to take it step by step through the weekend.
On a street circuit like that, the problem is that there is no grip at the beginning. On a normal track you’d learn it in like 15 laps or 10 even. But on a street circuit it’s going to take you more than that – maybe 20 laps – to get the hang of it. It’s going to be very important to keep the car on the track because if you crash you’ll lose a lot of time.
The circuit organisers have said they are working on some of the problems they identified with the track at its inaugural event. According to this story one of them was “problems was with newly-laid asphalt.” Track surface problems can be among the most difficult to fix as we saw at the Canadian Grand Prix earlier this year.
More information about the new Valencia street circuit