The McLaren-Red Bull fight for supremacy has largely occupied our attention in the last few races.
But Ferrari are still in the hunt and are looking to propel themselves to the front with a significant upgrade package this weekend.
Will it be enough to help Fernando Alonso score his first win at his other home track?
Some media dubbed the revised Ferrari the ‘F10b’, but the team indicate the changes to the car are not significant enough to merit a new chassis name.
At the heart of the upgrade is a re-routing of the exhausts to direct hot air towards the diffuser, making it more efficient.
This is a complicated change for several reasons: hot exhaust air could damage the bodywork or cause the rear tyres to overheat. Variations in the flow of air from the exhaust as the car accelerates and decelerates could disrupt aerodynamic performance.
This explains why Ferrari have used every means available to run the car before the race. Marc Gene has done straight-line testing at Vairano and Fernando Alonso drove the car around Fiorano for ‘filming purposes’.
All the same, there will be nervous faces in the Ferrari garage at first practice, hoping all runs smoothly with the upgrade.
Even without these new parts, Valencia should be a good race for Ferrari. All teams will use the medium and super-soft tyre mix once again, which has tended to suit the F10 better than the hard/soft mix used at most races this year.
Montreal has a similar mix of long straights and slow corners to Valencia and the F10 was good enough for victory there. The signs are good that we could have a three-way fight for supremacy in Valencia.
Read more: Ferrari bringing new exhausts to Valencia
Few changes at McLaren
The McLaren MP4-25 was clearly the fastest car in race in the last two races but they haven’t got any major developments this weekend and won’t be bringing out their version of the RB6’s exhausts until Silverstone.
Nonetheless Valencia’s long straights will suit their powerful Mercedes engine allied to their pioneering F-duct.
This combination was so effective at Montreal they were able to run higher downforce levels to help them in the corners.
Read more: McLaren expect quick Ferraris at Valencia
Red Bull test F-duct solution
Having failed to get their version of the F-duct working in Turkey, and not bringing it to Montreal, Red Bull are trying once again to put a rear wing stalling device on their RB6 this weekend.
Although their car wants for little in terms of performance, straight-line speed is a key weakness. In qualifying at Montreal they were 11.6kph slower than the fastest car through the speed traps.
Christian Horner has tried to blame that on their Renault engines, claiming they’re ’20-30bhp’ slower than the other F1 power plants. But Vitaly Petrov’s Renault was the fastest in the same session, suggesting that what’s really hurting the RB6 in this respect is the drag penalty associated with all the downforce it generates.
Expect the RB6 to be very fast through the quick corners in the final sector at Valencia – which could make for exciting qualifying laps from Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Whether it can hold its own on the straights will be partly down to how well the new F-duct works. We should have some telling data to crunch on Friday evening.
Not another Montreal
Almost from the moment the chequered flag fell at Montreal people were saying “it won’t be this good again at Valencia”. Both the F1 races held at the track so far have been rather dull.
Although the same mix of tyres is being used this weekend the track surface is not likely to play as great a role. Its construction is closer to that of a regular racing circuit and the race weekend is likely to be consistently dry allowing the track to rubber-in.
We’re yet to see a safety car deployment in two years of racing at the track as well, though with more cars on-track this year that is more likely now.
The best we can hope for is a similar situation to what happened in Turkey, with the faster McLarens and probably Ferraris starting behind the Red Bulls and a battle for the lead developing on-track that way.
Drivers to watch
Here’s my four driver to watch closely this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.
Fernando Alonso – With an upgraded Ferrari, which should be strong at this circuit at any rate, Alonso has his best chance yet of winning the Valencia race.
Nico Rosberg – Still doing a solid job for Mercedes but the team are increasingly being drawn into a ‘best of the rest’ battle with Renault. Qualifying performance is hurting them, so watch out for Rosberg in Q3 to see if he can trouble any of the top three teams.
Nico H?â??lkenberg – Showed good pace relative to Rubens Barrichello on a track he’d never raced at before two weeks ago. Points were a likelihood before his penalty. Can he deliver some this weekend?
Timo Glock – Lotus have been pulling ever further away from Virgin. Depending on how well the VR-01 goes this weekend Glock could find himself trying to keep the Lotuses in sight or fighting a rearguard action against the HRTs. A far cry from last year, when he set the fastest lap of the race.
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2010 European Grand Prix
[catlist id=6632 numberposts=10]Browse all 2010 European Grand Prix articles