Can McLaren and Ferrari pressure Red Bull? (European GP pre-race analysis)

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2010

Wondering whether we might see our first decent race in Valencia this year I wrote this in the European Grand Prix preview:

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.

Well, we’re halfway there. Red Bull have locked out the front row of the grid. But can McLaren and Ferrari take the fight to them in the race?

The start

With the clean, inside line Sebastian Vettel will have to do something silly to be anywhere other than first at the end of lap one.

Mark Webber is more vulnerable in second place, on the dustier side of the grid and with Lewis Hamilton poised to dive up the inside on the run to the first corner.

Webber may have to take a leaf out of his team mate’s book – Vettel squeezed Jenson Button hard at the start last year to keep him behind.

Throughout practice we saw drivers struggling to slow their cars down at turn one. Tomorrow all 24 of them will have to get their braking point for the corner exactly right at the same time – there’s high chance for front wings to go flying.

Although we’ve never seen a safety car deployment at Valencia, one could easily arise. After all, both the first two practice sessions had to be red-flagged so the marshals could recover debris or cars from areas they couldn’t access quickly.

And an early safety car period could make the strategy situation very interesting indeed.

Strategy

The early safety car dilemma

Everyone in the top ten qualified on the super-soft tyres, so it looks like we’re in for a fairly standard strategy race. The leaders should pull away and pit to make their mandatory switch to the other tyre compound – medium – once they’ve got enough of a gap to the cars behind them to make their stop and come out in clean air.

But an early safety car period would mean the field spreading out more slowly, forcing the front runners to delay their pit stops.

We saw this happen at Monaco but with one crucial difference. Fernando Alonso started at the back and got his mandatory pit stop out of the way during the safety car period. Once he was running in clean air the front runners had to pit early to keep him behind.

What we haven’t seen yet – and what we could see tomorrow – is a situation where an early safety car period means the front runners have to choose between staying out on worn tyres, or ducking into the pits, accepting they will come out in traffic.

OK, but what if there isn’t a safety car?

If the race proceeds as normal from the start then it becomes a question of whether any of Red Bull’s rivals are faster than them in race trim. This was the case at Istanbul, and we all know what happened there.

Ferrari couldn’t find the same kind of performance improvement as their rivals on the super-soft tyre in practice or qualifying but believe they’ll be strong on the medium tyre as Alonso admitted:

With the harder tyre, our car was more competitive as its behaviour inspired more confidence over the flying lap, but to have done Q3 with this compound would probably have compromised our race.
Fernando Alonso

Pit stops will be crucial as ever and, as noted here last week, this is an area where McLaren are weaker than their rivals at the moment. Lewis Hamilton has lost places in both the last two rounds during pit stops – he can’t afford that tomorrow if he’s going to take the fight to the Red Bulls.

The best of the rest

Renault appear to have the upper hand in their battle with Mercedes this weekend. Robert Kubica is poised to make trouble for the Ferraris at the start if either should slip up.

Remember that drivers can’t maintain position if they go into one of Valencia’s many chicanes side-by-side with a rival, cut it, and come out ahead. Jenson Button had to forfeit a place to Webber after doing that last year.

Williams are well placed to end their three-race streak out of the points. Rubens Barrichello needs to get off the line better than he has at the last two races, though.

For the second race in a row Michael Schumacher starts in the bottom half of the field. From 15th getting into the points is going to be a challenge, even with the benefit of Mercedes’ fast pit stops.

How do you expect the race to unfold tomorrow? Will McLaren be fast enough to take on Red Bull? Will Alonso and Massa put Hamilton under pressure? And where will Schumacher finish?

Have your say in the comments and remember to join us for live comments throughout the race starting one hour before the Grand Prix.

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52 comments on Can McLaren and Ferrari pressure Red Bull? (European GP pre-race analysis)

  1. Andy Hicks said on 26th June 2010, 19:58

    My money is on the Mclarens race pace on being good – probably better than the Red Bulls. I think as long as Lewis gets a clean start, he can jump at least Webber in the pit stops, although Alonso has a good chance of keeping close on the tail of him. Jenson might struggle to get past Kubica, who I think has been strong all weekend, but I reckon the battle between the Ferarri and front and the renault might allow him to keep pace and *fingers crossed for the stops*.

    I am hoping for a safety car to keep me awake for the race however…

    Just my two cents

    • miguelF1O (@) said on 26th June 2010, 22:23

      can Ferrari and mclaren pressure redbull?
      No i think everyone knows if the race stays normal with no artificial factors such as mclarens luck and alonso strange pitting speed web or vettel are going to battle to victory and for 3rd it will be between alonso and hamilton ferrari needs to improve the aero side of their car its visible that mclaren and redbull have more carbon fiber more wings and stuff alonso looks to struggle too much so my bet is 1ºweb 2ºvet 3ºham 4ºalo

      • miguelF1O (@) said on 26th June 2010, 22:26

        like i said redbull have the car to win at every track but canada where all teams have an handicap to mclaren and Monza, spa (drivers circuit) and other circuits with mile long straights

        • Jhonnie Siggie said on 27th June 2010, 3:32

          You mean their car can win Quali at every track right? Last time I checked, races are won on Sundays and RB only have 3 this year

  2. Salty said on 26th June 2010, 20:07

    This circuit provides a different challenge to Turkey. Every race here so far, we have seen cars struggling to get inside 1 second of the car in front. Lewis might prove to be the fly in Red Bull’s libation, but as you say, he needs to nail Webber into the first corner, otherwise, can’t see beyond the usual procession that Valencia affords, and the 1-2 to the Bully boys that they are rather overdue now.

  3. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 26th June 2010, 20:08

    I reckon Hamilton should get past Webber before Turn 2. If he does, I think it could make for an interesting race, because I have a feeling he will be as quick or quicker than the Red Bull’s in race trim. If not, I fear we could have a bit of a procession at the front.

    I think it’d be a waste of time to do a rain dance this weekend, so how about a safety car dance?! Maybe a safety car at lap 9 or 10-ish could turn what seems likely to be a dull GP into a bit of a thriller…

    • Salty said on 26th June 2010, 20:15

      Thriller in a Valencia thread? You been on the Duff buddy ;o) Agree though, Hammy best hope of a change up, though Alonso and Kubica could provide some feistiness.

    • Charles Carroll said on 26th June 2010, 23:48

      I like the safety car dance, if only it is like the safety dance.

      Because if your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, well…

    • DaveW said on 27th June 2010, 3:06

      Tires will be very durable. So if there is an early SC, you stay out. If you pit, some cheeky midfielders will not, whom you will not pass, until they do.

      • Mike said on 27th June 2010, 9:15

        I agree, The threat of slow traffic just when you have a new quick set of boots on will discourage any potential excitement.

  4. Lex said on 26th June 2010, 20:27

    Ferrari with their updates are much more competitive on race pace, especially Fernando Alonso. He will b looking to get past Hamilton to the 1st corner then pressure and possibly pass the red bulls being faster. both ferraris shud complete the race in the top 3. SAFETY CAR!!

  5. steph said on 26th June 2010, 20:40

    Hamilton is best placed to threaten RBR. Webber will slip to p3 at the start. Vet should take the chance to get a little lead with any kefuffle at the start but if he doesn’t or there is a SC then Ham for the win.
    Mas will get ahead of Alo at the start but with his recent form I’d rather he didn’t. Although I was pleased with him in the last three races.

    However, I think it is about time Seb won. Noone has won three races in a row this season and I don’t want that to change. If I was dreaming I’d want a Ferrari for the win and if that can’t happen then Webber.

  6. Lex said on 26th June 2010, 20:49

    hamilton’s start and maclaren’s pitstops gonna cost them the race. alonso gonna get a quick start and pass hamilton

  7. Malcom said on 26th June 2010, 20:53

    I don’t think so Lex, remember Alonso is starting on the dirty side of a hardly used track

  8. Lex said on 26th June 2010, 21:01

    u know alonso is very forceful and its Hamilton in front of him. if not, use downforce dat ferrari has more of than maclaren and pass in a corner

    • Jhonnie Siggie said on 27th June 2010, 3:45

      I’m sorry but did you see Alonso get mugged by Hamilton in the last race? Did you see how Lewis took back P1 from Jenson in Turkey?

  9. Bartholomew said on 26th June 2010, 21:13

    Sorry for being off topic, but have I seen a picture of Alonso´s helmet in Valencia with what seems to be a different design, one that resembles part of a South African flag ?
    Not sure, would appretiate info on the subject
    Cheers

    • miguelF1O (@) said on 27th June 2010, 1:57

      you can discuss that on f1fanatic community forum but i also noticed some difference in alonso helmet

  10. Bleu said on 26th June 2010, 21:20

    There was major drama in GP2 and GP3 starts. Ten and eight drivers out on the first lap. In the two years of F1, 2008 had collision between Alonso and Nakajima. Last year there was some minor clashes: I think Grosjean, Buemi and Glock had to pit. The latter two hit each other while Grosjean punted Badoer into the spin.

    I don’t think we see much incidents apart from the first lap. If there is first lap safety car, leaders won’t pit. More problematic situation is if SC is deployed on about lap 5.

  11. mateuss said on 26th June 2010, 21:43

    Keith, some pictures with Webber(+Vettel +Hamilton) would be a good candidate for the caption contest.

  12. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 26th June 2010, 22:04

    Hope you are right that the faster cars are the Mclaren’s and Ferrari’s but I’m affraid it will be an uneventfull race.

  13. TommyB (@tommyb89) said on 26th June 2010, 22:27

    Can anyone beat the Red Bulls? Yep, again, it’s Lewis Hamilton.

    Think he can get passed Webber in turn 1 then pass Vettel in the stops if he doesn’t have more pit problems.

  14. miguelF1O (@) said on 26th June 2010, 22:30

    what about trulli finnaly beat kovalainen who is always very active on practice but always very low fuel

  15. My money is on the guy who pits on lap 4, gets on the hard tyres and goes like hell until the other guys pit. He ends up in front with nackered tyres but nobody can overtake him. Win in the bag.

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