Valencia will put the 2011 rules to the ultimate test

2011 European GP pre-race analysis

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2011

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Valencia, 2011

If recent form is anything to go by, Ferrari and McLaren should be able to put Red Bull under pressure in the European Grand Prix.

But whether they can pass them at a circuit noted for processional racing will be the ultimate test of how well the 2011 rules have promoted overtaking.

The start

The grid for the European Grand Prix has a familiar look to it, and not just because there are two Red Bulls up front.

The top five drivers are present in the same order as they were for last year’s race.

Mark Webber will be anxious for a better start than he had last year. He lost seven places on the first lap, which ultimately led to him trying to make that fateful pass on Heikki Kovalainen which ended in a spectacular crash.

Last year Lewis Hamilton got past him easily on the run through turn one and even had a nibble at Sebastian Vettel at turn two.

The memory of two scruffy outings in Monaco and Canada may impress upon Hamilton the need to show a little restraint in the race. But he’s clearly got an eye on victory, saying after qualifying “we can win from this position”.

Strategy

The temperature continues to rise in Valencia and is expected to be hottest on Sunday, with track temperature potentially hitting 50C. This makes tyre performance a considerable unknown, particularly on the new medium tyres which are only being raced for the first time this weekend.

It led some teams to try to minimise their running in qualifying, saving as many fresh sets of tyres as possible. Toro Rosso did this, and Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil did not set a time in Q3 for the same reason.

Few of the front runners have any fresh sets of soft tyres left. One exception is Nico Rosberg, who has one set of unused soft tyres left according to Mercedes.

Through practice, Ferrari seemed to be running well on the medium tyres while McLaren were struggling. That all turned around in qualifying.

Felipe Massa said: “With the new medium compound, today we struggled more than yesterday: maybe there is more rubber on the track and the higher temperature did not work in our favour on this front.”

The track certainly seemed to come towards the McLarens, who appear to be running a higher downforce level than their rivals which could help Hamilton and Jenson Button prolong their tyre life.

With the softer tyres much quicker than the medium tyres, expect the front runners to use them until they run out and have to switch to the harder tyres – similar to what we saw at Barcelona.

Making multiple pit stops is not too great a disadvantage here as the time lost coming through the pits is not as high as at other tracks – hence why Hamilton’s drive-through penalty cost him so little last year.

DRS

Red Bull may have annexed the front row again but they’ve had to contend with quicker cars attacking them from behind in the last three races.

If that pattern continues in the race they may find it harder to protect their positions than they could in Spain or Monaco. A pair of long DRS zones, with a single activation point on the run to turn eight, could leave them vulnerable.

The configuration of the Valencia street circuit shares some characteristics with Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina – straights leading into chicanes, which make overtaking very difficult. The race will be a significant test of how powerful the overtaking-friendly 2011 rules are.

Who do you think will come out on top in Valencia? Can anyone keep Vettel from his seventh win this year? Have your say in the comments.

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41 comments on Valencia will put the 2011 rules to the ultimate test

  1. Flavio Briatore said on 25th June 2011, 20:44

    I can smell Ferrari’s(and Alonso’s) first win.

  2. BasCB (@bascb) said on 25th June 2011, 21:00

    I certainly hope to see an exiting race in Valencia, the track could really use some exiting on track (instead of above track or steward room settings) action this time round.

  3. Kyle (@hammerheadgb) said on 25th June 2011, 21:21

    Keith, RE the last sentence of the article: “Can anyone keep Vettel from his seventh win this year?”

    Vettel’s only won 5 out of 7 so far, so this needs to be corrected to “sixth win this year”.

  4. Stephen W said on 25th June 2011, 21:29

    Silverstone i think will be the ultimate test,10% off throttle to blow the diffusers will affect RBR far more.

  5. suka (@suka) said on 25th June 2011, 21:38

    I just hope, the safety car or another red flag does not play to Vettel’s advantage because surely he will have to do extra hard tomorrow to repeat his winning. If he continues to win tomorrow, he could win a lot of fans regardless of his superb machinery/team.

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 25th June 2011, 21:54

      as always, a SC or red flag will fall perfectly for vettel. he’ll be able to do a free pit stop while WEB, HAM and ALO get caught out. it’s guaranteed!

      • Todfod (@todfod) said on 26th June 2011, 8:58

        Button would be more likely to benefit from a situation like that. Jenson might try some different strategy, and suddenly he’s leading the race without having overtaken a single car.

  6. George (@george) said on 25th June 2011, 21:49

    I just hope we doing get a repeat of Webber’s crash, with DRS closing speed down those ‘straights’ is going to be an issue

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th June 2011, 22:35

      I doubt we will do to be honest. We shouldn’t fear it anymore than any other high speed straight. Last year was down to Kovalainen being a little quick on the brakes, quicker than Webber anticipated. Could have happened anywhere.

  7. GQsm said on 25th June 2011, 21:57

    I thought Barcalona was the ultimate test.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th June 2011, 22:32

    I don’t expect anything less than Vettel to win this one to be honest.

    The gap is indeed smaller than previous, but Vettel does still have .4s over Hamilton, the nearest car that isn’t another RB7.

    Vettel is going to have to make a classic 2011 style start, quick off the line with this special KERS system and just look after the tyres as best he can.

    • Bigbadderboom said on 26th June 2011, 10:22

      Yes Andrew a .4s in quali trim. The RB’s able to make much better use of the DRS in quali as it is deployable anywhere, and their setup enables early use of it. In terms of race pace the Mclaren and perhaps the Ferrari maybe quicker, Vettel will need to put in 2 fantastic laps to clear DRS activation, and if Webber gets caught off the start and unable to perform a rear gaurd action then Vettel maybe a sitting duck for eithe the Mclarens or Ferraris to attack. I think this race has the potential to be one of the years best despite it’s reputation as being a bit boring (Mr Piquets antics aside!)

  9. f1andy83 said on 25th June 2011, 23:13

    The top five drivers are present in the same order as they were for last year’s race. Just amazing.

  10. guido (@guidof1) said on 25th June 2011, 23:41

    I don’t think it’s gonna be that easy for vettel tomorrow. Hopefully both fernando and lewis will put some real pressure on him and let’s not forget about webber. he’s done well today, he’s much closer this time and he could have a go at seb too. what happens if he makes a move on seb. anybody fancy that?

  11. f1andy83 said on 25th June 2011, 23:47

    I think the biggest advantage vettel has is his consistency in 1st and 2nds, not the fact he is getting poles. or winning races.

  12. Webber may not have qualified well, but he’s had some great (recovery) races this season.

    • Doance (@doance) said on 26th June 2011, 6:23

      Webber qualified well. Its his starts that have let him down this season. I’d like to see what he does if he leads after the first corner. I dont think hes led all season.

  13. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 26th June 2011, 2:16

    But whether they can pass them at a circuit noted for processional racing will be the ultimate test of how well the 2011 rules have promoted overtaking.

    Wait, did we say this about the Spanish Grand Prix?

  14. Lord Ha Ha said on 26th June 2011, 2:42

    Webber bluffs RBR into giving him a decent car into parc ferme. Mate Charlie stops Helmut from screwing with Webber’s start map in parc ferme. Little Spastions knees shake.

  15. Lord Ha Ha said on 26th June 2011, 2:53

    Did I say “shake”? should have been “knees a knockin'” like …

    Going to dance with the dolly with the hole in the stockin’
    Knees keep a knockin’, toes keep a poppin’ ….

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