Vettel aims for Valencia hat-trick

2012 European Grand Prix Preview

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Valencia, 2011The Valencia race promoters recently ran an amusing TV ad campaign featuring a pair of grannies racing around the street complete with F1-style graphics.

You have to admire their efforts at promoting a race in a country which, at a time when economic problems are widespread beyond its borders, has some particularly acute challenges at the moment.

What makes life even more difficult for those trying to sell tickets to this race is the reputation the track has gained for producing dreadfully dull races. Not one of the four races here so far have distinguished the track as a venue worthy of holding a world championship Grand Prix.

It says a lot about the track that the most interesting thing about last year’s race was it set a record when all 24 starters got to the finish.

Valencia circuit information

Lap length 5.419km (3.367 miles)
Distance 57 laps (308.9km/191.9 miles)
Lap record* 1’38.683 (Timo Glock, 2009)
Fastest lap 1’36.975 (Sebastian Vettel, 2011)
Tyres Medium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Valencia track data in full

Of the 80 F1 races rated by F1 Fanatic readers since 2008, the four at Valencia all rank in the bottom 15. Looking at the layout, this comes as no surprise. At every turn, Valencia seems to have been designed with the aim of funnelling the field into single-file traffic.

The best thing you can say about it is that made Spain’s other F1 venue, the Circuit de Catalunya, has seemed better by comparison since F1 started racing in Valencia. There are rumours the two tracks will share the Spanish Grand Prix in the future. Sadly, axeing Valencia and keeping Catalunya seems not to be an option.

If ever a venue needed a drop of rain it’s this one. But the last four races here have been held in baking weather – track temperatures hit 47C during last year’s race.

As we’ve seen already this year, this will prove critical for determining who will be able to get the best from the current generation of tyres. As last year, teams will have the soft and medium tyres to use, though of course these are both of a new construction for 2012 and softer than their equivalents from last season.

Red Bull

In recent weeks both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have said the team is beginning to get to grips with the current generation tyres. That and Red Bull’s three pole positions in the last four races (albeit one thanks to Michael Schumacher’s penalty) may be troubling news for their rivals.

Sebastian Vettel has won the last two races here from pole position and set a new track record during qualifying last year.

Team mate Mark Webber has been famously blunt about the circuit’s shortcomings, once likening it to driving in a supermarket car-park. But the track bit him hard in 2010 when he collided spectacularly with Heikki Kovalainen and was fortunate to escape injury.

McLaren

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Valencia, 2011Lewis Hamilton has usually looked handy around the streets of Valencia but is yet to nail a win here – so far he has a pole position and three second places to show for his efforts. Coming off the back of his Canada success, this could be the year he puts that right.

However Jenson Button’s predicament must be deeply troubling for McLaren. He has been well off the pace in all of the last three races and admitted to being completely stumped by the tyres at the moment.

Ferrari

After Canada Fernando Alonso admitted the team are once again able to entertain thoughts of racing for victory having come out of their ‘damage limitation’ mode.

He’s already come close to winning on home ground once this year. However he’s yet to claim a victory at Spain’s other F1 track.

Team mate Felipe Massa needs to build on the potential he showed during much of the Canada weekend, and avoid a repeat of the spin that squandered points early in the race.

Mercedes

Mercedes didn’t enjoy as much of a benefit from their Double DRS in Canada as might have been expected. Perhaps the lower downforce level left them with less to gain from it when it was activated?

If so, the first and second sectors at Valencia, with several straights interspersed by slow corners, should provide some clues.

But Michael Schumacher will probably settle for a weekend without a fifth race-ending technical problem.

Lotus

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Montreal, 2012The warm temperatures of Valencia could offer Lotus their best chance to score a win yet – the E20 has looked particularly strong in hotter conditions. That, of course, could pave the way for an eighth consecutive different winner, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The balance of power at the team seems to be swinging from Kimi Raikkonen to Romain Grosjean. Grosjean has closed to within two points of his team mate in the drivers’ championship.

It’s too early to call that one – Raikkonen, after all, has not enjoyed trouble-free build-ups to the last two races. But this is one of the most absorbing intra-team contests at the moment.

Force India

After a disappointing and point-less weekend in Canada, Force India are in danger of losing touch with Sauber in the constructors’ championship. Their drivers appear to be getting a lot out of the VJM05, but on its best days it doesn’t seem to be a match for a C31 or a FW34.

Sauber

Sauber were back to their early-season form in Canada: not quite on the pace in qualifying, but both drivers able to run long stints at competitive pace. This paid off handsomely, Sergio Perez claiming his second podium finish of the year.

That’s moved them ahead of Williams in the championship and they even have Mercedes in their sights now. They failed to score here last year, but Kamui Kobayashi had an excellent run to seventh in 2010.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso continue to slip off the tail of the midfield and into the clutches of Caterham: in Canada, Jean-Eric Vergne lined up behind both CT01s on the grid.

The team have been out of the points for the last five races and it’s hard to see that changing here, particularly given their drivers’ lack of experience on this course.

Williams

After Monaco, Williams were palpably displeased at a meagre haul of one point. In Canada both drivers crashed (Bruno Senna in practice, Pastor Maldonado in qualifying) and they left empty-handed.

The car’s good low-speed traction should mean they’ve competitive here, but their drivers will have to keep it out of the walls.

Caterham

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, Montreal, 2012Caterham’s progress towards the midfield has been agonisingly slow, but they finally seem to be getting there. Heikki Kovalainen crossed the finishing line in Canada 13 seconds behind the midfield stragglers.

Valencia is a track which normally sees the field close up, which could help them get closer. But although the CT01 continues to improve, the team need to unlock a bit more from it to genuinely join the midfield. Their new front wing and (minor) floor update this weekend may help.

HRT

HRT showed some improved pace in Canada with an aggressively slender rear wing. Pedro de la Rosa out-qualified both Marussias, but he and Narain Karthikeyan retired early on with brake trouble.

The team will be hoping to at least see the chequered flag at their second home race.

Marussia

Increasingly concerned more with keeping HRT behind than getting on terms with Caterham.

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5.71 4.71 1 11 7/7 Form guide
Mark Webber 4.86 5 1 11 7/7 Form guide
Jenson Button 6.43 10.86 1 18 7/7 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 5.71 4.43 1 8 7/7 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6.86 4.57 1 9 7/7 Form guide
Felipe Massa 11.86 11.33 6 15 6/7 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 7.71 10 10 10 2/7 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 4.71 6.57 1 13 7/7 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 9.43 6.86 2 14 7/7 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 5.71 3.75 2 6 4/7 Form guide
Paul di Resta 12.57 9.57 6 14 7/7 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 12.86 11 8 15 6/7 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 10.86 8.6 5 13 5/7 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.86 7.67 2 11 6/7 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 13.14 13.33 9 17 6/7 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 16.14 12.57 8 16 7/7 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 14.29 10.8 1 19 5/7 Form guide
Bruno Senna 14.57 13 6 22 6/7 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.57 17.5 13 23 6/7 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 18.57 17.2 16 19 5/7 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 21.17 20.25 19 21 4/6 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.33 20 15 22 4/6 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.71 16.83 14 19 6/7 Form guide
Charles Pic 21 18.75 15 20 4/7 Form guide

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Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Caterham/LAT

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49 comments on Vettel aims for Valencia hat-trick

  1. DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th June 2012, 21:16

    The form guide suggests there will be a new winner. Grosjean has the highest finishing average in the field by a good margin. If he can keep it between the walls this time, it could be his day.

  2. matt90 (@matt90) said on 20th June 2012, 23:15

    Of all the races that I could miss, I’m glad that this is the first fo the year for me thanks to work. Unfortunately I’m also going to be missing Silverstone, and I doubt I can avoid the result and watch it later thanks to working in a sports/media office. Damn you temp work!

  3. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 20th June 2012, 23:38

    The picture of the McLaren! Beautiful!

  4. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 21st June 2012, 3:44

    You know, for all the stick this circuit gets, I don’t think it’s THAT bad. I love seeing the F1 cars and seeing the aero upgrades they have, and also, I love looking at the art of driving fast. Sometimes I think of the Valencia and Monaco Grands Prix as really the two races where I can appreciate the technique of each driver better. Honestly. Try it out. If you get the same shot of one driver versus another, just see how he takes a particular corner. It’s fascinating watching it. Given Vettel and Hamilton are two drivers who are specialists of Valencia, I like to watch the lines they take, versus teammates.

    The last corner is particularly fascinating in Valencia as it blends the exit of a flat out right hander right into the braking for a hairpin left. Webber takes a conventional line through the penultimate right kink and just points his car to then brake for the last hairpin, before he then takes a tight line through the hairpin until he can power out. Vettel takes the penultimate corner tighter and has it pointed wider off the apex of the hairpin. The line Vettel takes means that he will inevitably reach the last braking slower, as his tyres will scrub more over the right-hander kink. However the payback here is given the wide entry, he can turn the car and get it pointed straighter. You’ll see him pointing dead straight at the exit kerb of the last corner, and his right foot can afford to be much heavier.

    The entry to Sector 3 is also fascinating. There’s a hairpin right, leading into a left kink before a double apex fast right. Webber vs Vettel again, Vettel slows down for the apex more, and gets the car turned more. Webber carries more speed through on a wider line. Mark however then ends up being slightly compromised for the left kink, which he has to take tighter, to be on the right line for the double right. (the line through a fast corner is very much a dictated line, and there’s much less variety in terms of lines you can take to maximise your laptime) Vettel is slower on the apex, but the payback is he has a smoother run through the fast bits, and also there is much more margin for him through the left kink, in that if he makes some sort of mistake, he has spare grip in the tyres to correct it. It also means he’s on the correct line through the double right.

    Absolutely fascinating.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 21st June 2012, 10:43

      I pretty much agree with you here @raymondu999, last year in Valencia was lovely to see how Vettel got some really hot race laps in, although it would be a lot better if the track itself offered more distinct sections to discern where on track they are.

  5. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 21st June 2012, 22:56

    I quite like Valencia as a circuit, it just seems to flow well to me. Really hoping Schumacher has a turn of fortune and that Button has indeed got on top of the tyre issues.

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