2012 European Grand Prix Preview
The 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
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.
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.
Lewis 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.
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 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.
The 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.
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 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 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.
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’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 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.
Increasingly concerned more with keeping HRT behind than getting on terms with Caterham.
2012 driver form
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2012 European Grand Prix
- Alonso is 2012′s eighth Driver of the Weekend winner
- European Grand Prix rated best race of 2012 so far
- Top ten pictures from the European Grand Prix
- Vote for your European GP Driver of the Weekend
- Schumacher is oldest driver on podium since 1970
Image © Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Caterham/LAT