European Grand Prix Preview

This weekend the European Grand Prix will take place in the city of  Valencia; the eighth race on the calendar. After the European Grand Prix was re-introduced in the mid-1980s, it has been held regularly since 1999 with Valencia hosting the event since 2008.

The race, which has previously been held at the Nurburgring and Donnington Park amongst others, is not classed as one of the season’s highlights. It is the second race on the calendar to take place under the searing Spanish heat, which with Bernie Ecclestone’s appetite for expansion makes it somewhat an anomaly in modern day F1. In truth, the ‘two’ Spanish Grand Prix’ probably have a lot to do with the success and popularity of Fernando Alonso and so far this season the Spaniard has highlighted why he is the fortunate benefactor of such adulation. The double world champion has so far amassed an impressive total of 86 points, which puts him only three points off leading the championship – all in a car that is widely considered as being well below Ferrari standards. Alonso is as much a title contender as the only man above him, Lewis Hamilton; however, Red Bull has historically thrived on the streets of Valencia.

World champion Sebastian Vettel scooped the last two victories with what can only be described as a lesson in mechanical and engineering sympathy. Fellow competitors rarely trouble victors at Valencia, however, a driver in the lead cannot afford to drive erratically, knowing, especially in the days off rapidly degrading tyres that any lapse of concentration could result in a costly error. Lewis Hamilton is the only man who was unable to convert pole position into victory back in 2009, highlighting the importance of pole, when a sluggish second stop (sound familiar?) cost the 2008 champion victory. Rubens Barrichello went on to win that race in a season largely dominated by Brawn; his fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa took the only other Valencia triumph in the maiden race of 2008. The fastest lap record is currently held by Timo Glock (1:38.683) unchallenged since 2009.

Wrapped around the city’s harbour and industrial port; the race is one of 57 laps covering a distance of 308.883km. As is often the case with street circuits, it holds very few overtaking opportunities; the first two races yielded a meagre amount of only four overtakes between them. Things have improved since, statistically at least, with 15 in 2010 and 42 in 2011 – the latter being a result of the introduction of DRS. The circuit draws parallels with Monaco as teams are forced to focus on qualifying to hold a strong starting position on the grid in preparation for the race.

Another parallel that Valencia shares with Monaco is the style of racing that it produces. Not the most aesthetically pleasing; it does provide a rigorous test of a drivers ability. Sebastian Vettel’s storm to victory in 2011 displayed the German’s excellent ability to navigate a race of attrition; engine and gearbox severity are extremely high and with ambient temperatures often reaching 30 degree plus, subsequently the driver can expect to sample an uncomfortable time in the cockpit over the course of the race.

A rollercoaster of twists and turns will also test a driver’s mettle; however, it is achieving straight-line speed that will be the main concern of the team’s mechanics and engineers. With an abundance of low-mid speed corners the emphasis will be on drag reduction; the teams will most likely opt for a higher angle of attack on their rear wing, which should complement this set-up. The application of the brakes is also essential as is brake cooling given that drivers are one the throttle for 69% of the time – inevitably leading to potential brake over-heating. The tight corners demand the brakes perform at optimum level, which should see the appearance of larger brake ducts as the teams’ idiosyncratic attempts to manage tyres will once again be severely tested.

This will be the last European Grand Prix race hosted in Valencia for the foreseeable future with the announcement that the street circuit is to be removed from the calendar after displaying poor ticket sales and fan reviews.

Could this prove to be an iconic final farewell?

For the time being the question on every fans lips is whether the streets of Valencia can deliver yet another chapter in this record-breaking season and yield the eighth different winner? The consensus seems to be that the streak will end here. I however feel that in a season laced with surprises we cannot write off anyone. With the teams still lacking consistency, and reliability issues plaguing the likes of Mercedes and Michael Schumacher, it is still unlikely that one many will grab the championship by the scruff of the next. We could however see a resemblance of normality this weekend as the teams can call upon a broad ranging ‘European set-up’ (for the European season not the race), but on the other hand – we might not.

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