European GP: McLaren Mercedes preview

The Formula 1 circus re-groups after its three-week summer break to visit the first all-new venue on the 2008 calendar - the impressive street circuit in the Spanish port city of Valencia. European Grand Prix organisers have created a unique and...

The Formula 1 circus re-groups after its three-week summer break to visit the first all-new venue on the 2008 calendar - the impressive street circuit in the Spanish port city of Valencia.

European Grand Prix organisers have created a unique and demanding 25-corner circuit that winds around the Juan Carlos I marina, home to the 32nd America's Cup yacht race. However, unlike traditional Formula 1 street circuits, whose tight and twisting configurations place a premium on qualifying at the front, the Valencia track is fast, sweeping and wide, and offers several potential opportunities for passing.

Official simulations have estimated a top speed of 200mph at the end of the main straight and an estimated laptime around the 1m 37s bracket. With an estimated average speed of 125mph, Valencia should be on a par with a venue such as Bahrain (average speed of 128mph) and far higher than Monte Carlo (94mph).

The Spanish venue will mark the fifth home for the European Grand Prix, which has been held at Brands Hatch, the N0x00fcrburgring, Donington Park and Jerez since its inception in 1983.

Lewis Hamilton

Has the time spent away from the racetrack allowed you to reflect on the state of the championship and your rivals?

"To be honest, I already spend quite a lot of time between the races analysing the data and keeping fit. This summer break gave me the opportunity to get away from that and focus on just recharging my batteries. Looking back at the season so far, it feels like a different championship compared to last year: 2007 was very intense and consistency was incredibly important. This year, everybody's results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions. That's made getting strong results even more important, but I think we'll see consistency becoming crucial as we head towards the end of the season."

How have you prepared for this weekend's race in Valencia?

"We launched the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team in the city at the start of 2007, and I've tested at the Ricardo Tormo circuit so the city isn't unfamiliar to me. Anyway, going to a new circuit doesn't really change my preparations: everybody's in the same situation so I don't treat things very differently. Of course, we've done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying. I'll be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend. I enjoy visiting new racetracks and I'm looking forward to getting into the cockpit on Friday morning. It looks like being an amazing track."

What can we expect from you for the remainder of the year?

"I'm wary of making predictions - the race in Hungary showed just how unpredictable Formula 1 can be, and that's one of the reasons why it's such a fascinating sport. Clearly, though, I am still in a good position to challenge for the world championship and that remains my aim. We still feel confident about our chances - we know our rivals will be strong, but we've worked hard to improve the car and are confident we'll be competitive this weekend. The most important thing is to finish consistently in the points."

Heikki Kovalainen

What did you do after celebrating your maiden Formula 1 victory in Hungary?

"I had very much a working holiday: I spent some time in Woking with my engineers preparing for this weekend and I also spent some time back in Finland, at my home town of Suomussalmi, where I help organise an annual karting event in the town. Obviously, having just won the most recent grand prix made it a fantastic event for everybody. It was my first time back in Finland for quite a long time, too, so it was great to turn up as a grand prix winner!"

How will your success in Hungary affect your preparations for the remaining races of the year?

"The win doesn't change too much, really: I still believe I am improving and learning more about the team and the car at each race. My aim for the last part of the season is to win more races and to perform regularly at the front. It's something I was able to do from time to time in the first half of the year, but I now feel more confident that I can be a consistent challenger in the remaining races, and I'm really looking forward to that."

What are your first impressions of the circuit?

"It looks pretty fast, to be honest. You get used to street circuits being quite slow, with lots of slow- to medium-speed corners and very short straights, but this is almost the opposite. There are a lot of fast kinks and esses, a couple of decent straights and lots of high-speed stuff. It's too early to say yet whether there will be opportunities to overtake around here, but there are a couple of hairpins where it might be possible."

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes What particular difficulties does a track like Valencia present to the team?

"In terms of car set-up, we need to remember that, like Monaco, the track will be both green and dusty on the opening day of practice. That sometimes tempts you into playing with set-up more than you would like, so you need to resist that temptation and let the track come to the car. Our simulations suggest we'll employ a downforce level similar to that of Hockenheim, but the individual demands of the track may push that window up or down. Finally, anybody who's studied any onboard footage of the circuit will be mindful of the proximity of the concrete barriers in certain areas - clearly, we'll be packing plenty of spares, but hoping we won't need to use them!"

How does the team prepare for visiting a track for the first time?

"The most important thing is to be thorough, methodical and iterative. Although we arrive at a new racetrack having undertaken a huge amount of research and armed with an enormous amount of data, the reality is that it's really only the starting point for our engineering team. We begin Friday practice the way we would at any other circuit, but in this instance, we need to pay particular attention both to driver feedback and the data generated from the car. The important thing is not to react too hastily - it's vital that you don't end up going down the wrong path, because you only have a limited amount of time to tune the set-up before qualifying."

How important is this race for the sport?

"Clearly, Spain has become a tremendously important market for Formula 1 over the past five years - and the addition of a second Spanish race to the calendar rightly reflects the sport's success and popularity in the market. We launched the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes partnership here in 2007 and the city was a stunning backdrop to the event. "Everything we've seen about the city and the organisation of this event leads me to believe it will be a fantastic success and set a new standard for Formula 1. More importantly, it marks a return to city racing - something we will also witness in Singapore and next year in Abu Dhabi - and that's something that really engages the people and fans far more than at a purpose-built circuit out of town. This is an important time for the growth of the sport and everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be hoping the weekend is a fantastic success - both for the team itself and the sport as a whole."

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

The European Grand Prix will be held on a new street circuit; a new challenge after Silverstone, Hockenheim and Budapest. Will a fourth consecutive win be possible?

"Lewis, Heikki and the entire team performed excellently achieving three race wins in a row. Since the beginning of the previous season, we have won 13 out of 28 races and if possible, we want to improve this success rate. However, the maiden race in Valencia will be a new game for everybody."

The grand prix in Valencia is a new street race. What do we have to expect there?

"When you think about temporary street races in Formula 1, you mainly think about Monaco. However, Valencia does not have very much in common with this classic race; just that both cities are located on the Mediterranean coast and that both circuits lead along the harbour front. While the Monte Carlo race is the slowest of the year with an average speed of about 156km/h for the fastest lap, and is also the shortest with a race distance of almost 254km, we face a race distance of 310 km in Valencia and a track on which the cars will reach 300km/h or more five times per lap. Three times per lap the drivers also have to brake to about 80km/h which will be as extremely demanding for the brakes as the Montreal circuit. The longest full throttle section will be along the harbour where the drivers will drive at full throttle for 13 sec. The front straight is 185 metres long and the shortest of all Formula 1 circuits this year. We calculated an average speed per lap of 225km/h which will be the eighth fastest of all Grand Prix tracks. This is not typical for a street race; it is more like a version of Silverstone or Monza but located in a city."

How do the engine technicians prepare for a new circuit like Valencia, for which there is no firm data so far?

"Our technicians at Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines in Brixworth and Stuttgart work out the circuit simulation data together with our partner McLaren Racing and use them for the engine dyno simulation. The work on the dyno is based on calculated gear ratios, revs and gear changes. According to that we find the optimum engine response and we also optimise the calibration accordingly to match the demands of the Valencia circuit as well as requirements of our drivers. This preparation is particularly important for a new circuit, for which we don't have data from testing or races - in the end, it can be crucial to tackle qualifying and race in the best possible shape."

VALENCIA TRACK INFORMATION

Circuit length 5.440km/3.380 miles
Race distance 310.080km/192.683 miles
Laps 57
Number of corners 25
Inaugural European GP 1983 (Brands Hatch)

-credit: mclaren

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Norbert Haug , Lewis Hamilton , Heikki Kovalainen , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Mercedes , McLaren