2010 European GP preview For round nine of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, all Formula One teams have gathered for the European Grand Prix in Valencia in Southern Spain. The race is the ...
2010 European GP preview
For round nine of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, all Formula One teams have gathered for the European Grand Prix in Valencia in Southern Spain. The race is the sporting event of the year in Valencia, and is held on a street circuit situated around the Juan Carlos 1 Marina. The track includes a narrow bridge that crosses the marina, tight corners and hairpins lined with unforgiving concrete walls and ARMCO's, all connected by a few high speed sections; the circuit is almost a modern-day version of the Monaco circuit. This will be the third Formula One race in the circuit's history, the first race in 2008 was won by Brazilian Felipe Massa for Ferrari, and the race in 2009 was won by compatriot Rubens Barrichello for Brawn GP.
Although it is the European Grand Prix, it is very much a Spanish race, on Spanish soil, with three Spanish drivers -- Fernando Alonso, Pedro de la Rosa and Jaime Algueruari -- and a Spanish team, Hispania Racing (HRT). Without a doubt, the Spanish King Juan Carlos will also attend the race, he is a real motorsports enthusiast and Formula One fan. Previous European Grands Prix were held at Brands Hatch (1983 and 1985), Donington (1993), Jerez (1994 and 1997), and the Nurburgring circuit in Germany hosted the race twelve times.
HRT driver Brazilian Bruno Senna knows the circuit from his GP2 time, "The circuit is difficult with some very technical corners but the biggest challenges are the bridge, which is very narrow and bumpy, and the last corner, into which you arrive at very high speed. Then, you have to slow the car down turning into the hairpin. On this circuit, it is very important to find the right setup for tight slow corners and good traction."
The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Valencia: German Dr. Gerd Ennser and Radovan Novak from the Czech Republic will represent the FIA, Manuel Vidal Perrucho represents the hosting country Spain, and ex-Formula One driver German Heinz-Harald Frentzen will represent the drivers.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen, born on May 18, 1967 in Monchengladbach, Germany, started his Formula One career in 1994 with the Sauber-Mercedes team and moved to Williams in 1997 where he joined Jacques Villeneuve -- who became World Champion that year. Frentzen became second in the 1997 championship, which was the highlight of his career. In 1999 he joined the Jordan team, but in 2001 he was replaced by Ricardo Zonta after the British Grand Prix. Frentzen joined the Prost team for the remainder of the season, in 2002 he joined the Tom Walkinshaw owned Arrows team, but after the demise of the Arrows team he returned to Sauber again, where he ended his career in 2003. Frentzen participated in 160 races, scored 174 points and won three Grands Prix.
The Valencia circuit will be new for three drivers, and this is very unusual, they are not the younger and inexperienced drivers, but the older and most experienced drivers, the most prominent rookie is 41-year old seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher. The Mercedes driver however is not worried at all about his first acquaintance with the circuit, "It will be another new experience for me but one which I am very much looking forward to. I always have been quite good in adapting quickly to new situations and I strongly expect that to be the case in Valencia. I like going into new experiences like this and having detailed discussions with my engineers about the challenge. That's why I look forward to traveling to Spain a great deal." The other rookies are 29-year old Force India driver Vitantonio Liuzzi and 39-year old De la Rosa, the latter will be racing in his second home Grand Prix for BMW-Sauber after the Spanish Grand Prix.
Technical innovation is the name of the game in Formula One. While McLaren surprised other teams with their F-Duct concept earlier this year -- which has by now been copied by other teams -- the focus of attention has now shifted to Red Bull, who is now under scrutiny by the other teams for their revolutionary exhaust system. Red Bull's 'exhaust driven diffuser' is an innovation designed by Adrian Newey, and helps to maximize the downforce the rear diffuser generates. McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and Renault boffins reckon they have figured out how it works, and it is expected they will run their version of the low-mounted exhaust pipes at Valencia.
Red Bull however, still hasn't been able to make their F-Duct or 'blown rear wing' concept working on the RB6, and the team has announced it has an important update ready for this weekend's race. According to Sebastian Vettel, "technical chief Adrian Newey did not come to Canada in order to put the finishing touches on the new system at the factory." During that last race in Montreal, the Red Bulls were no match to the McLarens on the long straights of the Canadian circuit, and Red Bull needs a properly working F-Duct to keep up with the competition. There are still quite a few high speed circuits on the calendar, Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, Suzuka and Interlagos, where a F-Duct system will give a considerable advantage in speed.
Pit stops and tyres
Expected pit stop schedule for Valencia:
For 1 Stop - between laps 27-33
For 2 Stops - between laps 12-15 and 33-37
For 3 Stops - between laps 6-12, 20-27 and 37-45
Bridgestone tyre report
Bridgestone will bring the Medium and Super Soft tyres to Valencia, the circuit is a high speed street course, with several sections where the speed goes up to 300 km/h. For most teams it will be a challenge to find a good setup, which will be a compromise due to the tight corners which are followed by high speed sections. Because it is a temporarily circuit, the condition of the track surface will also play a role, as it will change as the weekend progresses.
Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima, "The layout and track surface is more aggressive to the tyres than in Montreal so we do not expect the same challenge for teams to get maximum performance from the medium and super soft compounds as in Canada. This year's European Grand Prix takes place in June, as opposed to the late August date of the first two Grands Prix in Valencia but we don't believe the date change will present us with radically different weather."
Drivers frustrated with Bridgestone tyres
After the race in Canada Bridgestone announced they would adapt an even more radical and extreme tyre strategy for the remainder of the season, and will introduce a two-stage gap in tyre compounds for the race in Germany, which means the Super Soft and Hard tyre compounds will be used on the Hockenheim circuit. But while most drivers are happy with the Bridgestone tyres, others have huge problems getting these tyres to 'work', and with the prospect of an increased tyre gap, the problem will become worse.
Massa has been struggling with the Bridgestone tyres all year, and is not a fan of the Japanese company's tyre policy. Massa needs the soft compound, abrasive asphalt and warm weather to get his tyres working. "It has little to do with racing when you are so dependent on the tyres" the little Brazilian complained. He also admitted he's sometimes jealous when he sees McLaren has optimal grip after just one lap, while he has to drive many laps before he achieves the same. His tyres didn't work at all in Monaco, and he might encounter the same problems in Valencia.
Another victim seems to be the Mercedes team, both Nico Rosberg and Schumacher also have problems with the tyres, and even the experienced Schumacher is sometimes lost about why they perform so bad on the Mercedes. "These tyres are a puzzle that is very difficult to work out. Often it changes from day to day, due to one or two factors," the German said. Insiders believe the tyre 'carcass', the wire structure that supports the tyre, is to blame, it is much stiffer than it was in the past. The solution would be a more aggressive driving style, which heats the tyres, but as the race in Canada showed, the aggressive approach also very quickly leads to graining, which in its turn causes loss of grip.
Lotus celebrates 500th Grand Prix
For Lotus the race in Valencia will be a milestone, the team will celebrate its 500th Grand Prix. Although the new Malaysian Lotus team is not the same as the famous Lotus team founded by Colin Chapman in the 1950s, there is still a strong bond with the old team and the current Lotus sports car company. Team owner Malaysian Tony Fernandes is proud he is now heading a team which represents a marque with such a rich race history. Lotus has been the breeding ground for many of the greatest drivers in Formula One like Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.
Fernandes about the celebration, "Celebrating the 500th race will be an absolute honor, and will obviously be very special, but we are only nine races of the whole Lotus story. It will be very special to help take that famous name to such a milestone, and I am very honored to be part of it." Lotus is determined to get a good result in Valencia, and chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne is positive ahead of the weekend, "I'm confident we'll put on a good performance in Valencia - we've got the right drivers to cope with the demands of the circuit itself, and the car keeps improving with every new step we take, so I think this will be another chance to pressure the midfield, and make good on the promise we showed in Canada."
Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen is also looking forward to this weekend, "The last few races have been very positive for our team, we've been making progress every weekend and the plan is to carry on pushing. For Valencia, and for the rest of the season, we're not looking back at the other new teams - we lapped them in Canada so we're looking to keep taking the fight to the guys ahead, and I think we can do that." Colin Chapman's son, Clive Chapman, and other members of the Chapman family will join the new Lotus team during the 500th Grand Prix at Valencia.
Another home Grand Prix for Hispania Racing
For the new HRT team it will be their second home Grand Prix this year, and they are looking forward to race in front of the Spanish spectators. Team principal Colin Kolles gives his view on the event: "There is a special atmosphere at the Valencia Street Circuit because it is situated around the harbour." But he also expects it will be a tough race, "It is not easy to find the right setup for the car because of the track layout with high speed straights and low speed corners. You need low downforce on the straights but high downforce and traction for accelerating after slow and slippery corners."
Indian HRT driver Karun Chandhok is also positive about the race, "It is the second home race this year for our team in Valencia and the atmosphere there is normally quite good and very special. I am looking forward to the event on this circuit and I already raced there in GP2 series. You will need good stability on the brakes, compliance on the kerbs and good traction. For Valencia, we hope to show a good performance like we did the races before."
No repeat of Canada Grand Prix
The race in Valencia will be totally different from the race in Montreal two weeks ago, and it is very unlikely that spectators will witness a repeat of the excitement in Montreal. There will also be no repeat of the trick McLaren pulled out of the hat during qualifying, Lewis Hamilton ran out of fuel after passing the finish line during Q3, other teams accused McLaren of deliberately running out of fuel to score the pole position with a super light car. The FIA yesterday stated in a press release that "all cars must return to the pits under their own power", and after they have returned to the pits there should also be enough fuel in the tanks for the FIA to take a sample.
Who to watch this weekend
The top five of the championship, Hamilton (109 points), Jenson Button (106), Mark Webber (103), Alonso (94) and Vettel (90) are still the favorites for the race, but Rosberg and Renault driver Robert Kubica are also quick on street circuits, Kubica finished in third position in Monaco. Also keep an eye on both Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Liuzzi, they are good qualifiers and a place high on the start grid is an advantage on any street circuit. The Force India team has performed extraordinary well this season, and performed well in Monaco.
The circuit doesn't require a lot of downforce, but a good setup with the right balance between low downforce needed for the slow corners and the high downforce needed for the straights is very important. Massa and Schumacher, although they both have been struggling to find downforce this season and are not happy with the Bridgestone tyres, could be in front as well if they can find a good car setup; it certainly wouldn't be right to just write them off. The circuit in Valencia has more overtaking opportunities than the Monaco circuit, but it will also be important for drivers to look after the tyres and brakes, and also physically it will be a demanding race. It is a fast race as well, with an average lap speed around 200 km/h, and last year's winner Barrichello finished the 57 laps in 1 hour, 35 minutes and 51.289 seconds.