By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Valencia in eastern Spain hosts round eight of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. Spain is the only country to host two Grands Prix this season and Valencia will be the second home Grand Prix for HRT, Fernando Alonso and Jaime Alguersuari.
Valencia has the highest number of turns of any Formula One circuit with 25 officially numbered corners, 11 left and 14 right turns. Although it is a street circuit, it has a relatively high average speed of just over 200 km/h, but as with any street circuit, the walls are always close and a tiny error is enough to crash out of the race. It is only used once a year and the state of the surface changes as more rubber is laid on the track during the weekend. Going off-line to overtake also means a driver will enter the slippery part of the track and could make overtaking somewhat treacherous. Cars reach their highest speed between Turns 10 and 12, but Valencia also has slow turns that require heavy braking and good acceleration when exiting the turn again.
Marussia Virgin’s Timo Glock thinks the track is very challenging, “Valencia is a race that often divides opinion but I really like the circuit and find it an interesting challenge. It’s a track where we really have to keep our eye on the ball -- much like Monaco -- because the fast straights and the closeness of the barriers mean you can easily become unstuck. This is usually a very hot race, which adds to the challenge, and a great and very up and coming city.”
FIA: No engine mapping changes between qualifying and the race
FIA’s Formula One Technical Delegate Charlie Whiting announced in a letter to the teams this week that it is no longer allowed to change the engine mapping between qualifying and the race. The FIA defended their decision by stressing they simply want to continue their policy that a car during the race should be exactly the same as during qualifying.
The engine mapping trick is primarily used during qualifying to produce more exhaust gases for the diffuser when the driver is ‘off-throttle’. During a race teams use a more fuel efficient engine mapping, as constantly dumping fuel in the exhaust would certainly mean they would run out of fuel at some point, so the trick is used to boost the qualifying performance. Since the announcement of the ban, there has been one question on everyone’s mind:
Will Red Bull lose their qualifying advantage?
Red Bull has been on pole in all seven Grands Prix this season, Sebastian Vettel took six, and Mark Webber one pole position. Vettel won five of the seven races for Red Bull, while Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton won one race each for McLaren. During qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix Ferrari drivers Alonso and Felipe Massa were 0.185s and 0.203s respectively behind Vettel, while during the first race of the year in Australia, Hamilton was 0.778s and Button 1.250s slower than Vettel.
It seems Red Bull are slowly losing their edge during qualifying, and with the ban on engine mapping changes it would be possible the Austrian team will lose, according to Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, another five to seven tenths of a second. Of course other teams will lose some time as well due to the ban, but it is thought Red Bull will suffer the most. In general, a team that uses an engine mapping during qualifying that is not too different from the mapping they use during the race, will not be affected as much as those who use extreme engine mappings during qualifying.
However, Red Bull is apparently not too worried about possibly losing their qualifying advantage they so far had. Red Bull advisor and ex-Formula One driver Helmut Marko this week said his team is ‘prepared’. “We would not be Red Bull if we did not already have ideas about how to mitigate the effect [of the ban],” he said. But he did criticize the FIA for changing the rules during the season. ”This time it [the ban] seems to be in a hurry. I would say it is about the dominance of Red Bull,” he insisted.
I think our car is the best of all in its overall concept
And indeed, Red Bull wouldn’t be Red Bull, or should one say Adrian Newey wouldn’t be Adrian Newey, to already have found a way to compensate for the loss of down force. Vettel is certainly confident his team will not lose their dominant position, and even warned the other teams would be in for a big surprise. “It doesn't particularly worry me,” the 23-year old champions said. “I think our car is the best of all in its overall concept and is therefore not dependant on just one component. Anyone who believes Red Bull will be the most disadvantaged I think will be surprised,” he predicted.
McLaren cautiously optimistic
Hamilton was heavily criticized for his overtaking maneuvers at Monaco, and in Montreal the 2008 champion had to abandon his race after trying to overtake Button on the pit lane straight of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, after he already had been involved in a collision with Webber. Hamilton has vowed to forget about his earlier misfortunes and is keen to score points again, as he is now third behind Button and Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship.
“I’ve always gone well at Valencia, finishing second there in every race, and I really enjoy attacking the track,” said Hamilton. “It’s a difficult circuit with no let-up, but that won’t deter me as I’m really keen to get back on track and get back in the points. This race will be our third street circuit in a row, so hopefully it’ll give me the chance to reverse the bad luck I’ve encountered in the previous two!” He still is confident he is in a strong position, “We’ve arguably had the fastest race car in the last three races, and that’s really encouraging because I know that, when it’s put to best use, I should be able to finish at the front. As always, that will be my goal next weekend.”
Button won the race in Montreal but claims it hasn’t changed his approach this season, “I wouldn’t say that winning in Montreal has given me extra motivation, because I was already totally committed, but I think it will help to sharpen the focus and conviction of everyone in the team.” About the circuit he said, “I think the track shares some of the characteristics of Montreal and Monaco, so I’m confident that we’ll be competitive again.”
But he hinted McLaren should become quicker during qualifying. “The trick will be to find enough performance in the race to overcome any potential difficulties in qualifying. We’ve proved we can challenge and beat Sebastian [Vettel], and we know we can fight for this world championship,” he concluded his comments ahead of Valencia.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was a bit more cautious and warned Red Bull is still very fast in qualifying, “We’ve typically gone well around the Valencia street circuit but we’ve never won there before. We’re now into the heart of the season and need to ensure that we’re regularly delivering performance to the car. I think we go into the weekend feeling encouraged and motivated by our performance, but still realistic that Red Bull remains the pacesetter -- particularly in qualifying.”
Ferrari not giving up yet
There have been speculations Ferrari would throw in the towel if their performance would not have improved after the British Grand Prix in two weeks time, and there were even suggestions the Maranello-based team would start concentrating on their 2012 contender instead of developing this year’s Ferrari 150º Italia. Ferrari’s Chief Designer Nicolas Tombazis, “How well these next few races go will decide whether or not we feel we are still in with a chance of fighting for the championships this year, even if we are quite a long way behind in the points.”
But Tombazis thinks there are still reasons to be optimistic, “We were able finally in Monaco and Canada to be serious contenders for the win, even though, in the end, the expected result did not come our way.” And added, “I believe we can continue that trend in Valencia because the track there does have quite a few similarities with those at the two preceding rounds, particularly with Canada, as it has a long straight and some hard braking points and some medium speed corners, which we feel should suit our car reasonably well.”
We were able finally in Monaco and Canada to be serious contenders for the win
Alonso is still optimistic ahead of his home Grand Prix, and thinks he still has a chance to win. “At the last two races, we showed we were clearly capable of winning and, especially in Monaco, we came pretty close, although I believe that even in Canada I could have fought for it all the way to the end, given what we had seen in qualifying,” the Spaniard said. “Now we go to a track with reasonably similar characteristics to Montreal and there is no obvious reason why we should not be competitive here too,” he commented.
Massa has set his hopes on the DRS, and is convinced it will be of great help during the European Grand Prix. “This year we have the Downforce Reduction System (DRS) and, like in Canada, we have two DRS zones where we can operate it. For sure, this will change the characteristics of the race, making it much easier to overtake.” But he also warned Ferrari must be competitive, if not, DRS will be an advantage for other teams, “You have to do everything you can to ensure your car is competitive throughout the whole race, because this is the direction we have seen things go this year, in that if you are not competitive then it is very easy to lose places to other cars.”
Last year Alonso’s European Grand Prix became a drama after the safety car came out, Vettel and Hamilton slipped past the safety car, while Alonso got stuck behind it. Ferrari protested and although Hamilton was handed a drive-through penalty for illegally overtaking the safety car, he still finished in second position behind Vettel, while Alonso finished in eighth position.
Valencia Street Circuit - Valencia, Spain
|Circuit||Valencia Street Circuit, Spain|
|Circuit length||5.419 km|
|Corners||25 turns: 11 left, 14 right|
|Longest straight||600 meter|
|Total number of race laps||57|
|Total race distance||308.883 km|
|Estimated top speed||323 km/h|
|Estimated average speed||201km/h|
|Surface tyre wear||Medium|
|Tyre compounds||Medium [Prime] and Soft [Option]|
|Brake wear||Medium to high|
|Lap record||Timo Glock - Toyota - 1:38.683 (2009)|
|2010 Pole Position||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull Racing - 1m37.587|
|2010 Race Winner||Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull Racing - 1h40m29.571|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
|FIA Stewards||Heinz-Harald Frentzen (GER), Radovan Noval (CZ), Roger Peart (CAN)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
Valencia, Spain three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday June 24||Cloudy but dry and warm weather||19C||25C|
|Saturday June 25||Sunny and hot weather||18C||29C|
|Sunday June 26||Sunny and very hot weather||20C||32C|
Pirelli tyre report
The Pirelli Medium tyre will make its competition debut this weekend, the medium compound was tested during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix. After Monaco and Montreal this is the third successive street circuit, but the Spanish circuit has little in common with the two previous street circuits. The tyres will be stretched to the limit under constant breaking and frequent changes of direction, which are the nature of this stop-and-go circuit.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “Tyre wear on this circuit is likely to be quite high because of the track layout, the nature of the surface, and also the weather conditions, which should be very warm.” And he explained, “We’ve selected the medium and soft tyres, which should provide the teams with a good level of resistance, plenty of different opportunities for strategy and about a second per lap difference between the compounds.”
Massa described the tyre after testing in Canada, “I would say it is very much like the original Hard tyre we had from Pirelli earlier this season. After a few races, they changed it, making it harder still and this Medium feels like the original Hard.”
Weather conditions are expected to be dry and warm over the race weekend, with ambient temperatures in the region of 29 degrees centigrade and track temperatures that are among the hottest of the year so far.
The FIA again announced two DRS zones for Valencia, and again with only one detection zone. The detection zone, where a car should be less than one second behind another car, starts 130 meters ahead of Turn 8. The first activation zone, where a driver can activate the wing, starts 285 meters after Turn 10, and the second activation zone will be 35 meters after Turn 14. The dual zone set up means a driver can overtake in the first zone, and then at the second zone can use the wing to get away from the one he has overtaken.
Mercedes GP encouraged by Montreal performance
Mercedes has found some new inspiration during the Canadian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher almost scored his first podium of the year, but finished in fourth place after being slowed down by the rapid tyre degradation during the last laps of the race. Nevertheless Mercedes have shown they are fighting back, and although they have partially shifted their attention to the 2012 car, they still work hard to improve this year’s contender, the MGP W02.
For Schumacher it will be his second outing on the Spanish circuit. “Valencia stages one of the more unusual races in the calendar with a street circuit which in my view is very attractive for both us drivers and the fans. I enjoyed the weekend here last year as the track is, surprisingly for a street track, quite fast and flowing, so I am looking forward to going there,” an optimistic Schumacher said. “Of course we hope that we can put on a good show, deliver a strong performance, and experience another encouraging weekend, before we head to our home races in England and Germany.”
His team colleague Nico Rosberg is also hoping to improve his performance, “I visited the factory this week to see everyone which was nice and it was good to see how the work is progressing. We're working hard for a better result in Valencia than in Canada, and I'm very confident that we can make this happen.”
Team principal Brawn about the nature of the circuit, “Traction is important and the stop-start nature of some sectors can be tough on the brakes.” The Briton also found new inspiration after Montreal, “The last race in Canada saw a positive weekend for the team, and whilst we still need to work on the ultimate pace of the car, it was encouraging and rewarding to be fighting for a podium finish again.”
Valencia notes and quotes from the other teams
Williams is still struggling to find the pace, the team’s technical department will get a complete make-over at the end of the year when Mike Coughlan will take over from Sam Michael, but it seems they now have decided to sit out the rest of the season and hope for more luck in 2012. Despite that, both Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado are still driven by the race virus and certainly haven’t given up on scoring points this season.
Maldonado is a fan of the circuit, “My favorite part is in the final section, when you brake into the last corner just before the pit entry.” Barrichello won the race in 2009 for Brawn GP also loves the track, “It is a very long circuit with lots of corners so you need the car set-up for good traction. The final part of the circuit has some high speed corners which makes the circuit feel very complete.”
Force India doesn’t have good memories about the last race in Canada, as both drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were involved in accidents and had to abandon the race. Although the Indian team performed well last year, this season seems to be a season of ups and downs, and particular in qualifying they lack the necessary speed. Di Resta painted a realistic picture of his expectations. “In terms of my objectives, I think I’d be fairly happy if we can be pushing to make the top ten in qualifying and racing for points,” the Scot said.
Sergio Perez of the Sauber team had to sit out the two previous races, but reckons he is now ready to race again. “I flew home from Montreal, and back in Mexico I spent the time preparing myself for the next race and trained together with our physiotherapist. I feel perfectly well and I’m very much looking forward to racing in Valencia,” the Mexican rookie said. Sauber has several updates for Valencia, including a changed front wing.
Team Lotus owner and team principal Tony Fernandes jokingly said ahead of Valencia ‘it would also be good if the other drivers on the grid could avoid using either of our cars as launch ramps this year...’, of course referring to Webber’s terrifying salto mortale after he had hit the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen last year. “I'm looking forward to the European GP as I think the heat and the demands of the circuit should suit our car well. It's not exactly a street circuit, it's a semi-street circuit with a very smooth track surface with almost no bumps and low kerbs,” Kovalainen commented.
Marussia Virgin team principal John Booth was very realistic about the chances of his team, after severing all ties with Nick Wirth due to a very disappointing start of the season. “The track calls for good traction and we also need to keep an eye towards the brakes here because of the stop-go sections of the circuit,” the Briton said. And his expectations? “Right now our focus has to be on doing the best job possible at every stage of the weekend so we are in a comfortable position come race day, then converting that into a strong two-car finish whilst keeping our immediate competitors behind us.”
For HRT it will be their second home Grand Prix, Vitantonio Liuzzi is familiar with the circuit, but it will be a new experience for his team colleague Narain Karthikeyan. “I have never raced in Valencia before so I don’t really know what to expect but you always need to concentrate 110% because the smallest mistake puts you in the wall. It’s not a traditional street circuit as the roads are quite wide and the average speeds are not as slow as they are in Monaco,” the Indian said.
The favorites for the race
The favorites for this race will be the usual suspects, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. Button had a great boost after his win in Canada and is now second in the championship, a position he without a doubt will try to hang on to. Tyre degradation will play an important role, and Button has proved he is a master in preserving his tyres. For Hamilton, it would be a good idea to finish the race and not try to get into situations that could send him into retirement. Of course overtaking is good and it is what the fans want to see, but finishing a race and collecting points is more important if he wants to fight for the title.
Vettel can rest assured he will go home on Sunday afternoon still leading the championship, as he has a 60 point lead over Button, but the young German is ambitious and will certainly not sit back and relax, he wants to score his seventh pole and sixth win of the season. Webber has admitted he has problems getting used to the Pirellis this season, but the Australian never gives up, and he is certainly a candidate for the top three.
Alonso is another driver who never gives up, and perhaps when his luck changes he might even win the race in front of a home crowd. Scuderia Ferrari know it is now or never, and the upcoming two or three races will decide whether they are still in contention for this year’s title.
And last but not least, the Valencia circuit has many walls, and as we have seen last year, the safety car can completely change the fate of those who so desperately want to win the race, and drivers like Schumacher, Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov are always looking for an opportunity to go for a podium finish. The weather should be warm and sunny, so it is very unlikely spectators will whiteness a similar chaos as in Canada. The race will also be about making the right pit stop at the right moment, but Pirelli doesn’t expect more than three stops are needed to finish the race.