There was a time when Spanish interest in Formula 1 paled into insignificance when compared with the international motorbike scene. The reason being was simple: Formula 1 wasn’t represented by any top-shelf Spanish drivers between 1989-98, while the international motorbike scene was dominated by key figures such as Alex Criville and Carlos Checa.
Then along came two Spaniards in the same season: Pedro de la Rosa and Marc Gené, who made their respective debuts for the back-of-the-grid Arrows and Minardi teams in 1999. Their success was comparatively little in the grand scheme of things, but it paved the way for another important Spanish driver: Fernando Alonso.
After his debut season with Minardi in 2001, his stock climbed exponentially in subsequent years, and the real crest of the wave came in 2005-6, when he won back-to-back titles with Renault. While subsequent years spent with McLaren, Renault and now Ferrari have produced the occasional win, he’ll be hoping to remount a campaign for a third title, and he has the will of a nation to support him.
So, with Bernie Ecclestone wanting to capitalise on the burgeoning Spanish interest in F1, along came the advent of the nation hosting two Grands Prix. The mix of the America’s Cup HQ on the sunny Mediterranean coast and another Hermann Tilke design should prove the formula for success? Well, not quite…
|2010 FORMULA 1 TELEFÓNICA GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE
|Date:||27 June 2010||No. Laps||57|
|Lap Length:||5.419km||Race Distance:||308.883km|
|Lap Record:||1:38.683 – Timo Glock (2009, Toyota)|
Remember how we were talking about the lack of Spanish interest in F1 in the late 1980s to late 1990s? Well, ironically, the same problem is being faced again. Not because the last few seasons have been among the most thrilling in years. Not because this season sees a record three Spanish drivers on the grid and a Spanish team. No, in truth: the races at the Valencia street circuit are insufferably dull.
Despite its well-funded infrastructure, its backdrop setting on the harbour with its novelty swing bridge overpass (pictured left) – as we mentioned in our editorial piece earlier this month – this ‘Tilkedrome’ is a stinker.
On paper, the 25-corner circuit set amidst the spectacular Valencia dockside looks great. It has some long sweeping flat-out sections, chicanes and hairpins that require plenty of hard braking. In theory, it’s a recipe for good overtaking. But the circuit surface is so dusty that no driver dares step off-line to attempt a pass.
And despite the pizzazz of the harbour and the big yachts berthed within, the expansive concrete-lined layout looks drab and dull on TV. There is little that is romantic about the world’s greatest motorsport championship navigating its way through a maze of shipping containers and ten-tonne concrete blocks.
Event organisers have promised to attend to some of the venue’s rough edges, and one hopes that the circuit will become more fondly regarded over time. One suspects that may only be if – not when – the racing can actually improve here. In our opinion, the only way this circuit’s image will improve is if it’s nuked from orbit and the design and construction starts again.
The History Bit
The Valencia circuit has played host to the Formula 1 circus on two previous occasions, with its debut coming in 2008 – the same year as the Singapore Grand Prix debut.
The comparisons between the two venues are quite evident: both are street circuits set in a harbourside environment. The differences are stark: Singapore was actually an interesting race, even if it featured little in the way of overtaking.
Something about Valencia has never clicked in the same way – indeed, you readers voted Valencia to be the dullest of all the circuits on the F1 calendar in a recent poll we ran.
The inaugural event was a procession and dominated by F1’s true ‘Tilkedrome’ specialist, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The Brazilian’s win was crucial in keeping his title ambitions alive in the battle with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, and he was helped by a lacklustre showing from Hamilton and an engine failure for his team-mate, Raikkonen.
The following year’s race saw Rubens Barrichello finally break through for his maiden win for Brawn GP, driving an exceptional race to leapfrog himself ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was stymied by a slow pit stop. Indeed, all of the overtaking on this circuit has occurred in pit lane…
What to expect?
In a phrase: an insomnia cure!
All jokes aside, this event will be a dreadful way to follow the thrilling Canadian Grand Prix that saw McLaren really come back into prominence as a serious title contender.
The stop-start nature and long top-speed sections of the Valencia track could once again suit the McLaren cars, who have seemingly perfected their ‘F-duct’ system while their rivals play catch-up.
After a less-than-stellar showing in Canada, Red Bull were found wanting in the top-speed department and are hastily trying to fine-tune their ‘F-duct’ iteration that they unsuccessfully debuted at Turkey. However, the RB6 is so superior in other aspects that the lack of a fully functioning ‘F-duct’ might not be too much of a hindrance on a circuit where overtaking only occurs if Christmas and Easter fall on the same day.
Desperate to impress his home crowd, Fernando Alonso will be pinning his hopes on the major upgrade that Ferrari has planned to launch this weekend. The much- maligned and not particularly rapid F10 showed better form in Canada, and the team will be hoping to carry that momentum through onto Alonso’s second home race of the season. Team-mate Felipe Massa – a race-winner here in 2008 (pictured left) – will be hoping his fortunes can start to swing in his favour, and will be looking for a strong performance to justify why Ferrari chose to retain his services for a further two seasons.
In the midfield, expect Renault and Mercedes GP to be battling it out for the minor points. Robert Kubica should again be a strong contender for a good result after what is proving to be his most impressive season to-date – he was mightily good at Monaco, and the Valencia circuit might suit his Renault once again.
Mercedes GP will be hoping to bounce back from a depressing result in Canada, and Michael Schumacher (in particular) will need to get up to speed on a circuit which he was never driven on.
Don’t forget to tune into the Richard’s F1 ‘As It Happens’ commentary feed live during the race – I might need your help staying awake! – and to check us out throughout the weekend for the latest news from Valencia!
[Original images via The Cahier Archive]