After winning last year’s European Grand Prix at Valencia, Sebastian Vettel proudly proclaimed over the team radio: “We’re back on track!”. Fast-forward the clock by twelve months, and the rest of the grid is wondering how on earth the German can be beaten this year. That being said, his last-lap blunder at the previous round in Canada will certainly give everyone some comfort…
A widely-visited city on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia has played host to the Formula 1 circus since 2008. As a racing venue, it has few fans and plenty of critics, and all three events held here to-date have been exceedingly processional affairs. Quite how much the new 2011 rules changes will be able to improve the racing is a moot point, so let’s have a look at all of the action that lays ahead for this weekend’s European Grand Prix…
|2011 FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE
|Date:||26 June 2011||No. Laps||57|
|Lap Length:||5.419km||Race Distance:||308.883km|
|Lap Record:||1:38.683, Timo Glock (Toyota) – 2009|
As we mentioned in our Spanish Grand Prix Preview earlier this year, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Spanish interest in Formula 1 used to be non-existent until Fernando Alonso came on to the scene.
Indeed, his following was so great that the sport’s powerbrokers allowed Spain to host two races each year from 2008 onwards, with the second race taking place on the Hermann Tilke designed dockside ‘street’ circuit in the city of Valencia.
And despite hopes that the circuit’s layout of long straights and tight corners would produce plenty of overtaking, there’s scarcely been any and the races here have tended to be processional affairs where overtaking is done in the pit lane.
Valencia Talking Points
What are the three big talking points of the European Grand Prix?
Could we see another crashfest? The last round in Canada provided fans with plenty of thrills and spills, and while one of the criticisms of the Valencia layout has been its lack of action, some desperate lunges by drivers could bring about a bit of aggravation on Sunday’s 57-lap race. With last year’s race having featured opening-lap tangles, that huge accident between Webber and Kovalainen, and plenty of complaints about cheating under the Safety Car period, Valencia was actually able to host a decent race after all.
Will the double-DRS zone work here? One of the new rules that event organisers hope will help spice up the action is the double-DRS activation zone. The wet weather in Canada left the jury out on its effectiveness, but having two opportunities to pass the car in front – on the curved straights leading into Turns 10 and 14 – could make things better here.
Will it be business as usual for Vettel? The German ace has been beaten just twice all year – finishing the race second on each of those occasions – and holds a commanding 60-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship. The consensus is that McLaren now has the quicker car in race trim, while Red Bull – at least with its complex blown exhaust system – is the best car in qualifying. But the last race proved that the Red Bull driver was capable of cracking under the pressure…
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent
“I am not quite a believer of anyone who says Vettel can be beaten following his last-lap doze-off in Canada. Had it not been for this, he would have won his sixth race from seven starts in 2011, and his main competition still has a bit of work to do to truly say they are on par with the Newey-mobile yet.
“Valencia, however, is a different kind of race-track. Not quite as flowing as Canada, with lots of tight corners broken up by short bursts on the throttle and the occasional longer burst. I must say I am a fan of the final sequence of high-speed corners, which are really a heart-in-the-mouth ride when viewed from onboard. Overtaking is more difficult here, and for this reason, I would be so bold to say that if anyone can beat Sebastian Vettel to pole position, a good defensive drive may see the brash young Red Bull prodigy try a desperate move that may not pay off and which will lead to an early shower.”
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent
“Valencia, the street circuit that’s not really a street circuit. The track can be quite wide in some sections, with long straightaway sections and technical corners, from first glance, it may look like it would offer great passing opportunities, alas, that is rarely the case. With the notable exception of Kamui Kobayashi’s stunning drive last year (on a good tyre strategy), Valencia has not made me excited.
However, with the 2011 regulations proving to be a step in the right direction so far, I have high expectations for this year’s European GP to be a memorable one. McLaren has swung the pendulum their way, particularly in the race itself. I think the RB7 is still the machine to have in qualifying. Valencia may prove that a chassis with good traction out of the slower turns may be the car to have to fend off challengers, particularly on the two straights where DRS will once again be employed, perhaps similar to how Vettel’s strong traction helped him defend at Catalunya. Regardless, I am eagerly awaiting the results of practice to see where we sit, this season has been one of the more unpredictable ones, and I hope this race at Valencia continues the trend.”
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia
“This is the last race weekend where the off-throttle blown diffuser can be used before it’s banned at the British Grand Prix, and this could well be the last time we’ll see Red Bull enjoy such dominance in qualifying (unless of course the RB7 has other unknown tricks in its armoury).
“I’m predicting another Red Bull sweep to pole – Vettel of course! – but a little bit of aggro during the race as some drivers attempt a few desperate lunges to recover lost track position. We could see a fairly unusual-looking top-ten at the end of the race if it features a few safety car interruptions.”
Matej, Richard’s F1 reader, Croatia
“Let’s face it, the only reason that this race exists is because of one Fernando Alonso, and he’s not had the equipment to get the job done this year. It’s the same situation as having two Grands Prix in German soil each year – or two Italian circuits, in the years before – but at least these were interesting circuits.
“Places like Valencia just degrade Grand Prix racing, and there’s hope that allowing the race to flounder here for another year will show the decision-makers just what kind of idiots they are. The track is dull, devoid of overtaking opportunities and there’s barely anything to get excited about. Being little more than a Hampton Court maze of ten-ton concrete blocks set out in a shipping yard, the Valencia ‘street’ circuit fails miserably as a Grand Prix venue.”
The Form Guide
With only three races and three different winners to-date at Valencia, it’s perhaps difficult to try and assume too many trends at this circuit. Should it be able to deliver another incident-packed race like last year, then it might earn a few more admirers.
Despite having never won here, McLaren actually has the most consistent record here with four podiums in six starts. It would desperately love to add a maiden win at this circuit in 2011.
After showing an improvement in overall speed in Canada, Ferrari will be looking to replicate that on Alonso’s second home race. Care to put them down for a long-shot win? Certainly the Scuderia would like you to think so…
As for the rest of the field, Mercedes GP and Renault might feature in the lower regions of the points, but a podium finish might be pushing it unless their main rivals come a cropper during the race. Michael Schumacher will be on a high after his best showing at Canada, while team-mate Nico Rosberg needs to rebuild after two rough weekends at Monaco and Canada.
The Sauber team will be one to watch this weekend. All going well, rookie driver Sergio Perez will be back in the cockpit after missing the last two races following his qualifying smash at Monaco, but it’ll be Kamui Kobayashi who everyone will be looking out for. The Swiss team made the bold decision to run the Japanese driver almost to the end of the race on his harder set of tyres before he pitted in the closing stages for the alternative (softer) rubber. Kobayashi then proceeded to scythe back up the order – including passes on two drivers on the last lap – to finish with a well-deserved sixth-placed finish.
As usual, we’ll be bringing you all of the action and highlights from this weekend’s event, so make Richard’s F1 your one-stop shop for the European Grand Prix!
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