2012 European Grand Prix Preview 2012 European Grand Prix Preview 2012 European Grand Prix Preview

To have had seven different winners in as many Formula 1 races may never happen again in our lifetime.

Could eight be possible this weekend as the F1 circus returns from its brief sojourn across the Atlantic Ocean? Quite possibly, but quite possibly not…

Let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com European Grand Prix Preview…


The Circuit

2012 FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE

Valencia Street Circuit

Date: 22-24 June 2012
Venue: Valencia Street Circuit, Valencia, Spain
Lap Length: 5.419km
Race Lap Record: 1:38.683, Timo Glock (Toyota TF109) – 2009
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:00-11:30
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 14:00-15:30
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 11:00-12:00
Qualifying Sat 14:00-15:00
Race (57 laps, 308.883km) Sun 14:00-16:00
Past Winners: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7) 2011
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB6) 2010
Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP Mercedes BGP001) 2009
Felipe Massa (Ferrari F2008) 2008
Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes MP4-22) 2007*
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari 248 F1) 2006*
  Fernando Alonso (Renault R25) 2005*
  Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 2004*
  Ralf Schumacher (Williams BMW FW25) 2003*
  Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2002) 2002*

* Event held at the Nürburgring.

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 a year, with the second race taking place on the Hermann Tilke designed dockside ‘street’ circuit in the city of Valencia.

A popular tourist 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 four events held here to-date have been exceedingly processional affairs where overtaking is usually done in the pit lane.

Take a look at our Valencia Street Circuit Track Guide:

 


Valencia Fast Facts

A few tasty trivia items…

  • The four European Grands Prix in Valencia have produced three winners: Felipe Massa won the inaugural race in 2008 for Ferrari, followed by Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello in 2009. The 2010 and 2011 events were won by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. Vettel is both the first driver to win this race and go on to become World Champion that season, and also the first reigning Champion to win here.
  • This race has been won from pole position three times. The only exception being Barrichello’s victory in 2009 in which the Brazilian triumphed from third on the grid.
  • Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers to have been on the podium more than once. Vettel’s two victories are his only visits while Hamilton, never having won the race, finished in second place the first three times the race was run.
  • Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are the only two drivers to finish in the points every time F1 has raced in Valencia.
  • The Valencia Street Circuit has more corners than any other current F1 circuit, though some are corners only in name. However, the combination of long straights and ten turns taken in third gear or lower puts a heavy load on braking systems. Together with expected high ambient temperatures this creates issues for brake cooling.
  • Five circuits in three countries have held the modern incarnation of the European Grand Prix. The first of 21 runnings was held at Brands Hatch in 1983. Brands held the race again in 1985. The other British track to host the race is Donington Park (1993). The race was run 12 times at the Nürburgring between 1984-2007 before moving to Valencia for 2008. It also took place on Spanish soil in 1994 and 1997, when it was held at Jerez.

Rewind to 2011 and other Memorable Moments

Despite the advent of two DRS zones, the 2011 European Grand Prix was a fairly tame affair that featured little in the way of overtaking at the pointy end of the field. After claiming yet another pole position, Sebastian Vettel cruised to another lights-to-flag win as most of the frontrunners opted for a conventional three-stop strategy.

Further behind, some runners gambled on riskier tyre strategies. One of the main beneficiaries was local driver Jaime Alguersuari, who finished in an impressive eighth place on a two-strop strategy, having qualified his Toro Rosso in 18th.

So have there been any classics among the previous four races at Valencia? Truthfully, no…

Thankfully, the other hosts of the honorific title of the ‘European Grand Prix’ – which has been a mainstay on the calendar since 1983 – have produced much better races.

Here’s our shortlist of the best – interestingly, two one of which features in our ‘Top 10 Last Lap Wins’ countdown we published last year:

  • Senna took one of his finest wins at Donington in 19931993: The scene of one of Ayrton Senna’s greatest victories, Formula 1’s one and only visit to Donington Park saw the heavens drench the circuit for almost the entire weekend. In conditions that nullified the dominance of the rival Williams team, the great Brazilian drove rings around the competition, overtaking four cars on the first lap to claim a lead he would never surrender.
  • 1997: It was one of the most famous title showdowns in the sport’s history, where Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve would dispute the championship crown at Jerez. Saturday qualifying proved extraordinary, with Schumacher, Villeneuve and Villeneuve and Schumacher's controversial collision, 1997Heinz-Harald Frentzen setting identical qualifying times. It was Schumacher who led the race, but Villeneuve chipped away and tried to wrestle the lead with a move into the Curva Dry Sac, only for the German to deliberately try to ram Villeneuve out of contention. Cue Schumacher in the gravel and out of the race, while Villeneuve surrendered the lead to Hakkinen and Coulthard, finishing third to claim the crown.
  • 1999: It was a race at the Nürburgring that no one seemed to want to win. Championship rivals Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine conspired to fall out of points Herbert claimed the Stewart team's one and only F1 win, 1999contention with some bungled pit calls as the rain hit, leaving the likes of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, David Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher to all take turns at the lead and come to strife. In the end, it was Johnny Herbert who came through to claim the Stewart team’s one and only win, timing his tyre changes to perfection to win from Jarno Trulli (Prost) and Rubens Barrichello in the sister Stewart.
  • 2005: Kimi Räikkönen looked set to claim a just reward at the Nürburgring, having led much of the race in his McLaren after starting from the front row. But the Finn had badly flat-spotted a tyre during the race – and tyre changes were banned in this season – leaving him vulnerable to the fast-closing Fernando Alonso. At the start of Raikkonen crashes out on the final lap, 2005the final lap, Kimi led by one second and looked set to hang on for a great victory. But as he braked for Turn 1, the vibration on his flat-spotted tyre proved too much and his front suspension shattered, sending him into the gravel trap at high speed. Alonso could hardly believe his luck, while Räikkönen and McLaren were left to rue the risk of going for outright victory.

Valencia Talking Points

So what do the RichardsF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Geoff 
Geoff Burke, RichardsF1.com Journalist

“Let’s face it, the only reason that we come here is because of Fernando Alonso. 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 the upcoming decision to alternate this race with Barcelona has finally shown that (1) the Spanish economy is on the ropes, and (2) the sport’s decision-makers were foolish to have even come here in the first place. The track is dull, devoid of overtaking opportunities and there’s barely anything to get excited about. Being little more than a maze of ten-ton concrete blocks set out in a shipping yard, the Valencia ‘street’ circuit fails miserably as a Grand Prix venue. The sooner it is off the calendar, the better.”

Jen
Jeni Smith, RichardsF1.com Technical Contributor

What has happened to Jenson Button? From the first person to win a race this season to finishing almost last in Canada? His dramatic decline in form has a lot of fans scratching their heads. Week after week, we are hearing rumbles of Jenson being hit with set-up and mechanical issues, while Lewis is flying and consistently competitive.

“Surprisingly for a driver renowned for his smooth driving style, Jenson appears to really be at odds with his tyres this year. While we see some flourishing on their tyre management skills, the McLaren doesn’t seem equipped to stretch out the same mileage, and combined with some poor pit strategies, Jenson is ending up consistently at the bottom of the heap and out of the points. Unless McLaren has some radical developments up their sleeves I don’t believe that Jenson is going to get the current 2012 setup working for him any time soon. With a different winner every race this season still, you have to start to wonder if these extremely quick degrading tyres are starting to make winning all about strategy and tyre management with driver skill taking a back foot.

“Then there is that niggling question: is Jenson just not that good anymore? Are the newer drivers coming in eclipsing his talent and maybe his place is in the middle of the pack?  Instinct tells me no, not yet.”

Ben 
Ben Waterworth, RichardsF1.com Feature Writer & ‘The Qualifying Lap’ radio show host on Edge 99.3FM 

“The collective yawns approach this weekend in Valencia ahead of another potentially Herman Tilke made sleep-in, with the eighth race of the year still not providing us with any clear favourites for the championship.

“Everyone seems to be asking however, if we’ll see our eighth different winner from as many races, and you have to ask yourself who would that be? The only real potential winners to add to the list would be either of the Lotus drivers, or Messrs Schumacher or Massa, and the likelihood of that happening this weekend is very slim.

“Pirelli boss Paul Hembery says otherwise and has tipped Schumi for the victory, but personally I feel as though we’ll see our first repeat winner of 2012 along the most picturesque and expensive wharf race anywhere in the world. Vettel loves this place, whilst Webber seems to struggle, but my money is on a Bull that is red to wake us up from our slumber and raise the Valencia trophy.”

 


The Form Guide

As the 2012 season has demonstrated time and time again, trying make a clear prediction about what could happen at each race is proving impossible. As we said in our event preview on this week’s episode on The Qualifying Lap radio show – which you can download as a podcast here – weather conditions will again be a big factor here, as has been the case for much of the 2012 season. If the conditions are hot as expected, then expect Lotus and Sauber to be as strong here as they were in Canada.

So if we are to see an eighth different winner this year, then the likes of the two Lotus drivers or Michael Schumacher would seem to be the odds-on bets.

Romain GrosjeanRomain Grosjean picked up another podium last time out at Canada and he’s generally been quicker than team-mate Kimi Räikkönen throughout the season. Granted, Kimi has been fussy with the handling of his E20, and he’s lost plenty of track mileage (and the possibility of a better race result) while his mechanics and engineers have sought to cure the maladies.

A lot of Lotus’ potential success will come down to how well they manage to qualify on Saturday. If they can get up the sharp end of the grid, then they could be in with a real shot, but if they qualify further down the order – as was the case in Canada – then their outright pace can be thwarted by traffic.

Michael Schumacher is this weekend’s only other realistic chance of becoming the eighth difference race-winner this year. But his 2012 season has been the stuff of nightmares: he claimed a pair of tenth-placed finishes and five retirements this year. Is he finally due a decent break?

Red Bull and McLaren (Lewis Hamilton, at least) will be strong here, either way. Red Bull is really proving to be the only team that can get both of its drivers consistently finishing well in the points, and that is going to be crucial to any team’s ambitions to securing the Constructors’ Championship crown in 2012.

Hamilton drove with great maturity last time outHamilton has also been interesting to watch. Granted, we’ve still seen the petulance and tantrums when the results haven’t gone his way (Australia and Monaco both spring to mind), but there have also been some mature performances too, when he’s recognised that consistency, rather than outright pace, will be key to remaining in with a shout for the Drivers’ Championship.

The same logic applies to Fernando Alonso, and you’d also be foolish to discount him here: it’s his second ‘home’ race and he’ll be wanting to become this year’s first two-time race-winner.

There are a few things to take into account as we look forward (and we use the term loosely) to Valencia. Rain won’t be a major threat this weekend, with forecasters predicting sweltering temperatures of up to 34°C (93°F) on Sunday.

Pirelli’s Paul Hembery has already suggested that qualifying will be the crucial point – all but one of the races here have been won from pole. With conditions only expected to get hotter over the course of the weekend, we’ve seen plenty of times this year that such changes in track conditions over a race weekend can throw up a host of surprise results.

 


Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!

The seventh round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!

The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!

You can view the latest Predictions Competition ranking right here.

Some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. But there are plenty of entrants yet to use their ‘double up’ option snapping at their heels. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?

To enter your predictions, click here.

 

As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Monaco Grand Prix fix!

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.
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