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Into the unknown - the untried challenge of Valencia 12 Aug 2008

F3 race action at turn 5. Valencia Street Circuit Opening, Spanish F3 and International GT Open. 26-27 July 2008, Valencia, Spain World © Moy/Sutton Rod Nelson (GBR) Williams Chief Operations Engineer. Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday 6 June 2008. World © Sutton The Valencia street circuit, which will host a Grand Prix in 2008. Valencia GP Circuit Plan, July 2007. World © Circuit Valencia Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW30.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Budapest, Hungary,  Friday, 1 August 2008 Between turns 5 and 6 Valencia Street Circuit Opening, Spanish F3 and International GT Open. 26-27 July 2008, Valencia, Spain World © Moy/Sutton

With surprises galore, the 2008 season has been something of a rollercoaster ride to date, so with a three-week summer break now upon us, you’d think most of the Formula One teams would be glad of the respite. But with the untried challenge of Valencia’s new street circuit awaiting them later this month, the majority are busier than ever, honing their cars in readiness for the Spanish city’s inaugural European Grand Prix.

Williams, now in their fourth decade of racing, are among the best practised in the art of coping with new venues and, like many of their rivals, have been busy preparing for Valencia since the start of the season.

“We started doing some initial mapping of the circuit several months ago, from architect plans and FIA information,” explained chief operations engineer Rod Nelson in an official Williams podcast. “We created a rough map of the circuit and then we ran our simulation around it to see things like aero levels and look at the potential for high brake wear or what kind of demands the circuit will put on the tyres.

“So in the case of aero levels we can make new parts to suit that particular circuit. And then as you come nearer the time you can get more information from the organisers and the FIA and you just build up the picture and refine the simulation.”

Williams’ laser scanning facilities mean they have also been able to scan the circuit so that their drivers can practise some ‘virtual laps’ on the team’s simulator. This allows them to get used to the racing lines and even to start looking at set-ups, though, of course, there is no substitute for actually being there. “Nothing beats walking around the circuit with the drivers, chatting about problems, looking at the kerbs, the amount of run-off area, how close you are to the wall,” added Nelson.

Williams driver Nico Rosberg is also impatient to get some first-hand experience of the track, but until first practice on Friday week the German will have to be content with factory-based preparations. He already has a strategy in mind, using footage from the recent GT races held at the circuit.

“I’m going to watch the onboard from some of the GT racing to get a good idea of the track,” explained Rosberg in the podcast. “But then it’s really taking a guess on the set-up, comparing with other street circuits, like Monaco, and from then we’ll just have to take it step by step through the weekend.

“On a street circuit like that, the problem is that there is no grip at the beginning. On a normal track you’d learn it in like 15 laps or 10 even. But on a street circuit it’s going to take you more than that - maybe 20 laps - to get the hang of it. It’s going to be very important to keep the car on the track because if you crash you’ll lose a lot of time.

Williams enjoyed a strong start to their 2008 campaign, with Rosberg scoring his first (and so far only) Formula One podium in Australia. Since then their form has faded away, with just one point from the last five rounds, but it’s a trend the level playing field of a new circuit could help reverse.

“For all the teams, everyone is starting at zero more or less, with the track, the drivers, the set-up and everything,” added Rosberg. “So it’s going to be a big challenge for everybody to get the best out of it as quickly as possible. It is going to be a really interesting race.”

The European Grand Prix will take place on August 22-24.