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More Monza than Monaco - why Valencia's no ordinary street circuit 15 Aug 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 
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren. McLaren Mercedes Street Demonstration, Valencia, Spain, 15 January 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) announces a seven-year deal for Valencia to host the European Grand Prix, with President of the Valencian government Francisco Camps (ESP) and Mayor of Valencia Rita Barbera (ESP) Valencia, Spain, 10 May 2007. © Valencia GP McLaren run on the streets of Valencia, Spain, during the launch of their 2007 car, January 2007. © www.mclaren.com A Ferrari 430 passes over the swing bridge. Valencia Street Circuit Opening, Spanish F3 and International GT Open. 26-27 July 2008, Valencia, Spain

Mention the term ‘street circuit’ and the words that normally spring to mind include ‘tight’, ‘twisty’, ‘slow’, and ‘minimal overtaking’. However, the all-new Valencia Street Circuit, venue for next weekend’s European Grand Prix, is set to provide a very different experience.

Winding around the Spanish port’s Juan Carlos I Marina, home to the recent 32nd America’s Cup yacht race, the Valencia track is fast, sweeping and wide, and offers several potential opportunities for passing. Predictions suggest it will be the eighth-fastest race on the calendar, making it more like Monza than Monaco.

"When you think about temporary street races in Formula One, you mainly think about Monaco,” says Mercedes’ Norbert Haug. “However, Valencia does not have very much in common with this classic race; just that both cities are located on the Mediterranean coast and that both circuits lead along the harbour front.”

Official simulations have estimated a top speed of 320 km/h at the end of Valencia’s main straight and an estimated lap time around the 1m 37s bracket. With an expected average speed of 225 km/h, the circuit should be on a par with a venue such as Bahrain (average speed 205 km/h) and far quicker than Monte Carlo.

“This is not typical for a street race; it is more like a version of Silverstone or Monza but located in a city," adds Haug. “While the Monte Carlo race is the slowest of the year with an average speed of about 156 km/h for the fastest lap, and is also the shortest with a race distance of almost 254 kilometres, we face a race distance of 310 kilometres in Valencia and a track on which the cars will reach 300 km/h or more five times per lap.”

The new venue is likely to prove as tough on brakes as Canada’s Montreal street circuit, with three stops down to around 80 km/h. Engines will also get a demanding workout, with the longest full-throttle section along the harbour-side back straight lasting a full 13 seconds.

"It looks pretty fast, to be honest,” says McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen. “You get used to street circuits being quite slow, with lots of slow- to medium-speed corners and very short straights, but this is almost the opposite. There are a lot of fast kinks and esses, a couple of decent straights and lots of high-speed stuff.”

McLaren’s simulations suggest they will employ downforce levels similar to those used at Hockenheim in Germany. However, there will be less margin for driver error thanks to the combination of relatively high speeds and relatively few run-off areas.

“Anybody who’s studied any onboard footage of the circuit will be mindful of the proximity of the concrete barriers in certain areas,” says McLaren’s Formula One CEO, Martin Whitmarsh. “Clearly, we’ll be packing plenty of spares, but hoping we won’t need to use them!"

Opening practice for the European Grand Prix takes place on Friday, August 22.