The European Grand Prix preview - the Valencia wait is almost over 21 Aug 2008
Valencia is alive with Formula One racing, with tangible excitement that the sport is taking to the bespoke course down by the famed port that has been home to the America's Cup races in recent years. The key word on everyones lips has been urban rather than street, reflecting the wide nature of the track which so strongly differentiates it from Monaco.
It boasts 25 corners that snake around the Juan Carlos I Marina, offering fast, wide and sweeping bends and, it is hoped, several potential opportunities for passing. It is 14 metres wide at the minimum.
Official simulations estimate a top speed of more than 300 km/h at the end of the main straight and a lap time in the 1m 37s bracket, with an average speed around 200 km/h. That should put Valencia on a par with a venue such as Bahrain with its average of 214 km/h. By contrast, Monacos average is only 151 km/h.
Valencia will be the European Grand Prixs fifth home since its inception in 1983, the others being Brands Hatch, the Nurburgring, Donington Park and Jerez.
Lewis Hamilton is raring to go and to preserve his world championship points lead after the surprise Ferrari and Felipe Massa handed out in Hungary.
"I already spend quite a lot of time between the races analysing the data and keeping fit. This summer break gave me the opportunity to get away from that and focus on just recharging my batteries, the McLaren driver says. Looking back at the season so far, it feels like a different championship compared to last year: 2007 was very intense and consistency was incredibly important. This year, everybodys results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions. Thats made getting strong results even more important, but I think well see consistency becoming crucial as we head towards the end of the season."
McLaren are no stranger to the city of Valencia, having launched the MP4-22 there last year, and everyone has tested at the old Ricardo Tormo circuit. Going to a new circuit doesnt really change my preparations: everybodys in the same situation so I dont treat things very differently, Hamilton continues. Of course, weve done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying. Ill be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend. I enjoy visiting new race tracks and Im looking forward to getting into the cockpit on Friday morning. It looks like being an amazing track."
Team mate Heikki Kovalainen, the winner in Hungary, says of the new track: It looks pretty fast, to be honest. 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. Its too early to say yet whether there will be opportunities to overtake around here, but there are a couple of hairpins where it might be possible."
Ferrari will be looking for a more fruitful weekend than they enjoyed in Hungary and world champion Kimi Raikkonen knows he must rediscover his practice and qualifying form if they are to take maximum advantage of the expected hot conditions.
We have to start well at Valencia, where it's more important than in other places to drive with continuity from Friday on, says the Finn. I hope I'll have a trouble-free weekend to try to set up the car the best way possible, especially for the qualifying lap. The qualifying will be extremely important, although I think that there are some possibilities on the track to overtake. If it's hot that will help Ferrari.
Former 2008 winners BMW Sauber also need to bounce back from Budapest, where their pace mysteriously deserted them, but team principal Mario Theissen is optimistic that there is more to come from the F1.08.
"The short summer break after the race in Budapest has benefited everyone, he says. Now we are embarking on the remaining three European races and four overseas GPs with renewed vigour. Our aim is to continue on from the good results of the first half of the season. We still have a few arrows in our quiver.
Further down the grid Force India will debut their new seamless-shift gearbox, a change they hope could bring them as much as three-tenths of a second per lap.
There are already indications that the circuit will be very dusty for the first day before it begins to rubber-in, and as in Budapest, that means drivers and engineers will be chasing set-up all through Fridays crucial practice sessions. More than one engineer has remarked on the need to stay calm and let the track come to them rather than working the other way around.
Bridgestone have brought along their soft and super-soft tyres for the event, and regardless of who wins it will mark their 200th Grand Prix appearance since they came into the sport in 1997.
Teams will employ similar levels of downforce to Hockenheim, and the brakes will take a caning with three times each lap when drivers have to haul speeds down from 300 km/h to 80. That will put it on a par with Montreal, which is notoriously demanding in that area.