Valencia - a Formula One set-up guide 21 Aug 2009
Situated in the marina area of Valencia, the European Grand Prix street course is one of the most exciting additions to the Formula One calendar in recent years. Hemmed in by concrete walls, the 25-turn circuit combines a mix of high and low-speed sections and presents a challenging layout for the drivers and engineers. Good straight-line speed and stability under braking are therefore paramount, as is good mechanical grip through the mix of low and medium-speed corners, as the Renault team explain
The track layout means that the teams run with medium levels of downforce with a similar set-up to that used in Shanghai and Bahrain earlier this year. This set-up is possible as there are no high-speed corners and good straight-line speed is important down the long back straight.
Fernando Alonso explains: "One of the most exciting parts of the lap is the final section from turns 17 to 25. You are flat-out almost all the way from the exit of 17 to the final corner, but there are so many kinks that you are constantly in a corner. Turn 25 is quite difficult because it's so slow and yet you approach it at over 300 km/h. So you have to brake as you are coming through turn 24, which makes it's easy to lock a wheel or make a mistake."
The circuit is particularly demanding on the brakes and on a par with somewhere like Bahrain. There are frequent large stops from over 300km/h, such as turns 12 and 17, leading into tight second gear corners which put high energy though the braking systems. Brake cooling therefore needs special attention and the team will use larger brake cooling ducts than usual, as was the case in Bahrain.
General car set-up
The drivers need a responsive and well-balanced car with good change of direction to deal with the high-speed kinks that are spread around the circuit. But, as always, this needs to be balanced with a supple enough suspension to give good mechanical grip in the low-speed corners. Good braking stability is also important, especially at the end of the straights, to avoid locking wheels on a track where there is little margin for error.
Alonso explains: "Overtaking is always difficult on a street circuit and Valencia is no exception. Turn 12 at the end of the long back straight is probably the best opportunity as it's the biggest braking zone on the track. There's also quite a lot of tarmac run-off in case you go too deep into the corner."
Bridgestone will bring the soft and super-soft compounds from its 2009 range, just as it did for the streets of Monaco and at last month's Hungarian Grand Prix. This choice is possible as the tarmac is not particularly abrasive and the softest compounds from the range will offer good grip on what is likely to be quite a slippery track surface to begin with. However, like any temporary circuit, we can expect the track to gradually evolve, becoming faster with each lap as it rubbers-in. The main concern over the weekend will be monitoring the rear tyre wear, which tends to be high due to the number of low-speed corners that lead onto long straights where traction demands are high.
The mix of straights, low speed chicanes and hairpins means that the engine will be used in a very stop-start fashion. About 60% of the lap is spent at full throttle, which is slightly below average for the season, and so Valencia is not a demanding test for the engine. The key to a good lap time is not peak power, but good torque to help launch the car out of the slow corners and onto the straights. Getting the car well balanced will therefore be of utmost importance to avoid understeer out of the low-speed corners to allow early application of the throttle.