Paddock Postcard from Valencia 26 Jun 2011
This weekends European round may be the third street race in succession, but the industrial chic of host city Valencia certainly has a very different flavour to the lushness of Montreals Ile Notre-Dame and the old-world glamour of Monte Carlo. Situated in the recently-revamped marina area, and with garages located in old fish warehouses, the Spanish track has a very distinctive vibe.
In the build-up to the on-track action there was a raft of pre-race activities for the drivers to enjoy. The HRT duo were amongst the busiest, with Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan helping to make (and then tucking into) a huge Paella (the dish originated in Valencia) on Wednesday night. On Thursday they had the chance to work off any calories by testing their mettle on jet skis.
Local hero Fernando Alonso was being much more studious over at Ferrari, handing out Formula Santander study scholarships to students. The successful few had been chosen from thousands of applicants and hail from England, Brazil and Spain. The winners received a grant of 5,000 Euros as well as tickets for Sundays race.
McLarens Jenson Button and team reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa also went back to school on Thursday, taking to the kart track for a Vodafone Team Challenge event, part of a sports mentoring initiative being supported by Vodafone Spain as part of the Vodafone Team programme. World Series by Renault driver Maximo Cortes, freestyle skier Gustavo Ballesteros, football coach Jose Antoinio Gonzalez Barato and golfer Jose Maria Orozco were all in action at the temporary track near the iconic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias building.
The drivers attentions may have been fully focused on setting up their cars on Friday but for the fans there was much more than the practice running to keep them amused, courtesy of the F1 Rocks concert in Valencia. The headline act was mega producer David Guetta, who has three chart-topping albums to his name and has also worked with a variety of pop and hip-hop artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Kylie Minogue and Madonna.
Despite an hours delay caused by a freak software glitch, once solved Guetta was able to entertain his fans to full effect. Earlier in the day, he had visited the Formula One paddock to look around and was as impressed with what he saw as his fans were of his performance that night. "It's true - F1 Rocks! he said. "I was fascinated by my first behind-the scenes experience at the racetrack in Valencia yesterday. The party last night was incredible; one of the most beautiful venues I've played. A technical hitch meant I started late; sorry guys but once I dropped the first record, nothing else seemed to matter, but the beats."
In a slightly lower key (but equally fun) gathering on Friday evening, Mercedes hosted a celebratory tribute to the great Juan Manuel Fangio, to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of his birth in Balcarce.
Other famous faces at the Valencia track included Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo; Ron Dennis; former Ferrari and Arrows sporting director Daniel Audetto; former Grand Prix winner Heinz-Harald Frentzen as a steward; former fellow Grand Prix drivers Gerhard Berger and Luciano Burti, and rising Brazilian F3 winner Felipe Nasr; former McLaren logistics manager Jo Ramirez; Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz; former Intersport Racing and TOMs Racing team principal Glenn Waters and old British F3 team-owning rival Dave Price; and Trevor Francis, best known as British footballs first million-pound player at Nottingham Forest, who was a guest of Virgin.
On track, Saturdays GP2 encounter saw DAMS Romain Grosjean handed the golden opportunity to take victory after polesitter Charles Pic dropped to the back of the grid after his Barwa Addax machine stopped on the formation lap. Grosjeans rise to a five-point series lead was also helped when Pics team mate Giedo van der Garde was given a drive-through for ignoring yellow flags.
As Jules Bianchi and Marcus Ericsson, and Fabio Leimer and Alvaro Parente collided on the opening lap, Grosjean and Van der Garde sprinted away as Racing Engineerings Dani Clos and Super Novas Luca Filippi battled over third and iSports Sam Bird did likewise with Caterham Team AirAsias Davide Valescchi.
Van der Gardes penalty dropped him down to fifth before he recovered to take second. With eight laps left he picked off Clos on lap 24 and pushed Valsecchi into running too deep at the hairpin with two to go. Thus Grosjean claimed an easy victory ahead of Van der Garde, with Valsecchi delighted to take a podium on Caterhams first appearance in GP2.
Sundays sprint race saw Sauber F1 reserve and ART driver Esteban Gutierrez take his maiden GP2 win, the Mexican dominating after a mistake from Arden polesitter Josef Kral. Luiz Razia also passed Kral, who would later spin out, on a restart and came home second ahead of Van der Garde.
In GP3 Arden polesitter Lewis Williamson bogged down at the start of Saturdays race and was overtaken by Marussia Manor Racings Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Addaxs Dean Smith. The Scot had to be content to hold third, fending off team mate Mitch Evans, until Smiths car lost pace on the final lap. As Quaife-Hobbs sped home to an excellent victory, they both moved up to join him on the podium. The unfortunate Smith finished fifth behind team mate Gabby Chaves and ahead of Statuss Alexander Sims.
Sundays round brought a maiden GP3 win for ARTs James Calado, who controlled the race from pole and took the chequered flag four seconds clear of Sims, with team mate Valtteri Bottas third.
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