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Europe preview - advantage Schumacher in Valencia? 21 Jun 2012

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W02. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia, Spain, Saturday, 25 June 2011 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W02 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Preparations, Montreal, Canada, Thursday, 7 June 2012 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 10 June 2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 10 June 2012 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia, Spain, Saturday, 25 June 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 10 June 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari with Placido Domingo (ESP).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race Day, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2012 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 Sebastien Buemi (SUI) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR6 and Jarno Trulli (ITA) Team Lotus T128. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011

What a bit of history it would make if Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher were to score a 92nd Grand Prix victory in Valencia at this weekend’s 2012 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe, and become a record eighth winner in the season’s first eight races.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery is one who believes that is more than possible, and that the multi-cornered Spanish track should confer the same car/driver advantages that the German seven-time champion enjoyed when he annexed pole position in Monaco.

"I think you have to look at someone like, maybe Michael getting the pole position," Hembery says. "He probably would have won Monaco if he hadn't been penalised, so why not here? Michael for Valencia, that's where the money should go.”

Schumacher himself is optimistic, and confident that on-going reliability issues with his Mercedes have finally been solved.

"Our entire focus is now on the race in Valencia, and I am sure that everybody's motivation is even stronger because the weekend in Canada didn't go as well as we had hoped,” he says. “Our motto in the last few days has been to roll our sleeves up and focus on the job in hand; everybody in the team has taken that approach to heart, so we can travel to Valencia in an optimistic mood.”

Team principal Ross Brawn admits that they have let their man down at times, and adds: “The performance of our car and our tyre management were generally good in Canada, however our competitiveness was compromised by reliability problems and mistakes.

“This is a disappointment that is deeply felt by everyone in our team, and we have been working hard to ensure we understand the reasons and deal with them. Achieving zero-defect reliability is our highest priority. The opportunities available if we can give both drivers a reliable car and a clean weekend are clear."

Meanwhile, both Lotus drivers believe that a win is not far away. Romain Grosjean in particular is a likely candidate since he loves the track and is on great form right now. The feeling within the team is that if they can just nail qualifying, they can have a great chance of victory, especially as the E20 likes the high track temperatures that will be a feature of the weekend.

“I had a podium in the first GP2 race here in 2008 and was leading the second race until somebody took me out!” the Frenchman says. “Then I managed to win in 2011, so it’s a circuit I’m comfortable with for sure. It definitely helps to know the track already as it usually takes less time to get up to speed and you have a rough idea of where the braking points, turn-ins and so on will be. Of course, Formula One is always a bit different but at least I have some guidelines going into the weekend.

“We have to go into every weekend aiming for a win; approaching a race in any other way is like putting yourself on the back foot from the start. I’m mainly hoping for an improvement in qualifying, a good start and then we’ll see what happens from there. It’s great to be fighting at the front and that’s always what we want to do, but we’re in a tight battle this season so of course the most important thing is to score some good points again for the team. If we have a strong weekend from the start then I think we are capable of fighting for a podium or even a win. We’ll see after qualifying where we are; hopefully we can get another good result!”

Team mate Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, says: “I love winning and that’s what I’m always trying for. I’ve never won in Valencia, so it’s a good target. Last time I raced here I finished third after starting from sixth on the grid, which was not too bad.”

With its 25 corners (the most of any F1 track) Valencia may not suit the McLarens as well as Montreal did, as Martin Whitmarsh admits that traction has been their abiding problem this season. But as world championship leader Lewis Hamilton, runner-up here in 2008, ’09 and ’10, aims to become the first repeat winner of 2012, Jenson Button is looking forward to taking a healthy handful of points after his recent slump in form.

“Canada was just one of those weekends where things didn’t come together,” he admits. “After some difficult races, I really needed the track time on Friday to find a clearer direction with the set-up, and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to a number of technical issues.

“I think that set the tone for the rest of the weekend: we lacked the data we needed to tackle the race and we struggled. Still, there were important lessons to be learned from those issues, and we addressed everything back at MTC [the McLaren Technical Centre] once we’d returned from Canada in a bid to get a clearer direction for Valencia. A day like that is enormously productive and I think we covered a lot of ground.

“The last few races haven’t delivered the results I’d like, but there are still 13 races to go. We’ve had seven different winners and no clear championship leader has emerged, so I’ll be looking to get a decent result under my belt next weekend in order to get my title bid back on track. I know just how strong Vodafone McLaren Mercedes can be. Valencia is a track I really enjoy; I’ve already won on a street circuit this year so I’m definitely optimistic about having a great weekend and picking up the momentum again in the title fight.”

This is of course a big race for Ferrari, with the crowd rooting for local hero Fernando Alonso, and Felipe Massa’s recent dramatic improvement in form could make him a contender for the eighth different winner prize, too. The Scuderia is feeling very strong right now, after the form it showed in Canada has set an optimistic tone for the rest of the season.

Overtaking is likely to be as tough as ever here. Last year there were only five ‘normal' passing moves, while DRS enabled a further 22. The single DRS zone is on the long, back straight heading down to Turn 12, with the detection point between Turns 7 and 8. There are also likely to be several different strategies deployed and as many as three pit stops, as the pit lane is relatively short at 252 metres which means pit-stopping cars are less disadvantaged than usual.

"We know Valencia is a tough track on which to create an exciting race," Hembery says. "It's hard to overtake and it's got elements of Monaco from that point of view. There will be some high temperatures, of course, and we're going there with the soft and medium tyre, so we should have less degradation.

"There will not be the challenge that we had in Canada, with the super-soft being pushed to its limit, so that is why track position is going to be fundamental. You've got to really get a good qualifying here."

Changes to the track have been kept to an absolute minimum, with the only alterations made to the areas of artificial grass laid around several sections of the circuit which caused issues in 2011 after the synthetic turf detached from the surface to which it was glued. It has now been replaced with a more durable product for 2012.

The forecast is for a consistently very warm and sunny weekend, with an ambient temperature high of 26 degrees Celsius on Friday, rising to 27 on Saturday and 29 for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The race will run over 57 laps of the 5.419 kilometre (3.367 mile) circuit, or 308.883 kilometres (191.933 miles). It starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.

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