• European Grand Prix Preview

Can Ferrari join the party?

Laurence Edmondson June 24, 2010

The Canadian Grand Prix was a classic, requiring strategy, bravery and out and out pace from Lewis Hamilton and McLaren to win. Unfortunately this weekend's race in Valencia is likely to fall short of that, as the only two other races at the long street circuit have been rather tedious affairs. The main question is whether McLaren can maintain its advantage over Red Bull and if Ferrari can get in on the act with its updated F10. The order at the front is changing so much every race that even the teams themselves are genuinely unsure who will be on the podium. As a result the European Grand Prix will be compulsory viewing.

On Form

With two wins from the last two races, Lewis Hamilton is finally getting the results he deserves for what has been a pretty remarkable season. He still isn't making it easy for himself, but that's made it all the more entertaining for the fans to watch. Valencia requires similar characteristics from the car as Montreal did, so McLaren should still have a slight edge over Red Bull. What's more the car is getting quicker all the time, although judging by team-mate Jenson Button's qualifying performances, it is not necessarily getting easier to set-up and drive. But that won't bother Hamilton as he thrives on driving the car on the absolute limit, and that is exactly what is needed to put the MP4-25 on that all important pole position.

Out of form

Four races have passed since Sebastian Vettel last beat his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in Q3. It's by no means a crisis, because he's usually only fractions of a second behind, but if McLaren and Ferrari get ahead of Red Bull on a permanent basis then Vettel will need to at least beat the sister RB6 if he is going to mount a serious challenge on the title. At the moment he is fifth in the standing s and 19 points down. There have been a number of excuses, such as a faulty gearbox or a cracked chassis, but the raw statistics show that he is being outperformed by Webber and that will be bugging Vettel ... a lot.

Fernando Alonso will race an updated Ferrari F10 in Valencia © Ferrari
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One to watch

Valencia is supposed to be Ferrari's breakthrough race, with a new exhaust system getting the best out of its diffuser and a number of other tweaks to the F10. Depending on who you believe, the updates could be worth anything between 0.4 and 0.7 seconds, which would have put Fernando Alonso on pole in Montreal two weeks ago. Add to that the huge expectation of his home fans this weekend and Alonso has a lot to live up to. But as long as the updates do the job and he avoids any mistakes similar to the ones he made in Monaco and China, he's unlikely to disappoint.

Talking points

Exhausts
Bored of all the talk surrounding the F-duct? Well F1 has a new favourite innovation, and again all the teams are trying to emulate one pioneering design. Since the start of the season there has been considerable intrigue around Red Bull's low-mounted exhausts and the team has tried its best to stop its rivals getting a closer look at it. Put simply, the positioning of the exhausts help channel air to the diffuser to generate more rear-end downforce. But blowing hot gases onto crucial parts of the bodywork has its obvious pitfalls and it could take teams a good few races to perfect their systems and get the desired result. Ferrari will debut its version in Valencia, with McLaren and others introducing theirs at the British Grand Prix.

Field spread
Field spread is an unwelcome phenomenon in Formula One that is as boring to explain and watch as its title sounds. In the same way that circuits like Montreal tend to bunch up the pack and make things interesting, there are other types of tracks that spread out the cars. Unfortunately the port-side Valencia street circuit falls into the latter category, and in its two years on the F1 calendar it has provided one unspeakably dull race in 2008 and one dictated by fuel strategy in 2009. With refuelling banned and the tyres unlikely to degrade like they did in Canada, it could be another dull affair this year.

Fernando Alonso
The deal to hold the European Grand Prix in Spain was struck when Alonso was reigning world champion and had recently joined championship favourites McLaren. F1 fever was off the scale in the country, but by the time of the inaugural race in Valencia a year later, Alonso was at Renault and some way off the pace of the front runners. Now he is back in a competitive team, interest has peaked again and the lower-than-expected attendance seen at last year's race has already been exceeded in ticket sales this time round.

Changes for 2011
With the World Motor Sport Council confirming Pirelli as next year's tyre supplier, the introduction of adjustable rear wings and the return of the 107% qualifying rule in 2011, there will be less gossip in the F1 paddock than usual over the weekend. However, there should be a fair bit of reaction to the changes, especially from the smaller teams over the 107% rule.

Weekend Timings

  • Free practice 1 0800 GMT / 1000 Local
    Free practice 2 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    Free practice 3 0900 GMT / 1100 Local
    Qualifying 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    Race 1200 GMT / 1400 Local

Fast facts

  • The average speed is the highest of any street circuit on the calendar at over 200KPH
  • The track has more coners than any other on the calendar 25 in total, 13 right-handers and 12 left and is 5.419km long
  • Only five cars have ever retired at the Valencia street circuit
  • The official lap record is 1:38.683 set by Timo Glock in 2009

Trivia

  • The European Grand Prix has been staged at five different circuits - Nurburgring, Brands Hatch, Jerez Donington and Valencia
  • The current circuit is built around the America's Cup port and marina area and also features a swing bridge section - although it is welded shut for the grand prix weekend
  • Only Brazilians have won on the Valencia street circuit; Felipe Massa in 2008 and Rubens Barrichello in 2009
  • Lewis Hamilton is aiming for three successive victories for the first time in his Formula One career. He has previously had back-to-back wins on three separate occasions

Circuit

On paper the Valencia street circuit looks like a cracker. It has long, wide straights punctuated by heavy braking zones and a flowing, high-speed final sector between concrete walls. But in reality, the straights aren't long enough, the braking zones aren't heavy enough and the final sector only serves to spread the field apart. If overtaking does occur, it's likely to be into the chicane at turn 12 or the turn 17 hairpin.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

The forecast all weekend is for foggy mornings followed by sunny afternoons. There is a slight chance of rain on Friday morning for first practice, but the rest of the weekend should be bone dry. Temperatures will be slightly lower than in previous years when the race was held in August, but the difference shouldn't have a huge effect on the way the tyres or cars perform.

Betting

After his win in Montreal Lewis Hamilton is the favourite at 9/4 ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, who are level at 7/2. Considering the cars they are driving, Mark Webber and Jenson Button have relatively long odds at 11/2, while Felipe Massa in the upgraded Ferrari could be classed as an outsider at 18/1.

ESPN Prediction

Fernando Alonso kept McLaren very honest in Canada and now heads to Valencia with a significantly upgraded car. If the changes are reliable, he should be able to mount a full challenge on McLaren - which has no major updates for this race - and certainly has the form coming away from Canada to challenge anyone for the win.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010