• European Grand Prix preview

Time to turn up the heat

ESPN Staff
June 21, 2012

After seven different winners from seven exciting races, there's a chance F1 could run out of steam in Valencia. The circuit is far from being the best for overtaking and lacks the drama of a proper street venue like Monaco or Singapore. There are still drivers who haven't won a race and appear to be due one (Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Romain Grosjean), but with McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull beginning to assert themselves as the teams to beat, it's becoming increasingly likely the season will have its first double winner. But despite all that, the racing this season has made compulsive viewing and even on a circuit like Valencia we could be treated to another classic.

On form

It took seven races, but Lewis Hamilton's victory at the Canadian Grand Prix served as proof that he is back in championship-challenging form. He now leads the standings and only he and Fernando Alonso in second place have scored points at every round. For Hamilton, it's been a dramatic departure from the inconsistent, and at time impetuous, drives of 2011. Even when he has faced difficulties he has scored strong results, and in his hands the McLaren is fast over one lap as well as manageable over a race distance.

Out of form

While Hamilton appears to be in the best form for several years, his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button is in his worst. In the last four races he has scored just two points and his showing at the Canadian Grand Prix was arguably his worst of the year, as he made one extra pit stop than his rivals but showed none of the pace. The problem is rooted in understanding how to match his set-up and driving style to the needs of the tyres. It clearly wasn't such a big problem at the start of the season when he won in Melbourne, but the car, temperatures and circuits have changed since then and complicated the issue. McLaren's sporting director Sam Michael insists it is not an issue with Button's driving style and that both McLaren drivers require similar set-ups, but clearly something is not quite clicking in the No. 3 car. What Button needs now is a clean weekend with no reliability or operational issues so he can get to the bottom of it.

The last time he raced in Spain, Pastor Maldonado won © Press Association
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One to watch

After its impressive victory in Spain, Williams has failed to live up to expectations despite Pastor Maldonado showing glimpses of pace in both Monaco and Canada. If he can manage a weekend without clouting the barrier or another driver, he should put in a strong performance on Valencia's street circuit - a track that he won on in GP2 and one that suits his driving style. A second win will probably be too much to ask, but a return to the top six is possible.

Talking points

Valencia's lack of overtaking
Just as some circuits, such as Montreal, tend to bunch the pack up and make things exciting, there are other types of tracks that spread the cars out. Unfortunately the port-side Valencia street circuit falls into the latter category and in its four years on the F1 calendar it has yet to produce a memorable race. Even the introduction of two DRS zones last year did little for the spectacle and there is no reason to expect much more from 2012's offering considering there is just one zone this year. While the likes of Monaco can get away without offering much overtaking, Valencia's combination of concrete and wire fencing does not hold the same appeal.

The future of F1 in Valencia
With Spain in the midst of a financial crisis, it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify (let alone afford) having two grands prix in the country. Valencia has just two more years on its current contract but could well alternate with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona so that a round remains in Spain until 2019. That would mean three more races on the street circuit after this one, but the costs would be spread out over a longer period. It would also open up precious space on the calendar with New Jersey and Russia set to join over the next two years.

Cost cutting progress
Slowly but surely the teams and the FIA appear to be edging towards a set of regulations for next year that incorporate cost control. In recent years costs have been regulated by the teams, with the Resource Restriction Agreement going some way to limiting spending. However, the break-up of FOTA and general distrust between the teams under the RRA means the only way forward is for the governing body to get involved. Over the past few weeks team members have been saying they are closing in on a deal and after a recent meeting of the World Motor Sport Council the FIA said: "Any amendments to the technical regulations resulting from a further limit on expenditure on the chassis will be submitted to the WMSC via a fax vote before 30 June. The intention is to help all teams participate in the championship in a fair and equal manner."

F1's V8 engines are set to be replaced by V6 turbos © Sutton Images
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2014 engines
Amid all the talk of cost cutting there are also questions over just how expensive the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines are going to be in 2014. Several customer teams are concerned that their engine budgets are going to increase dramatically with the introduction of the new powerplants and that has led to suggestions that F1 could stick with the current 2.4-litrre V8s for a little longer. The likes of Renault and Mercedes have warned that such an approach will just increase costs in the long run and are determined to see the new units they have spent so much on arrive on time. If F1 wants to attract new manufacturers it needs to go ahead with the engine swap, but if it wants to hold on to some of its smaller teams, which will also have to completely redesign their chassis for the new formula, then engine costs need to be controlled.

Fast facts

  • The lap record around Valencia is 1:38.683, set by Timo Glock for Toyota in 2009
  • Three of the four European Grand Prix held at Valencia so far have been won from pole position
  • A safety car has featured just once at the last four European Grand Prix
  • 63% of the lap is taken at full throttle while 16% of it is spent on the brakes

Trivia

  • The circuit winds its way around the Valencia marina and between areas used for the 2007 Americas Cup
  • The swing bridge that connects the two sides of the harbour between turns nine and ten is 140 metres long
  • Valencia is the fifth circuit to host the modern incarnation of the European Grand Prix - Brands Hatch, Donington, the Nurburgring and Jerez are the other four
  • Only Lewis Hamilton (three times) and Sebastian Vettel (twice) have been on the podium more than once in the four races so far

Circuit

In theory the Valencia street circuit should be one of the best on the calendar, but it just doesn't deliver exciting racing. The long straights are actually curves, while overtaking opportunities are virtually none-existent in the opening sector - especially when the cars have been spread out by the fast final sector. A set-up compromise is required as the key to a quick car here is a good top speed, traction and low speed grip. Though a street circuit, mistakes are rarely punished due to a number of run-off areas, but overtaking is possible in to turn 12 using DRS.

FIA driver steward

Ex-Benetton and Dallara driver Emanuele Pirro will be the driver steward this weekend, making his third appearance of the season - and fifth overall in the role - having previously fulfilled the duties in China and Bahrain.

© Getty Images
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Weather

For once it looks like the teams are set for a settled, consistent weekend in terms of weather and temperatures. Crucially, Friday is set to hit the middle ground with temperatures, allowing teams to prepare for both qualifying and the race. Saturday may be a touch cooler but it's not a dramatic change, while a hot race is expected on Sunday. Of course things could change, but it's not likely to - the chances of rain in the next ten days are extremely low.

Betting

On the back of his Canada victory, Lewis Hamilton remains the bookies' favourite at 3/1, while it looks like a second-time winner is most likely as Sebastian Vettel is 7/2 and Fernando Alonso 4/1. Perhaps on account of the weather, it's the Lotus pair who are next up at 11/1, just ahead of Nico Rosberg at 12s. Given his recent improvement in form and 2008 victory Felipe Massa is a good each way bet at 40/1, while Michael Schumacher is tempting to take pole at 14/1 after his Monaco performance.

ESPN prediction

There's a bit of a split in the ESPNF1 office over which driver to pick, with both coming from the same team. That the decision is between the Lotus drivers is testament to Romain Grosjean's progress this season, and on the back of his second place in Canada he gets the nod ahead of Kimi Raikkonen - who has struggled to put together a clean weekend of late.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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