Circuit Length: 5.419 Km
Lap Record: 1:38.683 = 197.687 km/h - Timo Glock (Toyota) 2009
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:36.975 = 201.169 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:39.36.169
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 10.891s behind
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 27.255s behind
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:41.852 = 191.536 km/h on Lap 53
STREET THEATRE – FOR THE THIRD RACE RUNNING
Street circuits may not be ‘normal’ in Formula 1 but you could be forgiven for thinking so: Valencia takes the teams to their third city-centre venue in as many races, and their second visit to Spain in a month and a half. But with a long lap, 25 corners and high temperatures, the harbourside venue in the city’s former America’s Cup precinct is a very different proposition from Monaco, Montreal and our own Melbourne track.
Valencia is one of the toughest circuits on the brakes, with 18% of the lap spent trying to slow the car down, sometimes from close to 300 km/h. On the other hand, it has a high average speed of around 200 km/h, it’s pretty smooth for an urban circuit, and it is more forgiving than the others because it has good run-off areas and the kerbs are not excessively high.
The man who has won there from pole position on the last two visits, Sebastian Vettel, certainly enjoys it. “It’s one of the fastest street circuits in Formula One,” says Seb. “Overtaking is possible, but only with some risk. The reason is that the air turbulence created by cars driving closely behind each other doesn’t disappear as it normally would due to the high walls around the track; you lose grip and, in some extreme cases, you have to lift the throttle.”
Team-mate Mark Webber has started alongside Vettel in Valencia for the last two years but 2011 brought the Aussie his only visit to the podium so far. Mark starts his Spanish weekend in fourth place in the World Championship on 79 points, but only eight points cover the top four: Lewis Hamilton (88), Fernando Alonso (86), Vettel (85) and Webber.
Conspicuous by his absence from the top of the standings is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, down in 14th. But the Brazilian won in Valencia from pole position on the teams’ first visit in 2008 and will be desperate to achieve a similar result to quell the persistent rumours of his impending departure from Maranello. Still, as Webber puts it, “the amount of speculation around that Ferrari seat, they need about eight cars next year…”
Championship leader Hamilton has been second here on three occasions and has a clear view of what’s important: “The circuit is quite tough – it’s a very technical track, with lots of slow- to medium-speed corners that require good traction and set-up as well as lots of precision,” says the 27-year-old Englishman. “Towards the end of the lap, the track gathers speed and opens up, the sweepers leading to the pits are actually incredibly fast, and they’re all about correct placement of the car to ensure you’re well placed for the following corner. That’s probably the most satisfying part of the lap.”
While Lewis leads, Jenson Button in the other McLaren Mercedes languishes in eighth place, 43 points adrift of his teammate. “The last few races haven’t delivered the results I’d like,” the Melbourne victor admits, “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. 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.”
Will another street circuit bring another great result for Lotus and Romain Grosjean? Second in Montreal, the 26-year-old is already a Valencia winner: he took out the GP2 support race there last year. He is concerned by the car’s relative lack of qualifying performance but otherwise optimistic: “If we have a strong weekend from the start then I think we are capable of fighting for a podium or even a win,” he insists.
At the other end of the field, Marussia’s Charles Pic has also done well in Valencia with GP2 pole last year. “I’m optimistic that this will give me a good head-start this weekend despite this being my first time round in an F1 car,” says the 22-year-old F1 rookie who is still looking for his maiden World Championship point. “So I should be able to spend less time learning the circuit and more time focusing on fine-tuning the car balance.”
Last but not least, it’s a second opportunity for Spain’s only F1 team, HRT, to put on a show for home fans. Narain Karthikeyan sums Valencia up pretty well: “It is our second visit to Spain in just about five weeks but the circuit is as different as it could be compared to Barcelona,” says the Indian driver. “It shares some characteristics with Montreal and Monte Carlo, like emphasis on low-speed traction, so I expect our car to do well here. Apart from that, it is a beautiful place and the weather is pretty hot, just like India, but the track itself isn’t a huge challenge. Yes the walls are close but the adrenaline factor isn’t close to Monaco or even Montreal.”