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Rencken: Will it be 8 out of 8?

2012-06-24 11:12

HARBOUR PITS: McLaren Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton leaves the pits at the Valencia Street Circuit on June 23, 2012 in Valencia during qualifying for the 2012 European Formula 1 GP. Image: AFP


Seven winners in seven races this season to date has obviously led to speculation that eight in as many grands prix is on the cards after the flag drops on Sunday’s 2012 European GP in Valencia; equally, Spain’s second race (in just six weeks) could see 2012’s first repeat victor.

While the odds strongly favour the former scenario – simply as teams are gradually getting to grips (sorry) with the nuances of Pirelli’s rubber plus various regulation changes that have jointly contrived to turn the season on its head – the latter is a distinct possibility, for this season virtually every team has horribly miscalculated at some point or other, thereby opening the door to the unexpected.


Lotus twins Kimi Räikkönen and Roman Grosjean have each scored second and third places – as has Sauber’s Sergio Perez – so elevation to the top step for any of this trio is not beyond the bounds of probability, particularly given the ultra-hot weather conditions predicted for all three days. Factor in that both black/gold cars and the Sauber have proven to be in their respective elements under just such conditions, and a record-setting eighth winner could just come from within these ranks.

However, the previous winners to date (Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber; McLaren’s British pairing of Jenson Button and Canada winner Lewis Hamilton; Ferrari star Fernando Alonso; Mercedes coming man Nico Rosberg; Pastor Maldonado, with a shock win for Williams in Barcelona) should not be discounted, nor should seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who scored pole for Mercedes in Monaco and seems at last to have regained his form, 40 GP's into his return.

Also to be watched are Felipe Massa, the Brazilian now on the up after coming under intense pressure from Ferrari to perform in the wake of a series of lack-lustre races, while Force India’s Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg have also shown impressive recent form in the Mercedes-powered Force India.


Of this line-up, Vettel is the only two-time winner (2010/11), although Hamilton and Rosberg are the only drivers to have scored in all four previous editions of the race. 

Valencia’s 5.419km ‘urban’ circuit has hosted Spain’s second race since 2008 but has a (well-deserved) reputation for delivering tedium, so much so that attendance has dropped like a stone, forcing promoters to seek a rotating deal with Circuit de Catalunya. Thus F1 may not visit Valencia again until 2014.

The race is the third consecutive round after Monaco and Montreal to run on a temporary circuit, while its 25-turn layout (11L/14R) running through the Mediterranean city’s Juan Carlos 1 Marina demands a fine balance between slow speed grip/traction and high speeds. In comparison with the two previous street circuits, Valencia’s surface is, though, relatively smooth with far fewer bumps.

Areas of artificial grass laid around several section of the circuit have this year been replaced by a more durable product following problems in 2011, when the synthetic turf became detached.


Such are Valencia’s demands that cars reach speeds of over 300km/h four times per lap, but are required to brake for first or second gear corners each time, while seven corners are taken at below 100 km/h – yet last year’s pole average speed was in excess of 200km/h. This mix leads to one of the highest fuel consumptions of the year, making the cars particularly heavy at the start.

Full throttle is used for 63% of each lap, while 64 gear changes equates to over 3600 shifts during the 57-lap race. Brake and tyre energy are rated as ‘high’ and ‘low’ respectively, while DRS can be used for 60% of each qualifying lap - the third highest proportion after Montreal and Monza.

The 2011 race saw just five ‘normal overtakes, but two DRS zones facilitated a further 22 passes, and can be used for 60% of the lap during qualifying. However, this year a single DRS zone has been specified for the race: after Turn 10.

In view of the expected conditions Pirelli will supply its Medium (white sidewall markings) and Soft (yellow) compound tyres, a combination used three times already this year, including in the heat of the desert in Bahrain - where tyre wear proved crucial to the result.

13 TO GO

Expected high ambient and track temperatures, taken in conjunction with heavy fuel loads, an extremely short (250m) pit straight, and a track which will start ‘green’ before evolving as the race weekend progresses, are likely to result in a wide spread of pit stop strategies, with two stops likely to be the norm and some running as many as three. However, smoother drivers such as Perez and Button could well get away with one.
With 13 races left to run in the 20-leg 2012 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, Hamilton leads the driver’s hunt with 88 points to the 86 of Alonso, with Vettel (85) third. Webber has 79, making it four drivers covered by less than ten points – equal to a single fifth place. Thus the order is expected to be shaken up come Sunday 16 00.

The constructors’ championship is led by the only two repeat winners to date – Red Bull Racing and McLaren, who have 164 and 133 points respectively. Lotus (108) is third, followed by Ferrari on 97.

Sunday’s race starts at 14 00 (local and SAST), with qualifying at the equivalent time on Saturday. Rounds in Britain, Germany and Hungary follow before Formula 1 takes its annual August break.



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