Friday, August 21, 2009

European Grand Prix Preview - Valencia GP

The 11th round of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship sees yet more driver changes. Of course, the original plan was to have Michael Schumacher making his return to Formula One for Ferrari amid much fanfare, but the multiple champion’s neck injury ruled him out.

Instead, Luca Badoer returns to the category for the first time in almost 10 years, intent on finishing the race and scoring the first world championship points of his F1 career. At the same time, GP2 star Romain Grosjean takes over from Nelson Piquet at Renault, who will be racing after the suspension handed down to them by the stewards in Hungary was overturned by the FIA Court of Appeal in Paris on Monday.

Both teams ran well here last year, and have high hopes now, but Red Bull and McLaren both fancy their chances and Brawn are desperate for Jenson Button to increase his points’ lead which has been seriously eroded in the past three events.

“The track is quite fun when it goes round the edge of the marina and over the bridge,” Button says. “It's quite challenging for the drivers with so many turns and the added factor of being surrounded by barriers means you have to maintain your concentration. There's been a lot of work going on at the factory following our shutdown and with the cars at the front being so close at the moment, it will be an interesting weekend."

It remains to be seen whether Brawn have got to the bottom of their tyre temperature issues, and the signs are that Valencia won’t be as warm as Hungary, where they struggled.

“It’s great to be getting back to business after the four-week break,” Hungarian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton says. “I’m still buzzing from the win in Hungary and I’m hopeful of being able to carry that pace into the Valencia weekend - particularly with our new upgrades to the car. It’s a very demanding circuit, the kind of place that punishes any mistakes hard. It’s quite tight and relatively slow, so it should suit our package. It’s also very difficult to overtake, as we discovered last year - but, with our KERS, Mercedes-Benz has proved that anything can happen and I’m once again hoping that it will provide the difference in the race.”

The 5.419-kilometre (3.367-mile) street course uses roads that run through the recently refurbished Juan Carlos I Marina, formerly the base for the 32nd America's Cup in 2007. It features 25 corners and a minimum width of 14 metres all the way around the lap, and incorporates sufficient run-off for the expected top speeds of more than 300 km/h (186 mph). Even though it’s a street track, drivers are on the throttle 68 percent of the time, and with relatively high levels of downforce and high brake wear teams must be canny with their set-ups.

The race will mark the 150th race win for Bridgestone’s F1 tyres. “This is an interesting track,” says Hirohide Hamashima, their director of motorsport tyre development. “It has the high-speed configuration of a permanent circuit, however the track surface gives away that this is only a temporary facility. There are numerous turns, yet there are also many high speed sections and we see speeds of around 300 km/h five times during the course of a lap. There are low-speed corners too, so some heavy braking does take place. On the slippery surface that accompanies a street course it is difficult to find grip off line.

“Last year we saw a lot of circuit surface evolution over the weekend and it was very much a learning process for everyone who attended the race. We also found last year that the infamous gap between the bridge surface and the road surface presented no difficulties for our Formula One tyres. Last year our visit to Valencia was a momentous one as it was here that we celebrated our 200th Grand Prix participation since our entry in 1997.”

As in Hungary, Bridgestone will again bring their soft and super soft compounds.

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