F1: Red Bull’s chance to tighten the screw on Brawn

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarThursday, August 20th, 2009

 
 

Right, as you were, ladies and gentlemen. After our month’s enforced break from Formula One the carnival is on the road again and readying itself to roll into Valencia, one of the most unloved venues on the entire calendar.

That is, of course, unless you happen to be a Spanish fan of Fernando Alonso, in which case you are mighty relieved that the team has been permitted to race by the FIA following the loss of a wheel off his car in Hungary, and that the price of your ticket has not been wasted.

After all, Schumacher’s fans were not so lucky. And we guess Romain Grosjean, making his debut after the team and erstwhile driver Nelson A Piquet finally lost patience with each other, is probably quite pleased as well.

Grosjean will be one of three cadets in this race, with Jaime Alguersuari turning out for the second time for Toro Rosso in the adjacent country to his native Catalonia (just joking, Castillians) and Ferrari tester Luca Badoer taking to the track in anger for the first time in a decade.

It’s probably a blessing for all of them that the opportunities for overtaking in this race will be so severely limited, and that the whole thing will likely be decided in qualifying.

And now we come to the crux of the thing. Just in case you need reminding, Brawn GP’s Jenson Button leads the driver’s championship by 18.5 points and has only taken nine points since his last victory in Turkey.

Behind him, on 51.5 points to his 70, is Mark Webber in what currently seems like an effortlessly superior car. His scoring total in the last three races is, by contrast, 24 points.

As the season has gone on the Australian’s commitment and experience has seemed to win out over the raw talent of his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, although the latter is still well and truly in contention with a points haul of 47, 18 of which were scored in the last three races.

Brawn GP currently leads in the constructors’ championship with 114 points to the 91.5 of Red Bull Racing. But the latter’s car is improving while the Brawn GP team seems to have got itself wedged well and truly up a minaret with little idea of how to get itself down the winding staircase that led to its current predicament.

Either Brawn GP makes some impact on the Valencia race or it faces the possibility of seeing its nearest rival turn its recent advantage into a stranglehold on the final part of the season. And to do that it had better get some heat into those tyres in time for qualifying.

The only team in a position to interrupt this narrative, since Felipe Massa was so dramatically removed from contention in Hungaroring qualifying, is McLaren. In the absence of Kimi Raikkonen pulling his finger out, that is. And just how likely would you rate that?

McLaren is currently fifth in the constructors’ championship with 28 points and Hamilton is in possession of 19 drivers’ points. Therefore dreams of winning anything other than the odd grand prix should be pretty sparse down Woking way.

But if Hamilton can start taking points off the Brawn GP or Red Bull drivers then we are in the frame for something similar to what happened in the last two championships – titles going down to the wire in the season’s last race and being won by a single point.

And what more could we ask for?

The Valencia circuit

New on the calendar last year, the Valencia Circuit is a street course, in American parlance, laid out on the usually-public roads surrounding the city’s marina and harbour area.

It is 3.4 miles long, sticks to the water’s edge for nearly the entire lap, and uses a specially-constructed swing bridge to cross between the north and south sides of the marina.

The lap has what Brawn GP describes in its team preview as a challenging and innovative layout with 25 turns giving it more corners than any other circuit on the Formula One calendar.

Surrounded by high concrete walls and with average speeds of 125 mph, the team says that the Valencia Street Circuit has a very different feel to somewhere like Monaco – top speeds at this new circuit can reach in excess of 185 mph. That’s fast for a street circuit, though not necessarily outstanding in the general run of Formula One tracks.

Brawn: an engineering challenge

Ross Brawn, Brawn GP team principal, said: “Valencia presents an unusual engineering challenge as the circuit is quite different from anywhere else on the calendar. It’s not the type of street circuit that we have been used to racing around in Monaco; it’s much more open and quite fast flowing with higher top speeds.

“The tall barriers give the lap the feel of a street circuit but the run-off areas are quite generous compared to Monaco, helping to improve safety and giving the drivers some margin for error at certain places of the lap.

“Traction is important here and the sectors of the lap which have a stop-start nature make Valencia tough on the brakes. Cooling is also a consideration in the high ambient temperatures but we do not expect to encounter any issues.

“The team has been working extremely hard since returning from our summer shutdown and everyone is looking forward to the racing getting underway again this weekend.”

Button shared the sentiments and added that he would be glad to get back in the car after the summer break.

“Valencia is a beautiful city and the track is quite fun when it goes round the edge of the marina and over the bridge. 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.”

McLaren: let’s get back to work

In the McLaren race preview, Hamilton echoed Button by saying that it would be great to get back to business after the four-week break: “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.”

Under-pressure team-mate Heikki Kovalainen added: “Having driven the fully-updated car for the first time in Hungary last month, it was very encouraging to be able to feel just how much progress the team has made developing the MP4-24.

“We’ve now got a car that’s much easier to drive on the limit, and which really rewards your input. So I’m really looking forward to the European Grand Prix, which, while it won’t suit us as strongly as the Hungaroring, should be another strong opportunity for us to score some more points.”

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said that he was looking for the team to maintain the momentum from Hungary into the upcoming races and to take maximum advantage of the car’s latest upgrades.

“The whole team has been buoyed by that win and is really looking forward to another strong set of results this weekend. I’ve no doubts that we’ll certainly hit the ground running on Friday.

“The grand prix also marks the 250th race of our team Partnership with Mercedes-Benz, it is pleasing to have reached this important milestone off the back of a win and we are all focused on continuing this form here in Valencia.”

But Norbert Haug, vice president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport sounded a note of caution: “Despite Lewis’ victory [in Hungary] we don’t regard ourselves as favourites yet.”

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