This weekend sees round 12 of the Formula One World Championship – and there’s still everything to play for in both the drivers’ and constructors’ battles with the top three drivers separated by a mere 12 points.
The series is visiting Valencia for the first time as the European Grand Prix is staged on a 3.4-mile street circuit designed by F1’s official architect Hermann Tilke.
The race will be held on the roads surrounding the marina which formed the base for last year’s America’s Cup.
Now for some technical details: it will take place over 57 laps on a circuit with 25 corners and a minimum width of 14 metres. Cars are expected to reach top speeds of up to 186 miles per hour.
It is expected to be a high-speed, high-downforce track with high brake and tyre wear that many teams are saying will pose a tough technical challenge.
And predicted rain during qualifying could add to the excitement, even though race day itself is forecast to be sunny.
While McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was distinctly uncommunicative in the Thursday press conference, where he was reportedly slapped with a 5,000-euro fine for arriving two minutes late, his thoughts in his team’s race preview were a little more forthcoming.
He said: “I’ve tested at the Ricardo Tormo circuit so the city isn’t unfamiliar to me. Anyway, going to a new circuit doesn’t really change my preparations: everybody’s in the same situation so I don’t treat things very differently.
“Of course, we’ve done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying.
“I’ll be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend.”
He said that he enjoys visiting new racetracks, and that he was looking forward to climbing into the car on Friday morning: “It looks like being an amazing track.”
Asked about the remainder of the year, he said he was wary of making predictions.
“The race in Hungary showed just how unpredictable Formula 1 can be, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a fascinating sport.
“Clearly, though, I am still in a good position to challenge for the world championship and that remains my aim.
“We still feel confident about our chances – we know our rivals will be strong, but we’ve worked hard to improve the car and are confident we’ll be competitive this weekend. The most important thing is to finish consistently in the points.”
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh added: “In terms of car set-up, we need to remember that, like Monaco, the track will be both green and dusty on the opening day of practice. That sometimes tempts you into playing with set-up more than you would like, so you need to resist that temptation and let the track come to the car.
“Our simulations suggest we’ll employ a downforce level similar to that of Hockenheim, but the individual demands of the track may push that window up or down.
“Finally, anybody who’s studied any onboard footage of the circuit will be mindful of the proximity of the concrete barriers in certain areas – clearly, we’ll be packing plenty of spares, but hoping we won’t need to use them!”
Honda’s Jenson Button said in his team’s preview that he would be mostly concentrating on avoiding the barriers: “I think the whole of Formula One is very excited about going to Valencia. It’s a beautiful city and it will be great to be racing around the streets there.
“We have a simulator at our UK base, as do most teams, and spending a lot of time on that has been vital in terms of learning the circuit. With a simulator, you’re not getting the complete feeling of the car but you are gaining understanding of the distances and the braking points, so it’s very useful.
“We have some very fast circuits like Monza, Spa and Silverstone on the calendar and then the slower circuits like Monaco and Hungary, and we’re expecting Valencia to be somewhere in the middle. It’s also got the added excitement of being surrounded by barriers which really focuses your mind and demands that you give full concentration around every single lap.”
Honda team principal Ross Brawn added: “Valencia is often thought of as a temporary race venue, however it is actually a permanent street circuit which is quite fast and flowing; it’s not like the type of street circuit that we have been used to racing around in Monaco.
“There has been some racing around the track already with sportscars and Spanish F3, so we have been gathering information from those races to see what we can learn in advance of the race weekend.
“Valencia is going to be a medium to low downforce track with a couple of quick corners which will present a very challenging circuit in an exciting environment. One of the key aspects is that it is going to be very windy.”
He said the weekend would prove to be a fascinating engineering challenge for the team, and that everyone at Honda was looking forward to it.
Red Bull’s race preview ironically bemoans the fact that the European Grand Prix is not being held at the Nurburgring (even though it’s an awful lot nearer in both geography and temperament to Dietrich Mateschitz’ native Austria.)
It says: “The world of Formula 1 was stunned when news came through that the European Grand Prix had found a new home.
“After all, how would we cope without the attractions of Nurburg; its vibrant nightlife, its trendy clubs and bars, those wonderful five star restaurants so near to the circuit, the beaches and especially the cultured and dignified behaviour of the local race fans.”
If you actually find this kind of thing funny, you can read the entire preview here. Personally, we’d have liked a bit more insight into how the team intends to tackle the challenges of this new circuit, and fewer strained jokes.
Still, we suppose we should be grateful they bothered at all…