Wondering what it’s like to drive a lap at the new Valencia street course? So are most of the F1 and GP2 drivers who are heading there this weekend.
Not Mike Conway, though – the Trident racer and Honda tester won the first race on the circuit driving in the International GT Open in partnership with his GP2 team-mate Ho Pin Tung, so he knows exactly what to expect.
A rare glimpse of traffic signals at Turn 12 act as a reminder that this high-speed circuit really is a street track – and then there’s the Astilleros Bridge, where tyre suppliers Bridgestone are worried about the possibility of punctures caused by the difference in road level.
Conway said: “It’s a challenging track, although the high concrete walls give it a very different feel to somewhere like Monaco.
“The first corner is a curved right-hander, which will be taken flat-out in an F1 car, and then it’s hard on the brakes for Turn Two, a second-gear right-hander. Turn Three is a fourth-gear kink, as are Turns Five and Six, and the cars will probably be in seventh gear before they brake for Turn Eight, which is the start of the bridge section.
“There’s a small bump as you go on and off the Astilleros Bridge, which could unsettle the cars in the wet, and then there’s a 90-degree right before the track drops away and you head down a long, curved straight. Slower cars could be a problem here in qualifying, so you need to keep your eyes on the marshals as you accelerate through the gears.
“You brake really hard for Turn 12 and it is here that it feels most like a street circuit because there are traffic lights hanging across the track and you can see buildings. A double-left comes next and you’re almost immediately into Turn 14, a fourth gear 90-degree right. Then you’re onto another long straight, at the end of which there’s a hairpin that’s not dissimilar to the Adelaide Hairpin at Magny-Cours. This will be a good overtaking opportunity.
“You’re now into the latter stages of the lap, which is characterised by some fast, sweeping corners. They take you all the way to the final corner, which is a fairly tight left-hander. The exit will be important because you’re then heading onto the start/finish straight to start another lap.”
Bridgestone have brought their softest tyre to the race – much to the distress of Ferrari, which would have liked a harder compound – but have run into a potential problem caused by the road level on the Astilleros Bridge being anything up to 15mm higher than the surface immediately before it.
Hirohide Hamashima, director of Motorsport Tyre Development for the company, has written to the FIA asking if something can be done to minimise the potential problem. He told Autosport: “It is not so bad, but if they can adjust it then we will be happy. Having the track level will be better.”
Earlier, he had welcomed the challenges presented by a new circuit: “This is a street course with many corners, although we expect quite high speeds to be attained over the course of a lap. As with any street course we expect the grip levels from the circuit to improve over the course of the weekend.
“In Valencia in August we should see quite high temperatures so teams will have to be vigilant with their tyre management. As we have not raced here previously this should be a learning process for everyone involved, and strategy decisions over the race weekend will be interesting.”