European GP - Preview

The weekend brings a new addition to Formula One's roster of tracks as Valencia plays host to the European Grand Prix.

Although teams frequently test at the nearby Ricardo Tormo circuit, Friday's opening practice session will be the first time they have taken to the 3.380-mile track created around the city's Juan Carlos I marina.

The venue, which gained prominence when Valencia staged last year's America's Cup, joins next month's Singapore Grand Prix as the first of two city races added to the 2008 calendar.

And, according to those who've had reason to do their homework, it looks like being a particularly welcome addition.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, for one, says it has the potential to be an "amazing racetrack" while defending World Champion Kimi Raikkonen says he "can't wait to race at Valencia".

Why the sense of anticipation? Simply put, it appears that Valencia offers something new. It goes without saying that the same applies for the night race in Singapore, but how many other tracks include a trip over a swing bridge?

The bridge lies across the mouth of the harbour and, rest assured, it will not be opening as usual to allow ferries to and from the Balearic Islands to dock.

Furthermore, the fact that the circuit skirts the city's fish market also differentiates it somewhat from the most obvious comparison: Monaco.

But what really separates the two is the nature of the track itself; while Monaco produces the year's slowest race and next to no overtaking, Valencia promises both speed and chances to pass.

With 25 turns in all, Valencia appears fast, sweeping and wide, and promises several potential opportunities for overtaking. Top speeds on the back straight are expected to top 200 mph.

Despite their cars having yet to venture out on track, the teams are, as you might expect, leaving nothing to chance.

Honda for one have obtained telemetry from a Formula Three car which raced in the track's inaugural meeting last month and compared it to F3 data at the Circuit de Catalunya - home of the Spanish Grand Prix - to provide a reference for the set-up of their car.

Track simulations are also used to determine gear ratios and downforce levels, with drivers doing the same in an effort to determine the distances and braking points.

However, thorough as they are, none of this compares with actually being there and the free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning will assume even greater importance in achieving the right set-up.

According to McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh, the lack of information from years' past means that, in this age of telemetry, the driver will be of more importance than usual.

"We begin Friday practice the way we would at any other circuit, but in this instance, we need to pay particular attention both to driver feedback and the data generated from the car," he said.

"The important thing is not to react too hastily - it's vital that you don't end up going down the wrong path, because you only have a limited amount of time to tune the set-up before qualifying.

"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."

The level playing field afforded by Valencia might also boost backmarkers looking to spring a surprise, with the possibility of safety car periods induced by the track's concrete walls adding another tactical variable.


Ahead of the European Grand Prix, both Hamilton and Raikkonen have stated consistency as their main aim as summer draws to a close and the Championship enters its run-in.

Such a desire stems from the reversals of fortune all the main contenders have endured so far this season, with a blown engine late in the race denying Raikkonen's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa victory in Hungary.

The Brazilian arrives in Valencia lying third in the standings, three points behind Raikkonen who, in turn, sits five points behind Hamilton.

Outlining the pattern seen thus far in 2008, Hamilton said that "everybody's results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions".

Therefore, the big question ahead of the weekend is: can all the main contenders overcome F1's step into the unknown and give the best of themselves in Valencia?

"Racing can be cruel," said Massa after his Budapest retirement. Assuming the trend is not to be bucked this weekend, one might also ponder which driver might be the latest to suffer?