By David Galton-Fenzi and Jem Ruggera
The Track is Rubbish
The Tilke designed Valencia circuit first burst onto the F1 calendar in 2008 amid much fanfare and expectation. Here was a street circuit that looked like an established track. The layout was nothing like existing street tracks, with a very long lap length and straights that would encourage overtaking. Proper straights!! On a street circuit... imagine that.
Fast forward four years and it’s become one of the most unloved circuits there is. Dire processional races abound with last year being a particular new low. Of the 24 cars that started the race, 24 finished which means that nothing happened. Nothing! (with apologies to Mr Vettel) DRS was meant to fix the inherent problems with the layout, but I fear this track is beyond saving, and why should we have to resort to fine tuning the artificial element of F1 just to have a decent watchable event?
Some tracks just breed classic races year after year (Montreal, Spa - stand up), others just don’t I suppose (Mr Tilke - go away....please!). The problem with Valencia is that it has some of the hallmarks of a street circuit (track takes a while to rubber and it has concrete barriers) but not others (massive run-off areas and a very wide track). Essentially, it’s the worst of both worlds.
Part of the massive appeal of street circuits is the proximity of the barriers and the precision that is required to drive them fast; think Melbourne, Canada and of course, Monaco. Valencia has no real overtaking opportunities and the over-sized run-off areas mean mistakes are never punished. Actually, I’ve just described all the Hermann Tilke designed tracks. If Jackie Stewart thinks his circuits are rubbish, then something needs to change and the sooner it’s confirmed Valencia is sharing its slot with another circuit the better. At least that way we only have to put up with it every second year.
Dare We Dream of Eight?
So Lewis emphatically made it seven different winners from the first seven races, but could the streak be extended to eight? Lets look at who has yet to win that might just surprise us on Sunday.
Both Lotus drivers have been threatening on and off all year and their car seems to prefer higher temperatures, which Valencia always delivers. In Canada come race day when the temperature soared they were able to push their tyres harder and make them last longer than anyone else.
Sauber have shown flashes of good pace with Perez perhaps more likely of the two to emerge nearest the front, and as Canada showed, it doesn’t take much to go wrong near the front for them to jump into the mix.
Schumacher? If anyone’s luck deserves to change it is this mans. As reported in DownUnderSteer’s last post the German is well and truly cursed in 2012, and if his luck turns around and decides to pay him back for all his misfortune so far then we just might see him standing on the top step after all is said and done. Double DRS must come in handy down those long straights too...
Massa? He won here in 2008 and stranger things have happened, I think.....c’mon, they must have.....no? Oh well.
The Flip Side...
However, if we were to get a repeat winner in 2012 then who would it be? Will Lewis kick on from his first win and surge ahead as a lot of people are expecting? The Ferrari is much improved from the tractor Alonso started the season with, can he be the first to win two? Can Button snap out of his daze in the most dramatic fashion?
For the record, (which is wrong much more often than it’s right) my money is on Vettel this weekend. He’s won this race the last two years in a row and he’ll be going all out for the hat-trick, but then again, Red Bull struggle to hold onto its tyres in warmer weather.... Hasn’t it been said before betting in 2012 is a mugs game? Forget the bets, let’s just try and enjoy it and remember, less than three weeks to go until we get to a real track.
Where did Toro Rosso go?
What has happened to Toro Rosso in 2012? The potential they showed in testing has never been realised, and it looks increasingly like the few points they picked up earlier in the season (ninth for Daniel Ricciardo in Melbourne, eighth for Jean-Eric in Malaysia) were more luck than any indication of top-ten pace.
Since then they have rarely finished better than mid-teens, with Ricciardo having the edge in qualifying and Vergne often getting the better of it come race day. With the competitiveness of the midfield, and qualifying taking on even greater importance, Toro Rosso needs to find Saturday afternoon performance gains. Despite the intensity of the racing this season, making up places is tough (six of the seven winners this season have started from the front row, and four were from pole). The pace has not been there and you sense a growing frustration from the drivers, especially after Canada.
Toro Rosso fired both their 2011 drivers because of their failure to perform to expectations. Now it is the car itself that is struggling, or more specifically, the car is struggling to switch on its tyres and keep them switched on over a race stint. Toro Rosso finished three points behind Sauber last year, and 36 points ahead of Williams. Both those teams have moved on, with Sauber scoring some strong podium finishes and Williams taking that memorable Spanish GP win.
Toro Rosso? They’re fighting with the Caterham’s, Marussia’s and HRT’s. This season may already be a write-off.