This year’s race at Valencia will again hinge on race strategy, as this is a particularly hard track on which to overtake.
Last year the top three finishers all used a three stop strategy, with used Soft tyres for the first three stints and new Medium tyres for the final stint. This year with the gap in performance between the two tyre compounds likely to be smaller, we should see more variety than that.
And as the trend this year seems to be for one less stop at most of the venues, the decision is likely to be between one and two stops this weekend, with track position in the final stint the key, as overtaking will be tough even with degrading tyres and the DRS wing. Teams which can look after the tyres like Sauber and Lotus may well try to do one stop. And with a high safety car probability, it might bring them another surprising result.
Valencia is a street circuit, which loops around the docks of Valencia and the America’s Cup boatyards. By street circuit standards it is quite fast, with cars reaching speeds of 315 km/h on the long straight. With 25 corners, it is one of the most complex circuits on the F1 calendar, making for a long lap at 1m 40s.
It is also a track where the likelihood of a safety car is high, as it is lined with barriers and there are some difficult access points for cranes to lift the cars off the track.
Once you’ve read about how the teams will approach the race weekend, why not see if you can find the fastest race strategy using our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR
Valencia – 5.41 kilometres. Race distance – 57 laps = 308.8 kilometres. 25 corners in total. A street circuit around the docks of Valencia. Smooth surface, few bumps, some fast corners.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 325km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 315km/h without.
Full throttle – 69% of the lap (high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 154 kilos (average/high). Fuel consumption – 2.7kg per lap (average/high)
Time spent braking: 16% of lap. 9 braking zones. Brake wear- High.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 16 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.3 seconds
The European Grand Prix is the eighth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship. So far there have been seven different winners, the only time in history this has happened in the first seven races of an F1 championship.
Qualifying is vitally important in Valencia because of the difficulty of overtaking.
However the statistics for this season show that the car which leads on the opening lap is likely to win the race; this has happened in four of the six dry races to date. This is because it is beneficial to the tyres to drive in clear air rather than following another car. They last longer and perform better, by a significant margin.
Red Bull has come into form since Bahrain with two wins and three pole positions from the last four races.
Ferrari has dramatically improved its car in the last month and there was little to choose between them, Red Bull and McLaren in Montreal.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned, Sebastian Vettel has won the race for the past two seasons, while Felipe Massa won the first race in 2008.
The weather for this race is usually very stable, with temperatures in the high 20s and little rain. The forecast for the weekend looks like it will be hotter than seasonal averages with temperatures of 30 degrees likely.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Valencia: Prime tyre is Medium (White markings) and Option tyre is Soft (Yellow markings)
This is the same combination of tyres as we saw in Bahrain, where the temperatures again were very high. This seemed to suit the Red Bull and Lotus cars in particular and they were very competitive in the hot conditions on these tyres.
The two compounds will be much closer together on performance than last year. The difference between the two tyres is estimated to be around 0.7 secs per lap in qualifying trim. Estimates of tyre life are that the soft will start to experience a degradation in performance and lap time after around 18 laps, while with the medium it will kick in after around 25 laps.
This year we are seeing the tyres lasting 4-5 laps longer than last season and this is enough to mean that teams can do one less pit stop at most venues than in 2011.
Because it is so hard to overtake in Valencia track position is vital and being ahead in the final stint will be very important, even if a car is struggling on its tyres. Unlike Montreal, where the adjustable DRS wing made overtaking a car very easy, this will not be the case in Valencia.
The front runners are likely to do the fastest race strategy which is to stop twice, with stops around lap 19 and 42. But we are likely to see the Sauber and Lotus cars trying to do one stop less than their rivals, which will save them 21 seconds. As they are able to maintain good pace on worn tyres, this could give them a good result, particularly if they are able to qualify well into the top ten.
Chance of a safety car
With the track lined with walls and several blind corners, there is scope for accidents and dangerous conditions for the marshals when clearing an accident. So the chances of a safety car at Valencia on paper are high. But last year’s race was notable for featuring the fewest retirements and the most finishers of any race in F1 history with all 24 cars making the chequered flag.
Of the four races in Valencia, only the 2010 race featured a safety car.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+10 Perez ***, Senna
+7 Pic, Vergne
+5 Schumacher* Hamilton, Kobayashi**** , Di Resta
+ 4, Karthikeyan
+ 2 Vettel
+1 Button, Rosberg
-2 Grosjean** ****
-3 De la Rosa ****, Petrov
- 5 Hulkenberg
- 7 Webber
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field
**** Eliminated by or involved in first lap accident in Monaco
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. Here again Ferrari leads the way consistently this year.
It is also clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops. The top seven teams’ fastest stops were within 3/10ths of a second of each other in Canada!
It shows how much work has gone on in this area.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Canadian Grand Prix , from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from previous race are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Caterham did the fifth fastest stop, well ahead of its championship position, also that Williams is losing a second to its rivals in pit stops.
1. Ferrari 21.115 secs (2)
2. Mercedes 21.179 (1)
3. Red Bull 21.199 (3)
4. McLaren 21.375 (4)
5. Caterham 21.403 (9)
6. Sauber 21.407 (8)
7. Force India 21.489 (7)
8. Lotus 21.534 (10)
9. Toro Rosso 21.689 (5)
10. Williams 22.704 (11)
11. Marussia 23.291 (6)
12. HRT – No Stop
Now you’ve read about how the teams will approach the race weekend, why not see if you can find the fastest race strategy using our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli