Text: Alex Yoong / Photos: | posted June 22, 2012 21:58
The European Grand Prix at Valencia this weekend sees us firmly in the middle third of the season as we return to Europe.
It's around this time that teams will have gotten on top of updates that were introduced to their cars in the last couple of races. They will know pretty much where they are good and where they are lacking. It's also about this time that teams are expected to have a firmer handle on getting the most from their tires.
This all means that we should see the big four teams - Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes - start to assert themselves more.
With more understanding of what they need to work on, they can concentrate their greater resources and this usually means that they start to pull away from the rest of the pack - usually.
But as we have found out, this season is unusual and it will especially be interesting to see if the other teams that have been on the podium this year, namely Lotus, Williams and Sauber, can keep pace or even go on to win a race this year - in Williams case, a second win.
Valencia is a street track similar to Canada and Monaco, which were the last two races. It differs slightly in that its high speed for a street track with fast sweeping corners through the third sector.
This used to be Red Bull territory and they have won the last two European GPs. But this year I do not see any team having a particular advantage as the other teams have caught up with Red Bull in regards to aero efficiency and medium to high speed downforce.
If you want to look for indicators, you would look to the tires and hot weather expected in Spain. The Soft and Medium tire will be used which was last used at Bahrain. The weather should be similar too, which means Red Bull and Lotus will look good.
We also saw how good tire wear was with Lotus and Sauber from Canada and with teams expecting to do one or two stops, this will play into their hands a bit. I say a bit, because in truth, McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari are also not too bad with the tyre management now.
Let's also not discount Mercedes, because although they have not consistently been as good as the others with tyre wear especially in hot conditions, Schumacher was on pole in Monaco.
If anyone of the Mercedes drivers put it on pole in Valencia, I expect they will find a way to keep on top of tire wear to control from the front to get another win. It's not a track that is easy to overtake on and it is easier to control the pace from the front, ala Mark Webber at Monaco.
I do expect a clean race from the front runners though, because while it is getting to the busy part of the year, a DNF will not be good at this point and all the championship contenders need to rack up points and stay in the mix.
I would not be surprised to see an eighth different winner for Round 8 this weekend. Wow that's a mind boggling thought.
My personal feeling though is that Ferrari with Alonso will be the man to beat this weekend. Its home turf for him and Ferrari really do have a competitive car now.