Valencia's road race passes its grand prix driving test
Saturday 23 August 2008
In the end, all the scare stories proved wide of the mark, and the first day of running on Valencia's new "urban" circuit was judged a great success. There had been fears that a slight mismatch in height between the track surface and the swivelling section of the bridge between Turn Nine and 10 might generate hard enough impact loadings to create punctures, or that the drivers would be unhappy with the run-off areas at turns Eight, 12 and 17.
Bridgestone even went so far as to suggest that the FIA should examine the bridge, where there is a small gap in the asphalt in order to allow for a metal expansion joint. That section of the bridge was slightly higher – perhaps 15 mm – and that was what caused the concern. Bridgestone's director of motor sport tyre development, Hirohide Hamashima, emailed FIA race director Charlie Whiting on Thursday. "I've asked him to look into it," Hamashima said. "The track is slightly raised, and if a tyre hits it, it could cause a puncture. It is not so bad, but if they can adjust it then we will be happy. Having the track level will be better."
Kimi Raikkonen, who set the day's fastest lap time for Ferrari, said: "There are a few bumps because I guess they need to turn the bridge sometimes. That is the only place where I found any bumps on the circuit, and one of them is in the middle of the corner. So, that might affect things a bit. But apart from that it looks very smooth and very well done. We will see tomorrow how good it is in the end, but I expect to have quite good fun."
In the end, there were no problems, and the world champion's sentiments were echoed by fellow title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
"First of all it is great to be here in Valencia," Hamilton said. "I had a race here in GP2 in 2006 but this is really the first time, apart from the launch last year for McLaren. I think they have done a fantastic job in building the place up. The track looks incredible. I think it looks pretty awesome."
"I think it is pretty impressive," Massa said. "I think it is a pretty different track than we are used to having on the calendar. You can have maybe some corners which seem to be like Monaco, but some very different corners, very long straights which even can be similar to Bahrain for example. I think it is very nice. It will be very, very dirty tomorrow because you can see that the asphalt is very, very slippery and dirty, but I think it will be ok."
Inevitably, there have been comparisons with Monaco, the only other street circuit on the calendar (though Singapore comes in September and Abu Dhabi will feature a mix of streets when it comes on stream as the last race in 2009). But many long-timers have been reminded of Long Beach, where the USGP West was held from 1977 to 1983 until, according to one official line, it was discovered that it was "too short for F1". That featured a similar blend of very fast, open, sweeping curves to those which have so distinguished this key new venue which aims to promote tourism in the city.
"It should be called the World Grand Prix rather than the European Grand Prix," suggested ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, whose organisation was happy to accept the persuasive arguments for the race put forward by the Valencian government.
"I was talking to John Howitt of Toyota earlier," said Honda's Nick Fry, "and we both figured that this is a really good track and that all it really needs is more trackside advertising. Something to liven it up a little."
These are early days, however, and the venue is still being finished off, but it has a way to get yet to rival, say, Silverstone, which is often held to be sub-standard.
All of the teams carried out detailed electronic simulations of the 3.3 mile (5.4 km) track, and the general consensus was that a lap time around 1min 37sec would set the pace. Yesterday Raikkonen's fastest time was 1: 39.477, as the track picked up grip throughout both practice sessions.
"The car was feeling better as the track picked up more rubber and became quicker and quicker and softer tyres gave a bit more grip," said BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. "But the grip was variable and I'm expecting tomorrow in qualifying to be faster."
Local hero Fernando Alonso said: "Today it was difficult to test everything as every lap was better than the one before. This is normal for a street circuit and it will keep improving before qualifying tomorrow. The perfect lap in qualifying will be very difficult. You get only two runs in the third session, so on the first one you will try to get the feeling where to brake and where is the grip with that amount of fuel, and on the second run you will try to push, but it will be hard to get the perfect lap.
"Given the characteristics of the track, most of the time you will find to reduce the lap times will come under braking, where you are going to need lots of confidence."
Yesterday's European Grand Prix practice times
1. S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1min 40.496sec; 2. F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:40.654; 3. L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:40.822; 4. S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:41.099; 5. H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.163; 6. R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:41.281; 7. K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:41.317; 8. K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 1:41.329; 9. F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:41.385; 10. N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:41.706; 11. R Barrichello (Br) Honda 1:41.830; 12. J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:41.930; 13. A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 1:41.951; 14. T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:42.036; 15. N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault 1:42.107; 16. N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:42.453; 17. J Button (GB) Honda 1:42.460; 18. G Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari 1:43.075; 19. D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1:43.312; 20. M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1:43.524.
1. Raikkonen 1min 39.477sec; 2. Alonso 1:39.497; 3. Button 1:39.546; 4. Massa 1:39.678; 5. Hamilton 1:39.712; 6. Kovalainen 1:39.954; 7. Glock 1:39.967; 8. Kubica 1:40.149; 9. Piquet Jnr 1:40.439; 10. Fisichella 1:40.500; 11. Webber 1:40.585; 12. Rosberg 1:40.607; 13. Coulthard 1:40.696; 14. Nakajima 1:40.742; 15. Trulli 1:40.877; 16. Vettel 1:40.982; 17. Sutil 1:40.999; 18. Heidfeld 1:41.084; 19. Bourdais 1:41.246; 20. Barrichello 1:41.377.
1. Hamilton 62pts; 2. Raikkonen 57; 3. Massa 54; 4. Kubica 49; 5. Heidfeld 41; 6. Kovalainen 38; 7. Trulli 22; 8. Alonso 18; 9. Webber 18; 10. Glock 13; 11. Piquet Jr 13; 12. Barrichello 11; 13. Rosberg 8; 14. Nakajima 8; 15. Vettel 6; 16. Coulthard 6; 17. Button 3; 18. Bourdais 2; 19. Fisichella 0; 20. Sutil 0.
1. Ferrari 111pts; 2. McLaren-Mercedes 100; 3. BMW Sauber 90; 4. Toyota 35; 5. Renault 31; 6. Red Bull-Renault 24; 7. Williams-Toyota 16; 8. Honda 14; 9. Torro Rosso-Ferrari 8; 10. Force India-Ferrari 0; 11. Super Aguri-Honda 0.
(Super Aguri dropped out after Spanish Grand Prix)
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