McLaren facing tough challenge in Valencia

Lewis Hamilton and McLaren will be looking for their third win in a row at Valencia

Lewis Hamilton and McLaren will be looking for their third win in a row this weekend in Valencia

Jun.24 (Daniel Chalmers) McLaren Mercedes will go to Valencia as firm favourites to win their third race in a row. However they will face tougher opposition from Red Bull and Ferrari, than perhaps many are predicting.

An aerial view of the circuit. Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Valencia, Spain, Friday 22 August 2008.

Bird's eye view of Valencia street circuit

The Valencia street circuit is tailor made for the MP4-25 with its long straights and slow corners. The configuration is very similar to that of the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, the venue of McLaren’s recent 1-2 triumph.

You sense that the McLaren championship challenge is gathering real momentum. The team are currently on a real high leading both championships, and confidence is growing from race to race.

Martin Whitmarsh says: “With our car being constantly developed, I believe we can continue to be a threat at the majority of remaining races on the calendar.”

McLaren’s opposition simply have to halt this momentum, otherwise there is a risk of McLaren going over the hill and far away, in terms of the championship.

Martin Whitmarsh

Martin Whitmarsh on the McLaren command centre

However it’s unlikely that McLaren are going to be allowed to have things all their own way in Valencia. There are factors that could bring both Red Bull and Ferrari into play.

Again this isn’t Red Bull’s strongest circuit. Like in Montreal there aren’t a number of fasts corners where the RB6 can really stretch its legs over the opposition. The long straights also put Red Bull at a disadvantage to McLaren with their superior Mercedes engine and F-duct.

Although it’s not all doom and gloom for Red Bull. At Montreal they were pleasantly surprised at just how competitive the RB6 was, at what was described as their weakest track.

A key improvement on this car over the RB5 is that it has much better traction. This means that it can get a better exit out of the slow corners, something that will be crucial to laptime in Valencia.

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB6  Formula One World  Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal,  Canada, Saturday 12 June 2010.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber in Canada

Not only that, but Red Bull will be trailing their own version of the F-duct for the second time. In Istanbul Red Bull found that it didn’t deliver enough of advantage to be worth running (yet).

In Turkey Adrian Newey told Autosport: “So it has been a bigger challenge to integrate it, but the guys have done a brilliant job.”

He added: “It is a complicated piece of equipment basically, and very clever, but questionable about the benefits.”

Red Bull will have had a month to tinker with their device and improve it. If it works for them, and they can reduce McLaren’s straight line advantage then no doubt it will help their cause enormously.

A key factor we need to remember from Red Bull’s Montreal weekend is that their qualifying pace was still very strong. They were second and third even with the hard tyre.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and team mate Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing sign autographs for the fans. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Preparations, Montreal, Canada, Thursday 10 June 2010.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber sign autographs in Montreal

Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole using the super-soft tyre. The super-soft delivers around a three or four tenths advantage on a qualifying lap over the hard tyre. Therefore, had Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel used the super soft it could well have been a front row lock-out.

In Valencia Red Bull may not have the race pace of McLaren, but they should be able to challenge for pole position as they did in Montreal.

The main difference between Montreal and Valencia is overtaking. In Montreal there are plenty of overtaking opportunities. On the other hand in Valencia it has proved practically impossible in its first two races, with only one overtaking move for position in each race.

This is the feature that gives Red Bull a chance of usurping McLaren. If Red Bull can get on pole position then they could easily keep McLaren’s behind them for the entire race.

Graining on a Bridgestone tyre  Formula One Testing, 16 March 2009, Jerez, Spain.

Tyre issues are unlikely to be a dominant factor in Valencia

Also there is unlikely to be the same chaos with the tyres that we saw in Montreal. Therefore strategy will revert back to being predictable, which will probably be better for Red Bull

Although it could well be that Ferrari hijack this little fight and take the win for themselves. There is no doubt that Valencia probably represents the squad’s most important race of the season.

The reason for that is they are bringing a huge update to the race, which they are pinning all their hopes on. One of the updates is a direct copy of Red Bull’s exhaust system.

This system helps channel air into the diffuser giving the car more downforce. Red Bull’s rivals thought a ride height control system was the secret to their pace. It turns out that this exhaust system is their magic ingredient, hence why teams are now starting to copy it.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10  Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday 12 June 2010.

Fernando Alonso and Ferrari expected to be race win contenders

It has been rumoured that it could be worth as much as 0.7 seconds per lap. Therefore it could make a huge difference to Ferrari’s season.

In Montreal Ferrari were right up there with McLaren so theoretically they could even emerge ahead of McLaren and Red Bull this weekend if the updates work successfully.

On the tracks where aerodynamics are more crucial such as Turkey the F10 has been further behind. In Istanbul Ferrari were around seven tenths off the pace, the exact amount of performance that their new exhaust system could deliver.

Valencia is Ferrari’s crossroads race. If their update works they will join McLaren and Red Bull in the championship battle. If they are not competitive in Valencia it would be a reasonable assumption that their title challenge will be running out of steam.

Felipe Massa looking for a good result

Felipe Massa looking for a good result

Felipe Massa told the official Ferrari website: “The car was much more competitive in Canada than in Turkey, which is a good basis on which to go to Valencia for the next race.”

He added: “The street circuit there is not so different in terms of its characteristics to the Montreal track and on top of that, we expect to have some more updates for the F10 to make it even more competitive with those ahead of us in the championship.

Despite not being a very exciting track, and generally not a race most fans will be relishing, it could reveal a lot about the 2010 title fight.

Are McLaren about to stretch their legs and start extending their advantage over the rest of the field?

Can Red Bull fight back after two difficult races and take the fight back to McLaren?

A welcome sight in the paddock. Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia Spain, Saturday 22 August 2009.

For sure things will be hot in Valencia

Will Ferrari’s update pay off and throw them amongst the McLarens and Red Bulls?

After what was looking like complete Red Bull domination, this championship is turning itself on its head, and delivering on its pre-season promise to produce unpredictability.

Valencia will tell us if we have a potentially epic three team title fight on our hands. Let’s hope the answer to that question is yes.

In terms of offering a prediction for this race it’s not easy as it could be very close. However with Ferrari’s huge update and Fernando Alonso racing in front of his home fans I am backing him to edge this race, and put himself right into the fight for the title.

  • Daniel Chalmers YallaF1

    Just to update this, it looks like Mercedes and Renault are going to be using an updated exhaust system as well. Will be interesting to see if they can get nearer to the front runners.

    McLaren and Williams will have their own versions ready for the next race at Silverstone.