European Grand Prix: McLaren preview Valencia

Jun.15 (McLaren Press Release) Spain is the only country to feature twice on the 2012 world championship calendar. Six weeks after the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, it’s the turn of Valencia to host the European Grand Prix.

The Valencia street circuit has been home to the European Grand Prix since 2008, using public roads around the city’s America’s Cup marina. Car set-up is a delicate balance between low-speed grip and traction through the track’s tortuous 25 corners, while maintaining good straight-line speed. The cars exceed 300km/h four times on the lap, and on each occasion they have to slow for a first or second gear corner. As a result, brakewear needs to be monitored closely.

Pirelli is taking its Medium and Soft compound tyres to Valencia, a combination that was last used at the Bahrain Grand Prix. In the heat of the desert, tyre wear proved critical back in April and similarly high ambient and track temperatures are expected in Spain as well.

McLaren has won the European Grand Prix four times, but never at Valencia. Lewis Hamilton has finished second there on three occasions (2008, ’09 and ’10).

McLaren at the European Grand Prix
Wins: 4 (1984, 1993, 1997, 2007)
Poles: 3 (2000, 2003, 2009)
Fastest laps:4 (1993, 1999, 2003, 2010)

Car 3: Jenson Button
“Canada was just one of those weekends where things didn’t come together – after some difficult races, I really needed the track time on Friday to find a clearer direction with the set-up, and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to a number of technical issues.

“And I think that set the tone for the rest of the weekend: we lacked the data we needed to tackle the race and we struggled. Still, there were important lessons to be learned from those issues, and we addressed everything back at MTC once we’d returned from Canada in a bid to get a clearer direction for Valencia next weekend. A day like that is enormously productive and I think we covered a lot of ground.

“The last few races haven’t delivered the results I’d like, but there are still 13 races to go. We’ve had seven different winners and no clear championship leader has emerged, so I’ll be looking to get a decent result under my belt next weekend in order to get my title bid back on track.

“I know just how strong Vodafone McLaren Mercedes can be. Valencia is a track I really enjoy; I’ve already won on a street circuit this year so I’m definitely optimistic about having a great weekend and picking up the momentum again in the title fight.”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton
“My win in Montreal was obviously an extremely satisfying moment for me – but, actually, it does very little to alter things in the world championship.

“Firstly, while it’s always pleasing to be leading the championship, I’m only two points ahead of Fernando [Alonso] – which is nothing, particularly when there are a handful of really strong drivers all separated by a couple of points, so there’s still everything to play for.

“Secondly, the intensity of this year’s championship means there’s so little breathing space – we may have won in Canada, but there’s an enormous amount of pressure to keep racking up good results at every grand prix. I think that consistency, rather than individual strong results, will be the key to winning this world championship, so we need to back it up in Valencia with another strong result.

“The circuit is quite tough – it’s a very technical track, with lots of slow- to medium-speed corners that require good traction and set-up as well as lots of precision. Towards the end of the lap, the track gathers speed and opens up, the sweepers leading to the pits are actually incredibly fast, and they’re all about correct placement of the car to ensure you’re well placed for the following corner. That’s probably the most satisfying part of the lap.

“People are always asking me to predict what will happen at the next race and I always tell them it’s really difficult to make an accurate prediction – but I’ll be heading to Valencia feeling super-motivated to get another strong result and maintain my momentum before we head into Silverstone and the Santander British Grand Prix.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
“Victory in Montreal last weekend was extremely satisfying, and, while you’re only as good as your last result in F1, it’s done nothing to quell our determination ahead of next weekend’s European Grand Prix – which has traditionally been an extremely tough event. The city itself is an exciting edgy blend of the classical and the ultra-contemporary, and, as such, a perfect locale for one of Formula 1’s newest races.

“Given that the delta between ourselves, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull Racing is so narrow, we’ll once again be pushing hard on both our operational and technical fronts to ensure we stay at the front. As always, we aim to bring at least an additional one-tenth [of a second] laptime benefit to each race, and we’re pushing hard to ensure we can over-deliver on that on as regular a basis as possible. It may sound like a negligible increment, but it could prove to be the difference between winning and losing the world championship.

“It’s certainly feasible that this year’s title could be won by a driver who scores only two or three grand prix wins, but who reinforces those victories with the most consistently solid approach. So, whereas in previous years, there was an emphasis on the ‘big’ results, this year it seems that minor points placings could provide a decisive edge in the title battle.”

McLaren has never won in Valencia, but we’ve had plenty of success at other European Grand Prix venues. Here’s how the team defined 10 days in the history of the race:

1. October 7 1984 (Nürburgring)
The first Formula 1 race at the modern Nürburgring. Alain Prost jumps ahead of pole-sitter Nelson Piquet at the start and is never headed; Niki Lauda charges through the field from 15th on the grid to finish fourth.

2. October 6 1985 (Brands Hatch)
Alain is the first McLaren driver home at Brands Hatch, in fourth place. The result is made memorable because it secures the Frenchman the first of four world championship titles. Two more (1986 and ’89) were achieved with McLaren.

3. April 11 1993 (Donington Park)
Ayrton Senna’s greatest victory? Certainly his most memorable. He drops to fifth place at the start, but overtakes four cars in the atrocious conditions to lead the race at the end of lap one. He’s never headed thereafter and sets fastest lap to ram home his domination around Donington Park.

4. October 26 1997 (Jerez)
When Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve collide on lap 48 at Jerez, the path is clear for McLaren to score its first European GP one-two. With three laps remaining, Mika Hakkinen passes team-mate David Coulthard to take his first F1 victory at the 96th attempt.

5. May 21 2000 (Nürburgring)
David starts from pole, but drops to third on the run to Turn One, behind Mika and Michael Schumacher. Mika leads until the final round of pitstops, when Schumacher jumps ahead. It’s a McLaren two-three.

6. June 29 2003 (Nürburgring)
Pole position and fastest lap prove that Kimi Raikkonen is the fastest man at the Nürburgring. He leads from the start, but is forced to retire after 25 laps. “Mine was the fastest car,” he says afterwards, “but sometimes it’s just not your day.”

7. July 22 2007 (Nürburgring)
The race is suspended after two laps due to a rainstorm. When it re-starts, Felipe Massa leads from Fernando Alonso – until Fernando grabs the lead from Massa after muscling past with just four laps remaining.

8. August 24 2008 (Valencia)
Lewis Hamilton overcomes a dose of ’flu and a neck spasm to come home in second place at Valencia’s inaugural race. Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen starts fifth and finishes fourth in the second MP4-23.

9. August 23 2009 (Valencia)
Lewis does everything right: he takes pole position ahead of Heikki and leads the race until his second and final pitstop. Unfortunately, a delay in the pits allows Rubens Barrichello to sneak past into the lead. “Second’s not so bad,” he says. “We win and lose as a team.”

10. June 27 2010 (Valencia)
Lewis makes a brilliant start from third on the grid to challenge race leader Sebastian Vettel into Turn Two. They make contact: Vettel continues unscathed, Lewis has to deal with a slight vibration for the remainder of the race. In the end, Lewis comes home second, seven seconds ahead of his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate Jenson Button.