European Grand Prix 2010: Preview


This Sunday England plays Germany in the last 16 round of the FIFA World Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Judging by the performance of Fabio Capello's team so far in this tournament, they won't be favourites to win this fixture.

But 5000 miles away, a couple of hours before their national football team kicks-off, two Englishmen who rule their sport will take to the track at the European Grand Prix in Valencia.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, and current F1 world champion Jenson Button, both driving for an English team (which is leading the Constructor's Standings), will be taking on rivals from all nations, including a young quick German, a fast, experienced Australian, and a very talented Spaniard.

Hamilton heads to the Spanish street circuit aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive grand prix victories. F1 has only visited Valencia twice before, and Hamilton has finished both races second. The first time, in 2008, he was behind title rival Felipe Massa, and last year it was Rubens Barrichello who prevented his victory.

McLaren have been able to challenge Red Bull on outright pace in the last couple of races, and expect their car to be better suited to the Valencia track than the RB6, as was the case in Montreal. However, in addition to Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull, McLaren will also have to hold off the challenge of the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers, who will both have significant upgrade packages at their disposal in Spain.

Fernando Alonso was disappointed to only finish third in Canada, believing the race win was denied to him by a combination of bad luck and frustrating back-markers. In his second home race of the season, the Spaniard will be eager to claim his second race win of 2010 to reignite his title campaign.

Teammate Felipe Massa effectively has a 100% record around this circuit. He won the inaugural event in 2008, and missed the race last year with his injury in Hungary. The Brazilian's pace was competitive at times in Canada, but his race was compromised by a first lap altercation with Tonio Liuzzi and an incident with Michael Schumacher later in the race.

Ferrari believe that their car will suit the long straights and tight corners of Valencia, as do Mercedes, who put Schumacher's disappointing performance in Canada down to car damage and poor tyre choices on their part.

In fact, most teams seem to believe that their car is particularly suited to Valencia. Only Red Bull have publicly acknowledged that fast sweeping circuits like Silverstone represent better chances of victory for them.

Force India got a double points finish in Canada, with Tonio Liuzzi finishing ninth, just ahead of Adrian Sutil. This result was not representative of their true pace as their grand prix turned into a damage limitation exercise with both drivers involved in incidents. They should be using their new switchable rear wing (i.e. f-duct) on Sunday.

Williams will be introducing what they call their 'blown rear wing' (i.e. f-duct), as well other aero upgrades. The team have been disappointing this season, and Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head will be hoping that Valencia marks a turning-point in their season.

Of the new teams, Lotus impressed in Canada, with Heikki Kovalainen finishing ahead of Vitaly Petrov in Canada. The Finn was also only two tenths of a second off Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying. There are undoubtedly getting closer to the established teams, while leaving Virgin Racing and Hispania behind. They celebrate 500 races for the Lotus name this weekend, and will surely hope to mark it with another achievement, or at least a double finish.

Virgin have got one good omen to cling onto though. Their driver Timo Glock holds the lap record here. However, that time was set last year while he was driving a considerably more competitive Toyota.

Montreal was regarded as one of the most exciting races of recent times, but be warned: 'Valencia' and 'dull' have become almost synonymous over the last two seasons. It is a street-circuit, and so overtaking is rare, but surprisingly there has never been a safety car deployed at this venue during a race. Commonly described as 'Monaco without the glamour', this venue has provided little excitement for spectators, but in what is becoming a very competitive and intriguing season, there might be some surprises this weekend.

Qualifying begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday, and is live on BBC One for UK viewers. The race begins at 13:00 BST on Sunday, but coverage is on BBC Two because of the football. There will be reports and reaction on this site throughout the weekend. You can also track our live commentary on Twitter by following @TCF_Live.

The ideal Sunday for England fans: A 1-2 finish for Hamilton and Button (in any order), and an encouraging victory over the Germans a few hours later in the football!