In these Formula 1 race previews, which are thrown together just under a week before each grand prix, we try to highlight the drivers and teams to watch during the coming weekend, talk a bit about the track and past races there and, above all, try to drum up a bit of enthusiasm for the upcoming event.
Usually, pinpointing all the areas for potential excitement is fairly easy. Each track has its own little quirks, a few drivers who are particularly good there, or plenty of reasons why it is going to be a Sunday afternoon full of non-stop action.
But every now and then, Formula 1 reaches a track which is, to be frank, pretty dull, and where little of interest happens. The grand prix around the harbour at Valencia an obvious example of such a track, and that is the venue for Round 8 of the 2011 season this weekend.
Naturally, the prospect of a dull race means that writing a positive and enthusiastic preview is quite difficult, but here is the best attempt:
The Spanish city of Valencia is home to the European Grand Prix, so called to avoid confusion with the Spanish Grand Prix, which has already taken place this season at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The Valencia track can be as described as a street circuit around a harbour. Immediately, though, one would assume it would have many similarities with Monaco. That association would be a mistake, because actually, Valencia is quite different from the race around the streets of Monte Carlo.
And that difference is not just the absence of glamour, history and a tunnel. The track at Valencia is very wide for a street circuit, and is much quicker. The surface is smooth and grippy, and the car needs to be set-up for both straight-line speed and grip in the corners.
There are lots of corners – with 25 officially numbered turns it has the highest number of any current F1 circuit. The trouble is they all look the same. Every corner is surrounded by identical walls with brightly coloured sponsor logos on the side, contrasting violently with brightly coloured kerbs. The liberal use of bright primary colours makes it look as though the whole track is made of child building blocks and would not look out of place at Legoland. It is far cry from the grand and varied buildings that surround the circuit in Monaco.
Sunday will see the fourth race around this track. The first was a completely forgettable event won by Felipe Massa – so forgettable that it was omitted from this preview at first. The second was also a pretty uneventful affair, although it did see Rubens Barrichello claim his first win for Brawn GP.
Last season's race was a fairly straightforward pole-to-flag win for Sebastian Vettel, although it was punctuated by one of the most spectacular incidents of 2010.
That was, of course, Mark Webber's aerobatic display. He ran over Heikki Kovalainen's back wheel whilst trying to overtake the Lotus driver. This propelled Webber into the air, taking out some of the over-head advertising signage in the process. He landed the right way up and, still travelling at well over 100mph, slid across the track and run-off area and came to an abrupt stop in a tyre wall. Both drivers were unhurt in the incident, which saw Kovalainen have his rear-wing taken away by the Red Bull driver – thus providing an instant contradiction to the famous marketing slogan of the energy drinks company.
Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel were dominant in Valencia last year, and there is no reason why they should not be again this year. The track characteristics suit their car, and they may well pull ahead of McLaren again after being pegged-back slightly in Canada. Expect win No. 6 of the season for Vettel, who will be anxious to put his win-losing mistake in Montreal behind him.
Will tyres make a difference? The Pirelli tyres were durable around Monaco, as proven by Vettel's long run on one set. Drivers will have the Medium and Soft tyres from the PZero range this weekend – one step up in durability from the Soft and Super Softs used in Monte Carlo – and two-stop strategies will probably be the order of the day.
There will also be two DRS activation zones and one detection zone in Valencia, as there was in Canada. DRS proved pretty ineffective in Monaco, but the two zones were slightly too generous to the pursuing driver in Montreal, costing Michael Schumacher a podium finish. The jury is still out on DRS, and it remains to be seen whether it will make a difference to the racing this weekend.
Obviously, the main reason for Formula 1 and Bernie Ecclestone choosing to hold a second grand prix in the country is the huge interest from Spanish fans, attracted to the sport by the success of Fernando Alonso. The grandstands should be filled to capacity with Spaniards eager to see their idol taste victory, although those that make the trip this weekend are likely to be disappointed – Ferrari do not yet look in race winning form, and their hopes either championship look set to be extinguished even before the halfway point of the season.
So whilst the European Grand Prix is unlikely to be a classic, and will definitely not better the epic race in Canada last time out, it might be worth a watch. The new features of F1 in 2011 could spice up the racing slightly this weekend, but it would daft to put money on anything other than a Vettel victory.
- Qualifying for the European Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday and the race follows at 13:00 BST on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is available on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.
- There will be reports and reaction throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk