The track resembled Oxford Street on the last Saturday before Christmas. Drivers, engineers, sponsors and journalists tripped over each other yesterday while walking the new Valencia street circuit, and no-one was disappointed with what they found.
'In some places,' said Lewis Hamilton, 'the circuit reminds me of Albert Park; in others it has flavours of Montreal. But as a whole it’s unlike anywhere else we’ve raced. This track is unique.'
The prospect of racing somewhere new took the drivers outside their usual comfort zones. Fernando Alonso was seen making notes on a map of the track; Sebastian Vettel was spotted on his hands and knees examining the kerbs at turns 12 and 13 and even Kimi Raikkonen, the most laid back and ambivalent of the drivers, stopped to take a closer look at the asphalt.
The long straights at the Valencia Street Track, the focal point of which is the America’s Cup port, will force the cars to run only medium levels of downforce. That will help them top speeds of 190mph on five occasions around the lap, but it will reduce their stability under braking. There are several big, 5g stops around the lap, so we should see some overtaking.
Bridgestone have brought their two softest tyre compounds and they might be regretting that decision already. The teams have already expressed concerns about rear tyre wear on the super-soft rubber and Bridgestone themselves are apprehensive about a 15mm bump onto and off the Astilleros swing bridge. They’ve asked the join to be levelled out prior to the race, citing potential punctures as their reason.
In terms of performance this looks like a McLaren weekend, particularly if Hamilton’s prediction that the circuit resembles Albert Park and Montreal turns out to be true. The MP4-23 was a class apart at both of those racetracks earlier in the year. Lewis is in a very confident and relaxed mood here; so chilled in fact that he was late for a press conference on Thursday and fined US$5000.
Expect other street track specialists to shine. Robert Kubica will be fearless in his BMW, while Sebastian Vettel and Adrian Sutil will no doubt carry their cars higher up the order than they deserve to be.
My prediction for the race? Hamilton from Kubica, Raikkonen and Vettel.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS
1 Hamilton 62 pts
2 Raikkonen 57 pts
3 Massa 54 pts
4 Kubica 49 pts
5 Heidfeld 41 pts
6 Kovalainen 41pts
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