The European Grand Prix was on the first official Formula One calendar back in 1950, but its title was an honorary one, bestowed on a different national race each year. That year it was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, won by Alfa Romeo’s Guiseppe Farina, which carried the title and the race, save for 1953 and the three years between 1969 and 1971, was held until 1977 when the British Grand Prix was the last Grand Prix to carry the title as an accompaniment to its national moniker.
In its second incarnation as a standalone event, the European Grand Prix has normally been held in a country which also stages a national race in the same year. Great Britain, Germany and Spain share the honours between them, with Brands Hatch, Donington, Jerez, Nurburgring and Valencia all staging the event since 1983. Memorable European Grands Prix include the 1993 event held at Donington, where Ayrton Senna mesmerised everyone with his wet weather skills by vaulting from fifth on the grid to first at the end of the opening lap, and the 1996 event which marked Jacques Villeneuve’s maiden F1 win. Johnny Herbert scored Stewart-Ford’s one and only Grand Prix win in the 1999 race at the Nurburgring, and Rubens Barrichello returned to winning ways in 2009 in Valencia, having last tasted victory in September 2004 when he won the Chinese Grand Prix for Ferrari.
Tyre wear: 6/10
Somewhere in the middle of the range for tyre wear, although last year most elected for three stops which, while not necessarily required because of tyre wear, was the fastest way to the end of the race because of a shorter than normal pit lane. Sergio Perez, in now-customary style, stopped only once to finish 11th after starting 16th. Pirelli are bringing the soft and medium tyres to cope with the increased number of corners per lap compared to Monaco and Montreal.
Overall a fast circuit but with some slower corners which require a balance being struck to achieve the best laptime. DRS will have a larger effect here than in Montreal, where the optimum downforce levels without DRS were much lower.
Average speed: 6/10
You get both ends of the scale here with the cars nudging 200mph on the approach to the first corner and then on the back straight into Turn 12, combined with second gear corners and a few elongated hairpins making up the bulk of the 25-turn layout.
Track difficulty: 4/10
While the track itself isn’t a particularly difficult layout to learn, despite its 25 corners being the highest on the calendar, the challenge is getting the right car setup to allow the drivers to attack right throughout the lap.
Valencia hasn’t really generated a fantastic amount of overtaking in the past, and has been criticised for it. The layout isn’t particularly conducive to overtaking despite the intention of having a slow corner followed by a straight with another hairpin at the end being to generate opportunities to pass.
Racing in Valencia has often been processional in the past, and the setting has been panned for trying to be Monaco on a budget. Racing around a harbour is all well and good but when the backdrop is shipping containers rather than the Casino de Monte Carlo, no amount of girls in bikinis watching the race from a hot tub will make it glamorous.
Valencia’s layout is not the most tricky to learn but because of its roots as a public road, the track will evolve significantly throughout the weekend. The teams are forced to look at their cooling requirements for this race as the lower than average lap speed means there is less opportunity for fast-moving air to move through the car and cool components such as the brakes. Several heavy braking zones require the brake wear to be carefully monitored throughout the race, with larger than normal brake ducts employed to maximise cooling of the discs. Engines also need careful attention to ensure the engine map is set correctly – because of the similar nature of many of the corners, with ten taken in either first, second or third gear, any mistakes will see the driver’s peak speed compromised more than once on each lap.
Having secured pole position ahead of teammate Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel roared off into a lead he would not relinquish. He quickly established himself by pulling out a lead of more than two seconds by the end of lap two, and thus out of DRS range of the pursuing Webber and Fernando Alonso. The race became more about who would finish second, with Webber and Alonso battling for the position throughout. Alonso, having jumped to third after starting fourth on the grid, passed Webber in the early stages but the Australian was back in front thanks to a slick pitstop from the Red Bull crew. Ferrari used the same trick to position Alonso back ahead at the second stops and when Webber had to slow with a gearbox problem, Alonso’s second place was secured. Vettel was victorious again, for the sixth time in eight races as he built a dominant lead in the Driver’s Championship.
The 2011 race set a new record for finishers in a World Championship Grand Prix, when all 24 starters made it to the chequered flag. This became the fourth race where every car finished, following the 1961 Dutch Grand Prix, and the 2005 races in USA and Italy, with 15, six and 20 starters respectively.
Venue: Valencia Street Circuit
Lap record: 1m 38.683s – Timo Glock, Toyota (2009)
2011 Winner: Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
GP History*: Brands Hatch (GB) 1983, 1985; Nurburgring (GER) 1984, 1995-1996, 1999-2007
Donington (GB) 1993, Jerez (ESP) 1994, 1997, Valencia 2008-present
* only standalone races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included
(Stats courtesy of Mercedes GP)