It certainly was a race of surprises, with the start leaders falling far behind or retiring and the players down the grid gloriously finishing on the podium. The unpredictability of the season carries on and even a disgraced track like the Valencia Street Circuit has written itself on the pages of history in golden letters.
It was a roller-coaster of emotions both for drivers and spectators: surprise, excitement, anguish, frustration, shock and unspeakable joy intertwined and collided throughout the 57 laps of the European Grand Prix 2012. It was a dramatic show that saw the two-times winner on this circuit and this year’s pole position holder suddenly stop on track, the most recent Championship leader being knocked out of the race on the penultimate lap by a promising youngster and a Q3 absentee finishing the event on the highest podium. Bad luck for some, a day of glory for others.
Prior to the event David Coulthard commented in a piece for AUTOSPORT that the circuit in Valencia was “just bland”, lacking the thrill of Monaco or Singapore and calling it, in the end, “a fake street circuit”. Although there certainly is some truth in that, this season has proved so far that everything is possible and there is no definite race leader until the chequered flag goes up.
And so, we had Fernando Alonso winning the race, having started from 11. position, and Mark Webber finishing 4., having moved up 15 positions on the grid; Michael Schumacher standing on the podium for the first time this season, having only completed his third race (having retired in five); and Lewis Hamilton ending the race on the circuit wall on lap 56 after contact with Pastor Maldonado, who has received his second consecutive penalty for causing an avoidable accident. On top of that there were several other collisions and technical issues like in the case of Sebastian Vettel, who looked set to win, until an alternator damage put an end to this dream.
Alternators power the car’s electrical system while the engine is running. In Vettel’s case the alternator overheated causing the engine to shut down; but he wasn’t the only driver that day to be affected – curiously, also Romain Grosjean untimely finished his fight for podium because of an alternator fail that cut off power to the engine. Both cars, Red Bull and Lotus, run on Renault engines and the manufacturer issued an official apology to both teams, promising to investigate the causes of the malfunctions. This came at an interesting time, as there has been a lot of talk about the switch to more eco-friendly turbocharged engines (V6) in 2014 and the effect this costly change would have on F1 teams, with the likes of Marussia and HRT likely to drop out of the sport simply due to the lack of funds to make the switch or because their engine providers could not meet the demand. Whilst Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari are very protective of their narrow clientèle, Renault, who already supply four teams, would be willing to provide more cars with their new engines; but before that any reliability issues should be sorted out.
Another technical winning factor in Valencia were the tyres – number one topic of the season. The Pirelli compound durability- or the lack of it – has numerously been blamed for the unpredictability of this year’s Championship, whilst the right pit strategy seems to be the key to success (take the Canadian Grand Prix for example and Grosjean and Perez’s one-stop race that won them both places on the podium). The European GP proved that to be the case, firstly with Schumacher’s win over Webber, thanks to the German’s late stop and therefore a fresher set of tyres to take advantage over the stumbling Aussie; secondly in the case of Hamilton struggling on virtually rubber-less tyres to fend off Maldonado which contributed to the fatal collision that ended the race for the Brit and landed the Venezuelan a drive-through penalty for Silverstone. As a side note, it’s clear to see that McLaren are not holding it all together, with another terrible pit-stop adding to Lewis’s misery and possibly prompting aspirations to change his team colours when his contract expires this year.
Having all this in mind, the Valencia Street Circuit has certainly brewed up a storm in the standings and provided a spectacle for the senses at the same time. The unexpected unpredictability of a seemingly predictable track might cause the organisers to question their decision to scrap the European GP, which many believe will also mean the end to Formula One in this part of Spain.
At the post-race conference Alonso said: “…winning today in Valencia with this fantastic team, is amazing, especially when we are going through such a difficult time at the moment in Spain. It’s nice that sport and I’m thinking of the wins for the national football team and Nadal, might be able to give people something to smile about.”
The race has certainly fired up the hearts of the winner’s home crowd – adding to the sporting euphoria of the Spanish promotion into Euro semi-finals. It is a question of time to see whether Valencia can benefit from the positive connotations it will carry for many Spaniards – or whether the Valencian bubble will simply burst.