This year’s highly unpredictable Formula 1 season now makes its way to Valencia for the eighth round of the championship, the European Grand Prix. The race takes place around the streets of the port area of the city, running parallel to and then crossing over the entrance to the harbour used by the Americas’ Cup in 2007.
This semi-permanent 5.419km street track is fairly untypical of any other urban circuit on the calendar; it is smooth and quick, with a high percentage of the lap taken at full throttle. However the high speed sections are tempered by the high number of corners taken at low speed and low revs, making it a challenge for engine and chassis engineers alike.
The last three circuits on the calendar have been street tracks, but all have been very different in characteristics. Monaco is tight and twisty with a low average speed; Montreal has a combination of long straights and tight hairpins, while Valencia has a high average speed of around 200kph. The track is also relatively smooth in comparison to Monaco and Canada with far fewer bumps.
The average speed is increased by the long straights linking the corners, but balanced out by the high number of corners. In fact Valencia has the highest number of corners of any circuit on the calendar, 25. Of these, 10 are taken in first, second and third gear and relatively low speed, meaning the engine has to deliver good top end power without compromising on torque response into the corners.
The start-stop nature of the track and short bursts of acceleration means fuel consumption is one of the highest of the season. As a result, the starting fuel load will be one of the heaviest of the year.
Unlike most other tracks on the calendar, the first corner after the start-finish straight only curves slightly to the right rather than turns significantly. This allows drivers to build up to just under 300kph before turn 2. Drivers equipped with KERS are thus almost certain to use it to defend against or attempt to pass their rivals off the start. However, drivers may tactically choose to save their KERS usage for later in the lap, which can prove advantageous if the driver in front has already used their 400kJ allocation and is unable to respond in kind, particularly as DRS is only permitted from lap 3.
Sector two is the longest sector of the circuit in terms of time, but most of it is taken up by the 970m straight that runs between turn 10 and turn 12.
Sector three comprises two of the slowest corners on the circuit (turn 17 and 25) but also flows nicely. From turn 17 drivers build speed over the rest of the sector, maintaining around 280kph through the open corners. The final turn, turn 25, however stops this flow as drivers brake down from around 295kph to just 65kph to round the hairpin. These corners allow KERS to be fully recharged for use from the last corner to the start-finish straight and into the first corner.
Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham F1 Team
The Valencia Urban Track has two completely different aspects; the high speed long straights between turns and then the actual corners themselves, which are mostly taken at very low speed. This means you need to get the right balance between good top end speed and stability in the braking zones – and with so many corners that you really need to get this right. One of the positive features about the Renault engines is the ability to give low speed driveability, which is extremely important, particularly with the low grip of this street circuit.
Rémi Taffin, head of Renault Sport F1 track operations
It’s actually a big challenge to get the engine mapping right for Valencia as the corners are so similar. Ten corners are taken in first, second or third gear and many of the slow speed turns (2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 17 and 25) are all very similar in characteristics so if you get one corner wrong then you will be at a disadvantage for the rest of the lap.
There are also several other interesting aspects to the Valencia track beyond the slow corners. The stop-go nature of the track has a large effect on fuel consumption and the rate per lap is very high, in fact it is pretty close to Melbourne, which has one of the highest starting fuel loads of the season. However since the weather is hotter in Valencia we consume a little less over the race.
Despite the high ambient temperatures, which make Valencia one of the hottest events of the year, cooling isn’t so much of an issue due to the long straights as air is sucked into the inlets and circulated, giving the unit a chance to ‘breathe’.
We are looking forward to Valencia as typically delivering driveability at low torque and mid revs is one of the strengths of the Renault engine. Our engineers are adept at tuning drive maps to deliver torque smoothly to help the driver control slip ratio and tyre wear, however the pressure is on to continue our performance – a Renault-engined car has finished in the points in the last 68 consecutive races!