June 20th, 2012 (F1plus / Gustavo A. Roche).- The 2012 European Grand Prix to be hosted at the Valencia Street Circuit will take place this weekend, and the question that everybody is asking is obviously related to the raffle that has become winning a race this year.
Yes...those tyres again, they are as unpredictable as it is to predict a race winner. Things have been so crazy that even Williams on the hands of Maldonado was able to beat everyone at Spain by indeed driving superbly, but also by discovering the optimum race pace while avoiding a tyre meltdown.
The Venezuelan’s victory has been the only true surprise as the other seven (ok let’s try this: Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Webber & Hamilton) winners were considered among those with a high possibility of achieving just that. Rosberg stands out simple because it seems that it came a bit late considering his talent and the team for which he drives.
There are two basic reasons why this is happening. One has to do with the ban on blow exhaust diffusers, something that gave a clear advantage to Red Bull last year, even though that does not mean they did no produced the best car anyways. Two, those delicate rubber components called tyres.
Managing the tyres and choosing the right strategy is now more than ever the “only thing” that matters, if not ask Alonso (Canada anyone?). This does not mean that skills and speed aren’t good enough, they will always be, but modern times require much more of a Formula 1 driver. Being fast and constant under certain circumstances is not an easy thing.
Look for example how odd were the final positions of the Canadian GP. True, Hamilton lifted his foot from the throttle at the end, but the charge that our friend Romain Grosjean was having was just amazing, 2-3 more laps and that’s it, another first time winner (Rosberg and Maldonado are the other two). Interesting though, he was racing following the same one-stop strategy that Ferrari had and he managed to clearly outperform the Spaniard –ok maybe the Spaniard’s team- in the last stages of the race.
Alonso's misfortune just reminds us of Raikkonen’s at China when he went from 2nd to 12th in about two laps in the 2/3 of the race. The Ferrari driver had the “luck” that this occurred in the very last stages of the test, otherwise he would have finished lower down.
Then we have Sergio Pérez, who outdrove everyone by climbing from a 15th place start and finished 3rd. The Mexican keeps building the case for a major team jump (we say it will happen in 2014 not 2013, but...)
So, we still have the question pending for an answer. Three things are required to win a GP these days: superb driving skills, at least an upper middle of the pack car, and of course the proper tyre management.
Let’s say the third is so random that it’s a variable that applies to everyone. That said, we have Michael Schumacher whose luck seems to be all but gone; Felipe Massa who lately appears to be in better shape, but it is far fetched as long as Alonso is in the track; Sergio Pérez might exploit another one of those great opportunities and boom...another winner, but it would be more circumstantial; then we are left with both Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
This pair is just poised to collect a victory, maybe not in the next GP, but they are bound to do so in the next 13 races, which is a lot of chances. Funnily, both look equally strong, the Frenchman has been a little less lucky than the Finn, but he has outperformed his teammate in qualifying, and his maturity level is just there.
Lotus has build and excellent and balanced machine that is improving without making too much noise. The results speak by themselves, the team is third in the standings and both Kimi and Romain have scored 2nd and 3rd place finishes.
In the case of Raikkonen, world champion in 2007, he has proven that “he still got it” but a victory will just seal that notion while in the process putting him close to the leaders in the table (if it happens now), hence the Finn is hungrily looking for it.
As for the Frenchman, nothing like becoming a “made man” and seeing Maldonado unexpectedly become one, just feels a bit awkward, so motivation is running very high on him to just pass the page and concentrate to be part of the elite.
Valencia tends to offer boring races, but at least, not having a clear favorite brings expectations to an interesting level. We are hoping to be entertained, and yes!...we cheer for a different person at the top of the podium.