Reinvigorated after the brief summer break, the BMW Sauber F1 Team is looking forward to the Formula One debut in the Mediterranean port of Valencia, the first of two street circuit premieres this season. The second is the night race in Singapore at the end of September.
Although Valencia possesses a permanent race track – the Circuito Ricardo Tormo – it was decided that, rather than upgrading it to Formula One standard, a course running through the city and along the harbour would be used instead. A backdrop of bobbing yachts may be reminiscent of the Monaco Grand Prix, but the circuit is more in keeping with modern requirements and does not emulate the confined conditions found in the Principality. There are several sections where the F1 cars are expected to reach around 300 km/h. The Formula 3 and GT races held on the last weekend of July served as a "dress rehearsal" for the forthcoming Grand Prix.
There was no opportunity for Formula One testing in Valencia, so the BMW Sauber F1 Team has prepared with the help of simulation. Based on the circuit data, the anticipated ideal line was plotted with the aid of a computer program, while lap times were simulated in varying vehicle configurations. For the mechanical set-up, the weight distribution as well as spring and damper settings were determined, and based on the calculated speeds, the gear ratios were also fixed. Taking downforce levels and track characteristics into account, the lap simulation was able to establish the extent of brake wear, and on this basis the brake materials and cooling requirements were determined. Grip levels of the asphalt surface and tyre wear, on the other hand, can only be verified on location.
Valencia has long cast off its former image of an industrial port city and has emerged as one of Europe's cultural metropolises. The Marina of Spain's third-largest city, with a population of around 850,000, has been transformed into a stylish and fashionable complex on the back of the America's Cup held there in 2007. The F1 circuit leads across a bridge that links the North and South Marina. On the south side, the cars drive along the quayside, past the historic fish market and towards the suburb of Grao. They then briefly follow the course of the River Turia before braking into a hairpin bend, following which the route snakes back towards the waterfront. After a series of S-bends, the cars take a left turn and enter the start-finish straight, bringing them back to the harbour and home, the team garages being set up in the port buildings.
Nick Heidfeld: "I'm always pleased when a new race track turns up in the calendar, and I'm particularly keen to experience Valencia. It will be an authentic street circuit in the sense that it runs through the town centre, unlike the Melbourne or Montreal tracks. In terms of its charms and challenges, the Valencia race will probably come closest to the Monaco Grand Prix. I really like Valencia, which I've visited many times, of course. We do a lot of testing on the permanent race track in Cheste and we've rolled out our new Formula One car in Valencia on several occasions. The first few metres in a brand-new car are always a very special experience. BMW Sauber F1Team
"Early this year I spent a few days in Valencia with my family between the rollout and the next test. We had a great time, went to the beach, and in town there's a dried-out riverbed that has nature parks and playgrounds. That was very nice, especially for the children. Valencia is also a great place for shopping and eating out, needless to say, and I love the contrast between its historic and futuristic architecture. I'm looking forward to the weekend."
Robert Kubica: "I am very much looking forward to Valencia as I am a big fan of street circuits in general. They are very demanding as they are often bumpy and the street surface changes. When you make a mistake you easily run into barriers. Anyway, Valencia will not be a complete street circuit. There will be lots of run-off areas for safety reasons. The FIA puts a lot of effort into safety, which is good.
"On a street circuit it is of major importance to have a good basic set-up which is easy to drive. The lap time improvement has to be gained step by step, you cannot drive in too wild a style. Also, in terms of the racing line you have to approach this gradually. It is very important to walk the track before driving it the first time to get a feeling for the surface and the layout."
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "The short summer break after the race in Budapest has benefited everyone. Now we are embarking on the remaining three European races and four overseas GPs with renewed vigour. Our aim is to continue on from the good results of the first half of the season. We still have a few arrows in our quiver and we aim to land one or other hit.
"The European Grand Prix around the port area of Valencia is new to the programme this year. We are very much looking forward to the race and the city, particularly as BMW has some close associations with Valencia. The Formula BMW Racing Center there serves as the training site for our up-and-coming young talent in the Formula BMW series around the world. Valencia is by tradition the venue for rolling out our new F1 car, and beyond that city races always make for a unique atmosphere. We await the new circuit with keen anticipation."
Willy Rampf, Technical Director: "Valencia is a new venue in the calendar and as such poses a particular challenge, not least because it's a street circuit. Not that it's a slow one – the drivers will be exceeding the 300 km/h mark on the fastest section. With the help of our simulation programs we are in a position to reliably calculate the required downforce levels in advance as well as brake wear and gear ratios. That means we will start out with a good basic set-up.
"If you compare Valencia with Monaco, you're talking about two street circuits but with very distinctive characters and very different challenges for the cars. In Valencia we will be racing with a lot of downforce, but not with the maximum that Monaco demands."