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GP Week : Issue 159
Did you hear that grinding noise as the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon? It was the sound of a paradigm shifting without a clutch. There are certain established facts about the Valencia Street Circuit that every Formula One fan can parrot in their sleep. It’s a boring track where overtaking is impossible, and races held there are processions that lack the backdrop of Monaco’s far more aesthetically-blessed a short(ish) hope along the Mediterranean coastline. Forget your one- and two-stop strategies – in Valencia the vital decision is whether to take a one- or two-nap strategy. At least, that was the accepted wisdom until Sunday’s race delivered an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter the likes of which Spain’s third city had never heretofore seen. So what made this year ’s European Grand Prix such a fantastic race? It sure as hell wasn’t the track, as that’s not been changed since the snorefest made its debut in 2008. The easy answer would be the tyres, and that’s partly right. There’s no denying the impact that Pirelli have had on racing this year, creating a situation in which nothing can be taken for granted, either in qualifying or in the race. But so much newsprint has been given over to Pirelli as saviours of the sport or destroyers of all things holy (take your pick, both arguments have seen roughly equal coverage) that there’s little point in rehashing it all here. What really made this year ’s European Grand Prix a thrill-fest was the combination of human and mechanical error from the front- runners, the likes of which this writer doesn’t remember seeing since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. Formula One cars are much more reliable than they used to be, as was evidenced by last year ’s record- breaking Valencia race, during which Narain Karthikeyan became the first man in F1 history to be a classified finisher in P24. And while human error is inescapable, the FIA’s tightening of the Sporting Regulations – especially with regard to the clarification of their position on defensive driving – means that we’re seeing a marked reduction in drivers playing silly buggers with each other’s cars. But Valencia offered up mechanical and human error in spades, especially at the front of the pack where cars are more reliable and drivers more cautious of their place in the championship standings. Add to that the Pirelli effect and you had all of the ingredients for a stonking Sunday afternoon. Because, let’s face it, while the early stages of the race showed a succession of battles behind race leader Sebastian Vettel, there was a depressing sense of inevitability about the outcome of the European Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver had put his car on pole by a margin of 0.3s, and by the second lap the defending champion had pulled out a 2.3s lead on Lewis Hamilton in P2. There was the prospect of a strong challenge from Romain Grosjean on lap 34, when the Safety Car finished its turn on the track, but the smart money was on Vettel maintaining the lead until the closing stages of the grand prix, when Lotus might be in a position to capitalise on their combination of good race pace and a relatively light touch on the rubber. But fate had other plans. First Vettel then Grosjean fell victim to identical alternator failures that saw both men out of the race by lap 41. And with 16 laps remaining, we were on full alert for a thrilling, no holds barred run to the chequered flag in which it was possible that any one of four drivers – Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, and Pastor Maldonado – would be the man to grace the top step of the podium. There’s alert, and there’s mainlining cans of energy drink while snorting a line of espresso powder. The closing laps of the 2012 European Grand were very much in the latter camp, helped in no small part by the closing gaps at the head of the pack, Hamilton’s decaying rubber, and the McLaren driver ’s collision with Maldonado, which changed the shape of the game on the penultimate lap. And further down the pack, freshly shod and with a car that hadn’t committed some form of mechanical suicide for what felt like the first time the season, Michael Schumacher was on a charge the likes of which we’ve not seen from the German legend since 2006. The Mercedes driver was devouring the cars ahead like a man possessed, passing a different opponent on seemingly every lap from 42 onwards. You could argue that his run to the podium was given a helping hand by the Hamilton- Maldonado incident, or you could argue that Schumacher made the most of every opportunity given to him, delivering a performance the likes of which many of us thought he was no longer capable of delivering. It hardly matters which side of the line you fall on – when we’re talking about action this good, who cares how it came about? What a race. Are we sure that was the Valencia Street Circuit, or did we shift into an alternate universe over the course of the weekend? SOW'S EAR, SILK PURSE AND ALL THAT OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Asst Editor 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: