Hamilton and Kovalainen talk about Valencia
The Formula 1 circus re-groups after its three-week summer break to visit the first all-new venue on the 2008 calendar - the impressive street circuit in the Spanish port city of Valencia. European Grand Prix organizers have created a unique and demanding 25-corner circuit that winds around the Juan Carlos I marina, home to the 32nd America’s Cup yacht race.
However, unlike traditional Formula 1 street circuits, whose tight and twisting configurations place a premium on qualifying at the front, the Valencia track is fast, sweeping and wide, and offers several potential opportunities for passing.
Official simulations have estimated a top speed of 200mph at the end of the main straight and an estimated lap time around the 1m 37s bracket. With an estimated average speed of 125mph, Valencia should be on a par with a venue such as Bahrain (average speed of 128mph) and far higher than Monte Carlo (94mph).
The Spanish venue will mark the fifth home for the European Grand Prix, which has been held at Brands Hatch, the Nürburgring, Donington Park and Jerez since its inception in 1983.
Has the time spent away from the racetrack allowed you to reflect on the state of the championship and your rivals?
"To be honest, I already spend quite a lot of time between the races analyzing the data and keeping fit. This summer break gave me the opportunity to get away from that and focus on just recharging my batteries. Looking back at the season so far, it feels like a different championship compared to last year: 2007 was very intense and consistency was incredibly important. This year, everybody’s results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions. That’s made getting strong results even more important, but I think we’ll see consistency becoming crucial as we head towards the end of the season."
How have you prepared for this weekend’s race in Valencia?
"We launched the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team in the city at the start of 2007, and I’ve tested at the Ricardo Tormo circuit so the city isn’t unfamiliar to me. Anyway, going to a new circuit doesn’t really change my preparations: everybody’s in the same situation so I don’t treat things very differently. Of course, we’ve done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying. I’ll be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend. I enjoy visiting new racetracks and I’m looking forward to getting into the cockpit on Friday morning. It looks like being an amazing track."
What can we expect from you for the remainder of the year?
"I’m wary of making predictions - the race in Hungary showed just how unpredictable Formula 1 can be, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a fascinating sport. Clearly, though, I am still in a good position to challenge for the world championship and that remains my aim. We still feel confident about our chances - we know our rivals will be strong, but we’ve worked hard to improve the car and are confident we’ll be competitive this weekend. The most important thing is to finish consistently in the points."
What did you do after celebrating your maiden Formula 1 victory in Hungary?
"I had very much a working holiday: I spent some time in Woking with my engineers preparing for this weekend and I also spent some time back in Finland, at my home town of Suomussalmi, where I help organize an annual karting event in the town. Obviously, having just won the most recent grand prix made it a fantastic event for everybody. It was my first time back in Finland for quite a long time, too, so it was great to turn up as a grand prix winner!"
How will your success in Hungary affect your preparations for the remaining races of the year?
"The win doesn’t change too much, really: I still believe I am improving and learning more about the team and the car at each race. My aim for the last part of the season is to win more races and to perform regularly at the front. It’s something I was able to do from time to time in the first half of the year, but I now feel more confident that I can be a consistent challenger in the remaining races, and I’m really looking forward to that."
What are your first impressions of the circuit?
"It looks pretty fast, to be honest. You get used to street circuits being quite slow, with lots of slow- to medium-speed corners and very short straights, but this is almost the opposite. There are a lot of fast kinks and esses, a couple of decent straights and lots of high-speed stuff. It’s too early to say yet whether there will be opportunities to overtake around here, but there are a couple of hairpins where it might be possible."