Passing at a premium in Valencia

June, 20, 2012

Do you have to win a lot to win the title?

"It's certainly feasible that this year's title could be won by a driver who scores only two or three grand prix wins, but who reinforces those victories with the most consistently solid approach," McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told reporters recently. "So, whereas in previous years, there was an emphasis on the 'big' results, this year it seems that minor points placings could provide a decisive edge in the title battle."

It does seem possible that a mere two wins could yield a championship this season -- as Whitmarsh said -- if that driver is able to back it up with consistent podium finishes.

Since 1970, the title winner has won three or fewer events seven times, but it has not occurred since Nelson Piquet in 1987. The gradual increase in stops on the F1 calendar has provided competitors with more chances at victory, and unless remarkable balance existed, two or three wins in a season was not going to be enough.

This is not the typical season, and therefore, if the eventual champion were to win just two or three grands prix, it would certainly stray from recent trends.

Valencia is the next stop on the schedule, an event where the man on the pole has won three of the four times.

Although it has the appearance of a street circuit, there are numerous runoff areas, so the track does not always punish a driver's mistakes like a true street event typically does.

Despite having the most turns of any circuit on the schedule this year (25), the course does not yield a particularly high amount of passing opportunities, often making this a frustrating venue for drivers who do not start up front.

Last year, only one driver who started outside the top 10 there finished in the points, which demonstrates just how difficult it can be to make up any significant ground in Valencia.

It has not provided great battles up front either, as Sebastian Vettel has paced the field for all but one lap in the last two seasons combined. Rumors of Valencia's future on the Formula One schedule have been circulating, and a poor on-track product will likely only keep that speculation alive.

As for Vettel, another win there would make it the 23rd of his career, tying him with Piquet for 10th on the all-time list.

That's pretty remarkable, considering Vettel has yet to turn 25. His pace has been phenomenal, as he's winning at the same frequency that Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna did throughout their careers. The tough part will be sustaining that over a lengthy career, and while Vettel undoubtedly has the skill, the car he drives will also play a substantial role.

Perhaps Vettel will also break up the streak of consecutive different winners, which is now up to seven. It's two shy of tying the F1 record, and several more twists will likely be required for the streak to reach nine straight, as many front-runners have taken part in the streak to this point. With passing at a premium at Valencia, a strong qualifying effort is likely needed from any driver looking to extend this run.

One team to watch will be Lotus, a squad that has come very close to winning this year. As Kimi Raikkonen noted to reporters, "It's likely to be hot, and we seem to go well in warm conditions, so that's what we'll be hoping for."

If the conditions are right, Lotus may just have enough to claim a victory.



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