Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Valencia, Another Spin of the Wheel

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing sits in his car during the second practice session.

VALENCIA, Spain — There have been seven different winners in the first seven races this season, and we may find it impossible to know who will win next; but these days it is even more difficult to figure out from the series’ Friday practice sessions who is most likely to take the pole position on Saturday.

Friday’s first two practice sessions in Valencia, in preparation for the European Grand Prix on Sunday, were among the least conclusive of the year. Pastor Maldonado was the fastest driver in the morning session in his Williams, then he was completely overshadowed in the afternoon session, where Sebastian Vettel was fastest in his Red Bull.

If it seems normal to have Vettel — the reigning world champion — being fastest, well, just behind him were the unlikely pair of Nico Hulkenberg in a Force India and Kamui Kobayashi in a Sauber. The man who has been predicted as a likely winner of the race, Michael Schumacher, placed sixth.

Schumacher has been tipped for victory by Paul Hembery, the director of Pirelli tires, because this track resembles the Monaco track where he took pole position last month.

Having said all that, perhaps predictions are also difficult because so many of the cars and drivers are simply so close in strength at the moment. It may only have been a practice session, but the top 15 drivers were all within just one second of each other in the afternoon practice.

Take a break from trying to guess who will score pole Saturday, to read my four preview stories for the race: The race history story is about the European Grand Prix, and its many homes, not just about when it was here in Valencia. I have a Q&A with Mario Andretti, one of the greatest and most famous drivers of all time, who was recently appointed as the ambassador of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, where the U.S. Grand Prix will take place in November. And the series of portraits of the six world champions racing in Formula One this year is up to Kimi Raikkonen. Oh, yes, and the main feature is about the question mentioned above of whether or not the current season is just a lottery.



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