Valencia's lacklustre opening

Since the switch to the street circuit in 2008, it has yielded only a handful of overtaking moves, and they have all been at the tail of the field.

Rubens Barrichello leads a pack of cars during last year's European Grand Prix in Valencia.
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On the surface, the statistics do not look promising at all. Since the European Grand Prix switched to the Valencia street circuit in 2008, it has yielded only a handful of overtaking manoeuvres, and they have all been at the tail of the field. There is more than that, however, to a compelling motor race.

Last year's corresponding fixture was a classic example of a very singular genre - a knife-edge contest that fails to translate into a television spectacular. To recap, Lewis Hamilton led initially for McLaren, but Rubens Barrichello (Brawn) began closing in during the event's second phase. Hamilton subsequently increased his pace, but the Brazilian responded in kind, and that pattern continued as the duo raced flat out prior to their final fuel stops.

The two cars had been several seconds apart, on different strategies, but without a timing monitor it was impossible to follow the race's subtle evolution, or to appreciate how the balance of power appeared to be shifting by the lap. The following morning's headlines across Europe focused on a botched wheel change that cost Hamilton several seconds, but that was an irrelevant detail. Barrichello had the strategic edge and would have triumphed anyway: McLaren's fumble simply reduced the pressure and made the Brazilian's life a little easier.

When the Valencia project was unveiled, much was made of its coastal setting. Other than being fringed by the sea, however, it shares very little in common with Mediterranean counterpart Monaco. And do not be fooled by the airborne television images, beamed from a helicopter that focuses on yachts in the harbour. It rarely deflects its focus to take in the adjacent container ports: the setting is industrial rather than picturesque.

Hamilton took the championship lead in the wake of his victory in Montreal, but he is only three points clear of teammate Jenson Button and a further three ahead of Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault). Button, who has already won twice this season in Australia and China, believes the Spanish circuit should allow him and Hamilton to be competitive again. "Even though Valencia is a street circuit," said Button, "it has a different feel from venues such as Monaco or Singapore.

"It is much faster, for one thing. There are some low-speed corners, with fairly unforgiving walls at the apex, but there are also some high-speed changes of direction and long straights. You do not rely completely on downforce - there is a trade-off, which should suit us." Ferrari are expected to be a major factor this weekend, too. Local favourite Fernando Alonso has not enjoyed the best of fortunes in Valencia - he was eliminated in a first-lap accident in 2008 and finished a distant sixth for Renault last year - but his new team are due to incorporate a major upgrade this weekend as they pursues their first victory since Bahrain, more than three months ago.

BMW-Sauber will have to wait until the end of the 2010 Formula One season to change their name, the team announced yesterday. The governing International Automobile Federation's Formula One commission had agreed at a meeting this week that the team could change their name at the end of the championship, a statement from BMW-Sauber confirmed. Unless there is a change of ownership, the new name is likely to return to being just Sauber, their identity before being taken over by BMW in 2005. BMW, the German manufacturer who formerly owned the team, quit Formula One at the end of last year and Sauber are now powered by Ferrari engines despite entering the championship under their previous name. This season the team have struggled, with their lone point being scored by Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese driver, at the Turkish Grand Prix last month. * Agencies