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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Will Hamilton close the gap in Spain?


Last year's European Grand Prix ended up being one of the most memorable races of 2010, thanks to some defining moments.

Mark Webber's end-over-end crash after colliding with Heikki Kovalainen was shocking, but, in a true testament to F1 safety, Webber was able to walk away.

It continued to highlight his career struggles at the European Grand Prix, an event he has never won in nine attempts. In those starts, Webber has just a single podium (his first with Red Bull back in 2007) and has retired on three occasions. He also has failed to lead a single lap.

Webber has been very consistent this season, as his third-place position in the standings would indicate, so a strong finish is very possible here. A race win, however, might be unlikely.

As for teammate Sebastian Vettel, he returns to this race as the defending winner. Valencia is the site of his last wire-to-wire victory, a feat he has accomplished twice in his career (Japan in 2009).

Vettel turns 24 on July 3, and a victory here would be the 16th of his career. Compare that to all-time wins leader Michael Schumacher, who had one victory before his 24th birthday.

True, Schumacher had fewer F1 races under his belt, but it's an indication of how much Vettel has accomplished at such a young age.

The driver most likely to unseat Vettel at Valencia might be Lewis Hamilton.

Despite no wins in three career Valencia races, Hamilton has finished runner-up there in each event. Last year, he gave Vettel a strong battle early on before having to serve a drive-through penalty midrace for overtaking the safety car. Despite that, Hamilton managed to close the gap on Vettel again before simply running out of time.

Hamilton is coming off a very rough two-race stretch, but that doesn't mean much in regard to his chances for victory in Spain, as six of his most recent seven wins have come directly after a nonpodium finish.

Valencia is a varied track that throws fast and slow corners at drivers. The 25 turns are the most of any course on the schedule, and the venue provides a few good overtaking opportunities, one of which comes on the run down to Turn 12.

"The lap is made up mainly of straights and hairpins, so it's not the most challenging place to go racing," Adrian Sutil of Force India told reporters. "Although the walls are close, it doesn't really feel like a street circuit, and it's nowhere close to racing in Monaco."

Force India as a team has taken a step back in performance this season, but not quite to the degree that Williams has. This, however, could be a race when fortunes change for the likes of veteran Rubens Barrichello. After failing to score points in any of the first five races this season, Barrichello has made small progress in the past two.

He collected points at Monaco and Canada, and Williams has a good track record in Valencia. The team scored a fourth-place finish there last year with its lead driver and finished fifth a year earlier with Nico Rosberg behind the wheel.

Confidence should be high for Barrichello entering this race; he has won this event before and will be behind the wheel of a car with recent upgrades to its diffuser. Considering that Barrichello had eclipsed his 2011 points total through just two races last season, he has a considerable amount of catching up to do.

Over at McLaren, reports have recently surfaced that Jenson Button is on the verge of signing a new multiyear contract with the team.

Wanting to race with a contender is understandably a huge motivation, and McLaren's 33 victories over the past six seasons are tied with Ferrari for the most in F1. Although being in the Italian automaker's stable is the dream position for nearly every driver, McLaren has looked stronger this season and might just hold a bit more appeal right now.

Then again, everyone is trying to keep up with Red Bull these days.