Robert Kubica has asserted that Renault is not merely fixated on defeating its closest rival Mercedes Grand Prix in F1 2010 but rather wants to 'beat everybody' – and even if he acknowledges that 'we still have to gain a lot of ground', the Pole is hopeful that an upgrade for Valencia this weekend will prove to be a step in the right direction.
With a brace of podium finishes – second place in Australia and third in Monaco – and only one failure to make the points from the opening eight races of the campaign, Kubica has successfully upset the odds by infiltrating the anticipated title contenders in the points standings, sitting in seventh spot heading into the European Grand Prix, ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Mercedes' comeback king Michael Schumacher, both of whom on paper have faster cars underneath them.
The Kraków native has undoubtedly been one of the star performers of the season to-date – hence why he was reportedly so high up on Ferrari's shopping list for next year, prior to the announcement that Massa was to be retained – and thanks largely to his stellar efforts, Renault is not a million miles behind Mercedes for fourth position in the constructors' chase, a gap that he hopes may close a little this weekend.
“I know a lot of other drivers don't think the same way, but I enjoy driving there,” Kubica revealed of the track at which he finished up on the rostrum with BMW-Sauber in 2008. “It's quite an interesting circuit because it's half-street circuit, half-modern circuit. It's quite like Canada in terms of set-up; because most of the corners are slow-speed, you need to concentrate on braking stability and traction, which should suit our car because we are strong in these areas. Aerodynamics and downforce are not as crucial, but you still need an efficient car because there are four places around the lap where you reach quite a high speed.
“We run a higher level of downforce than in Canada, but the main difference will be with the asphalt; in Montreal, the track surface was new and very slippery, whereas I think grip levels will be better in Valencia – but that will be the same for everybody. It's still a street circuit, so grip levels will be low on Friday morning, but they should improve quickly throughout the weekend, especially because we will have more categories racing and putting rubber down than we did in Canada.
“The track is very smooth with a lot of run-off, but I'd actually prefer it if there were less run-off areas and a few more bumps – then it would feel more like a proper street circuit. The first turn after the start is not really a corner – it's a flat-out easy kink, but then as you brake for Turn Two the track suddenly gets narrow towards the apex, so you have to make sure you get the right line into it. You can make up some time going into the corner, and at the start there's a good opportunity to gain one or two positions under braking. I enjoy the first sector, because it has two chicanes where you have to jump over the kerbs, and the walls are very close.
“Turns Nine and Ten are where you cross over the swing bridge. When we went to Valencia for the first time in 2008, there was quite a big gap between the racetrack and the bridge – it was a big bump. Initially there were some concerns about the gap damaging the tyres, but from a driving point-of-view you don't really feel anything.
“There are a couple of long straights heading into tight corners, such as the hairpin at Turn 17, which can lead to the possibility of overtaking – but actually, if the driver in front of you doesn't make a mistake, then it's quite difficult. Also, because it's not a permanent circuit, only the racing line gets clean and because it's so dirty off-line, it's very hard to make a successful pass to overtake.
“My favourite section is the high-speed sequence towards the end of the lap which is taken flat-out, or with one small lift, but you really get into the flow from one corner to another and then, for the last corner, you have to brake while there is still a lot of lateral load on the car. It's very tricky to find your braking-point for that corner, which makes it even more challenging – you often get the front wheels locking, and it's quite tricky because you have some bottoming too.