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My European Grand Prix predictions

Jonathan Legard | 18:42 UK time, Friday, 21 August 2009

Michael Schumacher may be sat on the pit-wall and not in a Ferrari in Valencia but there is still plenty of drama to come in the Formula 1 championship at the European Grand Prix.

It has almost become a two-tier competition as the cars with the power-boost Kers system - Ferrari and McLaren - picked up their pace at the Hungarian GP and look like continuing that form here.

Brawn's championship leader Jenson Button and Williams's Nico Rosberg made a point of saying after the race in Hungary how difficult it was to compete against Kers cars there.

So, in some ways, it could be a case of the haves of the Kers cars and the have-nots of the rest of the teams.

I expect Lewis Hamilton and McLaren will be too hot to handle in Valencia and I'm tipping the defending world champion for back-to-back wins.

Here are my predictions for the top-eight finishers in full:

Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
Jenson Button (Brawn)
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
Rubens Barrichello (Brawn)
Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren)
Fernando Alonso (Renault)
Nico Rosberg (Williams)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Lewis Hamitlon practices for the European Grand Prix in Valencia

McLaren were very impressive in Hungary and arrived with more upgrades in Valencia, with another luggage load travelling out on Friday.

The plan was for both cars to run with the same updates and McLaren insiders have told me that they were aiming for a one-two finish.

But, in spite of their high hopes, it remains to be seen whether Heikki Kovalainen will qualify as well as his team-mate.

The Finn needs to beat his best qualifying position of sixth so far this season to pull a podium out of the bag.

There is a lot of pressure on Kovalainen as he is fighting for his future in Formula 1.

He is so self-critical that I wonder whether handling all those stresses will affect his race finish, and that is why I've picked him to finish fifth.

Button is also under a bit of pressure this weekend as with every passing race the Englishman's championship lead is being whittled away.

He may be 18.5 points ahead going into this race but he has picked up just nine points in the last three races and he needs a big score here to regain momentum.

Both he and Barrichello showed strongly in practice and the track temperatures were red hot, which is exactly where the Brawn is so strong.

The car is working better here - even if there are still question marks over its performance in cooler weather, which will make next weekend's Belgian Grand Prix very interesting.

Jenson Button leads the championship by 18.5 points

It's an Eddie Jordan-like punt that we are going to have the first British one-two since the Austrian Grand Prix in 1999, when Eddie Irvine's Ferrari led home McLaren's David Coulthard in the first race following the accident in which Schumacher broke his leg.

Back then, Ferrari chose to replace Schumacher with Mika Salo rather than Luca Badoer, but this time they have given the Italian a chance.

I've actually got a lot of sympathy for Badoer. He wasn't quick enough 10 years ago and now he has been pitched in here. He may have done 150,000km of testing, but there is nothing like racing and he is going to find it very hard.

Ferrari's hopes rest with Raikkonen this weekend. Like Hamilton, the Finn has the advantage of Kers in his Ferrari, and he is here on the back of a very impressive drive in Hungary last time out.

Overtaking is very difficult here, so Kers should be a big help both in terms of overtaking and defending a position.

Alonso has already set out his stall by setting the fastest time in practice on Friday and he is absolutely up for this.

In Hungary he went for glory on Saturday and put the Renault on pole. I can see him doing something similar here. Whether there will be much glory on Sunday remains to be seen.

Seventh might look like a low prediction for Rosberg after he has finished in the points for the last six races but if the Brawns are back on song, along with three of the four leading Kers cars, it will be a tough task to beat them.

I know putting Vettel in eighth place as the first of the Red Bulls is going to raise a few eyebrows after they have been so strong in the last few races, but this type of stop-start track does not favour their car at all - compared to Spa next weekend, for example, where they are likely to be very strong indeed.

In Monaco, their hopes were dashed by rear-tyre graining and they are suffering from the same problem here, albeit not as badly. And they had a desperate time here last year - something that Mark Webber pointed out after practice on Friday.

I've picked Vettel ahead of the in-form Webber because the German really needs to strike back.

It's a see-saw battle, and although on consistency Webber has come out on top so far, I can see Vettel beating him this weekend.

It's not about any lack of performance on Webber's part, more that Vettel, who signed a new contract with the team in the run-up to this weekend, needs to raise his game.

Given how hard it is to overtake around Valencia's Juan Carlos I marina circuit, the European GP may not be the sunshine spectacle to kick-start the championship run-in one would want after the break.


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