French GP: McLaren Mercedes preview

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team kicks off the summer's seven-race European stint by travelling to the Magny-Cours circuit ahead of next weekend's French Grand Prix. The French race has become one of Formula 1's perennials, missing just a...

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team kicks off the summer's seven-race European stint by travelling to the Magny-Cours circuit ahead of next weekend's French Grand Prix.

The French race has become one of Formula 1's perennials, missing just a single appearance on the calendar in 1955. Taking place at the event's seventh home - Magny-Cours has hosted the race since 1991 - the French Grand Prix has previously been held at Reims, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand, Le Mans, Paul Ricard and Dijon. This year marks the 58th running of the historic event.

Fresh from celebrating the 40th anniversary of McLaren's first Grand Prix victory, when Bruce McLaren won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on June 9 1968, the team travels to France in a nostalgic mood. Friday sees the official unveiling of 'McLaren - The Cars 1964-2008', a sumptuous book that chronicles the marquee's illustrious technical history.

For Mercedes-Benz too, there is an important landmark to celebrate. The French GP weekend will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first ever Mercedes victory. In 1908, Christian Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix in a four-cylinder 12.8-litre car which produced 135bhp. To mark this event, an original 1908 historic Benz Grand Prix car will be on display at the Magny-Cours circuit.

On the occasion of this 100th anniversary, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will drive demonstration laps in Magny-Cours with an original 1908 Benz Grand Prix car.

Lewis Hamilton

How does your 10-place grid penalty affect your preparation for the race?

"Mentally, it's just something that you learn to overcome quickly. It certainly won't affect my preparations for the French Grand Prix. We've already looked at the best ways of optimising the strategy to help us move up the field and I guess I'll just have to pass some cars if I want to get into the points!"

Does the nature of the circuit help you plan an attacking race?

"Magny-Cours isn't the easiest place to overtake but it's certainly possible. You can dive down the inside into the Adelaide Hairpin and also have a look into the penultimate corner. But an area we can really focus on is the strategy - Magny-Cours has a relatively short pitlane which does open up the strategic options available to us in the race."

Returning to Europe, do you feel confident the team can maintain the sort of form it displayed in Monaco and Canada?

"Absolutely. Although the result in Canada may have been disappointing, our overall pace was a great boost for the whole team. Last year, we lacked a little bit of pace in high-speed corners, but this year's car definitely seems to have overcome those shortcomings. We are in good shape."

Heikki Kovalainen

How do you rate the Magny-Cours circuit?

"I've always loved racing at this place. For a racing driver it's a bit of a challenge as there are some very high-speed corners and a couple of fast chicanes - and you can't just throw the car into them, it requires a lot of precision. They're the sort of corners I really love."

Some of your best races this year have been affected by bad luck, has that affected you?

"As I've been saying all season, I'm gradually getting to grips with this car even if the results haven't backed it up. And I really enjoy Magny-Cours so I'm looking forward to making progress throughout practice and being in a very good position for the race itself."

How would you evaluate your current position in the championship?

"I'm not really looking at the points tables at the moment. The world title is still wide open, and having an opportunity to score good points in France will only help me. I'm still absolutely determined to get my first win under my belt."

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

How confident are you that the MP4-23 will remain competitive once the F1 circus returns to Europe?

"Traditionally, we've always gone well at Monaco and we've recently enjoyed strong pace in Canada, and we remain encouraged by our performance. We feel like we've made substantial improvements to the MP4-23 and, while it didn't exactly pay off in Canada, we go into France in a very positive frame of mind. One of the aims of our winter development programme was to improve the car's high-speed performance and we feel we've been able to do that - and both Magny-Cours and Silverstone will give us the opportunities to demonstrate that."

How will you tackle the race knowing that Lewis will be starting 10 places further back than usual?

"Obviously, we go to France knowing we only have the capability to field one car on the optimum strategy, so our job will be a little different from normal. But we still expect to extract the very maximum performance levels from both cars. Both Lewis and Heikki are very confident about their chances and we will be working hard with the strategists and engineers in order to provide them both with the optimum strategy for the race."

Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

What are your emotions when you look back on the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend?

"First of all, we were all extremely disappointed. Lewis had achieved pole position with a remarkable 0.612sec advantage, his eighth pole within 24 Grands Prix, and had led the race until the Safety Car period with an advantage of more than six seconds. Throughout the weekend, Lewis had the speed to be ahead of his rivals. There was a similar gap between pole position and second place 24 races ago in the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa was 0.619sec faster than McLaren Mercedes driver Kimi R0x00e4ikk0x00f6nen. We put the race behind us; fortunately, it was one of the very few in which we did not score points."

What do you expect ahead of the French Grand Prix, given that Lewis starts the race with a 10-place grid penalty and Heikki had a difficult race in Canada?

"As our record shows, the French Grand Prix has never been an easy race for us. At most of the other circuits we have won more regularly than at Magny-Cours. Last year, Lewis finished third after starting second on the grid, on the dirty side of the track he lost out at the start to Raikkonen in the Ferrari. This time, Lewis's race will begin significantly further down the grid. We'll be counting on Heikki to drive with the same spirit he showed in the first six races. Maybe we will find a special strategy for Lewis which will help him to move up, his task is downright difficult, as according to our experience of Magny-Cours there is some kind of ban of overtaking there! However, we won't give up."

What does the French Grand Prix mean for Mercedes-Benz?

"Mercedes-Benz and motor racing have a long standing tradition in France. 100 years ago, Christian Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix at the wheel of a Mercedes; it has been the first out of 104 Grand Prix victories in the Mercedes-Benz motor sport history. Even 14 years before that first Grand Prix win, in 1894, the first ever car race was held in France and was won by a car powered by a Daimler engine. In the race Nizza-Salon-Nizza 1901, also in France, Wilhelm Werner achieved the first victory for the brand Mercedes. In 1954, at our comeback in Grand Prix racing and debut in Formula 1 we celebrated a 1-2 victory with Juan Manuel Fangio ahead of Karl Kling in Reims, France, on the same day as Germany won the football World Cup in Bern, Switzerland. However, our balance of the French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours is quite modest - only one win in 2000 with David Coulthard."

MAGNY-COURS TRACK INFORMATION

Circuit length 4.411 km/2.741 miles
Race distance 308.586 km/191.755 miles
Laps 70
Number of corners 16
Inaugural French GP 1950

-credit: mclaren

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers David Coulthard , Norbert Haug , Bruce McLaren , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Heikki Kovalainen , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren