France kicks off mid-season in Europe

France kicks off mid-season in Europe

After the long distance events in North America Formula One has returned to Europe for the middle part of the season. Not a great deal changed in Canada and America as far the constructors' championship is concerned; Ferrari still trails McLaren,...

After the long distance events in North America Formula One has returned to Europe for the middle part of the season. Not a great deal changed in Canada and America as far the constructors' championship is concerned; Ferrari still trails McLaren, with a slightly wider gap, and BMW Sauber is holding steady as the best of the rest. However, the fight for the drivers' title is rather more intriguing.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes.
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The Lewis Hamilton Show of the last two races means the rookie, if we can even call him that any more, is 10 points clear of double world champion Fernando Alonso. McLaren says it doesn't care which one of them wins as long as it's the two of them up front but it can't be an easy situation for the team to juggle. If Hamilton continues his winning streak some tough decisions are going to have to be made.

This coming weekend the F1 circus sets up its Big Top at Magny-Cours for the French Grand Prix. It's not the most glamorous or exciting of locations but the peace and quiet after two overseas back-to-back races is probably a bit of a relief. Not only that, the lack of entertainment gives the teams time to focus on the job in hand without too many outside interruptions.

The Magny-Cours circuit is a combination of corners and chicanes and it has a good overtaking point at the Adelaide hairpin. Medium to high downforce is usual and the very smooth track surface allows for a lower ride height and stiffer suspension -- although the redesigned final chicane gives the cars a bit of a tough time on the kerbs. The dark asphalt quickly absorbs heat, which can have a significant affect on tyres.

"Magny-Cours offers an interesting mixture of slow and fast corners," BMW technical director Willy Rampf commented. "One feature worth mentioning is the track surface, which is very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. The right set-up in the morning might not necessarily be any good in the afternoon. This is something you have to remember when you're making changes to the car."

Direction signs at Magny-Cours.
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As always pit stops are a major factor and this circuit allows more options. "Strategy will be quite interesting because multiple stop solutions have been applied in previous years to good effect," said Williams technical director Sam Michael. "Even though the latest qualifying regulations and pit lane speed limits have shifted everyone to a lower number of stops, Magny-Cours may be the exception."

McLaren may be on form at the moment but the team knows that things can quickly change and its rivals will be doing everything they can to catch up. "Ferrari and BMW are not standing still; our job within the team is to keep providing Fernando and Lewis with a car capable of winning," said CEO Martin Whitmrash. "There is no complacency and the motivation is considerable."

Ferrari believes that if they can only get their act together in qualifying, they will have a good chance of outdoing McLaren. "This year it is fundamental to start from the front row, because it is very difficult to drive, when you're stuck behind other cars," explained Kimi Raikkonen, who has yet to add France to his list of victories.

It's not yet known if BMW's Robert Kubica will drive at Magny-Cours; the Pole has to undergo further checks after his crash in Canada before he will be cleared to race. Kubica sat out the US event primarily due to the risk of another accident so soon after the first, but he hopes that the next medical examination will only be a formality. If not, presumably official third driver Sebastian Vettel will be behind the wheel.

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault F1 Team, R27.
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Renault has made up a little ground on BMW recently and Heikki Kovalainen seems to have put his difficult early season behind him. "I think I have some good momentum going at the moment and I want to maintain that in France this weekend," said the Finn. "I am still improving every time I drive, learning and putting it into practice. And as we develop the car that is showing in my race results."

Jarno Trulli picked up another three points for Toyota in America and was very surprised. He said it was 'incredible' -- I don't know about you but I find it incredible that a team with the resources of Toyota is so delighted to finish sixth. Meanwhile, Mark Webber finally opened Red Bull's tally for the season with two points for seventh place. The Australian was less ecstatic than Trulli but happy all the same.

Honda can't be happy with its continuing lack of results, especially when Super Aguri is regularly being one of its rivals. Anthony Davidson finished one place ahead of Jeson Button at Indianapolis, albeit outside the points, and Super Aguri has four points overall to show for its efforts compared to Honda's zero. One would think that things could only get better for Honda but there's no sign of it yet.

One thing is for sure: Ferrari is going to have to take the challenge to McLaren in the next couple of races otherwise it could be too late. There's over thirty points to make up and so far McLaren's reliability is much improved, so if Ferrari is hoping that its rival will have problems it may be a hope in vain. Of course, we never know when a gremlin might strike but McLaren seems fairly bomb-proof at the moment.

Raikkonen believes that bad luck will catch up with Hamilton sooner or later, although that might be wishful thinking on behalf of the Ferrari man. Others could well be thinking the same thing. Can Hamilton keep up his stellar progress? We'll have to wait and see but if his luck finally turns, what's the betting it will happen not this weekend in France but the following weekend at his home race at Silverstone?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Mark Webber , Kimi Raikkonen , Anthony Davidson , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Heikki Kovalainen , Robert Kubica , Sebastian Vettel
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Renault F1 Team