McLAREN AND MICHELIN MASTER MAGNY-COURS McLaren-Mercedes drivers David Coulthard and Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen outpaced their rivals on the opening day of practice for the French Grand Prix. At a track where the team has traditionally performed well --...
McLAREN AND MICHELIN MASTER MAGNY-COURS
McLaren-Mercedes drivers David Coulthard and Kimi Räikkönen outpaced their rivals on the opening day of practice for the French Grand Prix. At a track where the team has traditionally performed well -- and where he won in 2000 -- David Coulthard used his Michelin tyres to good effect to post a 1m 14.025s lap, a scant 0.072s faster than his Finnish team-mate.
Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were third and fourth fastest. Schumacher can wrap up the world championship this weekend: if he does, he will equal Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five titles and set a new benchmark as the first driver ever to have sewn up the crown before the end of July. Both Ferrari drivers spun during the day, but neither damaged their car.
The Ferraris were the only non-Michelin cars in the top 11. Behind the McLarens, Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, fifth) spearheaded the French company's challenge ahead of Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing, sixth), Mika Salo (Panasonic Toyota Racing, seventh), Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing, eighth), Jenson Button (Renault F1, ninth), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, ninth) and Allan McNish (Toyota, 11th).
After a difficult baptism at Silverstone two weeks ago, the revised Jaguar R3 chassis is beginning to show improved form, although Irvine's progress was hindered by a spin towards the end of the session. Both Williams drivers have also been off the track during the day -- and Montoya stopped running early after incurring chassis damage when he spun through a gravel trap at high speed. Salo also had to park up prematurely, in his case because of an engine problem.
Mark Webber (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 18th) was fastest of the remaining Michelin runners, from Jarno Trulli (Renault, 19th) and Ales Yoong (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 20th). Trulli completed fewer laps than any other driver after spinning into a gravel trap early in the afternoon. At least he got some track time, however: cash-strapped Arrows failed to run on Friday for the second race in succession -- and it is not yet clear whether the British team will be able to take part in this weekend's race.
Michelin's day: Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director)
The Michelin-shod McLarens set the fastest two times today and nine of your cars featured in the top 11...
"It has been a very productive session. Today our partner teams have conducted lots of tests with the two kinds of dry-weather tyre we brought to this race. So far the results are not absolutely consistent, because the same type of tyre is producing conflicting results for different teams, but we have acquired a large quantity of data and that has given us plenty of thinking to do before tomorrow's qualifying session. Generally I think we have reason to be guardedly optimistic about our prospects for tomorrow and Sunday."
What can you tell us about the primary (A) and option (B) tyres you are using this weekend?
"The primary tyre has been used before during a race weekend -- at Silverstone, for example. The option is a new compound that has produced very promising results during a series of tests at different circuits. It is likely that both will be used during the race on Sunday."
Some people seem to think Michelin runs well at Magny-Cours because it is your local circuit. Is that fair comment?
"Absolutely not! In fact we don't run that frequently at Magny-Cours compared to the amount of time we spend at other tracks. Of course it is nice to be racing close to our Clermont-Ferrand base, but that doesn't alter the way we approach the weekend at all. This is just a circuit like any other and we have to work out how best to tackle its characteristics just as we would anywhere else."
What are the most difficult aspects of Magny-Cours for a tyre manufacturer?
"Some circuits, such as Monaco and Barcelona, have a certain type of corner that is common to the whole track and you can produce a tyre accordingly. But here there is a much greater range of challenges -- from the tight Adelaide hairpin to the ultra-fast right-hander at Estoril. Overall, this circuit places quite a strain on tyres."