French GP Preview

M. SCHUMACHER LOOKS TO REGAIN GRIP ON POINTS LEAD IN FRANCE INDIANAPOLIS, June 24, 1999 -- After a stop in North America for the Canadian Grand Prix, the Formula One "circus" heads to France for the seventh of 16 rounds of the World ...

M. SCHUMACHER LOOKS TO REGAIN GRIP ON POINTS LEAD IN FRANCE

INDIANAPOLIS, June 24, 1999 -- After a stop in North America for the Canadian Grand Prix, the Formula One "circus" heads to France for the seventh of 16 rounds of the World Championship.

With a win in Canada in his West McLaren-Mercedes, Mika Hakkinen took over the lead in the points standings from championship rival Michael Schumacher, who failed to finish after hitting the wall while leading the race in his Ferrari. With three victories this season, Hakkinen now has 34 points while Schumacher, with two wins, has 30.

The French Grand Prix is staged at the Circuit de Nevers located in a rural area three hours drive south of Paris near the towns of Nevers and Magny Cours.

History would indicate that Schumacher will have the advantage in this weekend's French Grand Prix: He's won the race four times, including the last two years driving for Ferrari. Hakkinen, meanwhile, has never won in France, and McLaren's last victory there came in 1989.

"We've always done well in France," Schumacher said, "so there's no reason why we shouldn't do so again."

But Hakkinen is equally confident.

"We tested last week (at Magny Cours), concentrating on developing the car," Hakkinen said. "As you have seen, the car is now stronger and more reliable, so now we don't have to worry about the car breaking down all the time, and we are able to concentrate on developing it instead. That's the reality.

"Now we have got it strong, we can make it stronger and more consistent. I am really looking forward to the race.

"Before (the Spanish Grand Prix at) Barcelona, I also remember saying how difficult our car was to drive. It is better now; it is definitely a more consistent car. You can push it more on the limit and keep it on the limit for a longer time."

The Constructors Championship has settled into a close duel between Ferrari, with 55 points, and McLaren-Mercedes with 46. Jordan-Mugen-Honda is third with 16 points.

"Looking at it overall, both teams are extremely close in terms of performance," Hakkinen said. "It's coming down now to how much each team can develop its car in terms of performance, engine and chassis. Reliability and development are going to be the key of everything.

"Let's see what's going to happen. We have some good developments coming up soon, and let's hope that we can make our car quicker than their car." While Hakkinen sprayed the winner's champagne in Montreal, Jacques Villeneuve was contemplating yet another disappointing race. Since joining the new British American Racing F1 team this season, 1995 Indy 500 winner Villeneuve has yet to finish a Grand Prix.

Villeneuve's BAR team joined all the other F1 teams except Minardi and Arrows for a pre-race test last week at Magny Cours. Eddie Irvine set the pace in his Ferrari, while Alex Zanardi was second quickest in his Winfield Williams-Supertec and followed by David Coulthard in his West McLaren-Me rcedes.

Testing times at Magny Cours, however, often don't tell the whole story, as the track is notorious for its changing grip levels. "Like most drivers, Jacques doesn't particularly like the circuit," said Jock Clear, BAR's senior race engineer to Villeneuve, "but interestingly, he has had some good results here -- second in 1996 and fourth in 1997 and 1998.

"Without a doubt, grip -- or more precisely, the lack of it -- is once again sure to be the overriding handling issue at Magny Cours. The surface is particularly temperature-sensitive, with grip levels dropping dramatically as the ambient temperature rises. Higher ambient temperatures here on race weekend could work to our advantage, though, in terms of getting the most from our tires."

Like Villeneuve, two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi has had little luck this season and has only finished one race in his Winfield Williams-Supertec.

"What I hate about Magny Cours is that it is so difficult to get to," Za nardi said of the remote track. "But once I'm there I really like some of the exciting turns, especially the chicanes that are very fast and very difficult to get into. It's a track where I was never lucky in the past. "I hope this year I will go against the odds and have better fortune. I'm confident I will have a good race, thanks to the testing we had here last week."

Much of the attention this weekend will be focused on Damon Hill, who will be competing in his final French Grand Prix. Hill, the 1996 World Champion and winner of the 1996 French Grand Prix, has said that he will retire at the end of the season. He, too, has endured an unlucky season so far and has only finished one race in the points in his B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda.

FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK

Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the French Grand Prix live on SpeedVision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) June 27. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape-delayed at 10 a.m. June 27 in all time zones. SpeedVision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) June 26.

*** Hill to retire: Former World Champion Damon Hill has announced he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season. "After much reflection, I have decided not to continue racing in F1 after the end of the 1999 season," said Hill, 38. "Despite being a late starter in F1, at the age of 32, I am very proud of my record of having won 22 Grands Prix and the World Championship itself in just seven seasons. "F1 has afforded me many incredible opportunities, and I will cherish some fantastic memories. I have fulfilled my ambitions and consider myself very fortunate to have done so. I would like the thank all of those who have had to work with me -- from the caterers to the team owners. To my loyal fans, you were incredible throughout. An enormous thanks to all of you." Hill won the F1 World Championship in 1996 and became the first son of a World Champion to also take the crown. Graham Hill won the World Championship in 1962 and 1968 as well as the 1966 Indy 500 and the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours. He died in an airplane crash in 1975.

Born in 1960, Damon started his racing career in motorcycles in 1979 and moved on to Formula Ford in 1983, Formula 3 in 1986 and Formula 3000 in 1989. In 1991, he became the official test driver for Team Williams, and the following year he made his F1 debut in the uncompetitive Brabham. He signed as a driver for Williams in 1993, won the Hungarian Grand Prix that year, and finished third in the championship. Although he won the World Championship in 1996, Williams released him at the end of the season. He joined Arrows in 1997 and moved on to B&H Jordan in 1998, when he gave that team its first Grand Prix victory.

Hill has struggled to be competitive this season, scoring only a fourth place in San Marino while his Jordan teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen is tied for fourth place in the points.

"This is a sad but typically brave and honest decision by one of Britain's great sporting heroes," team owner Eddie Jordan said of Hill's retirement. "Damon was a great World Champion and a wonderful ambassador for motorsport worldwide.

"His results will always show he was one of the sport's great winners. In his whole career he has never shirked a challenge, and together we will work doubly hard to ensure that he retires in the stylish, gentlemanly manner which has been the hallmark of his conduct from start to finish."

*** Prost hires new tech chief: Prost Grand Prix has signed Alan Jenkins as technical director. Jenkins has held similar posts at Arrows/Footwork and Stewart-Ford.

*** Frentzen recovers: Heinz-Harald Frentzen should be fit enough to compete in the upcoming French Grand Prix despite his heavy accident in Montreal caused by a brake disc failure.

"He sustained an impact of at least 7G and could have suffered worse injuries," team owner Eddie Jordan said. "There is no doubt that the newly revised headrest and other safety features brought in by the FIA played a vital role in protecting him."

*** Sauber and Toyota?: The Red Bull Sauber team has acknowledged that it is talking to Toyota about forming a future F1 partnership.

*** Record holder: Team owner Alain Prost won the French Grand Prix six times and holds the record for the most wins in his home Grand Prix. Jim Clark, victor of the 1965 Indy 500, is second in the F1 record books, having won the Grand Prix of Great Britain five times.

*** United States Grand Prix tickets: Ticket orders for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis will be accepted by mail only beginning Oct. 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ticket office. The race will take place Sept. 24, 2000. Current ticket holders for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 will automatically receive an order form. Others should request an order form by sending a postcard with name and address to: United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis P.O. Box 24916 Speedway, IN 46224 Forms can also be obtained by e-mail at tickets@brickyard.com or by calling (800) 822-4639. Order forms will be mailed in September.

French Grand Prix Fast Facts

Date: Sunday, June 27 Race: Seventh of 16 on 1999 schedule Venue: Circuit de Nevers, Magny Cours Circuit length: 2.641-miles, 4.25-km Race length: 72 laps On TV: Race (live) - 7:30 a.m. (EDT) June 27, SpeedVision. (Tape-delayed) 10 a.m. in all time zones June 27, FOX Sports Net. Qualifying (live) - 7 a.m. (EDT) June 26, SpeedVision Points leader: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes 1998 race winner: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 1998 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1997 -- Michael Schumacher; 1996 -- Damon Hill; 1995 --Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Michael Schumacher; 1993 -- Alain Prost

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Eddie Jordan , Alex Zanardi , Jim Clark , Alain Prost , Damon Hill , Jock Clear , Graham Hill
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing , Minardi , Jordan