Formula One returns to Europe this weekend and another set of back-to-back races, starting with the French Grand Prix, the mid-point of the season. After Silverstone in the UK a week later there follows another double-header, Germany and Hungary,...
Formula One returns to Europe this weekend and another set of back-to-back races, starting with the French Grand Prix, the mid-point of the season. After Silverstone in the UK a week later there follows another double-header, Germany and Hungary, so July is a very demanding month. Some think the next few weeks will have a decisive effect on the championship but we shall have to wait and see.
Magny-Cours is quite a technical track and presents its own challenges like any other circuit. It requires fairly high downforce, after the lower demands of Montreal and Indy, and the combination of hairpins, chicanes and corners needs good traction. The smooth track surface can react quickly to temperature changes and tyre degradation can be a factor.
"The tarmac at Magny-Cours is more dependent on temperature than normal which means lap times vary significantly during the day," said Williams technical director Sam Michael. "Strategy will be interesting because of the pit lane time and typically high tyre degradation that we see at Magny-Cours."
The conditions can cause problems for the drivers when trying to find the ideal set up. "It can be an odd place, because it gets really hot after 11 o'clock in the morning so the set-up of the car tends to keep changing all day with the temperature rise," said Sauber's Felipe Massa. "You end up chasing a moving target and it is not easy to get the best out of the car because of this."
Recently Europe has been experiencing some extreme weather conditions, swapping between very high temperatures and huge thunderstorms. There have been some hot F1 races in France in the past, which puts the emphasis on engine reliability but the full throttle percentage of the lap at Magny-Cours is not higher than average.
"Our attention also focuses on making the engine as driveable as possible, especially in terms of torque control," explained Renault's R?mi Taffin. "The smoother the engine response, the less it will disturb the car balance during throttle applications at high speed, as occur in turns 3, and the high speed chicanes of turns 6/7 and turns 11/12."
Renault heads to its home race still leading both championships and Fernando Alonso is confident the team can do well in France. "McLaren will be fast, like they are everywhere, but Magny-Cours has been a good circuit for Renault," he said. "Last year, I got pole and had a strong battle with Ferrari for the win. This year, we are going there with a better car, and we will expect to be competitive."
McLaren still appears to be Renault's main challenger and while Kimi Raikkonen has been much in the limelight this season, Juan Pablo Montoya is out to make amends for missing out on the win in Montreal. "I am looking forward to this race and my wish is to do what I did in Canada, to challenge for victory," said the Colombian.
While the controversy raged around Indianapolis, Ferrari picked up the points for first and second which moved the drivers and the team right up the standings. "We have scored good results here in the past," Micheal Schumacher remarked in regard to France. "And taking into account the progress the car has made over the past few weeks, I have to be optimistic about Sunday's race."
This weekend Oliver Panis will be behind the wheel of a Toyota on Friday, replacing regular third driver Ricardo Zonta. Panis has continued to test for Toyota since his retirement from competition and in the absence of a local racer on the F1 grid, Olivier hopes to give the home crowds something to cheer about.
"Magny Cours is a technical track and conditions can change throughout the day more than at practically any other circuit," the Frenchman commented. "That is an area where my experience will be of real benefit and I am looking forward to doing as strong a job as possible for the team."
Ralf Schumacher is also back in action for Toyota -- the German missed last year's Magny Cours race after an accident at Indianapolis and was sidelined in America this year due to another crash. "I'm fully recovered from my accident during Friday practice for the US Grand Prix and I'm looking forward to getting back to racing in France," Ralf said.
BAR has still to notch up any points but Takuma Sato is confident after the team tested at Jerez last week. "We are carrying forward many positive aspects from the Jerez test and I believe that we can reproduce the performance and be as competitive as we were in North America and I am very positive going to the race next week," he said.
Ferrari may have taken first and second at Indy but the circumstances were, let's be honest, in their favour. That's not to say that the reds won't be competitive in France but we should get a clearer picture of how they match up to rivals at the half way stage of the season. Let's just hope we get a good race -- or at least that we actually get a race…