Moving swiftly along to Magny-Cours

Moving swiftly along to Magny-Cours

The French Grand Prix swapped between different circuits in its history until settling at Magny-Cours at the beginning of the nineties. The first championship French GP was held at Reims in 1950 and again in 1951, then moved to Rouen for a year....

The French Grand Prix swapped between different circuits in its history until settling at Magny-Cours at the beginning of the nineties. The first championship French GP was held at Reims in 1950 and again in 1951, then moved to Rouen for a year. The race returned to Reims the following two years but the French GP was cancelled in 1955 due to the Le Mans disaster.

The remainder of the fifties and the sixties was traded between Reims, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand. In the seventies and eighties the race swapped from Dijon to Paul Ricard and back again, then Paul Ricard became the host from 1985 until Magny-Cours took over.

The Pont Neuf.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Magny-Cours, officially Circuit de Nevers, is near the village of Nevers in the Burgundy region, south of Paris. It was built in 1960 and was originally just over a mile in length. Its reputation quickly grew and at the start of the seventies the circuit was extended. This was by way of having two separate tracks that could be combined to form a 2.4 mile circuit.

European F3 raced at Magny-Cours in the late seventies and early eighties but by the mid eighties the track was in a state of poor repair and there was no racing for three years. At the end of the decade the circuit underwent a big reconstruction to revive the flagging economy of the area.

The new layout still had two tracks -- one inner of just over a mile and one outer of 1.6 miles -- but many corners were changed and the combined distance is now 2.65 miles. The design had input from former drivers Jacques Laffite and Rene Arnoux and Formula One arrived at Magny-Cours in 1991.

Since then, previous winners have been Nigel Mansell (twice), Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and David Coulthard. Michael Schumacher has won six times at Magny-Cours and took his fifth world title there last year.

The track surface is exceptionally smooth which makes for set-up complications as the temperature fluctuations alter the level of grip more than anywhere else. This means tyres are very important as degradation levels are high, which has an effect on strategy -- a softer compound would be a better option if working on a three-stopper but harder rubber for two.

High, but not necessarily maximum, downforce is the norm and while the track is not particularly technical, good traction and brakes are required for the combination of hairpins, medium speed corners and high-speed chicanes. Overtaking is not easy at Magny-Cours, although the alterations to the circuit at the final section this year may give slightly more opportunity.

Rubens Barrichello stuck on the starting grid.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
In the 2002 race, Rubens Barrichello got ridiculously stuck on a jack on the starting grid. Pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya led initially but lost out in the pit stops to eventually come home fourth. It was Kimi Raikkonen who set the pace and looked comfortable for his maiden win until he skidded wide after hitting oil on the track. Schumacher was quick to take advantage and nipped past the young Finn to claim the win and title number five.

Four penalties got handed up to drivers for crossing the white line at the pit exit, including Schumacher. Eddie Irvine had a rear wing failure on his Jaguar that he managed to keep under control but it lost him what could have been a points finish. David Coulthard was third behind Raikkonen.

If Raikkonen's engine hadn't blown at the European GP, victory would surely have been his. But McLaren is looking strong, despite the reliability issues. With its one-two finish at N?rburgring, Williams could be favourites again for France. With no testing this week, not much will be changed on the cars since the last race and track temperatures tend to be high at Magny-Cours, which will suit Michelin.

Ralf Schumacher responded to those that judge him not able to stand up to brother Michael and Williams definitely had the better cars than Ferrari. The F2003-GA is being matched and bettered by competitors, even by Renault, although Fernando Alonso would have probably fallen to Michael in Europe if there had been any more time.

Of course, if Michael hadn't argued with Montoya the result could well have been different but there's really not much between Ferrari, Williams and McLaren. Renault is hanging in there with Alonso's efforts, although Jarno Trulli seems to be on the end of all the problems.

BAR must be despairing of ever getting Jacques Villeneuve to the end of the race and you can't blame the Canadian for being less than amused with his year so far. Toyota had a dismal time in Europe although Sauber and Jaguar managed to add to their points. Jordan at least got both cars home, as did Minardi, but for no reward.

While the battle for the driver's title still favours Michael and Raikkonen, the Williams duo, Alonso and Barrichello are all still within reach. Williams has now jumped McLaren in the Constructors' standings but the top three are close. It could all change again at Magny-Cours.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan