French Grand Prix - Preview

French Grand Prix - Circuit de Nevers (Magny-Cours)
Track length: 2.741 miles (4.411 km)
Number of laps: 70 (191.755 miles/308.586 km)
Lap record: 1 minute 15.377 seconds (Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004)
2007 winner: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

After the idiosyncrasies of both Monaco and Montreal, Formula One returns to a more familiar circuit layout this weekend, when the 2.741-mile Circuit de Nevers plays host to the French Grand Prix.

The last two races fully lived up to their hosts' reputations for producing both chaos and shock results, the net result being that Robert Kubica heads to Magny-Cours sitting proudly atop the World Championship.

Victory for the Pole and BMW Sauber in Canada was not only the first for both but also the first in 25 races for a constructor other than Ferrari or McLaren Mercedes.

If only the lottery could continue. A quick scan of French GP results in recent years suggests otherwise; then again, the weekend's weather forecast is, at the time of writing, for thunderstorms.

The fact that every winner this century prior to Kimi Raikkonen 12 months ago has started from either first or second place on the grid means that it's all too easy to label the race as one of the more predictable on the calendar.

Raikkonen threw a real curveball last year by taking the chequered flag after qualifying...third. Those of you who don't like such unexpected surprises can at least reconcile yourselves with the fact that the Finn was driving a Ferrari.

Ferrari form

The Scuderia have real form at Magny-Cours, proving victorious in five of the last seven races. Raikkonen vaulted ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa after the final pit stops last year to take a victory which got his (ultimately successful) Championship bid back on track.

Fast forward 12 months and, emerging pointless following his well-publicised travails in the last two races, Raikkonen needs more of the same. He currently stands fourth in the Drivers' Championship, seven points behind Kubica.

What of the latter's prospects? No-one can argue with BMW Sauber team boss Mario Theissen when, speaking on Thursday, he said that "nobody who is at the top of the (championship) after seven races is there by accident".

After all, as well as his victory, Kubica has also scored three other podiums this year and picked up points at every race bar Australia's season opener.

However, consistent though Kubica currently is, he was also the chief beneficiary of the chaos wrought in the last two races. If all those remaining were the same then perhaps we'd be looking at the 2008 World Champion.

With Magny-Cours tending not to produce surprises, the fact that BMW Sauber have yet to match the outright pace of either Ferrari or McLaren means their hopes perhaps best rest on a favourable weather forecast.

Penalised 10 places on the grid following his pit lane antics at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - thus guaranteeing himself the lowest grid position of his F1 career - Lewis Hamilton will doubtless also be casting an occasional eye skywards as the weekend progresses.

Nevertheless, speaking on Thursday, the McLaren driver had revised his earlier opinion that a win was still possible, preferring instead to play down his hopes.

"I'm obviously always aiming to win," he said. "But realistically I think we just have to try and aim for a podium finish if possible. Even that is going to be very, very tough because we're all very close and there are now quite a few teams that are very competitive.

"This is also not the easiest track on which to overtake, so I'll keep my fingers crossed and do the best job I can, and I hope we can push and finish in the top five."


Assuming Hamilton does make progress then the Adelaide Hairpin is most likely the place to do it, coming as it does at the end of a long straight at the back of the circuit.

And, for any overtaking move to take place there, good speed out of the preceding long right-handed turn three is essential.

Two high-speed chicanes further around the lap keep the attentions of the drivers, who need to make full use of their curbs - particularly in qualifying. Alongside turn three, they result in a much higher level of downforce than that used in Canada.

The fact that cars accelerate out of five first and second-gear corners also means that good traction has a real effect on lap time. To this end, the cars are generally short and closely-geared at Magny-Cours.

The track surface is exceptionally smooth, which allows for lower ride heights and stiffer suspension settings to improve aerodynamic performance.

This also has the added benefit of making a car more responsive in the high-speed changes of direction required through the two quick chicanes.

However, a compromise must be found because of the circuit's slow corners, where softer settings offer better grip.

Finally, the track also has a reputation for being particularly temperature-sensitive, with just a few minutes of cloud cover having the potential to significantly reduce grip levels.

Bridgestone will be bringing their 'soft' and 'medium' tyre compounds this weekend.