After an ultimately disappointing Canadian Grand Prix for McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, it’s perhaps realistic to expect further frustration for the Brit this weekend at the French GP.
As a sweeping, high-speed circuit, France’s Magny-Cours has been a firm fixture on the F1 calendar since 1991 – and would appear to favour the sleek, straight-line speed of the Ferrari’s again this season.
A Ferrari one-two last year underlined the team’s strength at the Circuit de Nevers and it seems hard to imagine anything less than a return to winning ways for either Kimi Raikkonen or Felipe Massa.
The pair have had an indifferent couple of races and will be looking to start scoring serious points again this weekend. There must also be a feeling that the team can steal a march on the grid-penalised Hamilton and his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, while the typically ice-cool temperament of Raikkonen may even be beginning to melt in the face of Robert Kubica’s quiet stride into the Championship lead.
Given the 10-place grid penalty to be imposed on Hamilton for his carelessness in Canada, it seems unlikely that the heroic young title contender will be able to get anywhere near the front-runners by the end of lap 70 – especially if his thirty second deficit at the close of last season’s French GP is anything to go by.
For all his endeavours teammate Heikki Kovalainen looks to be enduring an unlucky first season at McLaren and is unlikely to upset the dominant Ferrari applecart on Sunday.
Which surely leaves the challenge to the racey BMW Saubers of Kubica and Nick Heidfield. Following the ominous one-two result in Montreal, the team are on the crest of a wave and their title credentials are starting to really catch the eye.
The team also has a good balance not just on its finely-tuned cars, but also through its driver line-up. Heidfield seems comfortable as number two and provides a solid, quick, reliable drive in every race, with the lightning quick and ever-exciting Kubica going for the jugular and arguably leading the team from the front.
Mario Theissen’s team probably have their eye on the race for the Constructors championship and another punchy performance in France could see BMW Sauber emerge as a serious competitor for Ferrari.
Everyone at BMW Sauber appears to be keeping feet firmly on the ground and this resilient focus on the task ahead may pay dividends. Encapsulating the team’s strong work ethic, Kubica said at a FIA press conference on Thursday, “…It was a very good weekend for us in Canada but we have to keep our feet on the ground and keep working, keep pushing because we know there is a gap to the Ferrari’s and McLaren’s and we need to make bigger steps to close it and we will try our best.”
The Italian stallion of a team appears likely to gallop clear come Sunday however, and Finn Raikkonen is optimistic ahead of the race. Speaking at the same press conference on Thursday, a laid-back Raikkonen said, “Overall it’s a nice circuit and I enjoy it here. Hopefully we can get a good result.”
“Last year we started to get things going more right here and hopefully it’s the same this year.”
Getting it right certainly shouldn’t be a problem – Ferrari have notched up seven French GP wins in eleven years and appear perfectly hooked-up for the high-speed straights preceding grande courbe, golf, adelaide, and chicane.
Shocks and Surprises
Weekend weather updates could yet offer a glimmer of hope for an eventful Round Eight though, with rain and thunderstorms forecast as a distinct possibility throughout the three days of practice, qualifying and the race itself.
This could, perhaps, provide faint light at the end of the tunnel for Britain’s Hamilton, who’s proved his wet weather skill already in his short F1 career and won so emphatically in Monaco, despite torrential downpours.
If Hamilton’s in with a shout thanks to a shower or two, it’s not inconceivable that former teammate Fernando Alonso could carve his way through the field and bring home his Renault for a podium finish at its home circuit. Another potential upset could come in the form of Nico Rosberg, as Williams build on their previous winning pedigree at Magny-Cours and continue to progress with their Toyota-powered championship crusade.