53rd French Grand Prix - Magny-Cours 03 Jul 2003
The French Grand Prix is among the most historic races on the Formula One racing calendar, having been staged every year bar one (1955) since the inception of the world championship in 1950.
Magny-Cours in the Nevers region has been the event's home since 1991, but prior to that six other venues hosted the race - Reims, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand, Le Mans, Paul Ricard and Dijon.
The move to Magny-Cours was part of a project backed by former President Francoise Mitterrand to bring much-needed income to the rural area. The rebuilt club circuit boasted an ultra-smooth surface and excellent facilities, even if drivers felt the track itself was a little unexciting.
However, the first French Grand Prix there was anything but dull, with Williams' Nigel Mansell taking victory after a tense battle with the Ferrari of Alain Prost. In more recent times Michael Schumacher has made Magny-Cours his own, racking up six wins since 1994. Of the other current drivers, Heinz-Harald Frentzen triumphed for Jordan in 1999 and David Coulthard for McLaren in 2000.
Revisions to the circuit for this year's race should increase the amount of overtaking and make for another exciting Grand Prix. The Chateau d'Eau corner has been re-profiled, making the entry much sharper. The cars must brake hard down to second gear and then maximise their exit speed for a new longer straight down to Lycee, the old chicane having been removed.
Lycee sees the drivers go from sixth gear and 290 km/h right down to first gear and a little over 70 km/h, presenting another passing chance for those particularly brave on the brakes. There then follows a short straight, before a new chicane leads the cars back on to the start/finish straight and the original track layout.
The modified Magny-Cours circuit remains a technical one, with its mixture of long, fast straights, medium-speed corners and hairpin bends. Its ultra-smooth surface allows for extra-low ride heights are possible, but also means that tyre wear is particularly high, making strategy for Sunday's race a very tough call to make. In summary, a good all-round test of team, car and driver.