Franck Montagny - France's next superstar? 29 Jun 2005
The French Grand Prix is one of few European rounds of the championship that won't be the home Grand Prix for any existing Formula One driver. Despite a proud record of French racers competing at the highest levels of the sport - including Alain Prost, the second-most successful driver of all time after Michael Schumacher - France hasn't been able to muster a Grand Prix star since the retirement of Olivier Panis at the end of last season.
One of the best hopes for a future French Formula One contender is Renault's third driver, Franck Montagny - a vastly experienced racer who many reckon stands a good chance of breaking through to a full-time race seat.
Montagny, 27, took a broadly conventional route into top-level racing - proving his early talents as a French karting champion. He then moved into Formula Renault and enjoyed a good debut season to finish the championship in fourth place. Disaster struck the following year, 1996, when he was lucky to survive a horrific accident in which he almost lost the use of his legs. Remarkably, he was racing again by the end of the season and even won a race.
He then moved through various other single-seater Formulae, including International F3000, at the same time proving himself as a talented sportscar racer, including a sixth-place finish at the Le Mans 24-hours race in 2002. The following year he put in a very impressive season in the Nissan World Series to earn himself the Renault test driver's seat, a position he still keeps.
Montagny was undoubtedly disappointed at the end of last season when, following Jarno Trulli's abrupt departure, Jacques Villeneuve was parachuted into the spare Renault race seat for the final rounds of the season. And at the European Grand Prix this year there was feverish speculation that he was about to join the Jordan team after he drove for them during Friday testing.
Nothing further has happened - at least, not yet - although Montagny has made clear that a full race drive in Formula One remains his top priority. There's little doubt that the Renault team also realise the marketing advantage to be gained from putting a French star into a French car. How far they plan to capitalise on that remains to be seen - quite a lot will be Montagnys hope.