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The French Grand Prix preview 30 Jun 2005

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R25 leaves the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2005 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2005 Christian Klien (AUT) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2005 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 19 May 2005 Mark Webber (AUS) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Practice, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 May 2005

Hard on the heels of the Indianapolis controversy, and the decisions made by the FIA World Motor Sport Council on Wednesday in Paris, everyone will be out to put on a show this weekend in Magny-Cours, and to get their programmes back on course.

Feeling perhaps the greatest pressure will be Renault, who are leading the championship from McLaren and Ferrari (76 points to 63 apiece) and who will be racing at home in the season in which their new management have made it clear they must fight for the title. They were boosted by a promising test in Jerez last week, where series leader Fernando Alonso lapped only two-hundredths of a second slower than principal challenger Kimi Raikkonen, but he is not expecting a cakewalk this weekend.

“It will be a close fight - McLaren will be fast, like they are everywhere, but Magny-Cours has been a good circuit for Renault,” the Spaniard said. “Last year, I got pole and had a strong battle with Ferrari for the win. This year, we are going there with a better car, and we will expect to be competitive. Will it be enough to win? I don't know. It definitely won't be easy - I think the battle at the front will be much tougher this year than in 2004.”

McLaren believe their MP4-20 will be very well suited to Magny-Cours’ smooth surface, and besides Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya is raring to challenge for victory after his frustrations in North America. “I am looking forward to this race and my wish is to do what I did in Canada, to challenge for victory,” the Colombian said.

Like Renault, McLaren had a very strong test in Jerez, where Raikkonen was fastest.

Ferrari have made great progress recently, with both their F2005 and via Bridgestone, and their 32-point haul from the north American sojourn has really thrust the team back into contention. Both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello believe that they will be in a position to challenge for the win again this weekend.

BAR, too, believe the track will suit them and Jenson Button was also very quick in Jerez.

"We came back from F1's north American tour quite encouraged by the performance of our car,” says BAR sporting director Gil de Ferran. “Last week we have been testing for three days evaluating tyres, aerodynamic developments and mechanical changes in view of the coming races in France and England. Given the fact that our last race in high downforce configuration was at the Nurburgring, and our performance there left something to be desired, much of our efforts in testing were concentrated on improving the aero specification in this configuration. We are hopeful that we will be fighting at the sharp end of the field again in Magny Cours."

At Toyota, veteran Olivier Panis returns to active Friday test duties in front of his countrymen. Panis, 38, made 158 Grand Prix starts, winning at Monaco in 1996. He is held in high regard at Toyota, and team principal Tsutomu Tomita demonstrated that recently when he presented him with one of the 2004 TF104 chassis that the Frenchman raced.

"I'm really looking forward to returning to the cockpit at Magny-Cours,” Panis said. “I first raced at the circuit in 1994 so I have over a decade of knowledge of the track. Now I hope to use that experience to help Toyota at the French Grand Prix. I think it would be a big shame to go through the entire Magny-Cours race weekend without any French drivers. As well as assisting the team, I hope to give something back to the spectators and to the French TV and press who supported me so well throughout my F1 career."

After his accident in America, Ralf Schumacher has been cleared to race again.

Both Williams drivers like Magny-Cours, and they will have further aerodynamic developments on their FW27s after the test in Jerez last week. “They are part of our ongoing development programme to bring performance to the car,” says technical director Sam Michael. “Some parts are more obvious, some not.”

Red Bull Racing ran all four of its drivers in Jerez last week, and came away with optimised fuelling settings for the latest Cosworth V10, which is 35 bhp more powerful than its predecessor.

Sauber will have revised aerodynamics and were very happy with their speed from Jerez, and hope they have made a genuine breakthrough.

Jordan and Minardi come flush from their points-scoring successes in Indianapolis, but the former has opted not to run their heavily updated EJ15B which tested in Barcelona last week.

Magny-Cours is an unusual track insofar as its surface is super smooth. That enables teams to run lower ride heights and to generate greater downforce. On the flipside, the effect of ambient temperature change on lap times can be marked, so all teams are on their mettle to keep the set-up of their cars up to speed with track changes as each day progresses.

The race will be held over 70 laps of the 4.411 km circuit, and starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.