Paddock postcard from Magny-Cours 03 Jul 2005
This is the first French Grand Prix for over 40 years without a French driver on the grid - but the nation's enthusiasm for Formula One racing remains firmly undimmed.
It isnt Renault or McLaren that have given Ferrari their biggest scare so far during the French Grand Prix weekend, but a few Boy Scouts of America. The kids gave the reds a hard time in the first running of the Magny-Cours Pinewood Derby, a competition was organised by the FFSA in which those Formula One teams which could be bothered to enter were given the brief to design small wooden race cars from kits comprising a seven-inch block of pine, four plastic wheels, four nails to serve as axles and a set of rules which demand that cars weigh no more than five ounces and rely only on the power of gravity.
Ferrari, Toyota, Red Bull and Minardi turned out some beautiful machinery to compete against the most successful contenders - Pack 112 of the Boy Scouts of America. Against the Scouts efforts the Formula One teams entries endorsed their budgets, but it was a close-run thing. The event was run to an eliminator heat format on a special wooden downhill track, with FIA race director Charlie Whiting acting as official starter.
A close contest resulted in narrow victory for Ferrari 1, but only after Scout Travis Faros Euro-ballasted pick-up had won all of its heats until suffering a crucial defeat that left Christopher Kulmayer to race Ferrari 1 in the ultimate final, in which each contender made a run before repeating it after switching lanes. Ferrari won both runs, leaving Kulmayer second, while Faro was classified third ahead of fellow Scout Jack Schlageter. Ferrari 2 was fifth.
Toyota, Red Bull (with three different designs) and Minardi all did less well, Paul Stoddarts team actually receiving a prize for having the slowest car. Designer James Gilbride wont be swapping his marketing role to help out on the PS05 any time soon.
Ferraris elegant contenders featured Schumacher and Barrichello helmet designs to distinguish their covered cockpits, came in their own carrying case and had been designed and manufactured on CADCAM by electronics engineer Evan Short and aerodynamicist Alex Cinelli in the week following Indianapolis. Tweaks included special Wolfram ballast and carbon fibre tail fins. Other teams are expected to enter into the spirit of the competition next year.
Elsewhere in the paddock 1972 Monaco Grand Prix winner Jean-Pierre Beltoise mingled with the usual bunch of former drivers, former Ligier team founder Guy Ligier, new Renault chairman Carlos Ghosn, and Peter Holmberg, the skipper of Switzerlands Alinghi Americas Cup-winning yacht. Missing was Niki Lauda, who had a successful second kidney transplant last week.
On track the diminutive motorcycle-engined Legends stole the show, with a massive 40-car field, while Heikki Kovalainen increased his GP2 series lead with another stylish victory in the first of two races, over Jose Maria Lopez, Nicolas Lapierre, Adam Carroll and Neel Jani. Carroll is second overall, 15 points adrift of the Finn.