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The French Grand Prix Preview 13 Jul 2006

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 French flag on the grandstand. Formula One World Championship, Rd10, French Grand Prix, Race Day, Magny-Cours, France, 3 July 2005. World ©  Sutton. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, French Grand Prix, Race Day, Magny-Cours, France, 3 July 2005 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006

Renault and Michelin head for their home ground at Magny-Cours this weekend hoping that normal business will be resumed after Ferrari’s rampant domination of the United States Grand Prix.

World champion Fernando Alonso has a simple goal: "Keep on winning and increase our lead". The Spaniard, who took pole position in France last year with a time of 1m 14.412s and went on to win the race, is determined to maintain his dominant position in this year’s title chase.

Alonso believes that the unusual French track should suit the Renault R26 and is looking forward to the race weekend. “There are a few high speed corners there, and you need good traction. Both of those things are characteristics of the R26, so it will be a good circuit for us and for Michelin too I think,” Alonso explained. “There are two quick chicanes at Magny-Cours that I really enjoy, taken in fifth or sixth gear, and they are the only ones of their type on any circuit. So it has some unique challenges as well.”

Historically, this will be a significant weekend for Renault as they celebrate a century of Grand Prix racing. Back in 1906, Renault and Michelin won the first-ever Grand Prix, here in France, courtesy of French driver Ferenc Szisz. But Ferrari have a similarly rich historical past and after Indianapolis Michael Schumacher is more determined than ever to reduce his 19-point deficit to Alonso in the championship table.

“I won four races in a row before Indy,” Alonso says, “but I always said that the championship was not over, and it sounded really pessimistic. But a gap of 25 points before Indy didn't mean that we would be champions automatically, and now that the gap is 19 points, we cannot be pessimistic and think the advantage will disappear quickly. You have to look at the big picture for the championship. I was first or second in nine of the 10 races and in the next eight races, I think we will be able to keep on winning and increase the lead even more.”

Schumacher arrives in France, after last week’s very successful test in Jerez de la Frontera, equipped with a heavily revised Ferrari F248. The car will have an improved aero package featuring a new engine cover and front wing, plus a more powerful engine. Bridgestone are also confident that their latest tyre will be an equal match for Michelin’s latest offering.

Clearly all the ingredients are present for a cracking race, not least because the rest of the field haven’t been standing still either.

At McLaren, Juan Pablo Montoya’s Formula One career is over as he heads, sooner than expected, to the world of NASCAR, and in his place alongside Kimi Raikkonen will be Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa. Honda have made revisions on their RA106 after testing last week in Jerez, as do Toyota and Red Bull.

Williams will have an updated Cosworth 6.01 spec V8 with greater top-end power. The new engine will be complemented by an upgraded version of Petrobras’ Formula One fuel which, it is hoped, will maximize engine performance whilst reducing fuel consumption.

After two races at low downforce tracks in North American, the race in Magny-Cours marks a return to a high downforce configuration. The French track features a mixture of slow hairpins, medium-speed corners and high-speed chicanes, and places heavy demands on the brakes as drivers endure 4g whilst slowing down from 300 to 60 km per hour for the Adelaide chicane. The super-smooth surface is also unusual, and can lead to high thermal loadings on the tyres, which will make the competition between Bridgestone and Michelin even more intriguing.