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Title rivals ready for Magny-Cours showdown 20 Jun 2008

Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Preparations, Magny-Cours, France, Thursday, 19 June 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Preparations, Magny-Cours, France, Thursday, 19 June 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Preparations, Magny-Cours, France, Thursday, 19 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 takes part in a wine and cheese tasting session.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Preparations, Magny-Cours, France, Thursday, 19 June 2008

Even with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton’s 10-place grid penalty, the odds for the French Grand Prix tend to favour Ferrari and BMW Sauber. The red cars always go well here, and Kimi Raikkonen, last year’s winner, has always finished here in his seven races at Magny-Cours. Team mate Felipe Massa was on pole here in 2007, and finished on the podium on both his appearances for the Scuderia.

“For sure BMW Sauber are very competitive,” Massa says. “On some tracks it is very difficult to be in front of them, on others they were behind us. But we didn’t show our proper pace, especially in qualifying in Montreal, and in the race we were back on the strong pace again. In Monaco we qualified first and second and had a great car there, but a pretty difficult race and finished behind McLaren and BMW Sauber. We’ve had a lot of first and second this year, so we can be competitive but they will be competitive too.”

Raikkonen is mindful that there is still a long way to go in the championship. “The gaps in points are pretty small, so we haven’t lost anything yet. So long as we start getting where we should be, we’ll be okay, but we cannot afford to drop back more than we are now. We have a strong package, we just need to use it and get the best out of it. There are many races still to go, so I’m not worried. But a win here would help.

“I quite enjoy Magny-Cours. It is a nice circuit, but it’s not the easiest to overtake on. Hopefully we can get a good result, and last year this was where things began going more right.”

Kubica also likes the place. “Last year we qualified fourth and finished fourth. It was a good weekend for us. I was coming back after my Canadian accident, and fourth was the maximum we could achieve. I like racing here, with the mix of high- and low-speed corners. The hairpin, the fast chicanes.”

McLaren haven’t won here since 2000, but Hamilton says he was happy to qualify second here last year and to go on to finish third. “I like the circuit, it’s quite challenging and technical, and this year we have a good chance with a better package.

“The grid penalty certainly doesn’t reduce the pressure; I have more work to do! I guess it spices it up, if that’s what they want. It will be harder to come from the back but no doubt we have a strong package, so we should be able to score some good points.

"Magny-Cours isn’t the easiest place to overtake but it’s certainly possible. You can dive down the inside into the Adelaide Hairpin and also have a look into the penultimate corner. But an area we can really focus on is the strategy - there is a relatively short pit lane which does open up the strategic options available to us.

“I approach every weekend always aiming to win, but realistically we just have to try to aim for a podium finish. It’s going to be very, very tough because we are all very close, so fingers crossed for the best job we can and a finish in top five.”

This is an important landmark for Mercedes-Benz this weekend, as the 2008 French Grand Prix commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first-ever Mercedes victory. In 1908 Christian Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix in a four-cylinder 12.8-litre car which produced 135 bhp. To mark that event, Hamilton and team mate Heikki Kovalainen will drive demonstration laps in an original 1908 Benz Grand Prix car.

David Tremayne