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Race preview - at least five teams vying for podium glory 22 Jun 2008

McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 of Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Renault R28 of Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008 with Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari Manager of F1 Operations and David Lloyd (GBR) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB4.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008

Ferrari are favourites for the French Grand Prix as they start from the front row, but much of the interest will centre on how much progress Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen can make in their McLarens after each received grid penalties. There is then the question of BMW Sauber, whose performance seems to have faded dramatically since their Canada triumph two weeks ago. That means Renault and Toyota both have excellent chances of a maiden 2008 podium after superb qualifying efforts from Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli. We take a team-by-team look at how the drivers line up at Magny-Cours…

Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 16.449s, P1
Felipe Massa, 1m 16.490s, P2

When it mattered, the Ferraris were the class of the field in qualifying, with Raikkonen ultimately just edging out Massa for the Scuderia’s 200th pole position. And the Finn let it slip that he had aborted a lap that was two-tenths faster in order to conserve fuel for the race. He was very happy with the way things went in Q3, while Massa said he tried a little bit too hard then, having dominated Q1 and Q2. It is the third time this year that they have both started from the front row.

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 16.693s, P3, will start P13
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 16.944s, P6, will start P10

Qualifying was a disaster for McLaren. Hamilton spoiled the exit of Turn Seven on both of his Q3 laps, costing by his estimate the two-tenths of a second that would have put him up with the Ferraris. Then he got his ten-place grid penalty from Montreal, which dropped him to 13th. That much was expected; the surprise came when Kovalainen was docked five places for impeding Webber. The Finn had qualified sixth, made up a place at Hamilton’s expense, then dropped down to 10th.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 16.840s, P4, will start P3
Nelson Piquet, 1m 15.770s, P11, will start P9

How heavy a fuel load Alonso was carrying will be one of the key points this afternoon. The Spaniard was fourth fastest, praising the improvement in his R28, then moved up another place after Hamilton’s penalty was applied. Piquet looked like making it through to Q3 but ultimately just lost out, then got a reprieve of two places to ninth as the McLarens fell back. His biggest problem was the lack of performance increase on the softer Bridgestone tyre.

Jarno Trulli, 1m 16.920s, P5, will start P4
Timo Glock, 1m 17.596s, P10, will start P8

Toyota got both their cars comfortably into the top 10, as Trulli qualified fifth and Glock 10th. Both men reported that their TF108s were handling well, had good balance and good tyre temperatures, the latter much to the German’s relief. Then came the McLaren bonus, which moved them to fourth and eighth on the grid.

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica, 1m 17.037s, P7, will start P5
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 15.786s, P12, will start P11

BMW Sauber have curiously struggled all weekend, and for the first time they faced serious competition from hitherto lesser rivals. Kubica complained of poor grip and balance, but Heidfeld was happier with what he had been able to extract from his F1.08 than he has been of late, and in starting 11th has the bonus of choosing his fuel strategy after qualifying.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 17.233s, P8, will start P6
David Coulthard, 1m 17.426s, P9, will start P7

Webber lost a little time on his first run in Q3 when Trulli spun in front of him, and was impeded by Kovalainen on the second, but was happy enough with eighth overall. Coulthard was a late improver to jump out of Q2 and into Q3, and was right behind his team mate. Like Toyota, they each moved up two places courtesy of McLaren.

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 15.816s, P13, will start P12
Sebastien Bourdais, 1m 16.045s, P14

Vettel was on it all weekend and looked strong in Q2, but ultimately just lost out. His laps were pretty good, he said, but not perfect. Bourdais said he picked up more oversteer in the slow corners as the track temperature increased and understeer in the fast ones. But he was close behind his team mate and both felt the STR3 had made a step forward.

Nico Rosberg, 1m 16.235s, P15, will start P20
Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 16.243s, P16, will start P15

This was a very disappointing session for Williams, with Rosberg 15th and Nakajima 16th. The general feeling was that the FW30 just wasn’t suited to the smooth track, and then Rosberg’s Montreal penalty merely compounded the unhappy atmosphere.

Jenson Button, 1m 16.306s, P17, will start P16
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 16.330s, P18, will start P17

Honda struggled all weekend, just as they did in Montreal. Button said his RA108 was well balanced, and that said it all given its lack of pace. A mandatory weight check didn’t help, as it took away time to rest the tyre temperatures and compromised his final attempt to break out of Q1. Barrichello merely had to accept his car’s lack of pace.

Force India
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 16.971s, P19, will start P18
Adrian Sutil, 1m 17.053s, P20, will start P19

Fisichella did three single-lap runs, one on the harder tyre and two on the soft. Though the balance was better than it had been in the morning, he still complained of understeer. Sutil was happier with his VJM01’s balance than he was yesterday, but that was not reflected in his position.

David Tremayne