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France - selected driver preview quotes 01 Jul 2004

(L to R): Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota with team mate Cristiano Da Matta (BRA) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Qualifying, 29 May 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault, race winner for the first time, in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004 (L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) BAR with David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race Day, 30 May 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar jogs through the paddock.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Practice Day, Indianapolis, USA, 18 June 2004

A home race for Renault, Michelin and Toyota’s Olivier Panis, this weekend’s French Grand Prix looks certain to be another closely-fought affair. The men at the sharp end look ahead to the Magny-Cours showdown, round ten of the 2004 Formula One season.

Olivier Panis, Toyota:
"I'm very happy to be going back to Magny-Cours again as it is particularly special for me to race in front of the French fans. I really want to get a result for them, for me and for the team because the fifth place we achieved in Indianapolis was extremely positive. We simply have to keep going in this direction. Realistically, it may be harder to score so well in Magny-Cours, but last year we were quite competitive there, so we have a chance. My approach in France will be no different to anywhere else - I'll be pushing as hard as ever. Silverstone is another circuit that is not too bad for us, and it's quite important to score points in these next two races, so it will set us up well for the arrival of the updated car at Hockenheim."

Cristiano da Matta, Toyota:
"The US Grand Prix at Indianapolis was easily our best race weekend of the year so far - our pace was such that we could score points without depending on anyone else's bad luck. But to do the same in Magny-Cours or Silverstone, I think will require a little bit of help. Magny-Cours is a high downforce circuit, so that doesn't really suit our car at the moment, but we should be helped by the fact that the tarmac is very smooth. Panasonic Toyota Racing made a point last year so we'll be aiming for a repeat top eight performance."

Ricardo Zonta, third driver, Toyota:
"Magny-Cours is not one of my favourite race tracks, but it's not one of my least favourites either. The first two corners are nice, fast corners and the asphalt on the circuit is very smooth, which means as a driver you don't have to ride over as many bumps as other tracks. I've tested there a lot both in F3000 and F1 but the track is very sensitive to weather conditions so it tends to change a lot. I haven't yet driven on the new layout for the last few corners, which they introduced for last year's race, so that will be something new to look forward to on Friday."

Jarno Trulli, Renault:
(Q: Jarno, how would you assess the team's situation at the halfway stage of the season?) “I believe we are doing very well, but we cannot forget that BAR are performing better than us in some areas, and at some circuits. We need to concentrate on getting the best from our car at the next races and work very hard to improve our performance at the same time, if we want to keep this position at the end of the season. I know this team very well know, and I am confident that we can. On a personal level, my aim is to finish third in the drivers' championship.”

(Q: You are always a fan of 'technical' circuits, which challenge the drivers and engineers with set-up. Does Magny-Cours meet those criteria?) “Yes, definitely - it is exactly what I would call a technical circuit. You have all types of corners around the lap, and the car needs to respond well everywhere. In order to be quick, though, you need responsive handling and a good change of direction - especially through the fast sections at turns 2 and 3, turns 6 and 7 and 11 and 12. This can mean the car is not ideal in the slow hairpins, but we have to drive round that because the high-speed areas are critical for lap time, and also to make sure you do not get overtaken in the race.”

(Q: You have always had lots of support in France - are you looking forward to racing there?) “This is a significant weekend for me - it is like a second home race. I have always enjoyed wonderful support in France, and I would like to repay my supporters with a strong performance. Plus, of course, the race is very important to Renault, as their national grand prix. I will just be aiming to drive as well as possible, and get the most out of the car and myself in qualifying and the race. It would be a fantastic boost for me and the team to win this race.”

Fernando Alonso, Renault:
(Q: Fernando, as we reach the halfway point of the season, how does your current position compare with your expectations at the start of the year?) “Overall, it is better than I had expected - but more in terms of our position in the Constructor's Championship than my own place in the drivers' standings. It is a bit of a surprise for us to be second - McLaren and Williams have dropped down, but the performance of BAR has been a surprise. However, they are behind us now, although I think we can expect a very close battle through the summer. Personally, for me, I do not think it is too bad to be fifth: I have not finished three races, and started from the back in two of them. So I am reasonably pleased, but I expect to be much stronger in the second half of the year.”

(Q: What are the priorities for the driver at Magny-Cours?) “Magny-Cours is a strange circuit, because you need to get different things out of the car on different parts of the track. There are very quick corners, where you want a stiff car for good downforce at those speeds, but also the very tight hairpins at turn 5 and before the final chicane, which need good traction and confidence under braking. You need to find a compromise, and that can be difficult. The other important factor here is the tyres - the temperatures can change a lot on the track, and it is very important that you do not get caught out by that with tyre choice.”

(Q: This is your second 'home' race of the year, and the 25th anniversary of Renault's first ever F1 win. What does that mean to a driver?) “Like always when you have lots of supporters, lots of fans cheering for you, it brings motivation; we are the only French team, and it is special to be racing in Renault's home country. The fans are happy to see us racing, to see us out on the track, and that brings us a great welcome. We just hope we can reward them with a strong result!”

Nick Heidfeld, Jordan:
"I like the Magny-Cours circuit quite a lot, probably more than many drivers who say it’s a modern and boring processional track. I really enjoy it, especially the two quick chicanes. It was disappointing for me not to finish the last race because there was a good chance to score points and I’m hoping for a better result at this race.”

Giorgio Pantano, Jordan:
“Now F1 returns to Europe and tracks that I know, which I’m glad about! I won the F3000 race at Magny-Cours last year, and the year before that I came second. It’s one of the circuits that suits my driving style. I always find a good balance and rhythm and really enjoy driving here. Finding the limits of this quite technical, fast-corner circuit seemed to come quite easily so I hope it will be the same experience in F1. After a few races with car problems and then missing Canada, I feel I’ve got some catching up to do and I’m eager for a good result. It would be great to score my first points here."

Jenson Button, BAR:
"I am really looking forward to racing in France. The Michelins should work extremely well in Magny-Cours and I am confident that our strong package should definitely enable us to fight for a podium finish. Our car felt fantastic in Indy last week so it was disappointing that I was forced to retire from the race. We need to focus on getting both cars to the end of the race and well in the points if we are to challenge for second place in the championship."

Takuma Sato, BAR:
"After having such a good race at Indy and achieving my first podium, I am really looking forward to the next Grand Prix. Magny-Cours is a unique circuit, where the track surface is incredibly smooth and the temperatures can range from being extremely hot to quite cool, so it is always produces an exciting race. This week we have been testing in Jerez where it has been very hot indeed, but we are happy with the tyre programme that we have chosen for France. Magny-Cours is Michelin's home grand prix, so I am looking forward to us performing strongly next weekend."

Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams:
“I think the US Grand Prix is cursed for me. Last year in Indy I lost any chance of winning the Drivers' Championship and this year… well, you know! It was disappointing not to have scored any points in Indy, as we really needed them.
However, we are now facing another two back-to-back races and I am confident we can finally get it right at Magny-Cours and at Silverstone. The French Grand Prix marks the start of the second half of the Championship but there are still plenty of points to collect. It is important to always look ahead in this business. In 2003, Ralf and I qualified first and second respectively at Magny-Cours, and we crossed the line in first and second. This might be difficult to achieve again this year, but we know we usually perform well at this track. We are also taking some new parts out to France which should make the car more competitive. We must now return to form and make up for the points we've lost as a result of factors unrelated to our track performance.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber:
"Magny-Cours has tended to be a difficult track for me, and I crashed heavily there in practice and missed the 2002 race. It's a smooth track, but to be honest you don't really notice that when you're driving. You just take it for granted. It makes it slightly easier to set up the car on one hand, but its sensitivity to temperature has the opposite effect. It's hard on tyres, and it's very important to have good traction. The C23 has that, and as we will have some more new aerodynamic parts for the race I think we can do well."

Felipe Massa, Sauber:
"For sure you need lots of downforce as there are several slow corners, and it's important to find the best tyre choice as the tyre degradation is very high. It's a difficult circuit on which to overtake and it has a strange surface: In the dry it eats tyres, in the wet it is very slippery. I had my worst race of 2002 there; I jumped the start by accident, so I am hoping to do a lot better this year and to break the run of bad luck I've had in the past few races."

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari:
“I like both (the Magny-Cours and Silverstone) tracks as a sporting challenge as they are quite difficult to drive. Magny-Cours can definitely be described as `testing´ and not only for the high temperatures. The heat renders life very hard during the race as the track surface tends to become more and more slippery as the race goes on and the driver has to adapt to this. We have tested intensively at Barcelona and, in my opinion, we are well prepared for Magny-Cours.

“Until now, there has not been a single circuit on which this fantastic car has not performed well. So, I am going into the French race in a calm frame of mind. I think that we can go for the win at Magny-Cours and I will be trying hard to keep the good results going. I want to go for victory and I think that Ferrari, once again, is in good shape.”

Mark Webber, Jaguar:
“Since returning to the UK last week I have been incredibly busy, first of all with our testing duties in Barcelona and then at the weekend when I competed in a 24-hour mountain bike challenge. Both events were rewarding in their own way, starting with the test it was very productive for us. I tested for two days and we completed our programme working on engine control and tyres amongst other things. Testing is so important for us and it is encouraging for both the team and I to reach our goals during the programme. During the weekend I competed in the mountain-bike challenge and our team came 25th out of over 400 teams, not bad considering we beat nine professional cycle teams! That was my fitness training going into Magny-Cours so I am feeling well-prepared in advance of the race. I enjoy driving at the Magny-Cours track, I won there in 2001 with F3000 and finished with three points last year so a good track from a points-scoring point of view. I will certainly be looking to have a good weekend in France and of course a good finish with some points is my goal.”

Christian Klien, Jaguar:
“I have had an interesting and busy period since my last race. I went testing with the team for two days in Barcelona but after an accident in the garage I had to cut my running short. Unfortunately I damaged my right index finger when I picked up a brake-cooling duct to try and cool myself. Somehow my finger managed to slip through the protector and I caught it in the blade! The good news is that I will have no long-term damage and I am fit to race in France. I have raced at this track before in F3 so this makes me much better prepared, although as always until you get out on track on the Friday morning you don't know how the R5 is going to be in comparison to the F3 car around there. This is Michelins home race so we will be doing our best to score some points both for them and for us.”

Bjorn Wirdheim, third driver, Jaguar:
“I was testing with the team last week and managed to complete a good number of laps over the test period. The R5 was very reliable and its pace just kept getting better. I am really looking forward to getting out on track on Friday this week in France and putting the R5 through its paces. I know this track quite well as I have raced here in both 2002 and 2003 in F3000 and I managed a podium here last year. The track is quite smooth and there are some good high-speed areas that you can really push through. I have been doing some training in between races and I also went to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. This was great fun and I really enjoyed seeing so many of the old Jaguars on track. I am now focused on my own Jaguar R5 and helping the team move forward up the grid this coming weekend.”

David Coulthard, McLaren:
“I am looking forward to the Mobil 1 French Grand Prix, partly because it is an event that I particularly enjoy, but primarily because we are using the MP4-19B for the first time. After the two North American races, we returned to Europe to continue our test programme at Jerez with the MP4-19B. It was my first opportunity to get behind the wheel and it was a constructive couple of days. As with the rest of the team, I feel it is a positive move and I am looking forward to seeing how it goes this weekend. Similar to circuits such as Monaco and Nurburgring, Magny-Cours is more of a technical circuit than a full power track. This characteristic tends to suit my driving style and I have had some excellent battles here that were hopefully as enjoyable for the fans as myself! My victory in 2000 is without a doubt one of my career highlights. The circuit itself has a very smooth track surface, this allows low ride heights and therefore leads to low mechanical grip.”

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren:
“Following the United States Grand Prix, myself and the team again felt that the result of the race didn’t fully demonstrate our potential, but that is racing. We are now focused on the Mobil 1 French Grand Prix, where David and myself are racing with the MP4-19B. It has run well in testing and I hope that it will run as reliably in the race as it did at Jerez. Magny-Cours is a mix of low speed hairpins, fast chicane and medium speed corners. There is one main high speed section, from Estoril to Adelaide. It’s crucial to drive the long, fast sweep of Estoril flat out without lifting, so that you have as much speed as possible as you swing round onto the fast section to power towards the hairpin in order to get a quick lap time. It is also a great corner to drive, as it allows you to really push the limits.”