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French Grand Prix - the drivers' preview 12 Jul 2006

Mark Webber (AUS) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Indianapolis, USA, 1 July 2006 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Preparations, Indianapolis, USA, 29 June 2006 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Indianapolis, USA, 1 July 2006

A home race for Renault and Michelin, this weekend’s French Grand Prix looks set to be another closely-fought affair. Here the drivers discuss their prospects for the weekend ahead…

Fernando Alonso, Renault
2005 Qualifying - 1st, 2005 Race - 1st

“It was a fantastic race last year, one of the best for me. McLaren were really strong during that part of the season and we won the French Grand Prix because we deserved it. It was a perfect race, with a fantastic atmosphere. The crowd was excited, and I was too. I was very proud to win that race.

“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.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault
2005 Qualifying - 6th, 2005 Race - 6th

“Fernando and I both go to Magny-Cours with the possibility of winning, and it will be an important race for Renault on a lot of levels. We have a lot of fans there, all the race team members from Viry-Chatillion are very motivated, and the stands are full of people from Viry and other Renault factories. They will all be pushing with us on Sunday, and we will be doing our maximum to win the race.

“I think it is quite a hard circuit for the tyres. We have one very high speed corner at turn 3, but I don't think that is the most important one on the circuit. There are a lot of slow-speed corners everywhere and they are where you gain or lost a lot of time. We have to find a good mechanical set-up to have good levels of grip in the corners, and traction on the exits of the slow speed turns. The traction makes it quite hard for the tyres too, and we have to be careful of rear tyre wear in the race - especially if it's very hot.

“So for Magny-Cours, my goal is to maintain my personal level of performance - but from a position where we can beat both Ferraris. The team has been working hard to develop the car all season, and we have another engine step this weekend in France which will give us a boost.”

Mark Webber, Williams
2005 Qualifying - 12th, 2005 Race - 12th

“It’s good to be back in Europe on terra firma after the two recent fly-away races. Clearly it’s a very difficult time for us at the moment as we’re not demonstrating the kind of form we want and we need to address this by getting some pace back into the car. We will have some different parts on the car to help breach the gap to our opposition but, traditionally, most of the teams use the French Grand Prix as an upgrade point in the season, so it’s important we make significant gains. I hope Alex’s running is straightforward on Friday in order to give us a strong base for Sunday afternoon.”

Nico Rosberg, Williams
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

“I like the track at Magny-Cours. I won the GP2 race there last year, my first win of the season and the start of a great year for me. I wasn’t at the test last week, but I know that the team has been working really hard on improving our aero package recently. We’ll be using the Silverstone aero package for this forthcoming race which, I believe, will improve our pace relative to that seen in America. I enjoyed the trip to the States a lot, but it’s now nice to be back in Europe, especially considering I can drive to this race from my home.”

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren
2005 Qualifying - 13th, 2005 Race - 2nd

"The team has been testing really hard last week, and we will be bringing new parts to the car for the French Grand Prix. The car felt good at Indy and with our strategy we would have secured a couple of solid points finishes. Magny-Cours can be quite a challenging track to set-up for, because its characteristics change a lot, probably more so than at most other circuits. However I quite like driving here, it seems to suit my style and I hope we can have another good race this year. It is a slow track, with low speed corners, hairpins and no major straights, it is a total contrast to the previous three circuits we have raced at. Magny-Cours has a smooth surface, with no bumps and less kerbs, as a result we can run with more front wing and a lower ride height, as the car is less upset by kerbs and bumps. You tend to generate high tyre temperatures here, so blistering can be a problem, this is because the track gets very hot during the day due to the blackness of the asphalt. The track also has reasonable grip levels."

Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

"I'm of course extremely thrilled to have this opportunity to race the MP4-21 - a car in which I'm really comfortable. People don't always link it to Magny-Cours, but you can overtake here, you just need to make sure your set-up allows you to do so. The only real place to do it is by getting good speed along Golf, the stretch between Estoril and Adelaide. You need to take Estoril really well behind the car ahead, and this needs to be considered when you are working on set-up. If you get the right set-up you can then push the limits through the sweeping Estoril and have the speed you need in order to pass. Most things about Magny-Cours are fairly medium in nature from the downforce, brake severity to tyre wear. Another characteristic of the track is the number of corners, and this means it can be quite physical if it is hot."

Tiago Monteiro, Midland
2005 Qualifying - 19th, 2005 Race - 13th

“I like the track at Magny-Cours. I raced there quite a bit while I was competing in France in the lower categories, so I want to be able to take advantage of that experience. It will also be nice for me to see some friends and old sponsors I was close to when I was living there. The team has been working really hard to introduce some new parts for the car, so we need to recompense them with a good finish. We’ve had some competitive performances that haven’t yet translated into good race results, so I really want to keep pushing hard to score the first points for Midland this year!”

Christijan Albers, Midland
2005 Qualifying - 20th, 2005 Race - DNF

"Last year's race at Magny-Cours left a huge impact on me - literally! Due to technical problems, I lost the car, crashing it at over 200 km/h. That was my first big shunt in Formula 1, but at least it showed me how safe F1 cars are these days. This year, I'm planning on finishing the race and I hope we can build on the qualifying result we achieved in the USA. It's great to be back in Europe, and especially France. This country loves Formula 1, so I hope it will be a good show for the fans and for our team."

Adrian Sutil, third driver, Midland
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

"I'm really looking forward to my second Friday practice session with the team. After two successful months of racing in the Japanese F3 Championship (3 wins), I can't wait to step into the Midland M16 again. The track in Magny-Cours is one of my favourites and I really enjoy driving there. I will do everything I can to help the team find the best possible setup for qualifying and the race."

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
2005 Qualifying - 14th, 2005 Race - 14th

“I always enjoy racing in Magny-Cours. A lot of people aren’t so keen on the circuit, particularly as its way out in the French provinces. It’s a beautiful area, but unfortunately there’s no time to enjoy the scenery. There are lots of little chateaux with rooms to rent. I always stay at one of them, in a very idyllic location and surrounded by a proper moat. It has a very special charm of its own. On the sporting side too, I have fond memories of Magny-Cours, where I have won Formula 3 and Formula 3000 races. It’s quite a challenging circuit, especially the two chicanes. They’re obscured from view and very narrow at the apex. Basically the track offers everything: a high-speed section, but slow turns as well.”

Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber
2005 Qualifying - 10th, 2005 Race - 8th

“Last year’s French Grand Prix was one of our best races and the car is running very strongly at the moment, so I am looking forward to it as we should have a good weekend. It is a fun track to drive and there is usually some good racing on.”

Robert Kubica, third driver, BMW Sauber
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

“I know Magny-Cours pretty well. It is a nice track. Last time I was there was in 2004 with Formula 3 but I have not tested there with F1. The first and second corners are really long. Later on there’s a quick chicane, which I am looking forward to taking in a Formula One car. It is quite a tricky track, but I think it could work well for me as I really enjoyed it in Formula 3. We will be back in Europe and, as usual, I am looking forward to doing my job there for the team on Friday to get some good data for Jacques and Nick.”

Rubens Barrichello, Honda
2005 Qualifying - 5th, 2005 Race - 9th

“The circuit at Magny-Cours is a very good track for the drivers as it’s a lot of fun to drive and also very fast. The high speed changes of direction between turns four and five, and also turns seven and eight, are quite challenging. The race is usually an exciting one and if the weather follows the usual pattern, it will probably be very hot. We had an intensive test at Jerez this week in very hot conditions looking at the tyres and aero for this race so we should be well prepared. We collected a lot of data in Jerez and now we have to work hard and see how we can make that work for us at Magny-Cours.”

Jenson Button, Honda
2005 Qualifying - 7th, 2005 Race - 4th

“I really enjoy racing at Magny-Cours. It’s a smooth circuit and very flowing, which is the type of track I prefer as it is more suited to my driving style. I’ve had decent finishes there in the last two years so hopefully we can repeat that form next weekend with a strong points finish. It was disappointing to retire from the race at Indianapolis so early last weekend but looking on the positive side, the car worked much better all weekend than in Montreal.”

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota
2005 Qualifying - 11th, 2005 Race - 7th

"After our visits to Montreal and Indianapolis, two circuits at the lower end of the downforce range, the French Grand Prix marks a return to higher downforce levels. There is nothing particularly challenging about the Magny-Cours track from a driving perspective but it does feature extremely smooth asphalt. That leads to a less bumpy ride for the drivers but it also means that the performance of the track can vary a lot depending on the weather and track temperature. I wouldn't say that it is my favourite race of the year but the facilities are good and the layout of the circuit can lead to good racing. It is also a place where I have had success down the years. I took my first pole position there five years ago and I also won the event in 2003. It is hard to know how we will perform this weekend but our car has shown it is quick in recent races so we will hope for more on Sunday."

Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2005 Qualifying - 2nd, 2005 Race - 5th

"I have very good memories of Magny-Cours and I always enjoy visiting France. French is one of the languages that I speak because of all the time that I have spent working for French teams in Formula 1. That means I have a good relationship with the French fans and I expect to have lots of support in the grandstands. Magny-Cours is a fun place to drive an F1 car too because it is a technical circuit with pretty much every kind of corner there is. There are fast, sweeping corners along with slow hairpins and also some quick changes of direction at the chicanes. Good handling is crucial because the car has to react well to such a variety of different corners. The track surface is among the smoothest that we run on in the course of the season so we can run lower ride heights than usual. Now we must hope to build on our improved pace.”

Takuma Sato, Super Aguri
2005 Qualifying - 4th, 2005 Race - 11th

"The French Grand Prix will be the last race where we compete with the current car, the SA05. We shall be using our standard aero package so it will be a challenging weekend for us. But even though we were on a low-medium aero package for the North American races we must keep the momentum going in terms of the speed and competitiveness that we achieved there and hope that we have a good race."

Franck Montagny, Super Aguri
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

"I am very happy to be going to Magny-Cours as other F1 drivers really like this circuit. It has a fast chicane and slow corners, so it has a good balanced mix. Our new car was originally scheduled to be launched here but now it will be the final race for the SA05 and so we shall do our best and try to make a good race until we have the SA06 in Germany."

Sakon Yamamoto, third driver, Super Aguri
2005 Qualifying - NA, 2005 Race - NA

“I am very happy to be going back to Magny-Cours and to be part of the celebrations of 100 years of Grand Prix racing. The last three Fridays at race weekends with the SAF1 Team have taught me a great deal, but I also hope that I have been able to give important and valuable information back to the team. I know the circuit at Magny-Cours from my F3 driving days and so I am looking forward to driving there again. The team is improving everyday and maintains its good motivation, so I see no reason why we should not have a good weekend in France.”