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Friday analysis - a French renaissance for Ferrari? 29 Jun 2007

Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 29 June 2007 Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 29 June 2007 Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR2.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 29 June 2007 Alex Wurz (AUT) Williams FW29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 29 June 2007 Takuma Sato (JPN) Super Aguri F1 Team SA07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 29 June 2007

First and second places for Ferrari left the Italian team cautiously optimistic after Friday’s opening practice sessions for the French Grand Prix.

“Today we were quick and we have found a good balance right from the first few laps in this morning’s session,” Felipe Massa said after his lap of 1m 15.453s. “I think the work which culminated in the test session at Silverstone is beginning to produce results.

"We were competitive and I think that can continue for the rest of the weekend. The harder tyre seems more consistent in terms of performance, while the softer one seems to give more grip.”

Kimi Raikkonen was also upbeat. “I would say that this was quite a positive day,” he said. “The car went well eight from the morning, but there is still room for improvement. However, as usual on a Friday, it is hard to say what the real pecking order is in the field. The performance on the two types of tyre was pretty similar, even if I never managed to get a clean run with the softer tyre.”

It’s hard to say whether Ferrari will sustain their edge on Saturday, or indeed why it may have occurred. But the team’s wind tunnel is now working properly again after sustaining a catastrophic moving ground belt failure two months ago, and that, in concert with Magny-Cours’ notoriously smooth surface, may have been a factor in the apparent revival. Saturday will tell us more.

We will also know whether McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was putting a brave face on things when, having set only the eighth-fastest time of 1m 16.049s, he said: "We managed to complete our programme, and we have a good understanding of the Bridgestone tyres’ characteristics in these cooler than expected temperatures. We could have been faster today, and there is still a little bit of work to do tomorrow on the set-up. However, I think we will be stronger over the weekend than we appear today so I am not too worried about the results so far."

Team mate Lewis Hamilton lost around 40 crucial minutes this morning after his automatic cut-out problem. "This morning was a little frustrating as I missed that track time when the engine protection system came in as a result of the engine running too cool and I stopped on the circuit,” he said. “Luckily the car was returned with about 45 minutes of the session still to run so I still managed to get quite a few laps in and completed our planned programme in the afternoon."

It was a good day for Toro Rosso, with Scott Speed third on 1m 15.773s and Tonio Liuzzi fifth on 1m 15.952s. David Coulthard wound his Red Bull up to 1m 15.958s. The Toro Rosso boys struggled with understeer, and Speed also had a problem with the steering wheel, but both welcomed the arrival of the seamless shift transmission. Coulthard, however, was dismissive of his lap times and said he’d wait and see what qualifying brings, while team mate Mark Webber had yet another transmission failure. Fuel load is everything these days, in terms of outright fast lap times, so the real picture will emerge on Saturday.

Williams looked good on Friday, with Nico Rosberg seventh on 1m 16.003s and Alex Wurz 13th on 1m 16.260s - yet again the times in the midfield were ridiculously close with 13 cars separated by a second - and both drivers described their day as “interesting” in terms of what they discovered about the FW29’s set-up. They are confident of retaining their speed.

Anthony Davidson was happy with his Super Aguri’s balance on the way to ninth fastest time of 1m 16.162s, but Takuma Sato encountered a significant difference in the way in which his SA07 reacted on the two Bridgestone compounds and was only 20th on 1m 17.165s.

With Ralf Schumacher 10th on 1m 16.184s and Jarno Trulli 14th on 1m 16.285s, Toyota were reasonably satisfied with their day’s work, though Trulli complained of understeer.

At Renault, on their crucial home ground, Giancarlo Fisichella expressed satisfaction about the R27’s reaction to set-up changes on his way to 1m 16.205s for 11th place after focusing mainly on long runs, while Heikki Kovalainen complained of balance problems and traffic en route to 1m 16.735s for 17th.

Twelfth and 19th places marked a major downturn for BMW Sauber on their 2007 form. Robert Kubica got nicely back in the swing of things with 1m 16.236s after some steering problems cost him an hour this morning, but Nick Heidfeld struggled to 1m 16.968s before his back problem got worse.

There was not much sign of the hoped for improvement at Honda, where Jenson Button was 14th on 1m 16.395s and Rubens Barrichello 18th on 1m 16.950s. Spyker’s day saw Adrian Sutil delayed by a hydraulic leak in the morning and balance problems in the afternoon, while an off-course excursion by Christijan Albers in the afternoon put his F8-VII out of the action.