Race preview - Ferrari start as favourites 01 Jul 2007
For the first time in many races, the odds favour Ferrari at the start of this afternoons French Grand Prix, with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen lining up either side of Lewis Hamiltons sole McLaren.
Individual fuel loads here will be crucial, as the lightest of the three stands the best theoretical chance of jumping into the lead and pulling away early on in a race in which overtaking is notoriously difficult.
Massa said he was quite happy even though his second Q3 qualifying run on Saturday yielded no improvement, Hamilton admitted to losing pole because of a mistake in Turn 15 on his second run, and Raikkonen quietly confessed that he, too, thought he had a pole-winning car under him.
All three were far happier than poor Fernando Alonso, stranded back in 10th place with a McLaren that suffered gearbox problems at the critical moment.
On the second row, Robert Kubica spearheads for BMW Sauber a tense battle over third place in the world championship for constructors with Renault, who have Giancarlo Fisichella in fifth position on the grid and Heikki Kovalainen sixth, just ahead of Kubicas team mate Nick Heidfeld.
Kubica said he was happy with his F1.07s balance, but that Renault were closer to BMW Sauber than BMW Sauber were to the Ferraris. Heidfelds back muscle cramp was cured, but he suffered from too much oversteer. Renault are looking quietly confident about the progress they have been making of late, though a potential reliability issue arose in Q3 when Kovalainen had to contend with a serious power steering problem that caused his R27 to pull to the left under braking.
Toyotas chances of points look good, with Jarno Trulli eighth and Ralf Schumacher 11th. Neither had any significant problems and the smooth Magny-Cours track surface suited the TF107. The Japanese teams chances are also enhanced by Nico Rosbergs presence in ninth place in the Toyota-powered Williams, but the German complained of a gearbox problem that cost him a few tenths and, he felt, at least a couple of positions. Team mate Alex Wurz complained of oversteer in the final sector, and will start down in 18th.
Jenson Button and Honda team mate Rubens Barrichello said they had well balanced RA107s that were better than they had been in North America, and felt that the team have taken a step forward, and will start 12th and 13th, just ahead of the Red Bull squad. Mark Webber spoiled his first qualifying run with a moment in the last chicane and by his own admission wasnt quick enough in his second and thus starts 14th, while David Coulthards chances of doing better than 16th were scuppered by another transmission problem. They sandwich Toro Rosso stable mate Scott Speed, who was quite pleased with his STR02 in high-speed corners but less impressed with the balance in the slow stuff. Team mate Tonio Liuzzi is 17th, knocked out of Q2 by two-thousandths of a second by Barrichello after one of the Spykers went off in front of him on his quick lap.
There wasnt much joy for Super Aguri either, with Takuma Sato (whose penalty from the last race will actually put him last on the grid) and Anthony Davidson 19th and 20th. The latters chances were compromised when he missed his final run due to traffic in the pit lane. Spyker had some revised electronic systems on their F8-Vs to help Christijan Albers to feel more comfortable, and the Dutchman felt they helped, but with Adrian Sutil hampered by a clutch problem this was one circuit where the inherent age of the car really worked against them.
The stage is thus set for what is always a tough race, possibly the last at Magny-Cours. As far as the winner is concerned, everything will depend on who gets the cleanest start, and who can maintain their advantage on the very fast run down to the Adelaide hairpin, the one real place where anyone will have a chance to do some overtaking.