French GP – A fixture of Formula 1 calendar

Start of the 2007 French GP

The French Grand Prix has been a permanent uninterrupted fixture on the Formula 1 calendar since the World Championship began in 1950 and the first win for a car bearing the Prancing Horse emblem came two years later courtesy of Alberto Ascari. Traditionally, this has been a successful event for the Scuderia, with a total of 16 wins on French soil, seven since 1997, including a one-two finish for Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa last year. Another more recent tradition is speculation that the Gallic race will lose its place on the calendar, but whatever opinions people hold regarding the rural out of the way location of Magny-Cours, the tradition of maintaining continuity of the famous "Grandes Epreuves" is an important historical element worth preserving alongside the move to more modern venues.

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro arrives in France having picked up just a meager ten points from the last two races. This sounds a familiar tale after the Monaco and Canada Grands Prix, which had not been strong races for the team in the past, but this year, while admitting to some minor mistakes from within the team, it's fair to say that bad luck and Safety Cars had something to do with the lack of points, because car performance certainly wasn't lacking. The frustration at failing to capitalize on the potential of the F2008 is tempered by the strengthened confidence that the team is currently moving in the right direction.

Last week, long time Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer spent three profitable days at the wheel at the Barcelona test. Apart from a couple of technical glitches and some time lost to rain, it was a success. "It was a generally positive test," commented the Scuderia's official test driver. "We were able to work continuously and without any major technical problems. We saw interesting results from some new components, which might prove useful in the forthcoming races. On top of that, we also got through everything we had planned in terms of engine reliability work. Today, I am back in the cockpit at our home track, Fiorano, to carry out the shakedown of our Magny-Cours race cars, with both of them getting new engines for the start of another two race cycle."

On past form, Raikkonen and Massa should be aiming for a win on Sunday, however this year, the clichés that certain circuits are "Ferrari tracks" or "McLaren tracks" for example do not seem to hold true. While we have worked on improving our weak points which saw our upturn in performance in Monaco and Montreal, it can be assumed that our rivals will also have looked at our strengths and upped their game for the forthcoming race at Magny-Cours. In general terms therefore, the competition has been much more closely balanced at every track this year. With performance levels so close, teams really have to do a perfect job to make the difference and this is particularly relevant on the reliability front, as has been seen in the case of BMW. The German team might not have quite the ultimate speed of the other two top teams, however they have proved that running reliably and scoring consistently can be the key factor, hence the fact that Kubica currently heads the Drivers' classification.

The Magny-Cours track has several peculiarities: it boasts an incredibly smooth surface, it is very temperature sensitive, in that an increase or decrease in temperature of just a couple of degrees can have a significant effect on tire performance, although now that the sport is a one-make series in terms of rubber, this is less of a factor. In a championship where one or two pit stops has become the norm, the French track does offer additional strategic possibilities as it has a very short pit lane, thus reducing the overall time taken for a stop. This fact was borne out in 2004, when Michael Schumacher took the win, visiting the pits no less than four times! Waiting for the pit stops is not the only method of moving up the order as the hairpin and the entrance to the chicane afford a couple of genuine passing opportunities.

Both Kimi and Felipe will get some track time outside of the usual F1 timetable as this weekend, they continue the tradition of the past couple of years of giving a pair of lucky members of the public flying laps of the track in a Ferrari 599 cars. The passengers will be winners of a competition run by the ICM charity set up by among others, Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher, to carry out research into spinal injuries. Kimi will take a final winner around on race day just before the driver parade.

The French Grand Prix takes place just one week after another famous race was held in France; the Le Mans 24 Hours. In the GT2 class, the Ferrari F430 took the top four places, with a Risi Competizione car standing on the top step of the podium. With only two cars at its disposal, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will find that feat impossible to repeat but, as usual, the target will be to see its two drivers on the podium this Sunday afternoon. Ferrari PR

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