ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 26 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The French GP Preview

Magny Cours, Circuit de Nevers, France by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Leaving Ile Notre-Dame in Canada, Formula One crosses the Atlantic to the Circuit de Nevers in Magny-Cours, France.

France is the cradle of Grand Prix racing, since the first Grand Prix in history was held at Le Mans in 1906 and France has regularly hosted Grand Prix since 1925. Sunday's race will be the 50th French Grand Prix in the modern era as France held a Grand Prix in every year apart from 1955. The 1995 race was canceled in the aftermath of the tragic 1955 Le Mans 24 hour race when over 80 spectators were killed.

The French Grand Prix has been held on the country roads of Reims, the picturesque Rouen-les-Essarts, the challenging Clermont-Ferrand, the boring Bugatti au Mans, the spectacular Dijon-Prenois, and the glamorous Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet.

The French Grand Prix moved to Magny-Cours in 1991 due to French provincial politics: the President of France at that time, Francois Mitterand, was a native of Nevers, where Magny-Cours is located. Guy Ligier, the Ligier Team Principal, was an old friend of Mitterand, and he moved the Ligier team to Magny-Cours from Vichy in 1988. The French Finance minister at the time, Pierre Beregovoy, was also the Mayor of Nevers and the President of the FIA at that time, Jean-Marie Balestre also lent a helping hand. The French government spent about 250 million francs to upgraded the club circuit of Magny-Cours to obtain an FIA Grade 1 Circuit License required to hold a Formula One event. This is an unpopular Grand Prix with fans and teams, partly because Nevers, being in the middle of rural France, is inaccessible - far from major airports and motorways. The French Grand Prix will remain at Magny-Cours until 2004, after which it is expected to return to a revamped Paul Ricard circuit.

At 4.250 Km, Magny-Cours is average in length and slow in speed; only Monaco and the Hungaroring are slower. The Circuit de Nevers consists of an outer circuit and an infield circuit that are joined to create the Grand Prix track. To its credit, the Circuit de Nevers has excellent facilities and is safe, with large run-off areas and, thankfully, has no concrete walls only feet from the racing line. Unfortunately, the circuit is flat and lacks a natural driving "rhythm". The circuit consists of short straights, long sweeping bends, chicanes and hairpin bends that make overtaking difficult. Only the Adelaide hairpin provides a reasonable overtaking opportunity, hence races tend to be processions unless it rains.

Weather at Nevers can be both extreme and changeable, but often the weather and the races themselves are "warm, dry and dull." It rained at Magny-Cours in 1992, 1997 and 1999 and Circuit de Nevers tends to turn into a skating rink in the rain. Having said this, the best race of 1999 took place in the rain at Magny-Cours.

BAR's team manager, Robert Synge explains the technical challenges of the Circuit de Nevers: "The track characteristics require high levels of downforce, while the smooth surface means you can run very low ride heights without a problem. Unfortunately, the surface itself doesn't provide much mechanical grip so it's not easy to develop a really effective chassis set-up for the cars."

Sauber Petronas driver Pedro Diniz adds a driver's perspective: "Magny-Cours isn`t one of my favourite race tracks, but I know it well because I drove a lot here with Ligier in 1996. It takes a lot of work to get a car completely well set-up here, as it is a very technical track. It is different from other tracks too, because it is so flat and smooth. The surface is very temperature sensitive. When the thermometer goes up, the lap times go up and it doesn`t matter what you do to the car, you simply cannot find the performance you had at the start of the day. When it rains the track also gets very slippery."

And Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen agreed: "In my opinion it is perhaps not the most exciting circuit on the F1 Calendar. However the circuit has one real testing corner, the first left right combination after the start finish line. The corner is relatively quick and long and requires a lot of driver skill and feel." Diniz's team mate, Mika Salo added, "It was nice to drive on a flat circuit, not as bumpy as the street circuits we drove in the two last races."

Pitstop and tyre strategies

Attrition is fairly low at this circuit, more than half the field tend to finish. Although 17 were classified as finishing at Magny-Cours in 1998, only 15 cars were running at the end of the race, 12 finished in 1999 and 1997, and 13 cars were running at the end of the 1996 race. This race can be won or lost during pit-stops as happened in 1994 and 1995. In 1998, most teams opted for a two-stop strategy, Benetton and Jordan went for a three-stop strategy while Arrows tried a radical one-stop strategy.

On tyre choice, Bridgestone will again offer the teams a choice of Soft or Medium compound tyres. Ironically, tyre wear on the smooth surface of Magny-Cours can be quite high. Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello revealed, "It's a very smooth surface and it became very slippery when the water built up. In the dry, the smooth surface makes the tyre choice critical and the options for a one or two stop race an interesting one as teams will try to outsmart each other in tactics."

The Teams

Ferrari have extended their lead in the constructors' championship to 18 points. Ferrari's Technical Director, Ross Brawn urged caution, "Winning the title is our special challenge, that's for sure. Complacency can become a factor, but we will ensure that it doesn't. Obviously, we are happy with our position in both the drivers' and constructors' championships. But there is still a long, long way to go." Ferrari have won at Magny-Cours in 1997 and 1998 and have scored a total of 48 points at this circuit.

Michael Schumacher has extended his lead in the drivers' championship to 22 points. Schumacher is the most successful and consistent driver at Magny-Cours. He has competed in seven French Grand Prix and has won this event four times, twice for Benetton in 1994 and 1995 and twice for Ferrari in 1997 and 1998. He has held pole position twice, in 1996 and 1997, and set fastest lap in 1995 and 1997. Schumacher also finished 3rd in 1993 but in last year's race he struggled to finish 5th even with Ferrari team orders. Michael Schumacher's thoughts on Magny-Cours, "It is a track with a bit of everything, so the car has to be good in all areas to be quick. Our car has worked well on all kinds of circuits this year, so I expect it to be very competitive in the race. We tested at Magny-Cours last week and I am very confident that we will go well for the race next weekend."

Rubens Barrichello has consolidated his 4th place in the drivers' championship. In last year's race, Barrichello set pole position and finished third for Stewart. Barrichello also finished 6th in 1995 for Jordan.

McLaren have never won and have only scored 22 points at Circuit de Nevers. Their aerodynamic advantage is not as important at this circuit. McLaren appear to have solved their reliability problems and need both cars to finish in the points on Sunday. Team Principal Ron Dennis commented, "With nine races still to go there are still plenty of points left. We will maintain our focus and aim to leave France with maximum points."

David Coulthard is still 2nd in the drivers' championship. Coulthard has competed in four French Grand Prix. His best finish was in his French debut when he finished 3rd in 1995 for Williams. Coulthard set the fastest lap in 1998 and 1999 and finished 6th in 1996 and 1998. Coulthard has had his share of bad luck at Magny Cours; he was punted off while lying 6th in the rain of 1997 and he had to make four pit-stops when his fuel rig malfunctioned in 1998. Coulthard's highest grid positions were 3rd in 1995 and 1998. Coulthard assessed the situation, "I'm upset about Montreal but there's no point dwelling on it. The championship is still a long one and I'm optimistic. Sure we have to hope that Schumacher has some problems with reliability or that we finish ahead of him in at least five or six races," Coulthard added, "We tested at Magny Cours after the Canadian Grand Prix and went through a lot of work. I ended up fastest on both my days in the car so things are looking promising for the race." Fellow Scot, Jackie Stewart offered him this advice, "What David has got to do is keep scoring points consistently as well as winning a few races. He is in a strong position if he keeps himself focused."

Mika Hakkinen has consolidated his 3rd position in the drivers' championship. Hakkinen has had some success at Magny-Cours. He has started in 7 French Grand Prix and has finished in the points on 4 occasions, 2nd last year, 3rd in 1998, 5th in 1996 and an amazing 4th place for Lotus in the rain of 1992. Hakkinen held pole position once, in 1998 but he seems to have temporarily lost his Midas touch during qualifying this season.

Benetton have climbed to third in the constructors' championship. Benetton has been a consistent and successful team at Magny-Cours with a total of 39 points. Benetton won the French Grand Prix in 1994 and 1995 and finishing in the points in every race apart from 1991. Giancarlo Fisichella's is now 5th in the drivers' championship. Fisichella's confidence has been boosted by the reliability of his Benetton B200 so far this season, "I'm not really surprised at how well we've gone so far this season. It was our target to be competitive and I'm quite confident for the future. I am the only driver to have finished the eight races so far, so it's going well. I hope to continue to score points throughout the rest of the season." However, Fisichella has never scored a point at Magny-Cours. His best finish was in for and his highest grid position was 7th in 1999. Alexander Wurz finished fifth in his French Grand Prix debut in 1997 and his highest grid position was 7th, also in 1997.

Williams have slipped to 4th in the constructors' championship and seem to have lost the momentum they had early in the season. BMW Motorsport Director, Dr. Mario Theissen stated "We completed the third and final day of testing here without any technical problems with the engines. This three-day test has focused on the set-up of the FW22 and, as such, we did not test any specific new engine components. We are satisfied with the results of the test and pleased with our preparations for next week's race." Williams won the French Grand Prix in 1991,1992,1993 and 1996, and have always finished in the points at Magny-Cours. They have scored a staggering 91 points in the 9 Magny-Cours races. BMW-Williams have been in a slum recently and have not scored a point in 2 Grand Prix.

Ralf Schumacher has slipped to 6th in the drivers' championship. In last year's race, Ralf finished 4th for Williams and he finished 6th in 1997 for Jordan. Ralf's highest grid position was 3rd in 1997. After last week's testing Ralf lamented," I still would have liked to have been higher on the time sheets," but he added, "With regard to my leg, it is in perfect working order." Jenson Button revealed that he is not a stranger to Magny-Cours, "Although I have driven this circuit before in F3, it's a whole new ballgame with F1 and, from that perspective, it's been a valuable experience for me. The good mileage that we have achieved here has certainly strengthened my understanding of how an F1 car behaves on this circuit. As always, I can't wait for next weekend's race here."

Jordan are still 5th in the constructors' championship but there are still nagging doubts about their reliability. The Jordan EJ10 was quite competitive in last week's tests. Jordan's Technical Director Mike Gascoyne added, "We go to Magny Cours with a good set up and know the general strategy that needs to be put in place for the weekend. Magny Cours is a unique circuit with very smooth flat surfaces and changeable weather conditions. Testing can only prepare you so much as conditions can differ significantly. The circuit has good memories for Jordan as we went well in 1998 and we won last year. It is one of the circuits that we would expect to do well at. We have not had much luck so far this season, but hopefully this will change in Magny Cours. We certainly had a successful test and we feel the cars will be competitive and should qualify in the top six. The most important thing is to have a two car finish without any reliability worries." Jordan have scored 13 points in France, including a win last year and 6th place finishes in 1991, 1995 and 1997.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen is still 7th equal in the drivers' championship and is in danger of getting into a rut like he did with Williams in 1998. Frentzen won last year's French Grand Prix for Jordan, finished second in 1997 for Williams and finished 4th for Sauber in his French debut of 1994. Frentzen's highest grid position was 2nd in 1997. Frentzen stated, "Over the past few seasons I have only good memories of my time racing at Magny Cours. Last year in a race that was really up and down I was able to gain my first win for the Benson and Hedges Jordan team. I would like to be on the podium again and I feel we are in a good position to make that happen."

Jarno Trulli has climbed to 7th equal in the drivers' championship Trulli has yet to score a point at Magny-Cours, his best finish was 7th in 1999 for Prost and his highest grid position was 6th in 1997. Trulli commented, "I think we have a car that will be up at the front of the grid although I don't think we will be as strong as in Monaco or Canada. I believe we should qualify in the top six to eight though, and on race day weather and strategy may work for us again as it did last year," Trulli added, "I look forward to racing at Magny Cours as the French people are very supportive and I have had a lot of support from fans during testing last week."

BAR are still 6th in the constructors' championship but have not scored a point in the last 5 Grand Prix. BAR's Chief Engineer Steve Farrell stated, "We've been working hard since Monaco to address the shortcomings that led to the team's difficulties there. We believe we now have a direction on set-up that will help us gain the best out of the car at these sorts of tracks. As in Canada, we expect to be able to contend for the top 10 positions in France. Ricardo's eighth place in qualifying in Montreal was highly encouraging and we hope there will be more good things to come from him as the season progresses."

Jacques Villeneuve is still 7th equal in the drivers' championship. Villeneuve has competed in 4 French Grand Prix and has finished in the points on 3 occasions with Williams, taking 2nd in the 1996, after setting fastest lap, and finished 4th in 1997 and 1998. Villeneuve's highest grid position was 4th in 1997. Villeneuve stated, "After the disappointment of Canada, it would be great to get a points finish in France. I think it's clear from our performance in Montreal that the car is getting more competitive all the time, but there are still areas that we need to work on. The Magny-Cours circuit is not particularly challenging for a driver, but it has produced some exciting races. I'm looking forward to it." On a circuit like Magny-Cours, Villeneuve could again hold off more powerful machinery in his BAR-Honda.

Ricardo Zonta is now 14th equal in the drivers' championship. In last year's race, Zonta finished 9th after qualifying a creditable 10th. Zonta's thoughts on Circuit Nevers, "I like the circuit very much. There are slow corners, but also some fast ones. We've been testing at Magny-Cours this week and done some good work on the set-up and overall driveability of the chassis. The performance of the car in Canada was good, particularly in qualifying, and that has given everyone, including me, new motivation."

Sauber are still 7th equal in the constructors' championship. Team Principal, Peter Sauber stated, "Our aim will be to increase our World championship points score. It often rains at Magny-Cours, and if that is the case this year we will be in a strong position." Technical Director Willy Rampf added, "We will again have the new engine that we tried in our recent test at Monza and during qualifying at Montreal. It has more power and less weight than our existing powerplant. Our testing in Magny-Cours went reasonably well, and we have been able to dial the C19 into the circuit in readiness for the Grand Prix." The Head of the Test Team, Jackie Eeckelaert expanded, "We had a very good program over these three days of work with the three drivers. It enabled us to complete testing of a revised aerodynamic package and testing of new parts for the front and rear suspension of the C19. We also spent the afternoon conducting back-to-back tests of the two choices of tyre compound that Bridgestone will be bringing to Magny-Cours next week." Sauber have scored 4 points at Magny-Cours with 4th and 6th place finishes in 1994.

Pedro Diniz has yet to score a point this season and he has yet to score a point in France despite his experience here with Ligier. Diniz's only finish was 14th in 1998 and his highest grid position was 11th in 1999. Mika Salo is still 10th equal in the drivers' championship. Salo's best finish was 10th in 1996 for Tyrrell and his highest grid positions were 14th in 1995 and 1996. Salo commented, "The Red Bull Sauber Petronas C19 should be more reliable than in Canada. With a good set-up and choice of tyres, a new engine specification and new aerodynamics, we should be in good shape. But Nevers Magny-Cours is a circuit where you need a good combination of three different components to have a good result: the weather, which is the most important, the reliability of the engine and tyres that wear well!"

Jaguar are still 7th equal in the constructors' championship. Canada was a set-back with a loss of reliability and a lack of pace. Stewart-Ford scored 4 points at Magny-Cours.

Eddie Irvine is still 10th equal in the drivers' championship. He has had two podium finishes in France, finishing second in 1998 and third in 1997 for Ferrari. In last year's race, Irvine finished 6th under Ferrari team-orders. Irvine's highest grid position was 4th in 1998.

Johnny Herbert has still to score a point in 2000. Herbert has competed in all 9 French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, his best finish was a creditable sixth in 1994 for Lotus and his highest grid position was 9th in 1999.

Arrows are now 7th equal in the constructors' championship but they have never scored a point at Magny-Cours. The Arrow's team are optimistic that this year will be different. In last year's race, both of their cars finished with Pedro de la Rosa finished 12th after qualifying 21st. De la Rosa is now 14th equal in the drivers' championship and he commented, "I think Magny-Cours will be a good circuit for the car as it suits it quite well. It's a very flat track with a smooth surface, a long straight at the back and then there's very fast chicanes and the car is always good on fast corners. The last part of track has slow speed corners which need a lot of traction and this is another area where our car is strong."

Jos Verstappen has jumped to 13th in the drivers' championship but he is nursing neck injuries following his accident at the Estoril corner during testing at Magny-Cours. Verstappen's only finish at Magny-Cours was 12th in 1998 for Stewart and his highest grid position was 8th in 1994 for Benetton. Verstappen is also optimistic, "I think Magny-Cours should be a good race. The circuit and our car suit each other quite well and there are some fast corners and long straights, which I like. Let's hope too we can continue the team's success."

Prost are once again "Les Miserables", having yet to score a point in 2000. Team Principal, Alain Prost won at Magny-Cours in 1993, but his team have never scored a point at what was once their home track. Prost abandoned the Magny-Cours factory that they inherited from Ligier and moved 250 Km North to Guyancourt after the 1997 season.

Jean Alesi, like Johnny Herbert, has competed in all 9 French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours but is the only active Formula One driver to have also competed at Paul Ricard. Alesi has been a regular points scorer with one podium finish when he finished 3rd in 1996 for Benetton. He also finished 5th for Benetton in 1997, 4th in 1991 and 5th in 1995 for Ferrari.

Nick Heidfeld won last year's F3000 race at Magny-Cours after qualifying 2nd. Unfortunately, Heidfeld has been struggling to outqualify the Minardi's so far this season but he found some pace during last week's testing.

Minardi were unable to attend last week's testing at Magny-Cours which will put them at a distinct disadvantage. Instead, Minardi worked on aerodynamic development in the Fondmetal wind tunnel. Minardi's best result at Magny-Cours was in 1994 when Pierluigi Martini finished fifth. In last year's race, Marc Gene did not finish after qualifying 19th. Gaston Mazzacane did not finish the F3000 race of 1997. Gene and Mazzacane should look at this as an opportunity to complete another Grand Prix.

My Predictions

If it is dry, I'm going to pick Ferrari, McLaren, and Jordan as the top three teams with Benetton, Williams and BAR making up the top six.

Starting grid:

  1. Michael Schumacher
  2. David Coulthard
  3. Mika Hakkinen
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  6. Jarno Trulli
  7. Ralf Schumacher
  8. Jacques Villeneuve
  9. Eddie Irvine
  10. Giancarlo Fisichella
  11. Alexander Wurz
  12. Ricardo Zonta

The French Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • The French Grand Prix is the mid-point of the Formula One season. Tactically, this is an important race to win. It is also important for the bottom half of the grid; the Prost and Minardi teams, Pedro Diniz, Johnny Herbert and Alexander Wurz have yet to score a point this season.

  • A select number of teams have been successful at Magny-Cours. In the dry, qualifying and pit-stop strategy are the keys to success as overtaking is difficult on this circuit. A good start is essential for success at Magny-Cours, avoiding wheelspin on the smooth surface when the red lights go out.. Once again, victory may be in the hands of the pit crews.

  • Can Ferrari keep their momentum up? Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver on this circuit. This could be Michael Schumacher's race to win or lose, rain or shine while Rubens Barrichello is now in a position to challenge for 3rd place in the drivers' championship.

  • McLaren has never won at Magny-Cours but were consistently fastest in last week testing. Can McLaren maintain their focus and bring home maximum points?

  • Benetton is the Best of the Rest: Can Williams or Jordan make a come-back?

  • Always in the points at Magny-Cours: Williams. 7. Can Prost finally get their first points of the season in their home Grand Prix?

  • Dark Horses: Sauber, BAR and Arrows.

  •       Related Articles:

    A Lap of Magny Cours

    The Atlas F1 1999 French GP Preview Issue
    (Jun-23, 1999)

    The Atlas F1 1999 French GP Review Issue
    (Jun-30, 1999)

    Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
    Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

     Back to Atlas F1 Front Page   Tell a Friend about this Article