French Grand Prix 2006 Preview

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Are Ferrari fighting back or was the US Grand Prix a one-off? That’s the question on everyone’s minds entering round 11 of the 2006 season, the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours.

Renault will be determined to fight back at their home circuit where Fernando Alonso won convincingly last year. But the reigning champion was beaten by team mate Giancarlo Fisichella last time out – can Fisi keep the upper hand?

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The Magny-Cours circuit has not provided us with many thrilling battles since it knocked Paul Ricard off the calendar courtesy of President Mitterand in 1991,

A minor tweak three years ago was done with the intention of improving overtaking opportunities late in the lap. To date there’s only been one notable move there – Rubens Barrichello nipping past Jarno Trulli on the final lap of the 2004 race to take third, precipitating Trulli’s downfall at Renault.

Rather like Barcelona and Silverstone the prevalence of high speed corners and the aerodynamic demands they make will almost certainly lead to a widely separated field and little racing action.

Qualifying, therefore, will be crucial and it will be interesting to see how the widely anticipated change to the final part of the session will change it. Most likely it will just cut a dull five minutes of ‘fuel burning’ from the afternoon.

Toyota will be keen to prove that their form in America was no flash in the pan and Trulli’s qualifying position could well prove critical to the championship contenders. A light-fuelled Trulli, high up on the grid but with slow race pace, could scupper Alonso or Schumacher’s chance if they lose out to him at the start.

The United States Grand Prix was a non-event for many teams, particularly McLaren and BMW who were wiped out early on. Both these teams saw intriguing steps forward in performance at the previous round in Montreal and could be more competitive at Magny-Cours than we’ve been used to seeing.

McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya will certainly be keen to have a better second half of 2006 as it now seems this year will be his last in the sport.

Honda will have been looking over their shoulders at an advancing BMW in the constructors’ title race in the past few races. At Magny-Cours they hope to begin their fight back with some major aerodynamic revisions. It would be most welcome to see them finally realise their pre-season testing pace and close in on the leaders.

Two years ago Schumacher beat Alonso at France using a four stop fuel strategy and a repeat is not out of the question this year. The pit lane is short and, with tyre changes back this year, it could work out. But then Schumacher had the luxury of an enormous performance advantage to indulge in unorthodox strategies.

Will either he or Alonso have the guts to try such a bold approach this year? Sad to say that this, rather than the prospect of exciting racing, is what we can anticipate more at Magny-Cours.

And some people wonder why Montoya’s going to NASCAR.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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