Fresh from its North American adventure, the F1 circus this week returns to Europe for the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. The circuit, which began hosting the race in the Nineties, is based close to the town of Nevers, but is more often described as being located well within the French equivalent of ‘the middle of nowhere.' Until the grand prix fraternity arrives, that is. Panasonic Toyota Racing will have something for the local fans and media to cheer as Olivier Panis will be making a special one-off appearance in place of Ricardo Zonta as the third driver for Friday practice. Panis, who knows Magny-Cours better than any driver in the sport thanks to his time based there with the old Ligier team, will use that experience to help the team prepare for the weekend. Race drivers Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher will hope to benefit and make sure the team leaves with yet more points.
NEVERS NEVERS LAND
Jarno Trulli has a long association with France after spending so much time at French teams during his career. He now hopes Toyota's return to Europe will result in a return to the points after his pole position in the USA.
Jarno Trulli (Car 16): "I enjoy racing in France and Magny-Cours is the definition of a technical F1 circuit, with pretty much every kind of corner that you can get. There are some fast chicanes with quick changes of direction, there are slow hairpins and fast sweeping bends. That means that it is an enjoyable circuit for driving an F1 car. The track is famous for having one of the smoothest surfaces on the F1 calendar. That makes life slightly more comfortable than usual within the cockpit and means we can push the ride heights pretty low. The car itself needs to be able to react well to every type of corner. You need responsive handling and a good change of direction, especially through the faster sections, which are the most crucial parts for improving the lap time. I've spent a lot of time working for French teams in my career and I also speak French so I have a lot of support in France and it almost feels like another home race. I'm fairly optimistic and I hope to be ab!
le to come away with another good points finish to keep our season going well."
BACK ON COURS
Ralf Schumacher will return to action at Magny-Cours after missing out on the US Grand Prix as a precaution due to his crash in Friday practice. The German skipped last week's Jerez test and is now back to full fitness.
Ralf Schumacher (Car 17): "I'm fully recovered from my accident during Friday practice for the US Grand Prix and I'm looking forward to getting back to racing in France. Magny-Cours is not my favourite track of the year, but the French Grand Prix is one of six races which I have won in my career so far. I also took my first F1 pole there in 2001. I did not take part in last year's event, so this week's race will mark my first trip since I won in 2003. After Canada and Indy, two low downforce circuits, Magny-Cours marks a return to higher downforce levels. The track does not pose any unique challenges to the driver, but it is characterised by its extremely smooth asphalt. This naturally means a less bumpy ride for us drivers in the race, but it also means that the performance of the track can differ considerably depending on the weather and track temperature. It is hard to know how we will perform there this year, but our overall package is still competitive with half of the !
season now gone, so we will certainly be looking for more points."
JULY: THE FOUR
This weekend's French Grand Prix is the first of four in July, a month of frenzied activity unprecedented in F1. That makes life especially hard for the teams, but Toyota is ready for the challenge.
Mike Gascoyne – Technical Director Chassis: "This is the start of the most intense month we have seen in F1, with events in France, Britain, Germany and Hungary throughout July. Such time constraints add extra pressure on to the entire team. The race personnel barely have time to find their feet as they move around Europe, and of course the staff at the factory in Cologne must work at quadruple the rate to develop our TF105. We are prepared for this challenge, though, and will not get complacent about our level of performance. We have a car that is capable of finishing every race on the podium, so we have to head to the French Grand Prix with that in mind. Magny-Cours will see us revert back to a standard set-up with fairly high levels of downforce. There are two medium-high speed chicanes which demand a good change of direction from the car. We have to balance the wing level to make that possible while retaining good straightline speed into the Adelaide hairpin. It's not ea!
sy to pass at Magny-Cours, so we have to again look at qualifying in the top 6 or 8 and then implement a strong race strategy to make up further positions during the pit stops. Podiums are by no means out of the question and they should be our target as we head into the second half of this gruelling 19-race season."