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French Grand Prix (Magny-Cours) 2002 French Grand Prix (Magny-Cours) 2002 preview.
Story by Andrew Frampton.


Michael Schumacher can wrap up his third successive driver's championship this weekend, at the French Grand Prix held on the Magny-Cours circuit, but only if he outscores the Williams team-mates Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya by six points. The circuit made its first appearance on the Formula One calendar in 1991, when it took over the national Grand Prix from the Paul Ricard circuit, which is now extensively used as a test venue by many of the teams. Despite its bland appearance, the circuit has provided some exciting races, especially when Heinz-Harald Frentzen claimed victory for Jordan in 1999. Although it may lack the charisma of many of the classic F1 circuits, Magny-Cours does offer tricky set up options for the drivers and teams, with a very smooth surface and changeable weather conditions.

Magny-Cours has been a happy hunting ground for Ferrari in the past, as both Michael Schumacher and his team-mate Rubens Barrichello have performed well here. Indeed, the German has mastered the circuit in recent years, taking five wins - two for Benetton, in 1994 and 1995, and more recently for Ferrari in 1997, 1998 and 2001. If he equals Alain Prost's record of six French GP victories, the title could be his, making it his fifth triumph in nine years. Seven victories and three other podium finishes in the ten events so far this season leaves Schumacher needing just a handful of points from the seven remaining events to claim yet another title. The only driver to have finished all the races so far, he has easily been the class of the field once again, and will undoubtedly take the title in the next three rounds. A hard-fought second position at the British Grand Prix promoted Barrichello to second place in the championship standings, and the Brazilian will be hoping that his team-mate's almost certain championship glory will give him the chance to add to his solitary victory so far this season.

2002 has been a tough year so far for the Williams team. Despite having the pace of Ferrari in many of the races so far, they have failed to convert their speed into points, with a serious challenge to Ferrari's dominance in the constructor's championship looking increasingly unlikely. Currently 57 points in arrears, a win from either Juan Pablo Montoya or Ralf Schumacher will be necessary to keep them in with a realistic chance of mounting a challenge. Meanwhile, both drivers will be competing to stay in the driver's championship battle, knowing that if Michael Schumacher scores more than six points more than them, they cannot mathematically claim the title.

The British Grand Prix was a difficult event for Williams, with the team's Michelin tyres failing to match their Bridgestone rivals. Montoya managed to salvage third position after a gritty drive, and as a result the Colombian holds third position in the championship, after a consistent start to the season saw him claim six successive points finishes. Ralf Schumacher is only one point behind his team-mate and is the only non Ferrari driver to have taken victory this season. However, a recent run of poor performances compounded by several fuel rig failures has cost the German a chance to compete with his brother. Ralf will be hoping for a change of luck at a circuit where he took pole position last season, finishing the race second behind his brother.

McLaren's season hit a new low at Silverstone, where botched team tactics and malfunctioning radios resulted in David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen making four pitstops for tyres in an attempt to suit the poor Michelin tyres to the ever-changing weather conditions. The poor team work ruined Raikkonen's great start, with the Finn one of the best drivers early in the race. However, his miserable afternoon was completed when his engine later blew, resulting in his sixth retirement of a troubled season. Coulthard came home a disappointing tenth, and despite taking victory at Monaco, it has been a disappointing season for the Scot, who has scored only 26 points so far, with McLaren 24 points behind Williams in the constructor's championship. Coulthard's Monaco victory aside, the team has only made five visits to the podium so far this season.

However, McLaren have performed well in France before, with Coulthard leading home his team-mate Mika Hakkinen for a 1-2 finish in 2000. However, this season's Mercedes engine lacks the power of its rivals, and the car has suffered on the faster circuits. Prior to his win in Monaco, Coulthard had made the points in the previous five races, while Raikkonen also raced well to take fourth and third in Canada and at the European GP. The team will be hoping for an improvement on their showing at Silverstone, but will not be expecting to challenge for outright glory.

Renault were another team to encounter problems at Silverstone, with both Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button retiring from the event after an uncompetitive showing in the tricky conditions. The French team will be hoping for an improved performance at their home event, with Trulli scoring points for Jordan on his last two visits to the circuit. The British Grand Prix was the first time since Austria that the team had not made the points - the sort of consistency that has seen them established as the current 'fourth team' in Formula One, behind the might of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren. Jenson Button has been the more prolific of the drivers in the team, scoring 10 of the 14 points. The former Williams driver, who is currently surrounded by much speculation about his plans for next season, has already beaten the number of points he scored in a disappointing season with the team in 2001. Button has taken two fourth and two fifth positions, moving him into seventh position in the driver's championship standings. Despite showing promise in the early races, Trulli first made it into the points with a fourth place finish in Monaco, which he followed up with sixth in Canada. The team will be hoping to secure their first podium position of the season, in their first appearance at their home event under the Renault name, having dropped the Benetton tag at the end of last year.

After a season that has seen them consistently in the top ten in qualifying and battling for points in the races, Sauber hold fifth position in the constructor's championship - four points behind Renault. After the team's early successes in Malaysia and Spain when both Nick Heidfeld and Felipe Massa made the points, Sauber had failed to add to their total until Massa's well-deserved sixth place at the Nurburgring. However, the Brazilian's frailties were shown at Silverstone, when he spun several times on his way to ninth position, while his team-mate went on to score a point for sixth position. Heidfeld will be hoping that his experience of a circuit where he took sixth last season will help him battle for more points, as Sauber aim to retake fourth position in the constructor's championship. Although Massa has never driven the circuit before, he has proved a quick learner in his rookie season, and will be hoping to be close to Heidfeld's pace throughout the weekend.

The British Grand Prix was doubly disappointing for the Jordan team, as they failed to add the their point's tally, and fellow Honda-engined team British American Racing claimed their first top six finishes of the season. Three successive fifth place finishes for the Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, in Austria, Moncao and Canada, have promoted the team to sixth position in the standings. Fisichella came close to taking sixth position at Silverstone, but was unable to find a way past Heidfeld. His team-mate, the British Formula Three champion Takuma Sato has been unable to match the Italian for much of the season, incurring much criticism for accidents in Malaysia and Monaco. However, his performances have matured and improved of late, and he drove well at Silverstone before being forced out with mechanical problems. In 1999, Jordan took victory with the help of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, while the team has also scored points on its last two visits.

The British Grand Prix was the highlight of the year for the BAR team, as they secured their first points of the season - five to be exact - catapulting them up the standings from 11th to 7th. Using the successful Bridgestone intermediate tyres, Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis easily out-performed their rivals using Michelin rubber, finishing in fourth and fifth positions respectively. Prior to the Silverstone event, the team endured a frustrating year, with Villeneuve's two seventh place finishes, one after a good drive in Austria, their only reward. Villeneuve, the 1997 champion, had publicly blasted his team over their poor performances in the early part of the season, with the team languishing towards the back of the grid in qualifying on some occasions, and unable to challenge in the races. It had been an even worse year for Panis, who failed to finish the first seven events of the year. However, the Frenchman's first points of the season will be a boost as the championship heads towards his home event. Villeneuve, meanwhile, will be hoping to emulate his performance of 2000, when he took fourth.

Jaguar's troubled season continued at Silverstone, with the team continually off the pace, relying on the three points scored by Eddie Irvine in round one in Australia to keep ahead of Arrows in the championship standings. Despite running as Cosworth's number one team, the Jaguar has performed poorly this season, and has often been put to shade by Arrows who use the same powerplant. Poor reliability and problems with the chassis have left the team's drivers, Irvine and the Spaniard Pedro De La Rosa, unable to challenge for points. Irvine has failed to finish six of the last seven events, his latest early exit coming in the British Grand Prix, when he spun off after getting a wheel on the curb. The team has recently been testing in Valencia in the hope for a change in fortune in France, with Irvine and De La Rosa aiming to qualify in the midfield.

The Arrows team will be hoping that team manager Tom Walkinshaw's eleventh hour payment to clear the debt of £3 million owed to engine suppliers Cosworth will secure, at least, their short term future. Despite missing the Friday practice sessions, both Enrique Bernoldi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen qualified in the midfield for the race - running well before mechanical performances forced them out. Frentzen has shown the car's pace so far this season, with sixth place finishes in Spain and Monaco. Bernoldi's performances have improved this season, and the Brazilian now looks a good prospect for the future. However, the car's reliability has let him down so far - he has finished just two events - the worst record on the grid.

Despite a lack of data on each of the tracks this season, Toyota have been very impressive in their first year in Formula One. Two points courtesy of Mika Salo's sixth place finishes in Australia and Brazil have been backed up with strong qualifying performances throughout the season, including eighth place for the Finn at the British Grand Prix, despite suffering from a stomach upset. However, the former Ferrari driver was destined to retire from the race - his fourth early exit in as many races, with the Japanese team's early season reliability now looking a little suspect. His team-mate Allan McNish has also looked strong on occasions, and although unable to match Salo's qualifying pace for much of the season, he came close to securing points finishes in Malaysia and Spain. Unfortunately, his first British Grand Prix ended in disappointment, when his clutch left him stranded on the starting grid.

Despite running at a fraction of the budget of the established teams, Minardi have continued to show well under the guidance of Paul Stoddart, with recent reports suggesting that the team have secured enough backing to make it to the end of the season. Mark Webber has put in several strong performances this year, including his fifth place finish at his home race in Australia. Although there was an element of fortune in his success in that opening round, the Australian has consistently outqualified several of the works drivers. Unfortunately, his team-mate Alex Yoong has failed to match Webber's pace, failing to qualify for the second time this season at Silverstone. Although yet to make it off the back row of the grid, he admits he has a lot to learn and brings important backing to the team.

Notes on the eve of the GP itself:
The Arrows team failed to qualify within 107% of Montoya's pole position time - this was done on purpose to save the team money while still retaining their entry into the championship. They are hoping to resolve their problems in time for next week's Hockenheim GP.

Giancarlo Fisichella will not be returning to the cockpit of his Jordan this weekend. He was not allowed to partake in qualifying as he was suffering from concussion after a heavy accident in practise. He is unhurt, but can not remember the incident at the moment. We expect him to be back next week, though I'm sure Alesi would not mind stepping in!

Driver's Championship Standings:
1. Michael Schumacher 86pts
2. Rubens Barrichello 32pts
3. Juan Pablo Montoya 31pts
4. Ralf Schumacher 30pts
5. David Coulthard 26pts
6. Kimi Raikkonen 11pts

Constructor's Championship Standings:
1. Ferrari 118pts
2. Williams 61pts
3. McLaren 37pts
4. Renault 14pts
5. Sauber 10pts
6. Jordan 6pts

2002 F1 season calendar
03/03/2002 - Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne)
- Australia circuit by JR
- Australia preview by AF
- Australia grid by JR
- Australia review by AF
- Australia lap-by-lap by JR
17/03/2002 - Malaysian Grand Prix (Sepang)
- Malaysia circuit by JR
- Malaysia preview by AF
- Malaysia grid by JR
- Malaysia review by AF
- Malaysia lap-by-lap by JR
31/03/2002 - Brazilian Grand Prix (Sao Paulo)
- Brazil circuit by JR
- Brazil preview by AF
- Brazil grid by JR
- Brazil review by AF
- Brazil lap-by-lap by JR
14/04/2002 - San Marino Grand Prix (Imola)
- San Marino circuit by JR
- San Marino preview by AF
- San Marino grid by JR
- San Marino review by AF
- San Marino lap-by-lap by JR
28/04/2002 - Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)
- Spain circuit by JR
- Spain preview by AF
- Spain grid by JR
- Spain review by AF
- Spain lap-by-lap by JR
12/05/2002 - Austrian Grand Prix (Spielberg)
- Austria circuit by JR
- Austria preview by AF
- Austria grid by JR
- Austria review by AF
- Austria lap-by-lap by JR
26/05/2002 - Grand Prix de Monaco (Monaco)
- Monaco circuit by JR
- Monaco preview by AF
- Monaco grid by JR
- Monaco review by AF
- Monaco lap-by-lap by JR
09/06/2002 - Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal)
- Canada circuit by JR
- Canada preview by AF
- Canada grid by JR
- Canada review by AF
- Canada lap-by-lap by JR
23/06/2002 - European Grand Prix (Nürburgring)
- Europe circuit by JR
- Europe grid by JR
- Europe review by AF
- Europe lap-by-lap by JR
07/07/2002 - British Grand Prix (Silverstone)
- Britain circuit by JR
- Britain grid by JR
- Britain review by AF
- Britain lap-by-lap by JR
21/07/2002 - French Grand Prix (Magny-Cours)
- France circuit by JR
- France preview by AF
- France grid by JR
- France review by AF
- France lap-by-lap by JR
28/07/2002 - German Grand Prix (Hockenheim)
- Germany circuit by JR
- Germany preview by AF
- Germany grid by JR
- Germany review by AF
- Germany lap-by-lap by JR
18/08/2002 - Hungarian Grand Prix (Budapest)
- Hungary circuit by JR
- Hungary grid by JR
- Hungary lap-by-lap by JR
01/09/2002 - Belgian Grand Prix (Spa Francorchamps)
- Belgium circuit by JR
- Belgium grid by JR
- Belgium review by AF
- Belgium lap-by-lap by JR
15/09/2002 - Italian Grand Prix (Monza)
- Italy circuit by JR
- Italy grid by JR
- Italy lap-by-lap by JR
29/09/2002 - American Grand Prix (Indianapolis)
- USA circuit by JR
- USA grid by JR
- USA lap-by-lap by JR
13/10/2002 - Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka)
- Japan circuit by JR
- Japan grid by JR
- Japan review by AF
- Japan lap-by-lap by JR

2002 French GP circuit map. Image by John Rigby, FIA. Click here for a larger image. The 2001 grid line-up. Image by John Rigby, FIA. Click here for a larger image.
 

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