JULY 4, 2005
FRENCH GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Blue skies for Renault, grey skies for McLaren
There are two ways of looking at what happened at the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. There was the French way. "Eh bah, voila! Quelle victoire! Vive la France! etc etc etc." A massive win for Renault, a huge win for Michelin. A defeat for the Anglo-Saxons. Fantastique.
Or there was the Ango-Saxon way to look at the story. It was all over after the practice session on Friday when Kimi Raikkonen's bad luck popped up again. His Mercedes-Benz V10 engine went Bang! (or perhaps it was "Boum!") and the result was that no matter what he did he would be starting 10 places back on the grid from where he should have been starting. The knowledge of that means that a driver and his team must completely change strategies. The engineers in such situations will always go for a heavy car and a long first stint because this gives a quick car the chance to get ahead of slower cars that would get in the way if the car was on a similar strategy. Kimi knew from the beginning that his only hope from the weekend was a podium. It was about damage-limitation rather than being about winning.
What was really impressive (really, really impressive) was that Kimi qualified with the third fastest time and then ran 28 laps before he stopped. By the time he pitted he was up to second place from 13th on the grid. He rejoined in second and he stayed there and was able to get to within around 15 secs of Alonso. We knew that Alonso was not pushing as hard as he might have done but the man of the race was Raikkonen. The McLaren was the faster car.
And the McLaren lost.
This was good news for Renault and new chairman Carlos Ghosn, who turned up to watch and to say positive things about the company's involvement in the sport. The Renault F1 programme is safe as houses, so long they keep on winning. A dominant start-to-finish victory (which is really impressive with a three-stop strategy) was just what was needed. Renault increased its lead in the Constructors' Championship and Fernando added to his advantage as well. It is necessary to take such gifts when they come along because as the summer progresses, McLaren is going to be tough to beat.
Michael Schumacher ended up on the podium again but if the others had kept going that would not have happened. A solid third place had been in the hands of Juan Pablo Montoya in the second McLaren. He had gone for harder tyres than Kimi and had taken care of Michael Schumacher, despite starting from eighth on the grid. Third place was his until something nasty happened in the hydraulic systems and he slowed and then pulled off and parked.
"I was really enjoying this race," he said later. "We were on the right strategy and the car is simply unbelievable. That makes it even harder to retire. I was on a different tyre to Kimi so it took a bit longer to get them warm, but I think that could have paid off towards the end of the race."
Alas it was not to be.
And that gave the points for third place to Michael Schumacher although if truth be told he would have seen more of Alonso in the race if he had looked in his mirrors because by the end he was 80secs behind the Renault, which meant that with a lap of 76secs, he should have been lapped! In fact Michael backed off on the last lap but a few more laps and he would have been lapped.
He ended the race with Jenson Button not far behind him.
"I think that was the best I could have done today," he said. "I lost a lot of time at the start when I was stuck behind Trulli and that meant that Montoya was able to use his strategy to beat me and maybe if things had been different I would have been ahead of Kimi."
Or perhaps not.
"Today," he admitted. "We did not quite match the pace of the leaders."
Rubens Barrichello had an unhappy day in his Ferrari, ending up only ninth, a lap behind.
Jenson Button was fourth after what was a dull race for him (and for everyone else if the truth be told). He was there at the beginning and he was there at the end of a two-stop race. The important thing was that finally the team had some points on the board - and kept them!
"This is a great result for the team," said Button. "Things can only get better for us during the rest of the year. It's also a real boost as we prepare for our home Grand Prix."
In reality Takuma Sato should have done better. He qualified fourth and finished 11th after two off-track adventures. Taku needs better results than that.
Trulli was fifth for Toyota, having qualified second and with a decent fuel-load onboard. In the race, as usual, Trulli was in the way and he did much to help Alonso have the perfect day. Still it was points in the bank for Toyota and for Jarno, who once again outshone his team mate. Ralf Schumacher finished seventh.
Between the two Toyotas (in addition to about 20 secs) was Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault. Fisichella would have done better but his car stopped during his last pit stop and so he lost out on several points.
The final point went to Jacques Villeneuve and if he had he not gone off the road on lap 50 when his Sauber C24 bottomed out in Turn 1 he would have beaten Ralf Schumacher and might even have got Fisichella was well.
The rest trailed home, Williams in particular having an awful weekend which meant that Mark Webber ended up 12th, two laps down with burns on his hip and Nick Heidfeld had six pit stops as he tried to cure a handling problem which was probably caused by a dodgy diff. It gave the BMW people the chance to say it was all BMW Williams's fault, which they duly did.
The rest were largely irrelevant although the two Minardis both had tyre failures which one might think would have worried Bridgestone (and the FIA) were it not for the fact that missing tyre valve caps were probably responsible.
It was not a classic race but it gave the fans what they wanted to see and that is not a bad idea given what happened in the United States the other week.