Formula 1 Insight

Looking Ahead to the French GP
Naturally, all the teams are hopeful after the testing at Jerez and Silverstone last week; it is rare for anyone involved in F1 to be anything less than optimistic. And we could conclude that advances have been made by all, thereby leaving things much as they have been.

The Honda pair, Barrichello and Button

But the return to Europe is traditionally the time for some teams to make greater improvements than others and there are some signs that this may happen again. Renault, in particular, seem quite bullish in their expectations of being competitive with BMW from now on. And Honda are delighted to have found enough to vault them in front of Super Aguri; their blushes may be spared for the rest of the season. If their advantage over SA of a second a lap transfers to other circuits, they should be in there fighting with BMW and Renault - assuming that SA have not slipped from their speed in the first half of the season.

Ferrari have some hope in that the car set the best time at Silverstone but they are being fairly conservative in their predictions. The gap to McLaren may have closed but only the races will tell. And it cannot help that there is strife at home over the Stepney affair. One wonders at the wisdom of Jean Todt's putting his oar into that maelstrom.

McLaren are keeping quiet, perhaps in the hope that the Alonso/Hamilton furore will die down (not much chance of that!) and BMW and Red Bull too are holding their cards close to their chests. But everything speaks of an interesting race in France this weekend, the last to be held at Magny Cours, in all probability.

The season needs a few of the teams to get closer to McLaren. If Renault, BMW, Ferrari and Red Bull can all find those few tenths to be able to challenge the leaders, we might yet avoid a predictable second half of the season. The domination by Hamilton and Alonso may be good for selling newspapers but the fans would prefer to see them having to fight a bit harder for the spoils.

I must admit that I am unconvinced by Ferrari, however. It looks very much as if all the predictions of internal troubles and a loss of performance after their personnel changes are proving correct. If Ralf is right in his assessment, the key loss this season has been Brawn, rather than Ralf's brother, although I think Keke Rosberg goes a little too far in describing Michael Schumacher as no more than "a garage decoration". Felipe Massa seems to be benefiting from Michael's presence, at least.

Realistically, my hopes lie with BMW; the team looks so efficient, realistic and determined, not getting over-excited about their successes but pressing on inexorably. The drivers, especially, Heidfeld, are very focused this year and keep racking up the points.

Drivers are a problem with Renault, however. In spite of Kovalainen's improvement in North America, he does not seem to be the outstanding talent that we were promised, and Fisichella will always suffer from comparison with his previous team leader, Alonso. It may well be that they need a quicker driver, regardless of any improvements made to the car.

Red Bull need to work on reliability if they are to be seen as genuine contenders. If they get that right, I can see them fighting for podium places. But beating McLaren? I'll believe it when I see it.

Honda get special treatment from me. This year may have been Jenson's last opportunity for the championship (with Hamilton's arrival, that looks a no-brainer) but Honda have managed to screw that up completely. I still hope for a miracle, however, even though it would take a series of McLaren retirements as well as sudden Honda supremacy for Button to be champion. It wouldn't hurt for the press to be reminded that he was once their great Brit hope, after all...


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