Back to real racing after US fiasco

After the debacle of the United States Grand Prix, Formula One tries to get back to normal racing this weekend in its return to Europe.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:51 IST
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Magny Cours:

After the debacle of the United States Grand Prix, Formula One tries to get back to normal racing this weekend in its return to Europe. The French Grand Prix is the first race since seven teams boycotted the June 19 US GP over safety concerns of its Michelin tires. F1's governing body FIA this week found the seven teams guilty of wrongfully refusing to race but has delayed announcing sanctions until September. "After Indianapolis, Formula One needs a proper race in France and we will be focused to deliver," said Norbert Haug, the head of Mercedes-McLaren, one of the teams that boycotted. Back to basics Sunday's race in the middle of France offers a chance for the sport to return to its basics. Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher, the seven-time series champion, has won seven times here and set a record when he clinched the 2002 drivers' title here, the earliest in Formula One history. His first place finish in the depleted Indianapolis race was his first of the season. Jean Todt began his Ferrari career here in 1993 as the team boss and started it on the road to becoming the dominant team in the last six years. Schumacher was one of only six drivers who raced at Indianapolis on June 19 – all on Bridgestone tires. "The title race is now a little more open as Canada and the United States were good for us. However, we have to avoid becoming overly optimistic," Schumacher said. "The road is still long. At least we are now in a better situation in the championship." Schumi ahead of Alonso Schumacher has taken advantage of Fernando Alonso's problems – on and off the track – to creep up on the Renault driver in the drivers' standings. Alonso has 59 points, exactly what he had before the two races in North America. Alonso points out that there're reasons for that. Schumacher is "back because he scored 10 points at Indianapolis and eight in Canada," Alonso said. "But we know we were more competitive than Ferrari at Indy and in front of him in Canada when we retired." Alonso hit a wall and damaged suspension at the Canadian GP, the first time this season he failed to finish. Then he was among the 14 drivers who pulled off after the warm-up lap at Indianapolis a week later. Raikkonen ahead of Schumi Kimi Raikkonen, who won the Canadian race for his third victory in four races, is also creeping up in his McLaren. Raikkonen now has 37 points, three ahead of Schumacher, but still with 10 races left in the season. The Magny Cours track is not as difficult as the Indy circuit as it was purpose-built for Formula One and the teams do a lot of testing there. Gilles Simon, the head of engine research at Ferrari, said it may be at a disadvantage in France. "Our rivals, who did not complete the last race will therefore be able to adopt a more aggressive plan in terms of distance covered by the engines and engine revs at Magny Cours. I would class it as a tiny advantage for them as our engines will be on their second race," Simon said. Too many races? But there are four races over the next five weekends. "Never before in 55 years of Formula One history has there been such a concentration of races," Haug said. "In July alone, an optimum of 40 points in the Drivers' Championship and 72 points in the Constructors' Championship can be won. That shows how fast everything can change in the World Championship tables." There is practice on Friday. At the Friday practice for the US GP, Ralf Schumacher's tire blew out on his Toyota and caused him to crash. That led to Michelin declaring its tires unsafe, which eventually led to the race boycott. Ralf Schumacher was set to miss the race anyway as he was not cleared to compete. He's expected to return for the French race. There are two more practice sessions on Saturday with the qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Sunday's race is 70 laps on the 4.4-kilometer circuit. Until there's a winner in France, attention will continue focus on the events over the past two weeks. McLaren, Williams, McLaren, BAR, Toyota, Sauber, Red Bull and Renault declined to race on June 19 after Michelin said it could not guarantee driver safety into the banked turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following Ralf Schumacher's crash. Bans, fines expected Apart from the pending sanctions for the seven teams, FIA president Max Mosley reprimanded Michelin but added that they could not penalize the tire manufacturer. "The facts speak for themselves. It was a disastrous performance from that company and they should be deeply ashamed," Mosley said in announcing the FIA decision. Michelin said it offered fans refunds and free tickets for next year's race. There are four races in July, one in August and two in September before the FIA ruling which could result in bans or fines to the teams involved. (AP)