Tom Clarkson's 2008 French Grand Prix preview

Published: 20 June 2008

Magny Cours gets a bad rap. Too much cow dung and not enough nightlife is the most common complaint.

In reality, though, the track’s location is no more remote than Silverstone, Hockenheim, Spa-Francorchamps or Fuji Speedway, and it’s in a truly stunning region of France. The Loire meanders nearby, many of the hillsides are covered in vines and a shortage of hotels means F1 folk get to stay in some of the area’s beautiful chateaux.

'I tell you,' says Honda’s third driver Alex Wurz, 'I like this race. The track is a good challenge and people aren’t rushing around because there are very few VIPs. You get a chance to talk properly to people, which isn’t a very F1 thing to do.'

Magny Cours: all about aero efficiency

The circuit’s mix of high-speed chicanes and long corners places an onus on aerodynamic efficiency and for this reason the red cars enter the weekend as favourites. Ferrari proved in testing at Barcelona last week that they still hold a slight aero advantage over the field and they’re confident of repeating their one-two success of last year on Sunday.

'The car should be good here,' says Kimi Raikkonen, who’s finished all seven races that he’s contested at Magny Cours. 'I haven’t won since Barcelona, so I’m looking for a good result this weekend. I want to win.'

Struggling McLaren

Contrast Ferrari’s confidence with that of McLaren, who haven’t won here since 2000 and have Lewis Hamilton starting the race with a 10-place penalty, following his red light incident in Montreal. The team know they have an uphill struggle ahead of them, and how they rally under such duress will provide an interesting insight into the tenacity of their key players.

World Championship leader Robert Kubica is a realist. He isn’t expecting the performance of his BMW Sauber F1.08 to be on a par with the Ferrari or the McLaren at such an aero-sensitive track, so he’ll be hoping that Kimi and Lewis falter once again, leaving him to pick up the pieces.

This being Renault’s home race, there’s pressure on them to perform and their weekend didn’t get off to a good start when Fernando Alonso had an engine failure in the opening practice session. The team remain convinced that the aero gains they enjoyed at Barcelona in May will translate to Magny Cours and Alonso will be looking to make amends for his driver error in Montreal two weeks ago.

My top three? For what it’s worth: Kimi, Felipe and Robert.

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller

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