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|1999 French GP News|
While Mika Hakkinen leads the series, it appears that Ferrari are starting to match the McLarens. In Canada, we have seen the first Pole position for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari this season, they achieved it using a new engine that will only be used for qualifying at least until Germany so another pole position for Michael is a big possibility at France and with the data coming back from testing last week at Magny-Cours, it seems that Eddie Irvine could well secure that pole position.
Eddie Irvine was more than a second faster than anyone else during testing at Magny-Cours, closest to him was Coulthard but Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen were not even close !!.
It is really hard to predict what the teams do during these testing sessions, usually 1 car will be testing new parts and the other will be looking for a good race and qualifying setup, even then a slight change in weather conditions makes a lot of difference.
So what is the verdict;
Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher are both favourites, Schumacher won here last year after an aborted start, Irvine held Hakkinen enough to give Schumacher the win. This time, Schumacher could well be on pole but the McLaren will probably be faster in race trim and the pits could decide the result.
David Coulthard must now start realising that his championship hopes are really very slim and that he needs to start helping Hakkinen as Irvine helps Schumacher. He could finish second or third unless he tries some hopeless overtaking manoeuvres which could cost him valuable points.
Eddie Irvine is on fire and once again he will be wanting to prove how good he is. He could grab pole and stay in the lead until he gets a call to let Schumacher pass. He too could finish second or third.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen after a spectacular crash in Canada it is doubtful that he will impress in France but he might and a points finish is a possibility. Damon Hill on the other side could do better as he has announced his retirement at the end of the season so the pressure is off !!.
Rubens Barrichello's should do better than in Canada, the pace of the Stewart is still a bit off the McLarens and the Ferraris but it is probably the best of the rest provided it is reliable. A strong result is very possible.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz are both good but they drive an unpredictable car, but it is very reliable. If a lot of drivers at the front drop, expect either to finish in the points although it seems that Fisichella has the edge over Wurz.
Jacques Villeneuve in the BAR is also driving an unpredictable car, in Canada they qualified terribly but they could bounce back in France. Expect Villeneuve to finally finish the race in the BAR and if that happens it will probably be in the points.
Other drivers with a potential to do well are Ralf Schumacher and Jean Alesi, both had good test times last week.
Stay tuned for all the times and results here.
Michael Schumacher sets the fastest time in today's practice sessions ahead of Eddie Irvine and Mika Hakkinen. David Coulthard, Alex Zanardi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen make the top 6.
Michael Schumacher was the only driver to clock a time under 1:18 despite the fact that neither him nor Eddie Irvine actually participated in the first session to save tyres. Both McLarens did very few laps on the first session as well as the teams have adequate data following last week's testing here in France.
The times of today will not tell us much about how the grid will look after qualifying. One of the top 4 ( Schumacher, Irvine, Hakkinen and Coulthard) will certainly be on pole but it is really hard to pick who will be ?, the other 3 will take the next 3 places and from then on it will be very hard to predict.
Zanardi is certainly a surprise up there in 5th but we don't really know how much fuel he has. Alesi was strong in 7th place while both BAR's were disappointing with Villeneuve in 14th and Zonta in 19th. Prost didn't do any better with Trulli and Panis in 15th and 16th despite the home advantage they have.
Comparing the times with last year at France, all drivers clocked slower times but closest to the mark was Barrichello who clocked a time .2 seconds slower than last year and Michael Schumacher who clocked a time .5 seconds slower than last year. Hakkinen on the other hand clocked a time that was more than 1.5 seconds slower than his time last year !!
We will have to just wait and see what happens tomorrow ??
Rubens Barrichello grabs his second ever Pole position
under wet conditions for the French GP ahead of Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis. These three
drivers are considered "rain masters".
The qualifying session was a full wet session with no interruptions. Barrichello, Alesi and Panis took a gamble and did a few laps very early into the session and the gamble worked in their favour as no one else managed a better time. Almost all other drivers came out with less than 30 minutes to go as it became clear that the rain will not ease.
The grid looks very scrambled and it will be a very interesting race with the fast cars stuck behind the slower ones, that is assuming a dry race tomorrow.
Hakkinen had a bad qualifying session only managing 14th on his last lap, Irvine was 17th and Hill was 18th. It is interesting that even though wet weather puts more emphasis on driver skills than car performance, both the Minardi's and the Arrows were the last 4 cars all outside the 107% rule.
In fact only 17 drivers managed to clock a time that is within 107% of Barrichello's time, the last being Eddie Irvine in 17th place. All drivers clocking a time over 107% of the pole time are not allowed to race however considering the extreme wet conditions, it is expected that all drivers will be allowed to race tomorrow.
Tomorrow's race will be one to remember
Heinz-Harald Frentzen wins his second ever race ahead of Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello in what would be considered to be one of the most exciting races we have seen this decade. With dry and wet conditions and so many overtaking manoeuvres under both wet and dry conditions and several drivers taking the lead. In addition to the crucial pit stop strategies which won the race for Frentzen and Jordan.
Barrichello makes a good start as well as Alesi, Coulthard manages to pass Panis and Frentzen and Michael Schumacher retain their positions. Mika Hakkinen starting from 14th manages to get up to 10th place in the first lap and starts closing up on the leaders.
Coulthard manages to pass Alesi and Barrichello and starts pulling a lead over Barrichello. unfortunately for Coulthard, he retires a few laps later with mechanical problems.
Mika Hakkinen meanwhile drives superbly and manages to move all the way up to 2nd place behind Barrichello overtaking both Prosts, Michael Schumacher, Frentzen and Alesi.
Race order: Barrichello, Hakkinen, Alesi, Frentzen, Michael Schumacher, Panis
Then it rains heavily and everyone pits for wet tyres, several cars spin out and the safety car comes in. It stays for a few laps and on lap 35 the safety car goes out with Barrichello leading Hakkinen then Frentzen then Michael Schumacher. Michael Schumacher manages to pass Frentzen but Hakkinen attempting to pass Barrichello spins and drops back to 7th place.
Schumacher manages to catch and pass Barrichello and starts increasing his lead. A few laps later he slows down and the gap to Barrichello goes down to less than a second. Schumacher pits and changes his steering wheel costing him a long pit stop and rejoins in 6th position. He does not improve his lap times and it seems that he had an intermittent problem with his gear selector.
With Barrichello again in the lead and Frentzen behind, Hakkinen makes a charge and catches and passes Frentzen and then passes Barrichello and regains the lead.
Race order: Hakkinen, Barrichello, Frentzen, Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher and Eddie Irvine
With less than 10 laps to go both Hakkinen and Barrichello pit for tyre change giving the lead back to Frentzen who does not make a second stop. Michael Schumacher struggling with his car finally gives way to a charging Ralf Schumacher and lets him through. Eddie Irvine on the other hand clearly faster than Michael Schumacher stays behind as he is not allowed to pass (contractually that is !!)
With a few laps to go, Frentzen appeared to increase the gap on Hakkinen. Barrichello was third ahead of Ralf Schumacher and the 2 Ferrari's.