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Beware of Williams !
While Michael Schumacher may appear running away with the championship,
it certainly appears as if the main challengers for Michael and Ferrari
are Williams and his brother Ralf.
The French track at Magny-Cours will suit the Williams team better than the Nurburgring and if they were on top there, they will certainly be on top on Sunday. Add to that the current weather forecasts predict a hot weekend which will play right into the hands of the Michelin runners.
Last May, most of the Formula 1 teams tested at this track (Test
times) and during the 3 days of testing, the Williams team were
fastest on all three days. In fact on the final day, their test driver set
the fastest time on the track since 1997.
With a 41 point advantage over their nearest
rivals, they are in a comfortable position for the Constructors title and
as long as they can finish both cars in the points, it will be almost
impossible for McLaren or Williams to catch them.
Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: Michael Schumacher won 5 races so far this season and finished 2nd in 3 more while he only retired once. A very impressive record and at Magny Cours he will once again be looking for a win. Given the Williams strength he could finish 2nd or 3rd but he cannot be discounted for a win no matter how strong Williams are.
Rubens Barrichello has clearly given up on maximising his points and his target now appears to be retaining 3rd in the Drivers' championship. Finishing 5th at the Nurburgring was not a good result. If all the top 6 cars finish here, expect a similar position!
McLaren: They are in big trouble as they seem to have dropped back behind the Ferrari and the Williams. In Canada and Europe, they qualified off the pace and they didn't really shape in the race either. With only a week between the European and French GP's, there is not much they can do to improve the car. They need to watch their backs as Williams might take second from them in the Constructors' Championship.
Reliability 7.7/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: David Coulthard drove a good race at the Nurburgring but his car was slow. Every race he finishes behind Michael Schumacher makes his title hopes slimmer and slimmer. No matter how much he has improved it won't help if his car is off the pace. Expect 4th or 5th but a podium finish is possible if Ferrari or Williams hit problems.
Mika Hakkinen has given up on challenging for the title despite all his talk about not giving in and not helping Coulthard. At the Nurburgring he was the worst of the top 6 runners and at no stage did he appear to be trying to catch anyone ahead. 5th or 6th at France is were he would finish if at all.
Williams: Every time they tell us they won't shape we see the opposite. They didn't say that for Magny Cours so one wonders how strong they will be. If their cars maintain the reliability they had at the Nurburgring and Montoya drives like he did, they'll finish 1-2.
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: Ralf Schumacher is a possibly a bigger threat to Michael than Coulthard. He is far behind and he needs to win the next 3 or 4 races in a row to even have a chance and to do that he cannot afford silly mistakes like crossing the white line exiting the pits. A win is a big possibility and we might not even see a fight for the lead!
Juan Pablo Montoya has obviously calmed down following his problems in Canada. At the Nurburgring he appeared to give himself time and not push like crazy. The result was that he finished 2nd but one wonders if Montoya can remain that way as he is a fighter and wouldn't want to 'take it easy' for the sake of finishing the race but way off the pace of his team-mate. While he could challenge for the win, he is more likely to finish 2nd or 3rd.
Sauber: Still mixing it with Jordan and BAR and still maintain their lead which is surprising. Unfortunately if the top 3 teams are reliable, there hopes of scoring more points will be very slim.
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 7.5/10
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld retired for the 3rd race in a row at the Nurburgring, all of which appear to be incidents with other cars. While some may not be his fault, he'll need to also watch out and try to stay out of trouble if he is to maintain his position as the 'best of the rest' driver. A top 10 finish is possible but points will be very hard.
Kimi Raikkonen contrary to his team-mate, he has managed to finish the last 5 races in a row and 2 of them in the points. He is only 1 point behind his team-mate. Still getting that point would be hard. A top 10 finish is likely.
Jordan: Pointless from the last 4 races. Were are they heading ? They were certainly lucky that non of their competitors scored any points. The midfield is tough and it will only get tougher with the aspect of Jaguar closing in.
Reliability 4.0/10 - Speed 8.0/10
Drivers: Jarno Trulli continues to show impressive form qualifying as the 'best of the rest' and in front of his team-mate however his car is failing him. If his car lasts he could be able to steal a 6th place from one of the top 3 teams.
Heinz Harald Frentzen blamed the traction control system for his spin and even if it was, his performance has been going downhill. His team-mate has outqualified him in every event this season except the first and has retired from the last 4 events that he appeared in. Sure the Jordan is unreliable but Frentzen seems to be giving up. A top 10 finish is possible if the car lasts.
BAR: Once again they qualified at the back of their pack at the Nurburgring. Starting outside the top 10 doesn't help in scoring points!. Their reliability is better than Jordan but worse than Sauber and given the very few points that these 3 teams could scramble for the remaining of the season, it will be hard for them to finish 4th!
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 8.0/10
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve drove a good race at the Nurburgring but finished 9th. Don't expect a lot more at Magny Cours if the top 3 teams finish!
Olivier Panis claims that a gearshift problems forced him out of the race which might be right. In any case he has retired from the last 3 races and would not want to repeat that at his home GP. A top 10 finish is possible.
Jaguar: They did very well finishing 7th and 8th at the Nurburgring. They appear to be improving slowly but they are certainly catching the guys in front of them which will make it even more interesting in the mid-field.
Reliability 8.0/10 - Speed 7.0/10
Drivers: Eddie Irvine drove a good race at the Nurburgring and the performance of the Michelin tyres certainly helped. He could finish as the 'best of the rest' in France.
Pedro de la Rosa appears to be off the pace compared to Irvine. One expected that he'll be able to challenge him but hasn't been able to do that so far. If their package works well, he'll be close to Irvine in the top 10.
Prost: Are another team that is improving with Alesi challenging Raikkonen who drives a car with the same engine. They'll be even more competitive at their home GP.
Reliability 9.0/10 - Speed 6.5/10
Drivers: Jean Alesi broke his record of finishing every race so far this season when he lost it trying to pass Raikkonen at the Nurburgring. Despite that he was classified as a finisher so his record still holds!. If the Michelin tyres perform a lot better than the Bridgestones, he could finish in the top 10.
Luciano Burti is finding it hard to stay with his more experienced team-mate. He is managing to finish races though and that is important for his experience. Expect a finish outside the 10.
Arrows: They appear to be going backward or perhaps moving forward slower than Jaguar and Prost. And if we are to believe what Benetton are saying then they will pass them as well. The uncertainty of their engine supplier for next year won't help either.
Reliability 5.5/10 - Speed 6.0/10
Drivers: Jos Verstappen will be staying with the team for 2002 which should help him concentrate on his driving but given a slow and recently unreliable car, he would be hoping for a finish.
Enrique Bernoldi has yet again retired making it 7 retirements from 9 starts. That is not good for him and there will be a question mark on whether he'll stay at Arrows next year. He will be happy with a finish.
Benetton: We will finally see if the big step expected at Magny Cours is really that. Until then we'll have to wait!
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 4/10
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella managed to finish in 11th at the Nurburgring while he qualified a respectable 15th. If the new engine is as good as they make us believe, he might finish in the top 10.
Jenson Button qualifying in 20th while your team-mate is in 15th is not good no matter what you say. Button is at a low here and he'd better manage that well if he is to stay in Formula 1. He could finish but will be behind Fisichella again.
Minardi: Are getting behind the other teams due to their low budget. Alonso couldn't qualify higher than any other driver except his team-mate. They won't get any better this season.
Reliability 5.0/10 - Speed 4.0/10
Drivers: Fernando Alonso has impressed in qualifying but in the race he doesn't seem to have the car that can give him a top 10 finish. Given that the other cars are getting more reliable, that will be even harder now!
Tarso Marques surprised everyone by being the closest he has ever been to his team-mate. Perhaps the news of a replacement made him try!. He could finish a few laps down.