The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team kicks off the summer’s seven-race European stint by travelling to the Magny-Cours circuit ahead of next weekend’s French Grand Prix. The French race has become one of Formula 1’s perennials, missing just a single appearance on the calendar in 1955.
Taking place at the event’s seventh home - Magny-Cours has hosted the race since 1991 - the French Grand Prix has previously been held at Reims, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand, Le Mans, Paul Ricard and Dijon. This year marks the 58th running of the historic event.
Fresh from celebrating the 40th anniversary of McLaren’s first Grand Prix victory, when Bruce McLaren won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on June 9 1968, the team travels to France in a nostalgic mood. Friday sees the official unveiling of ‘McLaren - The Cars 1964-2008’, a sumptuous book that chronicles the marquee’s illustrious technical history.
For Mercedes-Benz too, there is an important landmark to celebrate. The French GP weekend will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first ever Mercedes victory. In 1908, Christian Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix in a four-cylinder 12.8-litre car which produced 135bhp. To mark this event, an original 1908 historic Benz Grand Prix car will be on display at the Magny-Cours circuit.
On the occasion of this 100th anniversary, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will drive demonstration laps in Magny-Cours with an original 1908 Benz Grand Prix car.Lewis Hamilton:
How does your 10-place grid penalty affect your preparation for the race?
"Mentally, it’s just something that you learn to overcome quickly. It certainly won’t affect my preparations for the French Grand Prix. We’ve already looked at the best ways of optimising the strategy to help us move up the field and I guess I’ll just have to pass some cars if I want to get into the points!"Does the nature of the circuit help you plan an attacking race?
"Magny-Cours isn’t the easiest place to overtake but it’s certainly possible. You can dive down the inside into the Adelaide Hairpin and also have a look into the penultimate corner. But an area we can really focus on is the strategy - Magny-Cours has a relatively short pitlane which does open up the strategic options available to us in the race."Returning to Europe, do you feel confident the team can maintain the sort of form it displayed in Monaco and Canada?
"Absolutely. Although the result in Canada may have been disappointing, our overall pace was a great boost for the whole team. Last year, we lacked a little bit of pace in high-speed corners, but this year’s car definitely seems to have overcome those shortcomings. We are in good shape."Heikki Kovalainen:
How do you rate the Magny-Cours circuit?
"I’ve always loved racing at this place. For a racing driver it’s a bit of a challenge as there are some very high-speed corners and a couple of fast chicanes - and you can’t just throw the car into them, it requires a lot of precision. They’re the sort of corners I really love."Some of your best races this year have been affected by bad luck, has that affected you?
As I’ve been saying all season, I’m gradually getting to grips with this car even if the results haven’t backed it up. And I really enjoy Magny-Cours so I’m looking forward to making progress throughout practice and being in a very good position for the race itself.How would you evaluate your current position in the championship?
"I’m not really looking at the points tables at the moment. The world title is still wide open, and having an opportunity to score good points in France will only help me. I’m still absolutely determined to get my first win under my belt."