The McLaren Mercedes team kicks off the summer’s seven-race European stint by travelling to the Magny-Cours circuit. The French race has become one of F1’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.
How confident are you that the MP4-23 will remain competitive once the F1 circus returns to Europe?
"Traditionally, we’ve always gone well at Monaco and we’ve recently enjoyed strong pace in Canada, and we remain encouraged by our performance. We feel like we've made substantial improvements to the MP4-23 and, while it didn't exactly pay off in Canada, we go into France in a very positive frame of mind. One of the aims of our winter development programme was to improve the car's high-speed performance and we feel we've been able to do that - and both Magny-Cours and Silverstone will give us the opportunities to demonstrate that."How will you tackle the race knowing that Lewis will be starting 10 places further back than usual?
"Obviously, we go to France knowing we only have the capability to field one car on the optimum strategy, so our job will be a little different from normal. But we still expect to extract the very maximum performance levels from both cars. Both Lewis and Heikki are very confident about their chances and we will be working hard with the strategists and engineers in order to provide them both with the optimum strategy for the race."Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport:
What are your emotions when you look back on the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend?
"First of all, we were all extremely disappointed. Lewis had achieved pole position with a remarkable 0.612sec advantage, his eighth pole within 24 Grands Prix, and had led the race until the Safety Car period with an advantage of more than six seconds. Throughout the weekend, Lewis had the speed to be ahead of his rivals. There was a similar gap between pole position and second place 24 races ago in the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa was 0.619sec faster than McLaren Mercedes driver Kimi Räikkönen. We put the race behind us; fortunately, it was one of the very few in which we did not score points."What do you expect ahead of the French Grand Prix, given that Lewis starts the race with a 10-place grid penalty and Heikki had a difficult race in Canada?
"As our record shows, the French Grand Prix has never been an easy race for us. At most of the other circuits we have won more regularly than at Magny-Cours. Last year, Lewis finished third after starting second on the grid, on the dirty side of the track he lost out at the start to Räikkönen in the Ferrari. This time, Lewis’s race will begin significantly further down the grid. We’ll be counting on Heikki to drive with the same spirit he showed in the first six races. Maybe we will find a special strategy for Lewis which will help him to move up, his task is downright difficult, as according to our experience of Magny-Cours there is some kind of ban of overtaking there! However, we won’t give up."What does the French Grand Prix mean for Mercedes-Benz?
"Mercedes-Benz and motor racing have a long standing tradition in France. 100 years ago, Christian Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix at the wheel of a Mercedes; it has been the first out of 104 Grand Prix victories in the Mercedes-Benz motor sport history. Even 14 years before that first Grand Prix win, in 1894, the first ever car race was held in France and was won by a car powered by a Daimler engine. In the race Nizza-Salon-Nizza 1901, also in France, Wilhelm Werner achieved the first victory for the brand Mercedes. In 1954, at our comeback in Grand Prix racing and debut in Formula 1 we celebrated a 1-2 victory with Juan Manuel Fangio ahead of Karl Kling in Reims, France, on the same day as Germany won the football World Cup in Bern, Switzerland. However, our balance of the French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours is quite modest - only one win in 2000 with David Coulthard."