#741 2005 French Grand Prix

2023-01-06 23:00

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#2005, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Susanna Fortolan, Translated by Margherita Schiatti,

#741 2005 French Grand Prix

Thursday 22 June 2005 Luca Montezzemolo not fail to attend, inside of the futuristic structure of logistic, next to the track of Fiorano, to the deliv


Thursday, June 22, 2005, Luca Montezemolo did not miss, inside the futuristic structure of the Logistics headquarters, next to Fiorano track, the delivery of the annual awards to the technical partners that have contributed to the victories of the factory, both in the industry and in sports. With Formula 1 that stays inside the heart of the Ferrari president and is always and anyway at the centre of his interest.


"Saturday I was very happy about the news that came from America, where after qualifying there were great prospects ahead of the race. Sunday then there was an important fact. I saw Ferrari win once again after a hard-fought race between Schumacher and Barrichello. A valuable sports event. I emphasize this because when our two drivers do not fight people are saying that we are teasing fans, if they do, then people think that it isn’t normal. There was a true race that, looking at the data that we collected, Ferrari would have won even with all the other drivers on track. The bad impression of the US Grand Prix was by no fault of our team. Even if I heard a few newcomers to Formula 1 make incredible comments. It’s clear that what happened had very negative aspects, we are very sorry for the viewers, who by the way were not warned of what was going to happen".


Can the result of Indianapolis reopen the battle for the World Championship?


"I hope yes. But in the meantime, we are coming to Magny-Cours to win, with or without the Michelin teams. If they were not to race, then I would recommend to Michael and Rubens to keep calm… We are doing some great work with Bridgestone and we keep making progress. In the last few years, all the rules have changed trying to damage us. We accepted this, we respect the sport. We have always been in Formula 1 and every time we agreed to conform to the rules. But there are absurdities as the one of the tyres that need to last for the qualifying and race. I don’t like this. As I said, this has become a tyre championship. In any case, the rules are for everyone. When we were not doing well, we didn’t ask not to race. It is like asking, before a football match, to tighten or widen the goal post because someone has problems".


But someone tried to change the rules on the fly.


"The FIA had a responsible behaviour in not yielding to pressure at a very difficult time. I repeat: Ferrari has three basic values. Passion for a loyal sport, respect of the rules and of our fans. Last Sunday we were in line with our history and I was happy to see a car designed by an Italian, the engineer Aldo Costa, return to victory after a great job following a streak of records that is not enough for me. In the meantime, Schumacher increased his record of victories. Before talking about Schumacher you have to count until three: one, two, three. Because he has such a record that only when some driver will have been able to win 50% of what he has won will we be able to start talking about it".


And on Thursday, June 23, 2005, the World Champion will be on track in Barcelona for a few tests. The best way to prepare for the next French Grand Prix. In the meantime, BMW bought Sauber to grow. Also to end the rumours and gossip that had long circulated in the environment, in München, BMW announced they had bought the majority of shares of the Swiss team Sauber. This move has two clear meanings. The first one is about the intention of the prestigious German company to stay in Formula 1 for a long time. The second one is certainly linked to the idea that direct involvement will bring better results than those achieved so far with the partnership with Williams. After winning the World Title in 1983 with the turbo engine on the Brabham of Nelson Piquet, the Bavarian brand retired in 1987 and returned in 2000 with the English team, supplying their aspirated V10 and achieving second place in the 2002 World Championship. Peter Sauber, who started his business activity in the field of electrical equipment, a great fan of motorsports, had thrown himself into the world of racing in 1970, becoming little by little the point of reference for those who wanted to emerge.


In the last few years, the team signed a contract for the supply of Ferrari engines, although they were managed by Petronas, a Malaysian sponsor. The choice of Sauber, as a relaunch, is not random for BMW. A very serious team consisting of 300 people, good headquarters in Hinwil, near Zurigo, a history of success with the Junior Mercedes team (two Sport-Prototypes Championships won in 1989 and in 1990 when one of the most promising drivers of the category was called Michael Schumacher), a new wind tunnel ended this year. And a strategically valid location, not too far from the factory in Monaco where the engines are produced. Mario Theissen, director of BMW Motorsport, points to the decision to take control of a team on the grounds that the car, the driver and the tyres have too much influence on whether you can win or not than by providing the engines alone and a good technical package which can only be exploited by a united and fully integrated team. This meant that there was no longer a perfect understanding with Williams. In any case, BMW is still discussing with the British team to continue the sale of its engines in 2006. But it is no secret that Frank Williams is looking around to find another valid partner. By the way, Theissen himself says that his company has not yet established whether in 2006 they will race with a 2400 cc V8 or if it will keep the 3-litre V10 with reduced rpm, as allowed by the regulation provided by the FIA for next year. Meanwhile, the debate continues on the United States Grand Prix, deserted by the seven Michelin-shod teamsThe FIA World Council, which will judge the events in Indianapolis, will no doubt make a decision that will be fair and balanced. That is the prediction of Max Mosley, FIA president:


"What to say to the American fans? From my personal point of view, and I repeat that it is only that, Michelin should offer them fair compensation and should ask the International Motor Speedway to coordinate the operation. Then Tony George, owner of the circuit, and Bernie Ecclestone should announce, together, that in 2006 the American Grand Prix will take place regularly in Indianapolis, and should guarantee all holders of this year’s ticket the free replacement with an identical one for the next year".


On the morning of Wednesday, June 29, 2005, Michelin executives and the managers of the seven Formula 1 teams that use the French tyres are called to stand in the dock: Renault, McLaren, Toyota, Williams, Red Bull Racing, Sauber and BAR. The court is the sporting court of the FIA which in turn will have to answer to the judges in Indianapolis, where numerous lawsuits are asking for a refund. The appointment is in Place de la Concorde, the historic heart of Paris. The accusation for the Michelin is that they showed up at an event with inadequate tyres, and for teams not having raced at the American Grand Prix without a valid reason and without notifying the stewards. The penalties will depend on the severity of the judges. In theory, BAR is more likely to be at risk, under parole for the Imola disqualification, but the verdict will likely keep the two cases on different levels.


"We tried every solution possible to race safely, but were rejected".  


According to FIA president Max Mosley, the fines will be adjusted to the severity of the incident. That is severe. But not disqualification, otherwise in Magny-Cours there would be another unusual Grand Prix, with only the six Bridgestone-shod single-seaters on track. Penalising only the constructors in the standings - given that the drivers were willing to race - could also worsen political relations in Formula 1. Ferrari is on the side of the FIA on the path of reforms, everyone else is against them: a harsh sentence would be accepted as a hostile act, even if the accusation justifies it. Champion of the Michelin teams is Paul Stoddart, owner of Minardi, who uses Bridgestone tyres. As has often happened in the past, he is the one who brings forward the demands of the anti-Ferrari blockade, which, however, risks cracking, given that Toyota was caught testing going the wrong way on the circuit of Spa, in violation of the agreement among manufacturers. Paul Stoddart says:


"A fine that is too harsh that would trigger a riot".


But Max Mosley dismisses him with disdain:


"Paul is a hopeless case. It seems that he forgot that I helped him when the other teams wanted to take his money. Maybe he stopped taking his medication".


The dark Friday of Formula 1 was Friday, June 17, 2005. Everything started with Ralf Schumacher hitting the wall of the banking of Indianapolis, a turn where drivers reach 300 km/h. It is the explosion of a tyre that betrays the Toyota. The driver got away with a whiplash that forced him to give up the race. Michelin studied the causes of the explosion and came to a bleak conclusion:


"Our tyres are dangerous, we are telling the teams not to race".


Saturday is about the negotiations. Michelin proposes a chicane. The FIA says no. On Sunday the cars lined up, started and returned to the pits. The Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello dominated the race and scored 18 points. Michelin concluded its investigation in the following days: the tyres were not defective. They were simply unsuitable for the stresses of the circuit. So that is why the FIA was angry.


"On Sunday in France, we’ll have safe and competitive tyres".


Now they guarantee from Clermont Ferrand. Just twenty-four hours from the trial of FIA, Michelin makes its voice heard. The French company announced that it would refund spectators and its president Edouard Michelin replied to the accusations of Max Mosley by stating that:


"His are just baseless innuendos. Michelin decided to participate in the expenses incurred by spectators by offering to refund them for the price of the ticket, even if no legal mechanism would force us to do so".


In order to promote Formula 1 in the United States, Michelin is also proposing to purchase 20.000 tickets for the 2006 American Grand Prix and offer them to the spectators present at Indy this year.


“We have done our utmost to preserve safety while Mosley's statements have heavily damaged the company's reputation".


The show trial in Paris is the logical consequence of the farcical Indianapolis Grand Prix. Wednesday, June 29, 2005, the Federation found everyone guilty and punished no one. But perhaps they will punish everyone, but only on Wednesday, September 14, 2005. It depends on what will happen in the meantime, whether spectators at Indianapolis will be refunded, and whether there will be again mass retirements due to technical problems. In the uncertainty of the law, the only certainty is that the seven defendants will appeal, even if they feared a harsh sentence, because it must not be nice taking part in a championship knowing that you can win it but maybe on September 14 they can take away five points, and then you lose it. The rhetoric of Max Mosley, the big boss of the FIA, is not enough to clarify the verdict.


"We had no right to judge and to punish Michelin, which is only the supplier for seven teams and the main responsible for what happened in America".


So what?


"So we asked Michelin for the data on accidents in the last two years due to tyre blowouts. If they’ve made mistakes before, they could be kicked out from Formula 1".


And what do the seven teams have to do with it?


"It would not be right to punish them now. They have two months to repair the damage".


It is the epilogue of a weird day, more of a comedy than of a drama. The convocation was for 9:30 a.m. in Place de la Concorde, Paris, headquarters of the FIA. The World Council met. On the agenda was the hearing of the seven rebel teams, those which returned to the pits after the formation lap in Indianapolis and left the Ferraris to battle with Jordan and Minardi. Eight of them showed up in Paris, there was Paul Stoddart too, the owner of Minardi. It is not clear in what capacity he wanted to intervene since he has a contract with Bridgestone, and in fact, at the entrance, he was politely rejected. The others formed almost a single block. Red Bull Racing on its own, while the rest of the group relied on a single lawyer and would have liked to debate collectively. Nothing to do: one by one, ten minutes each. It started with Nick Fry (BAR), then Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing), Ron Dennis (McLaren), Flavio Briatore (Renault), Tsumitu Tornita (Toyota), and Frank Williams (Williams).


"It’s like we are back in school".


A snarky comment made by Flavio Briatore. At midday it was all over: the six team principals retreated in a building 300 metres away awaiting the unfolding of events, while the FIA Council (of which Ferrari general manager Jean Todt was a member, although he did not participate in the debate on the Indy case) met to decide. At 3:10 p.m. Max Mosley read the decision. The defendants are guilty of two charges out of five: first (with excellent mitigating circumstances), they did not verify that the tyres were capable of competing in the American Grand Prix; second, they refused, without valid reasons, to race, even if they could have used the pit lane on every lap to avoid going through the dangerous Turn 13. The other three points fell through, the plot to damage Formula 1, the failure to communicate to race stewards, and the self-limitation of speed. The team principals reacted. The situation was too tangled to venture into a press conference. A joint statement was better, the lawyers suggested. In short: first point, we have confidence in Michelin, and we follow their recommendations because they are a world-renowned tyre manufacturer approved by the FIA itself; second point, no one, before now, ever asked us to race crossing the pit lane every lap, a dangerous idea and less spectacular for the audience. Also, nineteen drivers agreed to build a chicane at Turn 13 (all, including test drivers, except for Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan, ed.). Conclusion: they are going to appeal. There is a real possibility that, for the first time in the history of law, an appeal will come before the conviction at first instance. Then we will have another farcical verdict of a farcical trial of a farcical Grand Prix. On Sunday, July 3, 2005, in Magny-Cours Formula 1 is back. The real thing. On Thursday, June 30, 2004, on the eve of the French Grand Prix, the drivers, team managers and tyre suppliers, arrived in Magny-Cours, still wanting to argue. a document signed after the United States Grand Prix by nineteen drivers appears to prove that all the drivers wanted to race with the creation of the famous chicane.  Michael Schumacher, with a cold, is not going to keep quiet: 


"It was Renault stuff. No one submitted it to me. Indeed, I would have been surprised if someone had done that".


Flavio Briatore replies:


"Renault has nothing to do with it. Michael drank too much beer this morning".

Pierre Dupasquier explains the position of Michelin, which in America did not have tyres suitable for the race:


"It’s as if one of our truckloads of tyres was on fire".


Michael Schumacher uses a metaphor that is a bit clearer: 


"Let's take the example of another discipline, like athletics. If a sprinter gets injured, the public feels bad, but that’s sport".


Michael Schumacher, so we can close the story in this way?


"Yes. I didn't agree with that document, which approved the introduction of a chicane. It’s not a matter of competence of the Drivers Association, which instead deals with safety. The problem in Indy was technical and only concerned a few teams. Making mistakes is human, unfortunately, an error in Formula 1 can be seen all over the world".


How would it have been for Ferrari if all other opponents were on track? 


"Ferrari would have fought for the win anyway: I have no doubt about that".


And now what will happen here in Magny-Cours? 


"The goal is a first or a second place. We have been working hard over the last month and we are making great progress. Now we are waiting to see where our opponents are. We’ll find out by driving. I’m optimistic, the car is good".


How much did your chances of winning the World Title increase after America?  


"Of ten points. I’ve never given up. Now we are stronger and closer to the first. Above all, we improved in qualifying".


Would a Ferrari win at Magny-Cours reopen the championship? 


"I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be enough, but it would be useful. Alonso still has a 25-point lead. That’s a lot".


The French Grand Prix is the tenth of the season. The first half of the World Championship has ended. An evaluation of the Scuderia Ferrari?


"We can say that compared to the performance of the start of the season we are doing good enough. We have regained competitiveness".


Do you think that a great race could reconcile the general public with Formula 1?


"It’s weird, but I don’t think that the Indianapolis Grand Prix went badly. We need to look at the whole story, calmly, taking a step back. In Germany and Italy, the television ratings were very high even though there were only six of us racing".


Schumacher, how do you explain this?


"A journalist should understand this better than I do…".


Will you be racing again in the United States?


"I’m convinced so. We don’t know the 2006 calendar yet (the FIA has set twenty indicative dates, Mexico will likely be added to the current calendar, ed.), but you will see that we will be there again and we will offer a great show. And then all of this talk about Formula 1, even if negative, created interest. I think that the audience numbers will increase".


Does Schumacher like Magny-Cours?


"I won seven times, even if this is not one of my favourite circuits".


We meant the location…No one would come here.


"Everyone lives in big cities and they don’t appreciate the countryside".


A message to your brother Ralf who turns 30 years old?


"Listen to his experience and always be himself. He is a grown-up man now, he doesn’t need my advice".


The controversy and the discussions about the American Grand Prix continue. But on Friday, July 1, 2005, the action was back on track. And the battle for the victory of the World Championship is on again after the Nord-American doubleheader which saw the shares of Scuderia Ferrari rise in the Formula 1 stock exchange. The Maranello team prepared something special for the French race, the tenth of the World Championship, as we passed the halfway point of the season. The F2005 which has not shone since its debut in Bahrein for many reasons has been profoundly revised, especially in terms of aerodynamics. Days and days in the wind tunnel to check the efficiency of the solutions first studied at the desk, then put into practice by the men headed by Rory Byrne and the designer of the single-seater, engineer Aldo Costa. The result is visible. On the cars of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello wings and smaller wings are back again, in front, near the front suspension; below, at the level of the flat floor; behind, placed on the cover that hides the engine. There are also different exhausts, so-called chimneys, of different sizes from those installed so far and more inclined outwards. The intention is to direct the air flows so as to push them out of the area where the rear wing works. All these upgrades have been personally tested by Michael Schumacher, who after two days of testing in Barcelona last week, rushed to the Fiorano circuit on Wednesday to check that all the things put together were working as he and Ferrari expected. Suppliers have not stood still either. Bridgestone produced completely new tyres, in terms of compound and structure.


Always with an eye on safety, these tyres should ensure greater speed on the qualifying flying lap, and in performance and consistency in the race. Shell, on the other hand, will debut a grease with special characteristics to make the gearbox and transmission work better than the F2005, another weak point of Ferrari this year. According to the calculations made in Maranello and based on the data collected in the tests, the overall gain should be about 0.5 seconds per lap, even in the timed lap that sets the starting grid on Sunday. Just what was missing until now to have more options during the races, allowing them to implement aggressive strategies. If Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello manage to start from the very first rows and keep their positions, then it will be more difficult for rivals to hold them off. And, in fact, on Friday, July 1, 2005, Scuderia Ferrari was back to racing on an equal footing with the best. At the end of the day, there was a 0.075-second difference between Juan Manuel Montoya, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Before there was always a gap of 0.5 seconds. Rubens Barrichello, eighth - sixth, if test drivers De La Rosa and Panis are excluded from the standings - confirmed the progress. It is the turnaround sought, hoped for and finally achieved by the Maranello team in France, at Renault's home circuit. After the second and third place in Canada and the one-two finish in the United States, the performance is already starting to show in free practice. Michael Schumacher admitted, with relief:


"The work was helpful".


And luck now is turning on the side of the World Champion. During free practice, Kimi Räikkönen broke the Mercedes engine on his McLaren: so, whatever happens in qualifying, he will lose ten positions on the grid. In the general standings, the Finnish driver is second with three points of advantage over Michael Schumacher, who now aims straight for the overtake.


"Finally something has changed. On the first laps the car no longer slides in the turns as before. The new aerodynamics and the tyres work".


Fernando Alonso is still the favourite to take pole position, and during free practice, he managed to keep a very fast and consistent pace, with a series of laps under the 1'16"0 that everyone envies. Juan Pablo Montoya, on the other hand, got the lap right and for the rest of the day, he drove on his usual standards. In addition, the Colombian is a troublemaker when he goes fast: Ron Dennis likely scolded him after repeated gaffes made on and off the track, which have earned him the nickname: One problem. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher vows:


"I am still optimistic. Here we will fight for the win".


He speaks with fair play about Kimi Räikkönen’s problems: 


"I don’t like to take advantage of others' troubles. You can get great results starting from the back anyway. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult".


And who knows better than him, after nine qualifying sessions below expectations? Rubens Barrichello joins forces with: 


"I’ve come back a lot of times, Kimi can do it too".


In Brazil, Rubinho said that he wanted to write a memoir about his life at Ferrari, including the fits of anger.


"It’s true, I said it. They kept asking me personal questions, so I jokingly replied that I would reveal everything at the end of my career and with the proceeds of the book I would earn more than in Formula 1".


Still some backwash after what happened in Indianapolis. The manufacturers sentenced by the Federation - Red Bull Racing excluded - organised a press conference with a loudspeaker in the middle of the paddock to claim their innocence. Flavio Briatore said:


"People didn’t understand. We have to do what Michelin tells us, that’s what the contract says. In Indianapolis, we were ordered not to race for safety reasons. If we had disobeyed, we would have risked the lives of our drivers and Michelin could have sued us. According to the law of Indiana, we would be arrested even if there had been no accident. We had no choice".


In the course of the evening, the news spread that Niki Lauda, 56, three-time World Champion, was ill again. The Austrian driver underwent a kidney transplant, for the second time. The donor is his girlfriend, Birgit Wetzinger. In 1997 Lauda had received a third kidney from his brother Florian, which stopped working (the other two had been damaged in the terrible fire at the Nürburgring in 1976). The surgery had been performed eight days before in Vienna, but the news was revealed by the hospital only on Friday evening. Niki Lauda and his girlfriend are back at home and they are doing better. The surgeon Ferdinand Muehlbacher explained:


"Lauda is now living with four kidneys".


There are three reasons why Fernando Alonso is leading the World Championship; he is good, he has a great car and he is lucky. For the first two reasons, on Saturday 2 July 2005, the Spaniard took pole position at Magny-Cours. For the third reason, his direct rival in the title race, Kimi Räikkönen, broke his engine during the weekend and was demoted ten places. The Fin set the third fastest time, so he will start from thirteenth place. The other protagonist of the day was Jarno Trulli, the man of Saturday, who joined his former teammate on the front row. At the end of qualifying, he and Fernando Alonso hugged each other. They remained friends, despite the rivalry and tensions within the team last season. Just a year ago here in France, the Italian driver understood that his relationship with Renault was compromised: he made a mistake in the last corner that cost him the podium - to Barrichello’s advantage - and the renewal of his contract. Now, however, the Toyota driver is taking his sweet revenge at the wheel of a Japanese car that in his hands is a great single-seater, but when Ralf Schumacher drives, it does not seem to work. It was Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya who looked like two prodigies when they raced together. Now that their paths have parted ways and they have valuable teammates - Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen - they are showing embarrassing limitations. The Ferraris missed the miracle, although they confirmed the signs of recovery: Michael Schumacher moved up to third place, 0.160 seconds behind Fernando Alonso, while Rubens Barrichello will start from fifth place. They both paid for a few mistakes on the decisive lap. The new aerodynamic package, the special tyres made by Bridgestone, as well as a few more horsepower in the engine, excited the drivers. The cars from Maranello are again competitive on a single lap. But will they improve as usual in the race? Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello ensure that they are not in Magny-Cours for a holiday but to win. Fernando Alonso's pole is the third of the season and the sixth of his career. We were talking about his luck: only once did his tyres betray him. It was in Monte-Carlo. On any other circuit, the Minardis would have caught up with him, while on the narrow streets of the Principality, he even managed to defend a fourth place. At the Nürburgring, it was Kimi Räikkönen who wore out his tyres ahead of time and went off track on the final lap. That said, Fernando Alonso and Renault deserve the lead. The Spanish driver explains:


"There are only two circuits where blue flags outnumber red flags: one is Barcelona, the other is this one. I have a great opportunity to score important points for the standings and I don't intend to let it slip away ". 


His lead is 22 points over Kimi Räikkönen and 25 over Michael Schumacher. In France, he dreams of a win to gift to his team - French - in front of the French fans, but he would settle for a good placement. On the contrary, his rivals have no choice. Michael Schumacher hopes he can win a real race.


"In any case, the best strategies will pay off. On one side I’m happy with qualifying as we've been quite behind on the grid since the beginning of the season. On the other hand, I can't hide a bit of disappointment because pole was within our reach, there were all the conditions to get it. Something did not work perfectly. But it's difficult to understand why. The fact remains that we believe that we are very competitive. Obviously, I will give my best, I will do everything possible to win, also because we can keep a good race pace. It's going to be a tough and interesting race". 


Interesting means that the World Champion wants to be able to fight for first place. The intention to aim for the podium, possibly the top step, is also in Rubens Barrichello's thoughts: 


"I’m satisfied with my performance. I could have been aiming for pole, but from Turn 13 till the finish line, my car had understeer because the compound of the front tyres was slightly grainy. But this will not be a problem in the race. I said that we could have a great race if we were able to start at least from the first three rows. Here we are. Why am I optimistic? The car is very good and has improved in all areas. For me, it’s the best Ferrari this year. It’s balanced, and the engine is good. And the tyres, in the heat, could give us some advantages. In short, we continue to make progress".


One thing that the two drivers in red overalls do not say is that they would like to repeat the one-two finish of Indianapolis. But this time with all the rivals on track. And if that were to happen, then the World Championship will be truly reopened. The bad luck that seems to be chasing Giancarlo Fisichella is costing Renault dearly, which is only 13 points ahead of Scuderia Ferrari. And speaking of the United States Grand Prix, Formula 1 continues to dwell on the controversy. While the public has already forgiven - 30,000 spectators are expected at Magny-Cours, 110.000 are expected on Sunday - the six Michelin teams argue every day. On Saturday afternoon, they gathered at the Renault motorhome, blacked out doors and windows, summoned drivers and team managers and talked for over an hour. What did they say to each other? The answer is agreed:


"The drivers were told what happened in Indy".


On Sunday, July 3, 2005, at the start of the French Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso got off to a good start, managing to get away from the group in the early laps, leaving Jarno Trulli at the mercy of Michael Schumacher’s attacks, while Rubens Barrichello overtook Takuma Satō and climbed to fourth place. Kimi Räikkönen managed to overtake both Mark Webber and Ralf Schumacher, moving up to eleventh place by the end of the first lap. On lap two, Fernando Alonso increased his lead to almost three seconds, while Kimi Räikkönen moved into tenth place by overtaking Jacques Villeneuve. Christian Klien retired during the second lap due to a lack of fuel pressure. Fernando Alonso continued to break away from the pack by setting a series of several fastest laps. Rubens Barrichello was the first driver in the leading group to pit. Then, both Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher pitted, and as they rejoined the track the German driver of Scuderia Ferrari managed to catch the Italian driver. Fernando Alonso pitted on lap 20, taking advantage of an almost 30-second lead over Michael Schumacher, and maintaining the first position. The series of pit stops allowed the two McLaren drivers to reach the second and the third position with Juan Pablo Montoya ahead of Kimi Räikkonen. Both McLaren drivers extended their first stint to lap 25, at which point Juan Pablo Montoya pitted and moved up to third. 


Kimi Räikkönen stayed on track until lap 28, passing Juan Pablo Montoya. On lap 34, Patrick Friesacher was forced to retire due to a tyre problem. On lap 37 his teammate, Christijan Albers, crashed his Minardi after spinning at Turn 2. Fernando Alonso pitted for the second time on lap 41 and rejoined with a 14-second lead over Kimi Räikkönen. Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya tried to recover second place, however on lap 46 the Colombian was forced to retire due to a hydraulic failure. This allowed Michael Schumacher to move up to third position. The German driver maintained the third position even after his final pit stop, made during lap 51. Later, Nick Heidfeld complained over the radio and said that his car was impossible to drive, while Giancarlo Fisichella’s car turned off in an attempt to leave the pits on lap 58. Renault’s mechanics quickly restarted the engine, but the Italian driver lost two positions. With eight laps to go, Fernando Alonso lapped Jenson Button, who was fourth, and finally crossed the finish line to win the French Grand Prix. The Spaniard took his fifth win of the season, the sixth for the Renault team. Kimi Räikkönen finished second, 11.8 seconds behind Fernando Alonso, while Michael Schumacher took an important podium for Scuderia Ferrari. Jenson Button finished fourth and scored his first points of the year for BAR, followed by Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve.


"Alé Alonso". 


Shouts the French audience. Monsieur Fernando crossed the finish line and passed at tourist speed under a blue and yellow grandstand, waving with his hand wide open, indicating that he has won five races in the championship so far.


"Every lap I saw them cheering, I had to thank them".


Renault triumphs in France twenty-two years after Alain Prost's success at Le Castellet. In the stands, there is Carlos Ghosn, the new president of the French company, someone who likes Formula 1 on one condition: to win. He came to Magny-Cours to check that his will was being respected and he was satisfied. Kimi Räikkönen is furious. In qualifying he had set the third-fastest time with a full tank, but he had been relegated to thirteen place because the engine had been replaced after free practice, in the race he recovered to second place. By the time bad luck leaves him, it may be too late: Fernando Alonso is 24 points away, there are still 90 up for grabs, the McLaren is an amazing car but Renault does not miss a beat. Then Michael Schumacher completed the podium of the three strongest drivers in Formula 1. Ferrari is the third force in the Championship. A half-disappointment after the promises and hopes of the day before. The comment of the men from the Maranello team is disarming:


"We are slower. There’s no explanation. We are slower and that’s it".


It is not about a specific problem to focus our efforts on, it is no longer the fault of the tyres that do not work on Saturdays or the aerodynamics that make the car understeer. Or, better, it is a little bit of everything. Michael Schumacher’s podium gives some satisfaction and if the brakes had held up more than five laps Barrichello would probably have also entered the points so that Ferrari would have kept pace with McLaren in the Constructors' World Championship standings. All good talks: stopwatch in hand, Ferrari is more than a second slower per lap. They are in the élite but they are not yet capable of fighting for the title. In Magny-Cours, Michelin is back in winning again, after the sad United States Grand Prix. And Fernando Alonso on the podium during the performance of La Marseillaise points with his finger to the writing on the cap that advertises the French tyre supplier. Flavio Briatore’s parties always succeed. He had to win because the big boss of Renault, Carlos Ghosn, was there. And you have to show the big bosses that their money is well spent. It does not get any better than this… Alonso took pole position and he never gave up the first position. Michelin tyres behaved very well and Ferrari stayed at a safe distance. Kimi Räikkönen could have ruined the party, but he was forced into a crippled race. Everything was perfect. 


Nothing out of place. Apart from poor Giancarlo Fisichella. On the podium the notes of the Marseillaise, in front of the Spaniard Fernando Alonso the central grandstand is a sea of blue and yellow flags waved by the six thousand Renault away fans. Fernando Alonso says: 


"A wonderful day".


And on live worldwide broadcast, he gives credit to his opponents:


"Race after race, it’s always the three of us in front. Kimi Räikkönen and Michael Schumacher are the rivals I fear".


When the cameras are off, fair play disappears: 


"Schumi? He is on the podium thanks to the retirement of his opponents".


But in the early laps, he was slowed down by Jarno Trulli.


"Really? So, instead of 80 seconds I would have given him only 70".


This is one of the reasons why in Maranello they like Kimi Räikkönen more for the post-Schumacher era. However, courtesy does not help to go fast and this 24-year-old young man with a cheeky manner has the talent and means to win the title of World Champion.  


"After the third pit stop, I was sure that I could do it. But the last ten laps never passed. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with the team and the crowd. I don’t know why, but we were very fast all weekend. Räikkönen? I knew he probably had a different strategy to mine, based on just two stops, and I understood in free practice how fast he was. I expected him to come back. In fact, I was expecting Montoya on the podium as well. Next Sunday at Silverstone it will be a different story".


What do you mean?


"On our calendar, we have drawn a nice cross on the British Grand Prix. I’ll be honest: it’s a track that is not for us, we've always done badly there in the past. We must invent new solutions and we must work hard on Friday to find a good setup".


The concept is well explained by Flavio Briatore:


"All in defence with the target of taking home some points. Are we talking about Magny-Cours? Fantastic, a fantastic race, a fantastic team".


What about Fisichella?


"It’s a real shame. The team tried everything to help him. It’s absurd not to be able to get two drivers on the podium with such a competitive car".


The standings? 


"Today we can say that we eliminated one of our rivals in the Drivers’ World Championship: Schumacher is cut off. It remains a two-horse race between Fernando and Räikkönen. In Canada we lost points, in Indianapolis, we tied with the McLaren, here we made up for it".


Among so much champagne, Giancarlo Fisichella is the only one feeling discouraged:


"I have to go to Paris, then I’ll stop in Lourdes".


Everything happened to him: at the first pit stop he had a problem with the fuel dispenser, and then the floor gave out, touching the asphalt and causing him to lose aerodynamic downforce on the front wheels. Icing on the cake: the engine stopped on the third refuelling. A driver mistake?


"What mistake? We have an anti-stall system, even if I made a mistake, the engine would stay running. I don’t understand what happened, I just know that I lost a few more seconds. Sixth place is already good after a race like this. I’m happy to have brought important points for the Constructors’ Championship, as well as for Fernando’s win. I’ve attracted all the bad luck, so he could do well. That’s life".


Carlos Ghosn celebrates his appointment as Renault's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in the best possible way.  In office since April 29, 2005, at Magny-Cours, he brought the message of the parent company to Flavio Briatore’s team:


"We are not in Formula 1 because we want to do charity, out of culture, sporting spirit or habit. We are in Formula 1 to win and to offer a show. Motorsport is an investment in case of success, otherwise it is just a cost. The teams are entitled to more revenue because they are the protagonists, but we must continue on the path of cost reduction in parallel. Now the question is: how to turn the technical show into a commercial success?"


Of Lebanese origin, former number one of Nissan, Ghosn has the reputation of not being a great admirer of Formula 1 and competitions in general. He withdrew Nissan from the 24 hours of Le Mans due to the lack of results.


"We will be back when we are able to put on a show again".


And he announced a supercar derived from Formula 1. At the end of the Grand Prix, he pays a compliment:


"We have a great team and very good drivers. That means that we are investing well and will likely continue to do so".


Flavio Briatore perceives the danger: 


"In terms of budget, we are the fifth team, while we are first in the standings. This is a demonstration of efficiency. Since 2001, the year of our return to Formula 1, we stuck to the schedule we had set ourselves".


Kimi Räikkönen, pragmatic, did not celebrate his feat: from thirteenth place on the grid to second on the finish line. And not even having set the third fastest time in qualifying with at least 20 kilos more fuel in the tank seems to offer consolation to the Finn: 


"The engine failure on my McLaren on Friday compromised our weekend. Because we wanted to win. OK, the placement is also good for the day, we lost only 2 points and we had a good race. But my direct rival has extended his lead in the standings. And that is what I don’t like. We also got the strategy right with the two-stopper It wasn't enough to get on the top step of the podium as I had hoped".


Kimi Räikkönen’s bad mood has just been tempered by the knowledge that he now has the fastest car.


"This is the only real positive thing at the moment. I will leave for Silverstone with the certainty that I can win. The British track suits us. In the tests we were quite fast; I hope I won’t have any more problems with the car: after creating a lot of difficulties for me in France, I hope it will help me in England. We have a good technical package at our disposal, let's try to make the most of it. Unfortunately, the challenge for the title is becoming more difficult race after race. It depends on what happens in the second half of the season. A little luck wouldn’t hurt. The rest will be up to the team and drivers".


Among the many who dreamed of winning, there was also Michael Schumacher. That atypical success in Indianapolis had to be continued, but it still seemed like the beginning of a new season. The awakening of the World Champion in France, instead, was abrupt. Not so much for the position, but for the performance, definitely below expectations. The German driver himself does not seem able to provide a documented technical explanation to motivate a disappointing result, apart from the contingent facts that gave life to the race. Michael, what happened after such a brilliant qualifying and the promising times obtained in practice as well?


"At the beginning, I was behind Trulli’s Toyota for 18 laps, then behind Montoya. I lost many seconds and I was stuck in traffic. In any case, however, even with a perfect strategy, adapted promptly by the team to the circumstances, third place was the maximum I could achieve this time”. 


So is the joy for the podium stronger than the frustration for the placement behind Alonso and Räikkönen and the heavy gap?


"The joy was stronger. The race was going badly and could have been even worse. If Fisichella hadn’t had any problems, I probably would have stayed behind him too. We didn’t have the chance to be faster".


Are you alarmed by Alonso's show of strength, considering the difference in lap times between his best rivals and Ferrari? 


"I haven’t reviewed the data collected in the race yet. Obviously, we were slower than we expected and than we would have liked to be. But, in normal circumstances, I believe that Räikkönen could have won. So, if anything, the alarm is double".


Were there any particular problems in the race? 


"No. Some difficult braking and, as I said, the time lost behind other drivers who were slower at the time".


And next Sunday is expected to be a difficult race at Silverstone.


"I want to repeat, once again, that in Formula 1 the development of the cars is very fast. Let's remember that in 2003 in Hungary we were lapped and a short time later we got back to winning. You have to believe in yourself and work. Things can change ".


The Championship has passed the halfway point of the season, with ten races held and nine to go. Is the challenge for world titles compromised? 


"I’ll never be tired of saying that until it is mathematically possible, we will continue to fight with all our strength. It is still too early to bury our ambitions. There are a lot of races left and there is always the possibility of recovering". 


The rivals proved to be in excellent shape. Alonso in particular, with pole position and victory. 


"I remember that it was impressive. But I was more impressed by Kimi Räikkönen’s performance. If he hadn't broken his engine on Friday and lost ten places on the grid, he could have taken first place. However, I am not excluding myself from the battle: all three drivers on the podium at the French Grand Prix are still in the running".


But did you have fun in Magny-Cours?


"Honestly, I had more fun on other occasions".


Rubens Barrichello has a long beard, but he's not tired. His race was anonymous, with only a jolt at the start, when he overtook the BAR-Honda of Takuma Satō. In calculating the problems that prevented him from being competitive, the Brazilian says that his poor result was conditioned 20% by the heat and 80% by the irregular working of the brakes. He would have liked to make Ferrari fans happy, numerous in the stands, a much larger group than those of Renault, which also invited 6.000 employees to celebrate the return to victory in the French Grand Prix, after the last one obtained by Alain Prost in 1983 at Le Castellet. But it was not possible. 


"When I braked, the rear wheels of my F2005 locked up. The problem presented itself as early as the fifth lap. I tried to change the distribution but it was useless. And when I was too close to Trulli’s car, the discs were overheating. Needless to say, it was a terrible race for me. Also, after the first series of pitstops, I was stuck behind the slower rivals which complicated the situation. I’m very disappointed".


The optimistic statements on the eve of the race, the hopes of a recovery on the momentum of the improvements in qualifying, all to be forgotten. They need to start from scratch.


"Even if we didn't live up to our expectations, third and fourth place were possible, as I was able to finish behind Michael at the start. It was an opportunity to bring home a few more points. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But I don’t despair. This is a different Championship from those of past years. Something unexpected can happen in every race. As has been the case so far".


Jean Todt also does not hide his disappointment, and in a calm voice he says:


"We expected to be the protagonists, with better performances. Instead, despite all our efforts and Bridgestone’s, we were too slow. Michael was only seventh on the lap, Rubens twelfth. With large gaps from the best. The cars had no grip, what we had gained in qualifying we lost in the race. And we're not just talking about the tyres, it's also a problem with the set-up of the cars. There are two teams that are stronger than us and they are making life very difficult for us".


Ferrari’s general manager does not accept the alibi of having limited the damage. At the end of the day, the team lost a few points.  


"The problem is that we have to gain more, if we want to recover, take more than the others. But we will go hunting again".


It may seem strange in this time of great turmoil, but Bernard Charles Ecclestone, known as Bernie, is a very quiet man. He lost the battle with the banks that hold the majority of the shares in the company that manages Formula 1’s affairs, but it continues to be the benchmark of this sport. And, although he is now close to 75 years old (he was born in Ipswich, Suffolk on October 28, 1930) he is still very combative. Now, under the threat of a probable and future split of seven out of the ten teams currently engaged in the World Championship, he is preparing a resounding countermove. Mister E is seriously considering bringing back glorious names from Formula 1 from the past. Teams working alongside Scuderia Ferrari and those who want to follow them continue to organise a championship that is able to have a large following of fans. Brands that have made the history of motorsport, forced to abandon due to economic problems and precisely because of the advent of large manufacturers that have begun to invest enormous capital in the motor circus to emerge. Among the teams that Ecclestone wants to recover are the iconic Lotus, Tyrrel and Brabham, which had also been owned by him. There are only three, but others could be added, there is plenty of choice: Ligier, Matra, Maserati, B.R.M., and Cooper. Not to mention that a few teams, such as Williams, could also abandon the now indigestible company of constructors to return to being totally independent. It's hard to know what Ecclestone's plans are on a practical level. But he does not lack ideas and means. 


In addition, he has under contract the majority of circuits and organisers around the world. The decisive weapon is the presence of Ferrari. The most loved, prestigious and followed team all over the world. Even at Magny-Cours, at the home of Renault, with 6,000 guests, the red jerseys, caps and flags submerged the yellow-blue spots in the grandstand. It is clear that the now declared struggle between five major manufacturers - BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota and Renault - present in Formula 1, the teams under their control on the one hand and, on the other, the Federation has become enormous. The events of Indy, but not only those, lead to a direct attack on the heart of the motorsport management. First goal: the dismissal of President Max Mosley. Secondly, if it is not possible to put a suitable person in the place of the English manager - the elections will take place in October - a programme is ready to organise an alternative championship starting from 2008 when the Concorde Agreement will expire, which prevents all teams from freeing themselves from signed contracts. Using the likes of Paul Stoddart, owner of Minardi, as a spokesman the group of dissidents tried to undermine Mosley's credibility but at Magny-Cours, he received a certificate of solidarity from Jean Todt on behalf of Ferrari: 


"The FIA president deserves respect. I have a lot of respect for him, he has worked very well in recent years, especially in the field of safety, so I welcome his work, even if sometimes, as can happen, I didn’t share his thoughts and decisions. The issue, however, is becoming purely political and there are people who are calling for his resignation and not running again as a candidate. Moves that will achieve the opposite effect because Mosley has every intention to move forward".


In this context, Ecclestone will become the needle in the balance of the difficult challenge. Those who want to go against him will be forced to deal with him too. In the meantime, the World Council of the FIA approved his proposal to amend the Formula 1 regulations from 2008.


The document, which had been circulated in Indianapolis, provided for a single tyre manufacturer, reduced aerodynamics and savings in all areas.  The FIA decided to release the entire document. To increase the role of the driver the gearbox will be mechanical, operated by a paddle, while the clutch will be controlled by a pedal as in most production cars. Meanwhile, the Formula 1 circus moves to England, where the British Grand Prix will be held on Sunday, July 10, 2005, on a track that seems to be favourable to McLaren. Renault announces:


"We’ll think about defending ourselves". 


While Scuderia Ferrari is optimistic:


"During the tests last month in Silverstone we did well".


The rain could help the Maranello team, or favour its rivals more, starting from Fernando Alonso and the Renault team.


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