Preview: F1 Needs a Real Race in France

For the first time in four decades, French Formula One fans have no compatriot to cheer on in their home Grand Prix on Sunday

Preview: F1 Needs a Real Race in France

They should see a real race, however, which is more than the 120,000 ticket holders at Indianapolis got when tyre troubles led to seven of the 10 teams pulling out before the start on June 19.

Magny-Cours marks the halfway point, the 10th round of a 19-race Championship whose early season promise has been blighted by that six-car US Grand Prix fiasco.

Formula One needs to get back to the business of entertaining and the locals will expect Renault to put on a show in the depths of rural France.

Championship-leading Spaniard Fernando Alonso, returning to the circuit where last year he finished second to Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, has promised a close fight.

"McLaren will be fast, like they are everywhere, but Magny-Cours has been a good circuit for Renault," said the 23-year-old.

"Last year I got pole and had a strong battle with Ferrari for the win. This year we are going there with a better car and we will expect to be competitive.

"Will it be enough to win? I don't know. It definitely won't be easy. I think the battle at the front will be much tougher this year than in 2004."

Schumacher Confident

Alonso, like the other drivers on Michelin tyres, is raring to go after the Indianapolis debacle left them watching Schumacher cruise to the easiest 10 points of his record-breaking career.

None of the Michelin-shod teams raced in the US event after the French tyre company was unable to guarantee the safety of its tyres through the banked final corner.

That situation was possibly more of a blow to McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, who had won three of the four races before Indianapolis and was steadily whittling away at Alonso's impressive lead.

The Spaniard leads with 59 points to the Finn's 37, with Schumacher third on 34.

Alonso, winner of four races so far this year, took no points from the two North American races after crashing while leading in Canada.

Schumacher, taking 18 points from Montreal and Indianapolis, has rekindled his hopes of an eighth Championship after they appeared to have been snuffed out.

The 36-year-old German has won seven times at the French circuit and can become the first driver to win the same Grand Prix eight times.

"We tested extensively at Barcelona last week, and I think we're well prepared for Magny-Cours," he said. "I've managed to do well here many times and I think we did make some progress in the last few weeks.

"So I think we won't be doing too bad at all here."

Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, racing for Toyota, will also be back on the track after his heavy crash in Friday practice at Indianapolis.

He will be joined in the Friday practice by Olivier Panis, the last French Formula One driver who retired last year and will not race on Sunday.

Michelin's home town of Clermont-Ferrand hosted the last French Grand Prix without a French driver, the 1965 race won by Britain's Jim Clark in a Lotus.

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Series Formula 1
Author Alan Baldwin
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