Formula one, 2001 season French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours: Practice and Qualifying the jpoc report

When free practice opened on Friday morning, it was pretty well business as usual. Each of the big three teams got their two cars into the top six, Hakkinen just edging Michael Schumacher out of top spot with the Williams back in fifth and sixth places. Behind them, the four Honda powered cars filled out the rest of the top ten places and the only real surprise of the session was the Minardi of Alonso which got up into 15th place.

Things were turned on their heads for the second session on friday when the top three saw two unexpected interlopers. Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve ended up behind fastest man Coulthard. Pedro de la Rosa made it into the top ten too suggesting that Irvine's second place was not a fluke although Villeneuve at least admitted to running a low fuel load and going for a time rather than working on setup. Alonso slipped back to last but one, half a second up on his team mate.

Saturday morning saw the Benetton team hoping for great things. Their much trumpeted new version of the Renault V10 engine and some new aerodynamic components would be run together in the Saturday sessions. This didn't seem to help much in the first Saturday session as Fisichella and Button set their customary times near to the back of the grid. Up at the front, normality was restored with Michael Schumacher heading the other cars from the top three teams and the Honda engines filling out the next four places. The two Jaguars returned to their more customary positions around fifteenth spot and Fisichella was slightly faster than Button. The only real oddity was the decision by Mika "having a bit of a lie in today" Hakkinen not to run at all. Benetton made no comment as to whether or not they had been running the new engine.

For Saturday's second session, Mika wiped the marmelade off his chin and set fourth best time behind the two Schueys (Michael first) and his team mate. Trulli spoiled the neatness of the top six by being next and he was the only Honda runner to make it into the top ten. Heidfeld, Irvine and Raikkonen demoting Frentzen, Villeneuve and Panis. Behind, everyone else was just about as expected.

Qualifying itself got off to a good start in that we didn't have to endure the normal twenty minute wait for some action of the track. First of the big boys to come out was Rubens Barrichello and he set a time that was comfortably fastest though seconds later he was eclipsed by Eddie Irvine who beat the man who replaced him at Ferrari by a quarter of a second. Another surprise was to come from Luciano Burti in the Prost. Running at the team's home track he set a time that was not so special in itself but he was the fastest of all in the second section of the track so clearly the team must be doing something right.

Eventually, Ralf Schumacher came out and set fastest time only to be demoted to third by his brother and David Coulthard. For a moment, it looked as though this might become fourth as Eddie Irvine came out for his second run and was fastest at the first time check but he spun into the gravel before reaching the second intermediate timing point. Although he came out in the spare car later, that was it for Eddie as he failed to improve. Next to show well at the first intermediate was Mika Hakkinen but he faded as the lap continued and in the end was just fifth.

Right on the half way point of the session, Ralf came out again and set fastest time. His brother's answer came moments later but he was unable to do more than cement his second position.

Hakkinen's second run brought him up to third place and then it was the turn of Coulthard to respond. He got into a bit of a slide at the chicane and that prevented him from setting a time that was better than fifth fastest behind Montoya.

Soon after that Luciano Birti spun through the gravel and dragged a good load of small stones back onto the track as he recovered.

It didn't deter Coulthard who came out smartly for his third run and managed to pass Montoya for fourth position. Whatever the reason, neither Hakkinen nor Michael Schumacher managed to improve their times.

Finally, right at the end, Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher came out for their last runs. Coulthard was really on the edge but kept it all together and just pipped his team mate for third place. Ralf didn't bother to set a time, his first pole position was in the bag and it had been a neat, professional job from the Williams driver who just hapopened to be celebrating his 26th birthday.

It was a good showing for the McLarens too. Filling the second row of the grid, they were not so far off the pace as many had been expecting and they emphasised that F1 still has three teams right at the top.

Further back, the two Jordans did well to mix it with the slower Williams and Ferrari. Outside the top eight, the Suabers, BARs and Jaguars made up a solid tighly packed midfield bunch and the stragglers straggled in at the rear. So much for the new engine in the Benetton Renault.

The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Off track developments
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Setting the scene
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st The starting grid
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Race report
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Results
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Championship standings after the race
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