The Magny-Cours circuit marked the mid-point of the 2000 season. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher had won five of the opening eight races of the campaign, building up a lead of 22 and 24 points respectively over the McLaren pairing of David Coulthard (two wins) and Mika Hakkinen (one) the only other drivers to top the podium.
France’s round of the championship had long been the precursor to Britain’s, typically held one week later. But even that had been disrupted in 2000 by the strange decision to race at Silverstone in April (those thinking this year’s postponement to August is likely to mean better weather are probably in for a rude surprise).
Many of the teams arrived early to conduct pre-race testing. Jos Verstappen suffered a sizeable crash in his Arrows which left him with a strained neck, but fortunately didn’t rule him out of the race.
Hot and dry weather greeted the drivers for the weekend, making a change after recent wet races. Free practice was the usual tussle between McLaren and Ferrari. Coulthard suffered a range of mechanical woes, while Schumacher and Hakkinen exchanged fastest times.
The Jordans also continued their run of good form, with Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen almost inseparable on times in fifth and sixth. Bu while the yellow cars were often quick, they had seldom proved reliable.
2000 French Grand Prix qualifying
Qualifying followed the usual pattern for the season with the Ferraris and McLarens locking out the first two rows. This time around Schumacher took pole ahead of Coulthard, who was forced into his spare car as a fuel pump was replaced.
On the second row Barrichello pipped Hakkinen by just a mere three thousandths, although both were four-tenths shy of Schumacher’s pole time. Having started the first three races from pole position, Hakkinen had only made one front row appearance in the last six races.
The usual mix of cars compelted the top 10. Ralf Schumacher beat Eddie Irvine to fifth, followed by Villeneuve and the Jordans just behind – both Trulli and Frentzen were disappointed with their performance given the pace of the car in practice.
Jenson Button, who was becoming more consistent in qualifying as his rookie season progressed, put the second Williams in the top 10. Further back Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz had a poor weekend, lining up 14th and 17th respectively, hampered by grip issues best described as ‘having to drive the Benetton’. The grid was completed by the brace of Minardis but Marc Gene at least was in striking distance of the midfield.
|13||Pedro de la Rosa||Arrows||1’17.279|
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2000 French Grand Prix
The previous year’s race had been greatly enlivened by rain showers. But the 2000 event was set to be dry all the way, so F1 fans the world over sighed and hoped that something (a global pandemic, perhaps) might excuse them from having to watch racing at Magny Cours.
But in the event the race proved far livelier than many expected. At the lights Coulthard made the better start of the front row occupants, but a characteristically robust defensive move from Schumacher enabled the Ferrari drive to retain the lead into the opening turn (yes, I have copied and pasted this paragraph from earlier races in this series).
Coulthard’s delay allowed Barrichello to slip and form a red one-two, with Hakkinen holding firm in fourth. The third row got away less well: Irvine slipped four places and the loveable Ralf Schumacher dropped from fifth to seventh.
His brother stretched his legs at the front of the field over the opening laps, whilst by incredible coincidence team mate Barrichello in second dropped back and started holding up the McLarens. Further down the entertainment came from the Prosts colliding as Heidfeld clattered into Alesi, drop-kicking his team mate down to 18th. Brake failure put Ricardo Zonta’s BAR into the barriers from 17th.
At the front of the field, the race quickly turned into a head to head between the Ferraris and McLarens with both on track action and pit strategy coming into play. The first big change came when Coulthard was able to ease past Barrichello on lap 22, just before the first cycle of pit stops. This was a crucial moment as Coulthard, now released into clear air and on fresh tyres, steadily eroded Schumacher’s advantage.
By lap 32 the race leaders had converged. The run down to the hairpin a couple of laps later provided an opportunity for Coulthard, but Schumacher defended well. As Coulthard attempted to squeeze Schumacher he raised a solitary digit in the German’s direction, a gesture eternally misinterpreted by commentator Murray Walker (who, in his penultimate season, sat out this race) as meaning ‘I’m number one’.
Six laps later Coulthard repeated the move, this time successfully, and was through into the lead. Immediately Schumacher was forced back into defence as Hakkinen tried to push his way through, allowing Coulthard to romp off into the distance. Coulthard retained his lead through the second round of pit stops, as a slick service from the Ferrari mechanics kept Schumacher clear of Hakkinen.
Elsewhere there were adventures with both Mazzacane and Wurz retiring after trips into the gravel traps (remember those?). Alesi also had his second collision of the day, this time with Gene, but both continued.
Then on the 59th lap came a surprise which had greater consequences for the championship than the race. Schumacher’s engine blew, forcing him into retirement.
This duly promoted Hakkinen into second and set McLaren on course for their third one-two of the year, with Barrichello elevated to third. This was the order through to the line with Villenueve, Ralf Schumacher and Trulli rounding out the points finishes.
After a tough start to the weekend, it was a fine victory for Coulthard. The bonus of Schumacher’s retirement pulled him to just 12 points adrift in the in the standings. A further six points for Hakkinen also kept him in the hunt. In the constructors fight things were equally as close with McLaren just six points back from Ferrari with just over half the season to run.
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2000 French Grand Prix result
|Position||Driver||Team||Laps||Time / laps / reason|
|7||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Jordan||71||+1 lap|
|8||Jenson Button||Williams||71||+1 lap|
|9||Giancarlo Fisichella||Benetton||71||+1 lap|
|10||Mika Salo||Sauber||71||+1 lap|
|11||Pedro Diniz||Sauber||71||+1 lap|
|12||Nick Heidfeld||Prost||71||+1 lap|
|13||Eddie Irvine||Jaguar||70||+2 laps|
|14||Jean Alesi||Prost||70||+2 laps|
|15||Marc Gene||Minardi||70||+2 laps|
|17||Pedro de la Rosa||Arrows||45||Transmission|
|18||Alexander Wurz||Benetton||34||Spun off|
|19||Gaston Mazzacane||Minardi||31||Spun off|
|22||Ricardo Zonta||BAR||16||Spun off|
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2000 French Grand Prix championship standings
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