JUNE 25, 2003
EUROPEAN GP - PREVIEW
The Formula 1 circus gathers this weekend at the Nurburgring in Germany and there will be tens of thousands of Michael Schumacher fans turning out as usual to watch their hero in action. In recent years he has not disappointed although last year he allowed Rubens Barrichello to win the race, finishing second to his team mate by two-tenths of a second. The move was seen at the time as an attempt by Schumacher to offset the criticism he had received after the Austrian Grand Prix when Barrichello was ordered to pull over at the finish and let Michael win. That aside Michael has dominated at the Ring in recent years with wins in 2000 and 2001 to add to his earlier triumph in 1995. This is Michael's home race and he is sure to be competitive once again and with the weather always likely to be an element at the Nurburgring he is even better placed as Canada showed that in the wet the Bridgestone tires are much more competitive than the current Michelins. The Ferrari has shown itself to be a car which will suit most circuits but at the point-and-squirt tracks like Imola and Canada Williams has been very competitive. Where Williams has been weak so far this year is at tracks where there is high-speed cornering and at the Nurburgring this becomes something of an issue. Having said that Williams has been developing its car with great speed in recent months and it will be interesting to see if the problem has been solved.
This is a key race for McLaren because this is also Mercedes-Benz country and Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard will want to make up for the disastrous weekend in Canada where the team lost the lead in both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles. The team should not be underestimated because of one bad result and should be in with a good chance of victory.
Renault has shown itself to be useful on circuits where aerodynamics are necessary and rival teams will be watching closely to see if the team can continue to show the remarkable pace seen in qualifying in Canada, where Fernando Alonso somehow managed to qualify near the front of the grid despite having a huge fuel load. Jarno Trulli is due to have a good race having had a series of less than impressive showings in recent weeks.
Much depends on tires by one can expect to see Jaguar Racing's Mark Webber leading the challengers as he has done in most of the recent races. The Jaguar is a quick car and Webber has been doing a pretty good job this year and wants to go on picking up more and more points as the car becomes more reliable and the team grows in confidence. Antonio Pizzonia is still under pressure to up his game and at the Nurburgring will not have any excuses as he knows the track well from his Formula 3000 days. There have been signs that Pizzonia is on the verge of a decent result but so far it has not materialised.
One can expect a lively battle as usual in the midfield with some combination of Sauber, BAR, Toyota and Jordan. Much will depend on set-up and in this respect Jordan should have the advantage as the team gets to run an extra two hours on the circuit on Friday morning. However BAR must also be watched as the latest Honda engines are very impressive and it cannot be long before we see Jenson Button or Jacques Villeneuve producing a good result.
Despite the influx of loot from Bernie Ecclestone one can expect to see the Minardis down at the back although in Montreal the black and white cars were better than they have been for a long time. The cars were running with light fuel loads but at least it gave the team something to cheer about. A little investment in the development of the cars could make a lot of difference but it will bee several races before we start to see the result of that.