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Thursday race preview - Austria 15 May 2003

David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17 is followed by the Williams FW24 of Ralf Schumacher (GER).
Austrian Grand Prix, Rd6, A1-Ring, Austria., 13 May 2002

Welcome to the start of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend here at the A1-Ring in Spielberg. Fresh from two consecutive victories that have brought him to within four points of Kimi Raikkonen's world championship points lead, Michael Schumacher will once again race the Spanish Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2003-GA.

However, the world champion and team mate Rubens Barrichello are due to have a further advantage as Bridgestone will have some bespoke tyres ready for it, which should further enhance the handling. The A1-Ring has suited Ferrari well in recent years, though last year's race was dominated by the controversy surrounding the use of team orders.

The circuit is a very tricky one on which to set up cars, because it has a very smooth surface which changes very quickly as the layers of rubber build up. Teams have to be very careful not to be mislead by this into making unnecessary set-up changes and losing their way, and make heavy reliance on past set-up experience. This characteristic also makes it more difficult than ever to choose tyres.

Cars also need plenty of power as the few corners are relatively quick and are linked by long straights that require plenty of full-throttle running. Drivers are flat-out on the accelerator for 72 percent of the lap. Good braking stability and traction are also essential, and are the product of good basic design and a sound mechanical set-up.

The changes in the regulations for 2003 have also created a fresh poser for the race engineers. In the past teams ran high downforce in qualifying and then reduced it for the race to give drivers the top speed edge they needed to facilitate overtaking moves. This was especially important on the drag race from the first corner down to the hairpin, Remus. Now, of course, drivers have to race with the same set-up they used in qualifying, which will demand fresh compromises. Most teams take the view that they will just have to run in qualifying with less downforce, as the chance to overtake in the race remains of paramount importance.

McLaren and Williams have both been hard at work on aerodynamic development, and both will be desperate to score points this weekend. McLaren in particular need as many as they can get after their failure to score in Barcelona. As managing director Martin Whitmarsh points out, McLaren haven't finished out of the top six in Austria since the A1-Ring joined the calendar in 1997, and have won 50 percent of the races there.

Renault will have a revised version of their wide-angle RS23 V10 engine, with enhanced lubrication and injection systems. Honda too will have another new version of its RA003E V10 for BAR. At Jaguar things should be calmer now that Antonio Pizzonia has been confirmed in his seat for the rest of the year, while Mark Webber has recently signed an extension of his contract to 2005.

Sauber will be hoping that their C22 goes as well at the A1-Ring as their C20 and C21 models did in past seasons, while Toyota are looking to add to the points that Cristiano da Matta scored in Barcelona. Many believe that Olivier Panis is long overdue for a good finish. Jordan will be aiming for further points after Ralph Firman's strong run in Spain, and Minardi to open their account.

This is scheduled to be the last Austrian Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, and Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, who owns the lease to the circuit, has dramatic new development plans for its future.

The track is situated near the city of Spielberg in Styria, in the south east of Austria. It is 4.326 kilometres long and the race will be run over 71 laps. Last year's winner was Michael Schumacher, but the man of the race then, and in the previous year, was his partner, Barrichello, who will be out to redress the imbalance this year.