Friday race preview - Austria 16 May 2003
Jordan are currently topping the private practice times, chased by Renault and Jaguar, as these words are being written, and once again it is just the regular drivers without any extra testers.
Michael Schumacher was a little tense yesterday when the subject of team orders was raised at the press conference. It's a touchy subject all round, and the world champion said: "I think it is down to you [the media] that the team orders have changed, those of you who didn't like them. Whether a ban is enforceable or not, I don't know. Certainly the obvious team orders will be, and we have made our statement on this subject."
Brother Ralf supported his view that team orders should be left up to the individual teams, and said: "I can't remember we ever really had a problem [at Williams], but it is impossible to get rid of team orders and it should be down to the team to decide what to do. I didn't have a problem with what happened here last year."
Cristiano da Matta gave the purist's point of view when he said: "Teams should decide who is best on the track. Of course the team has to think of the interests of the sponsors and everything else, but sport should be on top of the list."
Everyone is expecting the Ferraris to set the pace, and looking forward to another Schumacher - Barrichello battle. In the past two seasons the Brazilian has had the upper hand over his team leader at this smooth circuit.
At Williams there is a mood of great determination, and Ralf said that he has never known the factory to be so focussed in recent weeks. In the aero department, following the departure of Jason Somerville and Nick Allcock, Antonia Terzi is pulling her team together, Dr John Davis continues his work redesigning and recalibrating the existing wind tunnel as the new one takes shape for 2004, and they have been joined by former employee Frank Dernie, a recognised aerodynamics ace.
The surface of the A1-Ring is expected to suit the Williams FW25, and the team already has very good tyres from Michelin and the strength and power of the BMW V10 in its armoury. Ralf would like to celebrate his 100th GP with a strong result.
McLaren know they will do better than they did in Spain, and there is an air of expectancy within the team with the imminent track debut of the MP4-18A, which will test at Paul Ricard next week. The new car is said to be pure Adrian Newey and to be a dramatic, but not radical, departure from the MP4-17D concept.
Renault are worried about how their acknowledged power deficit might hurt them on this quick track, but there is an upgraded R23 engine said to have up to 30 bhp more. At Jaguar there is a new air of calm after the recent speculation over Antonio Pizzonia's future, and Mark Webber is delighted with his new two-year contract extension.
"I'm very excited to stay," the Australian said. "A sense of loyalty is very important to me. I've only had a very short period with Jaguar, but the work we have already put in hopefully will be fruitful next year, and in 2005 we will be at our strongest. And you never know what might happen with the big teams. Hopefully here I will enjoy some control over my situation.
"As usual things got blown out of proportion a bit [over the Pizzonia affair], there was a lot of media attention. It would be totally unrealistic to say that the team didn't feel some of that. Antonio was unlucky at the start of the last two Grands Prix, but now we are totally through all of that and we are ready to go.
"The points were great in Barcelona. It was crucial to get the non-finish monkey off our back. I was very happy to see the chequered flag there even though it was probably the least competitive performance of our season. When the mechanics took the bodywork off the car, they said everything was like new underneath."