Thursday race preview from Hockenheim 31 Jul 2003
Hello and welcome to the start of the German Grand Prix weekend here at Hockenheim, the 12th round of the 2003 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Following the dramatic British Grand Prix at Silverstone a fortnight ago, Ferrari goes head-to-head with Williams and McLaren on the home ground of the latter pair's engine suppliers.
Michael Schumacher still leads the world championship for drivers, with 69 points to former leader Kimi Raikkonen's 62, but Juan Pablo Montoya is closing in with 55 and Ralf Schumacher is still in touch with 53. Even British Grand Prix victor Rubens Barrichello - the seventh different winner this season - cannot be discounted with 49 and five races still to run.
The Ferrari/Bridgestone win in England was a timely counter-strike against the sudden upsurge of Michelin-shod Williams, and undoubtedly the tyre war will continue in Germany. The weather in Hockenheim is usually hot and muggy, but it was the same at Silverstone which suggests that Michelin no longer has an upper hand in such conditions. Equally, there is a school of thought that says that Williams should have won the British race, and could have done so with slightly better fortune.
For sure both tyre manufacturers have been working overtime in recent weeks, for the testing ban that came into place immediately after Silverstone will prevent anyone doing any further track work until the first week of September. Thus the development done immediately prior to Silverstone will be critical, and nobody can yet be certain who did the more effective job.
The other big story of the weekend will be Justin Wilson's sudden and dramatic switch from Minardi to Jaguar, and, of course, Nicolas Kiesa's arrival from F3000 in his place at Minardi.
Wilson and his manager Jonathan Palmer had been holding low-key talks with Jaguar about 2004, but after the British Grand prix the team's management decided that Antonio Pizzonia had not done enough to justify his seat and made the immediate change in its line-up.
Wilson, 193 cm (6ft 4in) tall, had visited the Milton Keynes factory in secret the week before, believing that he was being asked to see if he fitted the Jaguar R4's chassis ahead of a possible deal for 2004. "It came as a complete surprise to me when I learned we were talking about an immediate change," he said. The chance to drive for Jaguar represents the sort of opportunity any aspiring racer dreams of, and based on his performances when he beat Mark Webber to the 2001 FIA International Formula 3000 Championship, he should be able to give the Australian a run for his money and thus boost Jaguar's chances of taking fifth place in the Constructors' World Championship ratings.
Meanwhile, the chance for Kiesa to jump into Formula One was most welcome for the young Dane, who lucked into victory at the Monaco Grand Prix's F3000 support race after leader Bjorn Wirdheim mistakenly thought he had crossed the finish line and paused to congratulate his crew on a victory it transpired he had not scored.
Significant changes made to Hockenheim prior to the 2002 race were not popular with purists, until it came to the race. Though the track's character had been changed completely, it transpired that they promoted overtaking. Montoya and Raikkonen staged a fantastic duel, which rather overshadowed the amount of overtaking that Felipe Massa was indulging in for Sauber.
In the days when it had its famous long straights Hockenheim was one of the fastest circuits on the calendar so teams ran with minimal downforce and drivers were obliged to tiptoe through the stadium section at the end of the lap. Aerodynamic packages were tailored to maximise straight-line speed.
Now Hockenheim is a very different race track, much more akin to Austria's A1-Ring, so teams use their usual high downforce configurations. And in order to maximise the chances of overtaking at the new hairpin that follows the curving back straight, they will also be paying great attention to setting up their cars to maximum stability under braking and maximum traction on the exit. The race will be run over 67 laps.