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Thursday race preview - Ralf back in the hunt 21 Aug 2003

A lone Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams fan celebrates his third place finish in a sea of ferrari worshippers.
Hungarian Grand Prix Rd 13, Hungaroring, Budapest, 18 August 2002

Welcome to the start of our coverage of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend here at the Hungaroring, the 13th round of the 2003 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Though there has been the traditional 'holiday' break for the teams since the last round, there has been plenty going on to maintain interest in Formula One racing worldwide. The big story has been great news for Ralf Schumacher, who was originally docked 10 grid places here for his part in the first corner collision just after the start of the recent German Grand prix at Hockenheim. Following an appeal lodged by the Williams team, which was heard in Paris on Tuesday this week, that decision was changed. Now the championship-contending German will instead be fined $50,000.

This will have a crucial effect on Schumacher Jnr's chances both in this race and in the title chase, as the Hungaroring is notoriously difficult to overtake around and grid positions are thus vitally important.

"We are delighted that the FIA Court of Appeal saw fit to remove the serious penalty of a 10 place demotion on the starting grid for the next race," said team principal Sir Frank Williams. "The substitution of a financial penalty at least means we can compete in Hungary with Ralf still in a competitive position in both championships.

"The hearing proved to be a fair and transparent review of all the factors that culminated in the incident, and the team can now turn its full attention to the forthcoming race in Budapest."

Ralf Schumacher said: "I was delighted with the decision. After yesterday's hearing I didn't expect much, but I am very happy with the conclusion that was reached. I think the team presented a very thorough case and this helped a lot, I am sure."

Michael Schumacher leads Juan Pablo Montoya by only six points in the title chase - 71 to 65 - with four races left. Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello remain on 62, 53 and 49 respectively after their clash last time out. The FIA Court of Appeal decision means that Schumacher Jnr is still in with a chance of taking the title, but much will depend on the outcome of Sunday's race.

In the constructors' stakes, Ferrari has 120 but Williams is right behind with 118 and McLaren remains in striking distance with 103. One of the threads of Williams' legal argument was that penalising Ralf Schumacher also indirectly penalised the team, which is in contention for the championship crown.

Though it has been holiday time and there has been a test ban in force, all of the major teams have still been working flat out. At Ferrari, Michael Schumacher has disclosed that the F2003-GA will appear festooned with new components as the team pulls out all the stops to maintain its points advantages. All of the teams have also been pushing hard and all of them will be using their full downforce bodywork, as the Hungaroring is the circuit after Monte Carlo that demands the most. Its surface is also quite abrasive, which will place a premium on tyre performance and degradation. Team strategy will also be critical here as overtaking is almost impossible.

This year there are some changes to the track, which has been criticized in the past because it offers so few overtaking places. Now the main straight is longer and dips to more of a hairpin, where it is also significantly wider in an attempt to generate an overtaking slot. Turn 12 is also quite different. It now runs wider down the hill and is joined to the old Turn 13 by a 90 degree corner, and then a 180 degree hairpin, again to facilitate passing. Because the revisions have increased the circuit length from 3.975 km to 4.384, the largest increase in the circuit's history, the traditional race length of 77 laps has now been cut to 70. For the technical implications of the track changes see 'Hungaroring - the engineer's view'.

The Hungarian Grand Prix will mark the 250th race for Honda. Ferrari, Ford and Renault are the only other engine manufacturers to have achieved this. Honda's RA271 prototype was raced at the German GP at the old Nurburgring by American driver Ronnie Bucknum, back in August 1964.