Friday race preview - the stewards await 22 Aug 2003
Welcome back to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend at Hungaroring.
The major talking point in the paddock this morning is the imminent stewards' meeting this afternoon. Nazir Hoosein, Radovan Novak and Waltraut Wunsch, the stewards from Hockenheim, are to reconvene to examine further evidence that has become available following the FIA Court of Appeal hearing in Paris this week in which Ralf Schumacher's 10 grid place penalty, due to be implemented here, was changed for a $50,000 fine.
While Sir Frank Williams and Schumacher argue over who should actually pay that, the stewards have become very interested in the telemetry traces from the cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello. Accordingly both drivers have been asked to appear again before them further to explain their actions.
"Everything has already been said," a puzzled Barrichello said yesterday. "Now we have another meeting to express our views again. Unfortunately I was in the middle of a sandwich, and that's pretty much it."
When Raikkonen appeared in Paris last week one of the first things he said was: "I do not consider myself to be on trial here." Yesterday he added: "I guess I've said everything that I know and there's not much more to say to the stewards, but let's see what happens. It's a bit weird that it's turned round suddenly, but they've made their decision already. I'm not really worried about it."
However, many here are predicting that he may become the next victim of a grid-place penalty as a result of the new evidence, and that this will then be appealed in the same way as Schumacher's was, prior to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.
So far the main title protagonists are being careful in their predictions for Sunday's race. But Michael Schumacher is the most ebullient. "I am very happy with the progress that we have made since Germany," the champion said. "The Williams was very good there but I am sure that we have made progress since then and I believe that the championship points system favours us to keep our advantage. I think we will have a strong race this weekend."
Montoya, who has spent a week at home in Bogota since his crushing victory in Hockenheim, said: "Our chances are looking good at the moment, but there are still four races to go and ideally we need to wrap things up before Suzuka in case Bridgestone pulls out a great tyre for that race. We have been looking better and better in recent races, but I have to remember that we haven't always gone well here. Let's see how it goes."
Raikkonen, fresh from a break in Bratislava where he played ice hockey before heading to the Appeal Court in Paris, said: "At McLaren we don't think the title fight is over yet. We've had some back luck recently, especially in both German races, but if we score some good points this weekend we can get back in the game."
The most relieved man is Ralf Schumacher. "I think the Court of Appeal made the best decision," he said after the hearing in Paris on Wednesday, "and that enables me to go into this weekend doing the best I can to score more points and continue my fight for the title."
The three top teams - Ferrari, Williams and McLaren - will be in contention all weekend, but Renault should not be discounted either on a track that will suit its cars' excellent handling characteristics.
Elsewhere, the weekend marks milestones for both Honda and Minardi. It is the Japanese manufacturer's 250th Grand prix, and the Italian team's 300th.