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Friday race preview 27 Jun 2003

Jos Verstappen (NED) Minardi Cosworth PS03 leaves the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 June 2003

Private testing is going on here at the Nurburgring as these words are written, with Jaguar and Renault battling it out for the honours.

The weather is settled at present but with the likelihood of rain showers later in the day the private test teams have been busy accumulating as much dry mileage as possible.

Once again it is expected that Michelin and Bridgestone will be evenly matched in the tyre performance stakes, and Michael Schumacher admitted yesterday that Ferrari is unlikely to regain the clear performance edge that it enjoyed here in 2002.

"As we keep winning races I'm not so concerned," he said when it was pointed out that Williams has taken pole position for the last two races. But he added that he has not been surprised to be getting a harder time of it this year. "I have kept saying since beginning of season that the others are knocking on the door, so there is no need to be surprised now. We are doing as high level a job as in the past, but the others have picked up. Again, that's what I have expected. I cannot see Ferrari getting the margin we had last year. Simply in all areas, the other teams have raised their game."

There have been some cosmetic changes to the Nurburgring circuit for 2003. The exit to the Mercedes Arena has been modified after Schumacher spent some time offering his advice and in return for the changes being made the world champion has offered a day of his time to the organisers later in the year for promotional purposes. The drivers wanted the exit to the corner eased. Otherwise the character of the track has changed little since 2002, when the new loop in the first corner generated greater overtaking opportunities. The first corner is very wide so there are a number of lines into it. That makes it more interesting for the engineers, because they can experiment with the level of downforce. It is possible that some will sacrifice some downforce for qualifying, in order to boost straightline speed to help overtaking in the race.

Some of the off-camber corners here always cause a bit of head scratching on set-up, but otherwise the track is quite benign in terms of tyre wear and braking and has reasonable grip.

The top four - Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault - have largely unchanged cars here, apart from trimming them aerodynamically to suit the track, but Sauber has the new front suspension and rear wing that performed well in the recent Silverstone test, as well as the later 052 specification Petronas-badged Ferrari engine.