Michael Schumacher will race Ferrari’s new F-2003 GA for the first time this weekend and intends to score a third consecutive Spanish Grand Prix win for the Scuderia.
The Circuit de Catalunya, the home of the Spanish Grand Prix since 1991, is a happy hunting ground for five-times world champion Michael Schumacher, who has won the event on four occasions.
Being quite modern, the circuit is fairly technical but familiar to drivers who spend a lot of time testing there. But teams can usually get the cars set-up well and the racing can be quite close. It has a few overtaking possibilities, notably the first corner after the start/finish straight. Corners are medium to high speed and downforce tends to be high despite the long pit straight.
The track surface is quite abrasive so tyre wear is a major consideration. Most teams will probably opt for a mid-to-hard compound and dry weather tyres - conditions in Spain are generally mild, although obviously the weather can't be guaranteed.
Ferrari and Schumacher's win at the last race in San Marino showed the team is certainly not struggling as much as some would make out. The big news for Spain is the debut of the F2003-GA, which has reportedly overcome its reliability issues and is faster than the F2002 by half a second.
“We are all eager to see how the F2003-GA does," Schumacher said this week. "I think it was right to wait until Spain to go with the new car because we had to build up more data and gather crucial statistics. This always helps, though we can rest assured of the strong points of the new Ferrari."
"At Imola I had the impression that Ferrari could repeat last year's trend: that our form could take off with the start of the European races," Michael explained. "So I feel positive going into Barcelona, even more so because we have done lots of tyre tests on the circuit."
The decision by Ferrari to run its new F2003-GA at Barcelona leaves McLaren-Mercedes as the only team still running its old car. Team boss Ron Dennis says that the team will not race the new car until at least the British Grand Prix in July, but the actual date of its début will depend on the performance of the new Ferrari this weekend.
"McLaren conducts a significant amount of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya," said the team's managing director, Martin Whitmarsh. "As a consequence, we arrive at the Spanish Grand Prix well equipped to optimise set-up during the early stages of the race weekend. This factor is of increased importance this year, given the revisions to the schedule that has led to less track time throughout the event.
"We conducted a positive test last week at Mugello in the MP4-17D, with Kimi (Raikkonen), Alex Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa at the wheel. Although our primary focus is obviously the final stages of the MP4-18, we are continuing to work on additional updates on the MP4-17D. There is no complacency with this car, we are not standing still."
The team is expecting a tough fight for victory at the circuit. "I am expecting strong competition from at least three teams - the Grand Prix will therefore be very challenging," said Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug.
The rapidly-improving Williams-BMW team qualified well at Imola, but faded during the race. Renault was less in the action than it was in Malaysia but still competed strongly with the top teams. In Spain, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Renault should again dominate, but Williams-BMW could be the dark horse given its strong form at a recent test session at Barcelona.
Toyota is hopeful that it can score its first points of the season at the Spanish Grand Prix, having managed to get both its cars to the finish for the first time this season at San Marino.
"We showed good signs of speed and overall performance at the Barcelona circuit in pre-season testing, and following out double finish in Imola two weeks' ago, I think we can look to the Spanish Grand Prix with championship points as a realistic target," said Toyota team principal Ove Andersson.
"Like most other teams, we have done a lot of testing at the Catalunya track and the efforts of the whole team continue to impress me, so I am hopeful we can make an important step forward in Barcelona this weekend by qualifying in the top ten and finishing the race in the points," Toyota driver Olivier Panis said.
Meanwhile, a lot of people are waiting for Jaguar's Mark Webber to consolidate his great qualifying efforts into a decent race result, which could come this weekend. How team-mate Antonio Pizzonia's uncertain future will pan out is yet to be seen - despite denials all round, it's possible it will be Pizzonia's last race.
Original article from Car