Despite the name, this is effectively the German Grand Prix, with the title only having been changed after Hockenheim and the Nurgburgring failed to agree on that part of the decision to share Germany's round of the world championship for the foreseeable future.

Hit by falling attendances and rising costs, Germany's two major venues decided to pool their efforts in retaining at least one race on the calendar, with the Nurburgring being accorded the first event of the 'date share' plan, albeit having to use the European Grand Prix title. While the usual comparisons will be made between Nurburgring new and old, the current version isn't as bad as the purists would have you believe and has produced the odd decent race over the years.

It remains to be seen what impact Michael Schumacher's retirement will have on the crowd figures, although Nick Heidfeld's current run of form may be enough to tempt a few doubters through the gate. With Schumacher due to be immortalised with the renaming of corners in his honour - the 'Schumacher S' will replace the Audi and Shell Kurves that mark the circuit's return uphill from the Dunlop hairpin - and expected on track to mark the occasion there will still be something for the faithful to cheer.

That is unlikely to detract from the battle for supremacy on track, however, with McLaren fighting a rearguard action against a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen in recent races. The Finn, who has always run well at the 'Ring, will be looking to complete a hat-trick of race wins this weekend, while Mercedes-powered Fernando Alonso and points leader Lewis Hamilton will looking to give the Three-Pointed Star a home win to preserve their advantage at the head of the standings.

FIA F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS

With more and more information slipping out in drips, the Formula 1 world remains captivated by the spying row that has engulfed Ferrari, McLaren and potentially even Honda. Although claims and counter claims make it difficult to exactly establish who is at fault, what is being accused, or who exactly is involved, what is clear is that the increasingly bitter - and bizarre - row is casting a dark shadow over the sport and this year's otherwise exciting title race.

For the moment, court proceedings are underway, with Nigel Stepney and Mika Coughlin both in the dock over alleged 'intellectual property' swapping from Ferrari to McLaren. Both claim their innocence, meaning the row is likely to drag on for yet more weeks...

After some sharp criticism over the last few races and rumours of his impending dismissal ever present at Silverstone, Christijan Albers has indeed been axed from the Spyker team with immediate effect. Although the word was that sponsors owed the team money, Albers has struggled in comparison with his more inexperienced team-mate Adrian Sutil this season.

As such, their test driver Markus Winkelhock will make his long-awaited Formula 1 debut this weekend at his home round, although it is unclear whether the DTM driver will retain the seat to the end of the year. Indeed, second test driver Adrian Valles has hinted he is in-line to race in Hungary, while Red Bull refugee and current Honda tester Christian Klien has also made himself a strong candidate by testing for Spyker at Spa.

NEWS FROM THE TEAMS:
McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

Second and third positions in the British Grand Prix last time out saw McLaren retain the lead of the constructors' championship, while Hamilton and Alonso both also kept their positions in the drivers' standings, but the entire operation knows that it cannot stand still for an instant as Ferrari shows signs of clawing back the deficit built up around the North American 'flyaways'

"We arrive at our home grand prix with a positive balance from the first half of the season as, in the first nine grands prix, Fernando and Lewis have achieved 15 out of 18
possible podium finishes, and McLaren is the only team to score points in every race with both drivers," Mercedes' Norbert Haug commented, "However, the most recent
races in Magny-Cours and Silverstone showed that we have to improve further, and everybody in the team works to achieve this in a disciplined manner and with all their power."

80 years on from Mercedes' first win at the N?rburgring - taken by Rudolf Caracciola in the Mercedes S sportscar - Alonso is confident that recent testing performances will give the Woking team a push in the right direction.

"We had a positive test at Spa, with a lot of dedication from everyone within the team," the world champion noted, "This season is very competitive and we all have to push hard to find more performance from every part of the car, particularly for the N?rburgring. It is not a track that depends on a particular part of the car and it is difficult to get the maximum performance here. The layout of the track, with the range of corners, means that you have to have a consistent balance for the different speeds, so there will be a lot of hard work with my engineers to get a competitive set-up.

"The changes to the track a couple of years ago have added another chance, under braking into the Mercedes Arena at the first corner. This will be my first time as a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver racing in front of all the Mercedes-Benz employees from Stuttgart, who, I have been told, mostly sit in this section of the track. I am really looking forward to it and hope we can give them a good race."

Hamilton, meanwhile, returns to the Eifel circuit knowing that he enjoyed a successful weekend there on his way to the GP2 crown in 2006, but determined to overturn memories of a difficult home race, where he admitted to not getting his set-up right.

"Despite having a mixed weekend at Silverstone, we still came away from the track with a good haul of points and I am now really looking forward to getting back to the N?rburgring," he confirmed, "I had a great weekend there last year, taking my first double win of the year, and, in 2005, I also won one race there in F3.
Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

Renault arrives in Germany having failed to take the fight to championship rival BMW Sauber at Silverstone and keen to elevate itself back into the fight for third rather than slipping back into the mire that already includes Toyota, Williams, Red Bull and, increasingly, Honda.

"The target is clear - to continue closing the gap to BMW on track, and to begin doing so in the championship," technical director Bob Bell confirmed, "If you look back to the opening races of the year, it was as if we were in a different race to them. Now we are regularly qualifying in the top ten and, according to the type of circuit, racing with our direct rivals. Giancarlo and Heikki are both pushing very hard and getting the maximum from the car but they now need a more performance to fight on equal terms with BMW.

"I'm very optimistic we can maintain our upward trajectory but, as we have been working to understand and solve our problems, we have fallen behind in the normal development of the car. The gap to our rivals reflects that. The solution is very simple - we need to accelerate our pace of development in the second half of the season. It will be a big challenge, but it's one that the factory is ready to take up. Our commitment is as strong as ever."

Kovalainen and Fisichella filled the final two scoring spots at Silverstone, but the Italian is confident that the team can bounce back.

"It is fair to say that the last two races were a bit disappointing, all the more so because they were our home races," he admitted, "We knew that it would be a tough battle with BMW. All of the teams are making progress, and our challenge is to do so faster than them in order to get ahead and try to close the gap in the championship. We are going in the right direction, and everybody is doing their maximum. I am convinced that if we carry on like this, our hard work will pay off."

Kovalainen - who admits that he is glad the race is at the Nurburgring - echoed his team-mate's sentiments.

"Everybody in the team knows that we have only just passed the halfway point of the season, and that there is still a long way to go," he pointed out, "The team has done a fantastic job to fix the problems we had at the start of the season, and I think we are all determined to show that we can bounce back. I still think that third place in the championship is achievable. It's going to be tough, but I believe we can do it!"
Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

If any team heads to the Nurburgring with confidence this weekend, it will be Ferrari, which has taken the last two grands prix courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen and topped the last two group tests, at Silverstone and Spa. However, the Scuderia - which also won last year's European GP with Michael Schumacher - will also bear in mind that McLaren often provided the Finn with a contender at the circuit and will be looking to bounce back this weekend.

Team-mate Felipe Massa, meanwhile, is keen to redress the balance after seeing both of the last two races slip away from him.

"Some people have suggested that Silverstone was one of my best drives, and I guess they could be right, but I cannot consider it one of my best races at the moment," he lamented, "I enjoyed the driving and having a very good race from the back, but it was very negative because of what happened at the start and, in some ways, I could not enjoy it [because] it was a race where I should have been fighting for the win. When you look at the championship situation and how competitive it is this year, and then see so many points escaping from you, it's not possible to be happy.

"Now, we go to the Nurburgring, where I expect the F2007 will again be very competitive. Last year, I finished third and took my first ever F1 podium. Hopefully, this time, we can be back on the podium - but in a better position."

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

After the 'joy' of scoring a point at Magny-Cours, it was back to the doldrums for Honda at Silverstone, and the Brackley team is keen to get the second half of the season off to a flying start at the European Grand Prix.

With no testing at the venue, and a change from the Nurburgring's usual May date, the tenth round of the season will presents a unique challenge to Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. The Briton is not a fan of the circuit, claiming that a lot rides on the approach to turn one, but Barrichello comes from the opposing camp and is looking forward to turning out there this weekend.

"The N?rburgring is a challenging circuit for the drivers and one that I particularly enjoy," the Brazilian admitted, "I won the grand prix here back in 2002, so I always feel good about returning and racing around here. I like the layout of the circuit and it has some great high-speed corners and interesting undulations. With the recent improvements to our car, we are now capable of knocking on the door of the points-scoring positions, so I am hoping to have a good race at the weekend."

Both Barrichello and Button will be putting their faith in the altest developments to roll off the Brackley production line, with further aerodynamic modifications topping the list.

"We used the test at Spa-Francorchamps last week to evaluate some new aero upgrades which we plan to use from the European Grand Prix onwards," senior technical director Shuhei Nakamoto confirmed, "We struggled for balance at high speeds, which meant that our lap times were not good, but, on the positive side, we were one of few teams to experience little or no mechanical problems with the engine. Good levels of downforce are required at the Nurburgring, as the circuit has a range of low to high speed corners, and you also need good stability under braking. But we will be as aggressive as possible, aiming to score points."
BMW Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

A lot has changed in a year, and BMW Sauber heads for home having established itself as a top three Formula One team, and the biggest opposition to Ferrari and McLaren.

Although it does not anticipate being able to fight for victory in the European Grand Prix, the team is confident that it will be able to maintain its position ahead of Renault in the pecking order. That in itself would be a step forward for the Munich/Hinwil squad, as Nick Heidfeld reflects.

"We didn't do so well there last year, and it would be great if we could get back among the Ferraris and McLarens at my home race this time around," he said, "Nowhere do so many of my fans come to cheer me on than at the N?rburgring. This support is fantastic, and I also have a lot of fond memories tied up in the circuit.

"The N?rburgring is very close to M?nchengladbach, where I was born and grew up, and I learnt to ride a bicycle at the 'Ring when I was three. In winter, we even went sledging on the Hohe Acht slopes, and the first time I drove a kart by myself was on the old karting track at the circuit - with a tyre and a blanket wedged behind my back so that I could reach the pedals!

"Since then, I've driven a lot of races on the N?rburgring and recorded victories in almost all the series I've competed in there - Formula Ford, F3 and F3000. In 2005, I took my first Formula One pole position in the Eifel mountains with BMW Williams and finished second in the race itself, so I enjoy going back."

Team-mate Robert Kubica is also familiar with the German venue, despite this weekend being his first Formula One race there.

"I have practically been racing at the circuit every year since 2001 and, because of this, I know it fairly well," the Pole confirmed, "I have to be honest and say I don't find the circuit spectacular, but this will be the only grand prix in Germany this year, and I am sure there will be a big crowd, with a lot of the people being fans of our team. I think it will be a good weekend and maybe, after that, my feelings for the track will change."

For more see Part 2 of our European Grand Prix preview...

 

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