This weekend sees the European Grand Prix at the German circuit of the Nurburgring. takes a look to see who will be the movers and shakers come Sunday.

German Pride
The European Grand Prix is the first of the two Grand Prix held in Germany, with the second being the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in August. The German fans will be out in droves, not just for the German drivers, but for manufacturers BMW and Mercedes.

Ferrari are looking strong, as ever, but the boys at Williams have made very good progress this year from a shaky start, expect BMW power to feature strongly in qualifying and, more that likely on the podium, this weekend.

The season has now passed the halfway mark and Michael Schumacher has finally moved himself into a championship lead. Will the reigning champ streak to his sixth title or will the renewed challenge from Williams and the continued McLaren threat prove too much?

Team Talk
Ferrari took the win last time out and are looking very strong. The F2003-GA hasn't proved to be quite as fast as some of the predictions being made about it, but it's hardly a shed. McLaren, meanwhile, are set to persevere with the MP4-17D until the Dunbai Grand Prix of 2007, if the latest predictions are to be believed, so Kimi and DC have their work cut-out with the old car.

Ferrari now lead the constructors' and drivers' championships, Michael Schumacher's win in Canada having pushed them ahead of McLaren. In the constructors' battle the point tally stands at 85 for Ferrari with McLaren now standing on 76 points. Williams are still in with a shout on 64 points whilst Renault are the only other team in the running with 49 points.

Behind Renault it's a big gap to joint fifth placed Jordan and BAR. Last year the duo shared a Japanese powerplant, this year Ford or Honda power hasn't made much difference to their points scoring, though BAR certainly looks to have the stronger package. Both stand on 11 points. Down to the bottom half, and Sauber have eight points which is hardly their greatest showing. Jaguar have been unable to mate the pace of their car to any more than six points, whilst the mighty Toyota yen can only muster 4 points. Paul Stoddart's Minardi are still pointless thus far in 2003.

Rubens took the win last time at the Nurburgring, with Michael coming home behind him. Can the Brazilian do this again? Not if this year's form is anything to go by, the German definitely being stronger relative to Barrichello than he was at times in 2002. Nevertheless, coming back to the scene of a past triumph is always a boost. ''I remember it was an interesting race tactically,'' Rubens says of his 2002 race, ''as I had some blisters on my tyres. So when Michael [running second] dropped back, I was able to conserve my tyres and push again when he got closer. So going back there is a great feeling.''

Evidence that Rubens will get that great feeling again in 2003 has not been too strong so far this year as Michael Schumacher has been the man with the moves in the Ferrari car. The five-times champ has recently said that he will quit if any driver comes along and blows him off the course. That is unlikely to happen at the Nurburgring and the German has to be the favourite to take another win and further extend his tally.

The Nurburgring is home ground for Mercedes so all the stops will be pulled out, and the 'old' car that McLaren are using still looks to be a stronger challenger in 2003 than it did in 2002. Kimi Raikkonen was leading the drivers' championship until the Canadian GP, but for the second time this season the Finn found himself having to start a race from the back of the field - not the best place to be for title aspirations.

''Obviously the result at Canada was not ideal, but as mentioned at the time it was not a disaster,'' explains the Finn, ''Despite my qualifying position, I was able to salvage some points and as a consequence Michael only has a lead of three points, and at this halfway point of the season we still have another eight races to go and a lot of points to be won.'' Not all bad then, but the prospect of McLaren's new wondercar is still further off in the distance.

For team-mate David Couthard it's his 150th GP, 125 of which have been with McLaren. After driving for Williams and then McLaren, Coulthard has amassed some thirteen wins in F1 and partnered world champions Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. This year hasn't been going too well for the Scot, however, and he currently sits in seventh place in the drivers' championship.

BMW WilliamsF1
Things definitely look better for the latter half of the season for Williams after a slow start to the year. Both cars were in the front of the grid on the podium in Canada.

Ralf sums up: ''I am really looking forward to going to the N?rburgring for next weekend's race partly because it is so close to Kerpen, where I grew up, but mainly because the FW25 is continually improving and producing good results. This has obviously been hugely motivating for everyone in the team as well as for myself.''

Renault F1
The Nurburing is a circuit with plenty of twisty bits, which should play into the hands of the nimble Renault chassis, however, it is also a circuit where engine power also plays a large factor. Renault have been working on upping their engine power, whilst the efficient aerodynamics of the Mike Gascoyne penned chassis have meant that what power the car does have it certainly makes the most of, as Alonso showed in Cananda - another power circuit.

''Canada was an excellent performance, although we were disappointed not to get two cars to the finish,'' technical director Mike Gascoyne said in the build-up to the European GP. ''Fernando, in particular, was tremendously competitive at a track that we did not expect to suit our package, and it was very gratifying to finish just behind the leader. Canada was a good race for us, and the N?rburgring should suit the car even better.'' In which case a podium must surely be in the offing?

Heinz Harald Frentzen celebrates his 150th Grand Prix this weekend. Going back to his 149th, things weren't too great after the electronics went wrong with his car, putting him out of the race. Unfortunately for Sauber this wasn't an isolated reliability issue and team-mate Nick Heidfeld also failed to finish the race, this time due to engine woes.

Nick Heidfeld is German so it's one of his home races this weekend. Just like Frentzen, Heidfeld hasn't been exceptional this year, and realistically the latest Sauber can be viewed as something as a disappointment when it's considered that the engine and rear suspension are from last year's Ferrari, which was used for the Maranello concern for the start of this year to such good effect.

The European Grand Prix represents something of a homecoming for the Toyota team as they are based a mere 45 minutes from the circuit, and hopefully the proximity to home will go some way to help the team's reliability record this year.

Olivier Panis finally made it into the points last time out, though it wasn't for want of trying that it took the Frenchman so long to achieve this. Reliability has been the main problem for Olivier, and making to the end, and in the points, is a good sign at least. If they do get a run to the flag there's no reason why either Panis, or team-mate Cristiano da Matta shouldn't challenge for points this weekend.

Team boss Dave Richards sums up the team's progress this season well. ''If I was asked to produce a mid-season report on the team's progress I would say that I'm pleased with the pace we have shown but frustrated that we haven't converted that pace into points,'' he says, and so it has been.

''I'm not a great fan of the N?rburgring as a track,'' commented Jacques Villeneuve, ''Last year they changed the layout and I don't find it very interesting. Having said that, I have good memories of the Nurburgring because it is where I won my first grand prix and where I won my last. It is fun to go back there.''

Brit Jenson Button's had more time to recover from his Monaco mishap so should be back to fighting form. As Richards says, the BAR 005 does have good pace, and so far this year it's been Button who has used this to best effect.

Jordan Ford
How the three Fs - Fisichella, Firman and Ford fair shouldn't be too much of a surprise in Germany: a fantastic performance isn't expected. Excepting the anomaly of Fisichella's win in Brazil the yellow cars haven't looked especially hot this year and seem to be slipping further down in the midfield stakes. On the bright side however, the team will struggle to do worse than their last outing at the Nurburgring, when their drivers conspired to drive into each other.

''Before my win in Brazil, the only time I was really close to winning a Grand Prix was N?rburgring in 1999,'' said the Italian, ''I led the race for a while before my headrest fell into the cockpit, disturbing my drive and forcing me off the road. So I have good and bad memories about this track.''

Fisichella added: ''With our package at the moment it's probably a bit ambitious to hope for glory and I'm looking forward to the introduction of a new aerodynamic package next month. The car is not performing as consistently as I'd like and I always have to hope for cool or unusual conditions to see if we have a better chance. I know the team is working hard to give me a quicker car and this is keeping me well focused on my job.''

F1 rookie Antonio Pizzonia will have one big plus this weekend in that he won't have to learn the circuit, something he feels will be a big help. ''I have good memories of the N?rburgring as I have raced there twice in Formula 3000 and had good results with a podium position last year. It is always an advantage for me going to a circuit I know,'' noted the Brazilian, ''as I can spend the first session on Friday morning looking for a good set-up rather than learning the track.''

''I am looking forward to returning to the famous Nurburgring, with its numerous corners and unpredictable weather there is always something happening on-track,'' added Jaguar No. 1 Webber.

Jos the Boss Verstappen takes his 100th Grand Prix start at the Nurburgring, and amidst the Germans there will be plenty of Dutch fans out to support their countryman. It's been a solid season for the Dutchman, who nevertheless continues his hard charge and quest to try to get the Minardi towards the front of the grid.

Team-mate Justin Wilson, meanwhile, has taken the Dutchman's mantle as the best starter in F1 and keeps surprising those ahead of him on the grid by muscling his way past at the start of races. Long may it continue, though Wilson has seen more than his fair share of misfortune with reliability.

Gripping issues
Currently the tyres war stands five wins to Bridgestone, three to Michelin. Both squads have their own thoughts regarding the challenge presented by the Nurburgring. ''Having dealt with the twists and turns of Monaco and the very particular characteristics of the ?le Notre Dame in Montreal, we have to be prepared for a completely different set of circumstances when we get to Germany's Eifel region,'' says Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier. ''There are quite a few wild cards this weekend, because there has been some resurfacing work at the N?rburgring, track temperatures might be anything between 8? and 40? and none of the Formula One teams tests here very often.''

Over at Bridgestone Hisao Suganuma gives his take: ''Because of the nature of the Nurburgring, which has similar characteristics to those found at the Austrian Spielberg circuit, it was a bit difficult trying specifications from the softer side of the range at Silverstone, but we did get some indication of which direction to go in,'' he explains. ''We know from last year that grip is the most important factor at the Nurburgring. The weather can turn quite quickly there and, in addition to the chance of rain, we need to keep a close eye on ambient and track temperatures and the weather forecast. Following our good race result in 2002, however, we are anticipating another positive result.''

Track time
The Grand Prix circuit is situated right by the amazing Nurburgring Nordschleife - a tortuous 22 kilometre racing circuit built in the 1930s and the scene of many a dramatic race over the years. Used by Formula One until the late 1970s when the sport finally left real challenges behind it. The current circuit offers a dramatic contrast. At under a quarter of the distance of the Nordschleife, the track is never listed as any driver's favourite. It's a challenging enough circuit, but being located right next to perhaps the most challenging race circuit the world has seen would always detract from any track.

Come Sunday, race distance is 308.9 kilometres over some 60 laps. Around 300,000 spectators are expected to visit the circuit, and bring with them plenty of beer, barbecues and fireworks. A one stop strategy is unlikely to be employed by any of the teams whilst two or three is likely to be the case. The track is some 500m above sea level, leaving engines gasping for breath, but the weather is often a crucial factor at the circuit. ''The other factor to take into consideration is the weather,'' Denis Chevrier, Renault's engine operations manager confirmed, ''It is always quite cool at the N?rburgring, and there is often a big difference between temperatures in the morning and afternoon. This variation alters the level of grip on the circuit, as well as modifying the acoustic behaviour of the engine."

Race action should be good as there's plenty of chance for cars to get past each other. ''The track has some excellent overtaking opportunities,'' explains McLaren's David Coulthard. ''For example under braking into the Veedol chicane, which is often the scene of exciting manoeuvres, and the hairpin at the entrance to the Mercedes Arena, that was introduced last year.''

Whichever way the race goes there's likely to be celebrations from one area of the massed German fans. Michael Schumacher leads the Ferrari charge, whilst if championship number two Kimi Raikkonen takes the win then it's a Mercedes victory.

The biggest cheers, however, could well happen if Ralf Schumacher, a German powered by a German engine, takes the win for Williams-BMW. If that happens the fireworks should go on late into the night.

Just in....
The new McLaren looks to be delayed yet further after failing part of its crash test. McLaren are thought to be working on a MP4-17E, MP4-17F, MP4-17G, and MP4-17H in the interim before the MP4-18 turns a wheel in race anger!