This weekend sees what could be the last Austrian Grand Prix... Could Renault’s new engine help the French team close the gap on Ferrari, McLaren and Williams at this high-speed circuit?

This weekend sees what could be the last Austrian Grand Prix... Could Renault’s new engine help the French team close the gap on Ferrari, McLaren and Williams at this high-speed circuit?

Sunday’s race is probably the last grand prix to be held at the A1 Ring, because the Austrian event will be dropped from the FIA’s F1 calendar next year.

Last year in Austria, Ferrari upset many with Rubens Barrichello being issued with team orders to yield to Michael Schumacher and let the German win. The other drama saw Takuma Sato torpedoed by an errant Nick Heidfeld after a safety car period.

It's more than a third of the way through the season and Michael Schumacher isn't leading the championship - that's pretty big news when you look at what happened last year, but judging by the form the Ferrari F2003-GA showed in Spain, it won't be long before Herr Schumacher is leading the championship once more.

The Spanish Grand Prix was an almost perfect début for Ferrari’s F-2003 GA. Reliability was not an issue but pace from the car wasn't quite as much as some expected.

Last year, Rubens Barrichello was on pole and set for the race victory before the team orders come along so this year could be Rubens' chance to redress the result of last year.

Renault may have produced what may be one of the best chassis this year, but despite being extremely efficient in high speed corners, the French team have admitted the R23 is underpowered.

Therefore, the Enstone-based team will be racing an uprated RS23 engine (rumoured to have 15 kW more) in Austria this weekend. What’s more, young Spanish star Fernando Alonso doesn't reckon the circuit presents much of a challenge.

"In my view, this is the most straightforward F1 circuit there is," Alonso said. "There are only six bends and it is very short compared to the others. I like the circuit, but I wouldn't say that it is my absolute favourite. On this track, the driver's skills are not as essential as they are at Suzuka, for example., but Zeltweg suits my driving style okay, even if the contribution I have to make here is less challenging than usual."

Still running with last year's car, McLaren-Mercedes heads to Austria after a disastrous race weekend in Spain. Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard managed a mere seventeen race laps in Spain, all of which completed by the Scot. Expect a slightly subdued Raikkonen in qualifying, the young Finn will not want to be starting from the back again, that's for sure.

Williams-BMW has recently strengthened its engineering division with the return of the well-respected Frank Dernie to the staff. There are mutterings of displeasure allegedly coming from the BMW ranks over this year's car, but Austria is a circuit where the Munich company’s power could well come into play.

BMW's Motorsport director Mario Theissen said the engine’s power will be a distinct advantage. "For the three straights that allow passing opportunities, we'll be relying on the power of the engine to give us the edge this weekend," he said.

The 4,3-km A-Ring circuit yields the fastest laps of the season and power, traction and braking are the crucial areas for good performance. The circuit is basically a mix of long straights and slow corners and is not especially loved by the drivers.

The high altitude of the circuit means that the engines will not be as powerful as at other circuits.

According to Austrian forecasters, initial predictions suggest an unsettled weekend. A weather front across Austria will bring outbreaks of heavy rain and showers to the area before clearing away to drier weather on Saturday as the temperatures start to rise. Showers will again pack into the area on Sunday, though.