Coulthard answers all the doubts

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The Independent Online
David Coulthard and Ron Dennis were savouring the moment and it was not so much what was said as what wasn't that captured the mood and significance.

McLaren-Mercedes had a win in the Italian Grand Prix here on Sunday to answer any lingering questions about their continued partnership with their drivers and the team's unproductive talks with Damon Hill.

Dennis enthused: "We've had some great drivers in our cars, but the way David leads a race is impeccable. When you are out in front that's the place where you really feel the pressure. All the victories are nice but this was very sweet because it was all about strategy and complete teamwork."

Coulthard, too, had given his crew fulsome praise for the swift pit-stop which put him in front and exposed him to that pressure. The Scot handled it with a maturity belying his 26 years and insisted it was the easier half of the race.

Dennis retained Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen after Hill rejected his offer, said to have been worth $2m (pounds 1.3m) plus $1m a win. The two incumbents were commended for their commitment to the cause of winning.

And now Coulthard, having apparently vindicated Dennis' eventual decision, was stressing that ambition rather than money was his driving force.

He said: "I believe I can win races and can contemplate winning a championship. My primary goal is to have that rather than the money. I guess it just depends on where you are coming from.

"I probably could have earned more money up to this point of my career by being more aggressive in some ways, but you've got to be there and have a seat to do the job. Money is always an issue, but it depends on how big an issue you make it. I feel comfortable with what I'm being paid.

"I wouldn't want to get involved in saying whether Damon was right or wrong in not accepting the deal because I don't know exactly what he was offered. All I know is I am happy with how things are.

"At the moment there are a number of teams who can win races and McLaren is one of them. And at the moment Arrows isn't.

"Your primary objective is to get into a car that can win races, rather than the money issue. He didn't like the deal that was offered, but the question is, do you want to win? Is the motivation money or winning? I know he could have won in Hungary, but I'd rather be paid less and be in a winning car on a regular basis."

Hill, whose frustrations at Arrow-Yamaha this season have been eased only by that stirring performance in Budapest, patently left Dennis unimpressed with his attitude and perceived priority.

Coulthard observed: "In sport it's how much someone wants you. If someone really wants you, then you are in a position of strength. You get more for yourself. It's just trying to weigh up at any given time how important or irreplaceable you are.

"On paper our team should get even better next season. We have the resources to do the job. With the new regulations it is difficult to know what is going to happen, but even if we get it wrong first time, we will be able to react and do it again.

Hill's pursuit of a car that can instill him with confidence could hinge on the outcome of a High Court case on Wednesday, when Jordan and Benetton go into legal conflict over the services of Giancarlo Fisichella. The team who do not employ the Italian next season may invite Hill to fill the vacancy.

Another factor in the Benetton equation is the impending departure of the managing director, Flavio Briatore. Rocco Benetton, 27-year-old representative of the dynasty, is to be installed as commercial head while David Richards, head of the successful Prodrive rally team, is expected to be handed control of the racing operation. Hill's other options are Prost and Arrows.

As the reigning champion, 37 next week, awaits developments he must wonder whether he was a little hasty in walking away from McLaren. He pulled over here on Sunday with a blown engine at precisely the moment he was being lapped - by Coulthard.

Williams will use BMW engines when the German motor company returns to Formula One in the year 2000. Ten years to the week since BMW left the sport, the team led by Frank Williams have decided to switch from their association with current engine manufacturers Renault.

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