Motor Racing: Coulthard in crucial test

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The Independent Online
DAVID COULTHARD faces the biggest gamble of his career this weekend, after turning his back on the Formula 3000 race in Pau and heading for the warmer climes of Jerez, in Spain, to test for the Williams- Renault Formula One team.

The 23-year-old Scot hopes that, like Damon Hill, he can make the step up from team tester to race driver. After Ayrton Senna's death at the San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May Williams ran only one car, for Hill, at the Monaco Grand Prix while it considered the Brazilian's replacement. Coulthard was to test with the Italian veterans Andrea de Cesaris and Riccardo Patrese, but their absence appears to confirm that only he is in contention for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona next week.

It remains to be seen whether a one-off assignment partnering Hill could become a full-time job. Rumours continue to circulate that Frank Williams is waiting until next weekend's Indianapolis 500 in United States is out of the way, before resuming talks for Nigel Mansell to return to lead his team.

For Coulthard, the opportunity represents the dream of a lifetime. Five years ago he graduated to Formula Ford from karting, and within two years was racing in Formula Three for the team run by Jackie Stewart's son Paul. Since then he has established himself as a championship contender in Formula 3000.

His fellow Scot David Leslie, himself an accomplished racer, ran Coulthard in Formula Ford and has no doubt that he possesses all the attributes for success in grand prix racing. 'He is very good, very switched on. He listens to what you have to say before going out and putting it into practice on the track. He is moving along very nicely, and as well as the speed he has the looks and the presentational skills that young drivers need today.

'He used to come into our workshop three days a week, to polish the car and learn how it worked. He took it to pieces so often that he started stripping bolt threads . . . He definitely has what it takes to make it on a permanent basis in Formula One.'

This weekend will decide whether or not Scotland's brightest prospect since Jackie Stewart is to get that experience.

(Photograph omitted)