Motor Racing: David Coulthard - `My luck will change, of course it will'

While Damon Hill has been the centre of local attention in the build-up to the British Grand Prix, Sunday's race at Silverstone will also be important for three other home drivers. Derick Allsop talked to them
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The Independent Online
DAVID COULTHARD doubtless finds the "hard luck" back-slaps as irritating as the jibes about his alleged lack of "that vital something" which separates the very good from champions.

Over the past season and a half Coulthard has had the best car in Formula One and has a solitary victory to show for it.

That stark statistic hides many other factors, but until the win count begins to tick over again he knows no amount of misfortune will convince his detractors he can make the most of the McLaren-Mercedes.

"I accept that in the end you are judged on results," the Scotsman said. "I know that I'm extremely lucky to have such a good car. But fortunately the team know what I am contributing and I feel I deserve to be driving a McLaren.

"My record this season certainly isn't a true reflection of my driving. People will look at the championship and see I'm in seventh place, but anyone who understands the situation will realise that it's misleading."

The regularity of Coulthard's breakdowns has led some to wonder if his driving style might not be to blame. He has had four enforced retirements from seven races this season, an extremely high proportion for a team of McLaren's stature.

"There is absolutely nothing I'm doing that is breaking the car," he said earnestly. "And there is nothing the team are doing that is marginal. My luck will change, of course it will."

That faith in fate is perhaps reinforced by his performance in the French Grand Prix a week last Sunday, irrespective of his familiar experience there. He qualified the quickest of those who ran in the monsoon and led in the early stages of the race and he prepares for his home grand prix on Sunday with fortified optimism. "I feel good about Silverstone," he said. "I know that if the car will do the distance I will get the job done. It is an important race for me."

That is probably a huge understatement. Coulthard went into last year's British Grand Prix expressing similar confidence yet flopped and he knew any prospects of competing for the championship had gone.

Another failure will have the same consequences. Mika Hakkinen would carry McLaren's realistic challenge to Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, and Coulthard would again be required to back up his team-mate. "I would say the difference this year is that it is a low-scoring championship as far as the leaders are concerned," he countered. "Okay, so I'm 28 points behind Mika, but with nine races to go and 90 points to compete for it's still open. I know I've got a lot to do and it's going to be very difficult, but if my luck does change and Mika and Michael have some bad luck or make mistakes, then it could be a very different situation within a couple of races."

If the championship does prove beyond his reach again, Coulthard is led to believe he will still keep his place at McLaren and, at the age of 28, time ought to be on his side. "You have to remember that it is very competitive at the sharp end of Formula One and I am still learning," he said. "Formula One should be difficult. It's the pinnacle of motor sport. You've got to be very good to get to the highest level. I am a couple of years behind Mika and Michael in terms of experience and I know I am improving all the time. Mika is driving like a champion so what better bench-mark for me to have."

The composed, orderly appraisal and almost submissive acceptance is used in evidence against Coulthard. The prosecution argues he lacks the aggression and hard edge of a champion. He said: "I hear that and I just don't go along with it. That's just not the way I am and I don't believe it achieves anything. I try to channel my energies positively. I don't go in for cheap shots. I don't have to get out of the car and kick off the wing mirror in anger, like Nigel Mansell might have done. That achieves nothing.

"Of course I feel the emotions, but not to show that feeling to the opposition is a strength, not a weakness. I know what I feel. It doesn't matter what people think. Damon won the championship when he was 36. Nigel won it when he was 39. At 28, I'm confident my time will come."