Motor racing: Dennis defends McLaren's strategy

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THE MCLAREN chief, Ron Dennis, has refused to rule out another arranged finish in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix here.

McLaren caused uproar in the corresponding race last season when team orders forced David Coulthard to allow his team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, to pass him two laps from home. It prompted calls for the sport's governing body to clamp down to avoid similar situations arising in the future.

But Dennis insists team orders exist in every grand prix and the tactics will continue. "There is not a grand prix that we contest that doesn't take place under team orders," Dennis said.

"It's been the case since I took over at McLaren in the early 1980s and will continue to be the case. The competition is closer - but if we find ourselves with a perfect advantage then we would undoubtedly use that advantage to ensure we win the race.

"What happened in Australia last year was difficult for a lot of people to understand. If you consider yourself part of a football team or an ice hockey team you can understand.

"But they will be racing as hard against each other as they have been in past years and through all of last season."

Dennis said that neither Scotland's Coulthard nor the Finn Hakkinen, the world champion, would have an advantage in the set-up of their respective cars this season.

He said the drivers would be treated as equals, but there were times where the team had to take precedence over the drivers, though those times were "few and far between." Coulthard echoed Dennis' remarks yesterday, emphasising the team aspect of Formula One, even though McLaren's orders last year outraged motor sport enthusiasts who felt cheated by the arranged finish.

"We're out there trying to develop the car together and work as closely as possible," he said. "That's where I expect help from Mika and he expects help from me, in developing the car."

Coulthard has scoffed at claims that he lacks the mental toughness to be crowned Formula One world champion. Coulthard insisted as he prepared for Sunday's race that he was as committed as any of his rivals.

"Just because I don't walk around the paddock talking like a boxer, saying `I'm going to knock you out', does not mean my determination to succeed is not there," he said.

"There have been champions in the past who people could have said had an arrogant attitude while there were those who were easy-going. I do not think you should confuse the two."

Coulthard was responding to claims by Patrick Head, the technical director of his former Team Williams, that he needed to add an arrogant streak if he wanted to beat the likes of Michael Schumacher.

His former team-mate Damon Hill has also said Coulthard needed to be more selfish if he wanted to challenge for the title. But the 27-year- old is confident that he will mount a sustained bid this campaign after finishing third behind his team-mate Hakkinen and Schumacher last year with one win.