Coultard questions Schu's title hopes

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The Independent Online

David Coulthard tonight questioned Michael Schumacher's commitment to Eddie Irvine's unsuccessful bid for the drivers' championship.

David Coulthard tonight questioned Michael Schumacher's commitment to Eddie Irvine's unsuccessful bid for the drivers' championship.

Irvine's hopes of becoming Ferrari's first winner of the drivers' title since Jody Scheckter in 1979 were dashed as he finished third in today's Japanese Grand Prix with Mika Hakkinen retaining his crown.

But after the race at Suzuka, Coulthard confirmed paddock speculation that Schumacher was hoping Irvine would fail because he wanted the glory of ending Ferrari's wait.

"I have heard the rumours he would have been quite happy with the result because he did not want Eddie to win the championship," said Coulthard, who had a post-race row with the German about the tactics used today.

"Despite this very public image of he would try and do what he can and the admirable work he did in Malaysia, I think deep down he will go back and he will be quite happy. He wants to be the Ferrari champion."

Schumacher returned from a seven race absence with a broken leg in Malaysia to dominate the race before gifting Irvine the victory that took him four points clear in the championship.

But despite claiming a second successive pole for today's decider, the two-time champion was overtaken at the start by Hakkinen who triumphed to snatch the title by two points.

Schumacher, who said he had a problem, had moved over towards Hakkinen at the start and eventually finished second with Irvine third - had he won then his team-mate would have been champion.

"At the start of the formation lap I realised something was not operating correctly and the same happened again at the start when I had too much wheelspin," said Schumacher, paid around £25million a year by the team.

"I think the two championships ended in a fair way today with Ferrari winning the Constructors' title and Mika the drivers' crown after he drove a fantastic race. He is a great champion.

"Ferrari can be proud of its achievement as it is not easy to beat such a strong team as McLaren."

The Constructors' title was Ferrari's first since 1983, but it is the drivers' crown they cherish and in which they have invested so much in Schumacher since 1996.

The German now has the chance to end what will be a 21-year wait in 2000 when he will be partnered by Brazil's Rubens Barrichello.

Irvine, whose relationship with Schumacher is understood to have become strained this season after four years together, is joining Jaguar Racing.

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