Coulthard goes on the offensive

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The Independent Online

David Coulthard believes he has in every sense a stronger McLaren with which to challenge Michael Schumacher for this year's Formula One drivers' title. The Scot, who spearheads the Woking-based team's world championship assault as Mika Hakkinen takes a season off, is happy with all aspects of the car which he helped to unveil at its launch in Barcelona yesterday.

After a disappointing 2001 in which McLaren won only four races as Schumacher captured the crown with two months of the campaign left, the MP4-17 is considered a major step up on last year's unreliable model.

Coulthard insists the change to Michelin tyres, an enhanced Mercedes engine and a generally more robust car will enable him to take the fight to the German when grand prix racing resumes in Australia on 3 March.

"The new car looks really good," said Coulthard before it was taken on to the Circuit de Catalunya for the first time by McLaren test driver Alex Wurz. "There's some nice little detail on it – and it looks a lot more menacing, meatier and more raceable. I think it's the sort of car in which you can be banging wheels against other cars and bits won't fall off. You must have a strong, reliable car if you are dreaming about the title because not even Michael could win the championship in one that's unpredictable."

Coulthard looked capable of giving Schumacher battle in last year's championship battle after winning the Austrian Grand Prix in May, but then his challenge foundered after three retirements in five races. With the new car he is optimistic he has the package to compete with Schumacher and the other leading title contenders, Williams duo Juan Pablo Montoya and the German's brother Ralf.

"I'd like to think I can win the championship but I won't predict that I will," said Coulthard. "If all the elements come together I can have a good year. I've won 11 grands prix – some from the front, some from the middle and some from the back – so I think I have what it takes. But to win a championship you need a competitive car, the support of your team, to be consistent and to hold it altogether.

"I'll be very surprised if I don't win races this year. If the car is at least the equal of our main competitors then victories will come, and championships are built from there. I see the potential for three teams to consistently win races. But the reality is that someone always just has the edge, and I hope that's a Michelin-shod car."

Coulthard and his new team-mate, the Finnish prodigy Kimi Raikkonen, will race on Michelin rubber this season after McLaren opted to join Williams in switching their allegiance from Bridgestone, who still supply Ferrari.