Coulthard in 110mph shunt

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David Coulthard walked away from a 110mph shunt this morning to predict McLaren were in good shape to grab the vital pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

David Coulthard walked away from a 110mph shunt this morning to predict McLaren were in good shape to grab the vital pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Coulthard smashed into a tyre barrier after suddenly veering out of control during the second practice session for Sunday's season-ending race.

"You never have a small shunt in Formula One," said Coulthard who still ended up second fastest behind team-mate Mika Hakkinen who struck the first psychological blow in the title battle with Ferrari's Eddie Irvine.

Ulsterman Irvine, who leads Hakkinen by four points, finished 1.6 seconds off the Finn's pace back in 10th place while team-mate Michael Schumacher was third.

Coulthard added: "I am okay. I think a tyre hit a kerb and the car just snapped back on me much quicker than I expected and there was not much of a run-off area.

"But the damage to the car looks far more serious than it is and it will be fixed for qualifying tomorrow.

"We are looking quite good for qualifying, but I still expect it to be a real battle with the Ferrari. I don't know what they were doing today, but they will produce something special for tomorrow."

Concerned McLaren mechanics changed the rear wing on Hakkinen's car just in case Coulthard's accident, which halted the session for around 13 minutes, was related to a mechanical fault.

Hakkinen, who for six days last week was champion again until Ferrari won their appeal against disqualification from the last race in Malaysia, looked more like his old self.

"I have got a lot of my self-confidence back," he said after finishing 0.1secs ahead of Coulthard. "I am more confident now than I was before the start of practice.

"I closed my mind to everything on holiday in Indonesia and played some of the best golf of my career. I hope I can continue that form on the track here.

"The team were being cautious when they changed the wing, but it looks now like it was not a technical fault. David is okay which is good news."

Schumacher did drop to fourth place late in the session behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen though the Jordan driver's time was scrubbed and he slipped to ninth place.

But Schumacher, who dominated the last race in Malaysia before gifting Irvine the victory, saw his fears that the McLaren's would be far more competitive realised as he finished half a second adrift of Hakkinen.

Irvine was never on the pace throughout the two sessions but Schumacher insisted the team can challenge for top spot on the grid.

"Don't worry about Eddie," he said. "The track is much more slippery than we expected. There are a lot more fast corners here which doesn't suit our car.

"But we found a good set-up on the car right at the end and I am sure we can challenge for pole position tomorrow."

The Ferraris are using revised bodywork even though the barge boards were deemed legal by the International Court of Appeal - a move which has surprised Coulthard.

"If there was not a problem then why aren't they still on the car," he said. "It seems strange to me because if it has been said to be legal why change."

Former champion Damon Hill began his final race weekend back in 16th place having spun out in the first session while Johnny Herbert was 20th for Stewart Ford.