Coulthard insists single-lap qualifying is unfair test

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The Independent Online

Three years ago this track yielded David Coulthard one of the best victories of his career, after a tooth-and-nail fight with Michael Schumacher in the French Grand Prix that saw them touch wheels and exchange gesticulations from the cockpit.

It is the sort of thing the Scot can only dream of these days, when even his victory in the season opener in Melbourne in March seems light years away. He should have added another victory in Brazil a fortnight later, but had just made his final pit stop while leading when the incidents unfolded that ultimately led to the race being stopped and a win being awarded to Giancarlo Fisichella. Since then things have gone downhill for the 32-year-old from Twynholm, and the root of his problems lies in the new single-lap qualifying session. Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen have made some very expensive errors during this high-pressure moment, but nobody has lost out as much as Coulthard.

"I just don't like the single-lap qualifying format," he said yesterday. "I don't think it's right that one lap judges whether you are fast or not."

Coulthard has always needed to have maximum confidence in his equipment, and the insouciant effervescence of his new team-mate, Raikkonen, has cruelly exposed this need for a comfort zone. Add to that the fact that McLaren's MP4-17D, while quick, is less effective over a single lap than, say, the Ferrari F2003-GA or the Williams-BMW FW25, and it is easy to see why Coulthard's feels his problems have been exacerbated. But as McLaren's managing director, Martin Whitmarsh, said recently, Coulthard needs to raise his confidence level if he is going to qualify high enough to offer the sort of back-up that Raikkonen needs.

Yesterday Coulthard had another small setback as it emerged that the Spanish driver, Fernando Alonso, had not short-braked him and caused his spectacular exit from the Grand Prix of Europe on the 57th lap of the race. After spinning wildly as Alonso's Renault appeared to slow suddenly ahead of him, Coulthard accused the young driver of braking 10 metres earlier than he had the previous lap.

Reacting to that suggestion yesterday, Alonso said: "I think this question I have answered many times. I am happy that I was able to prove that I didn't brake early like someone said. The race director checked the data from the laps before and after the incident and all of it made clear that I braked at the same point."

Alonso said that he had spoken with Coulthard before meeting the stewards regarding the incident but that it was "nothing important".

"Actually, I was surprised to see him go off. I took the inside line up to the chicane to protect my position, and then when I saw in my mirror that David wasn't there I felt a bit bad, because it was a good fight."

Despite heading a Williams-BMW one-two in Germany last week, Ralf Schumacher says he does not believe it will be easy to catch his brother, Michael, who is 15 points ahead of him in the drivers' title race with seven races left.

"Under the new points system introduced this year it is very difficult to catch up," Schumacher Jnr said, "unless the other guy has a problem, in which case the gap disappears quickly. But 15 points is so far away. Let's try and win this one and see what happens."