Coulthard summons inner fortitude

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The Independent Online

David Coulthard yesterday responded with quiet dignity to suggestions that he should not race here this weekend as a mark of respect for the twopilots killed when his rented Learjet crashed at Lyon last Tuesday.

Factions in the McLaren-Mercedes team had tried to gag the 29-year-old Scot, who the day before had read out a prepared statement and then made an appeal to be left alone in order to focus on tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix. But Coulthard handled himself with calm assurance as he spoke of his feelings.

"Had it been the other way, and had it been me that had not survived the accident, I would have wanted the pilots to carry on and do their job" he said. "Flying a plane is a bit like driving a racing car; it's beyond a normal job. It's a passion. I am comfortable that if I had not come through the accident I would have wanted them to carry on flying.

"I didn't know the gentlemen, I had only met them that day, but I am sure that they would not have wanted me not to carry on. I could tell from the glint in their eyes that they had a feeling for motorsport. But no matter what I do, it is up to me to be comfortable with what I decide to do."

To all outward appearances Coulthard, who less than a fortnight ago was celebrating victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, was his usual self - open, honest, and composed - but was clearly inwardly concerned about the families of the pilots, Daniel Worley and David Saunders.

"You never know what the future holds," he added. "You could say that I've had my big accident now, and I'd have to be pretty unlucky to have that sort of thing happen to me again. But today it just felt great to be back in the car again. Nothing had changed and I had a job to do."

He let others clean the dusty track for him and confined himself to a lap in the morning, but finished the day fifth-fastest behind the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who sandwiched Schumacher's brother, Ralf, and the Jordan of Jarno Trulli. And it was clear that Coulthard's focus is on the future rather than the immediate past. There appear to have been no lingering mental problems.

"I believe that I'm a stronger person," he said. "I remember when I had my first proper shunt in a racing car. Prior to that I was nervous about crashing. But once it had happened I thought, 'OK. I know what that's about now'."

Despite the speed of the Ferraris, Coulthard is confident that McLaren-Mercedes will be strong contenders in tomorrow's race.

"At Silverstone I hadn't had a particularly great build-up to the race. But as that weekend unfolded I gained confidence. I had a very good test here last week, and though what happened subsequently wasn't the best preparation, I was pleased with the car today. Silverstone was one of my cleanest races, and though I felt a few bruises today I was holding the car in some nice drifts and was quick without overstepping the limit. But it's going to be very close here, because we have no advantage this year over Ferrari. It's going to be all about who makes the best use of the tyres, and who gets track position."

Elsewhere there are signs of a likely settlement in the FIA's long-running war of words with the European Commission, which has accused the sport's governing body of operating a monopoly via its central control of the sport and its television rights. Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, recently reiterated his threat to move the World Championship beyond the bounds of Europe if necessary, or to treat it as just one country and therefore to limit it to as few as three races.

"It's essential that the bureaucrats dealing with this should understand the issues," Mosley said then. "I don't think they are malevolent. They simply don't understand what they are doing."

But the new EC commissioner, Mario Monti, has indicated that he considers the FIA's proposals to be "innovative and constructive", and has instructed his underlings to begin settlement discussions immediately.