Coulthard's currency on the rise again

British Grand Prix: Mercedes director believes Silverstone victory has confirmed Scot's value to McLaren
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The Independent Online

Norbert Haug is never a man to duck a party and he was anticipating this post-race rave as much as the host. Both felt they had made a point at the British Grand Prix and were entitled to celebrate.

Gaining recognition for David Coulthard has become something of a cause célÿbre for Haug, the motorsport director of Mercedes, McLaren's engine partners. Now they had a performance to sing about.

Coulthard's victory at Silverstone on Sunday had the stamp of authority and lifted him to second place in the world championship, albeit 20 points behind Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, who finished third. Crucially, however, the Scot had beaten his team-mate and reigning champion, Mika Hakkinen, into second place.

Such has been Hakkinen's dominance of the team that speculation about Coulthard's future has rarely abated. Jacques Villeneuve is generally perceived as an obvious candidate to replace him.

Coulthard calmly deflects the conjecture but Haug has presented a more passionate case for the defence and as he tugged at his cigar and took congratulatory telephone calls from the Mercedes hierarchy, he felt vindicated.

"The guy is a fantastic driver," Haug said. "He deserves this win because he could have had almost as many points as Michael now. He doesn't because of the mistakes we have made.

"David needs our support, and should get it, as any other driver does. It will never be easy to be Mika's team-mate. Mika is quite a benchmark. But David can do it. We have two really great drivers.

"To win your home grand prix two years running is a great performance and this year's win was better than last year's. He did it from fourth on the grid and he beat Mika and Michael."

Coulthard made straight for the arms of Haug after his seventh Formula One win in a transparent gesture of appreciation and solidarity. Haug played down the significance of the embrace, maintaining: "I was the first guy he saw, so there was nothing more to it than that, but I was really happy for David.

"He doesn't deserve all these questions about his future. We have not discussed next year. This is not the right occasion to discuss if he is going to be released.

"But we did not release him after 1996, or 1997, or 1998, or 1999, and we did not keep him because he is a nice looking guy. He is a great guy, he is a gentleman. He is inviting us to his motor-home for a party and that's a great gesture. But he is also a terrific driver. He doesn't complain when we make mistakes, just as we didn't when he made a mistake last year at the Nürburgring. It is teamwork.

"We talk of Mika being the benchmark but so is Michael, and David has qualified in front of Michael three times out of four this season. I think that says a lot about his speed.

"David is two-and-a-half years younger than Mika and Michael. He is still developing and has the potential to be a winner more regularly. People should be more understanding and encourage him rather than criticise him."

McLaren's first win of the season has given the camp a timely fillip. Ferrari have made a habit of coming from behind and now the onus is on their rivals to do the chasing. Thirteen races remain and the next stop is Barcelona, a circuit where McLaren have produced some of their most emphatic performances in recent seasons.

Haug said: "The championship is still wide open. They have the advantage but there is a long way to go and we have shown at Silverstone what we are capable of."

Schumacher left Britain relieved to have salvaged third place after a messy opening lap which relegated him from fifth to eighth and the enforced retirement of his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, with a hydraulic problem.

Ferrari and McLaren remain distant from the rest, but Williams-BMW have moved into third place in the constructors' championship. Ralf Schumacher, who got the better of his eminent brother in a tense and entertaining early skirmish, and the 20-year-old Jenson Button, an instant hero with the Silverstone crowd, finished fourth and fifth respectively for the newly formed team-manufacturer alliance.

"It was almost better than we could have hoped for," Sir Frank Williams said. "I liked the way Ralf dusted off his brother. They beat us in the end but we were certainly much closer to the two currently dominating teams than we have been in previous races. We now have a good way forward to follow."

Jaguar's progress appears less assured after a disappointing home debut. Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine came in 12th and 13th respectively. Herbert claimed: "We are not disappointed. We are still a small team that has to grow."

But Irvine said: "I am very disappointed because I thought we would come here believing we would take another step forward and seriously challenge for points. I have a few ideas but until we get some quality testing done we won't really identify the problem areas and find the fix."

Gary Anderson, the team's technical director, admitted: "Not a very good day at the office. Both cars had clutch problems which meant we lost places off the grid. Both engines cut out at the second [pit] stop, which is mystifying. We got two cars home but we really need to be mixing it with the bunch outside the McLarens and Ferraris."

Those who endured the misery of the weekend can expect a return to July for the British Grand Prix next year and Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's impresario, has indicated he favours Silverstone as the long-term venue for the race.

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