Coulthard's practice is perfect

The force is with McLaren-Mercedes and David Coulthard is evidently in no mood to let the opportunity go. He was faster than his team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, by half a second in practice for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix and both were comfortably clear of their rival for the championship, Michael Schumacher.

The force is with McLaren-Mercedes and David Coulthard is evidently in no mood to let the opportunity go. He was faster than his team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, by half a second in practice for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix and both were comfortably clear of their rival for the championship, Michael Schumacher.

Coulthard is anxious to shed the "Man Friday" tag and retain his form through the weekend because he cannot afford to fall further behind in the title chase. Hakkinen heads Schumacher by two points and the Scotsman by six.

Ferrari have brought heaps of equipment and parts to this race in an attempt to resuscitate Schumacher's cause, but there is no substitute for pace and the signs are not encouraging for the German.

However, Schumacher declined to betray any dismay in public. He said: "We had a reasonable day's practice. The car is not too bad. It is no harder to find the right set-up here than anywhere else."

Ferrari's latest stumble has led to stories of a multi-million dollar bid for McLaren's technical director, Adrian Newey, but Jean Todt, the Italian team's sporting director, was dismissive. "It's just speculation, nothing true," he said. "Just people trying to destabilise the team. Michael is right not to be happy but we hope he will be happy after this race. A driver wants to win. The championship is still very open."

Johnny Herbert's appearance in third place yesterday is the intriguing twist to events. The Englishman, who leaves Formula One at the end of the season to race in CART, has yet to score for Jaguar and senses the prospect of giving the team something to remember him by.

He registered Stewart-Ford's first victory last year and, although the team now called Jaguar would require a healthy dose of good fortune to win here, Herbert is an accomplished driver on fast circuits and capable of getting the best out of the car.

Herbert said: "I like fast circuits and I've always liked this circuit. I want to go out on a high and that's what I'm looking for. A win would be great but that might not be realistic. A podium place would be nice, not only for me but also for the team."

A fringe show at the Spa festival features Toyota, the next team to enter Formula One, in 2002. They have been unveiling their latest plans, including what amounts to a challenge to Allan McNish to claim an overdue appearance on motor-racing's grandest stage.

The 30-year-old Scot, already testing for the Cologne-based organisation, has a contract for a further two years. If he satisfies Toyota he has the necessary pace, he will be one of the two race drivers in their maiden world championship season. The other will be Mika Salo, the 33-year-old Finn who leaves Sauber at the end of the season.

"My goal is to get the other drive," McNish said. "I've got an opportunity in front of me and Toyota believe I can do it. To be brutally honest I'll be judged against Salo. Comparison is the nature of the beast."

McNish was considered a natural for Formula One a decade ago. Then he was involved in an accident at Donington which resulted in the death of a spectator and his confidence was shaken. Sports cars provided him with a chance to revive his career and victory at Le Mans two years ago persuaded Toyota he was the man to steer them through their initial test programme.

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