Hakkinen's gain is Coulthard's pain

British Grand Prix: Scotsman's title hopes in ruins after early exit while McLaren team-mate cruises to victory and Schumacher settles for second
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The Independent Online

Mika Hakkinen's consummate, maiden victory in the British Grand Prix merely compounded the hurt inside his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, David Coulthard, here yesterday.

Coulthard knew the win could have been his, that the championship might still have been a feasible objective. Instead, the Scotsman abandoned his broken car in the gravel after barely three laps, leaving with it the remnants of his title challenge.

On a day when Ferrari under-performed and Michael Schumacher was at the mercy of a rejuvenated McLaren, Coulthard could not capitalise. He was convinced Hakkinen, long eliminated from the championship equation, would have repaid him for favours past and handed him victory.

The reality is that Schumacher, second here, leads Coulthard by 37 points with only six races remaining. The McLaren driver refuses to concede, but he will soon be requiring snookers.

Coulthard's hopes of a third consecutive home win were effectively over when he collided with Jarno Trulli's Jordan-Honda at the first corner. He continued, hustling with the back markers, as his team studied data for evidence of the consequences. They were satisfied it was safe for him to stay out, yet he spun off the track with damaged suspension.

Moments later, Hakkinen steered his car inside Schumacher's Ferrari as they exited Copse and the ease with which the Finn pulled away confirmed the contest was over.

Hakkinen, released from the shackles of team instructions, revelled in his freedom. It was his first win in 11 months and suggested his appetite for racing had not been sated after all.

Coulthard, the dominant force at McLaren this season, rued: "It was a 50-50 situation with Trulli but I had track position. I feel he should have given me room. Two into one won't go. He was very fired up but he isn't in the championship battle. I should not be the one to back off. We both paid the price for our disagreement.

"I am very disappointed because I am sure it would have been a McLaren one-two and I know what the outcome would have been. I would have won my home grand prix. Mika would have pulled over, no question. It would have been a great scenario – his paying me back in front of my home fans.

"He would still have got all the credit and my title hopes would have been boosted. But that all went out of the window. Michael is edging closer to the title and it's further away from me. You can't deny that, but I absolutely refuse to accept it's over until he's got it in the bag.''

Trulli, who was dumped into the gravel at the first corner, claimed he was no more guilty than Coulthard. The Italian said: "We were both fighting for position. He closed the door leaving me with no more room to move. It was a racing incident although I think the car on the outside should leave enough room to move for the inside car.''

Hakkinen turned back the clock with the kind of clinically accomplished win that characterised his championship successes in 1998 and '99. The tedium of the proceedings, once he had accounted for Schumacher, was a measure of his superiority.

Ferrari, who opted for a one-stop strategy rather than the two preferred by McLaren and the majority of the other teams, and provided their champion with an unusually recalcitrant car, played into Hakkinen's hands and few begrudged him his opportunity.

He had endured a series of calamities since that previous victory, in Belgium, notably a last-lap retirement at this season's Spanish Grand Prix, which presented Schumacher with an improbable maximum score.

The apparent drain on Hakkinen's motivation fuelled speculation about his future. Some wondered whether he had the stomach for more. Others surmised that his contractual negotiations had stalled over the issue of money.

If there is substance to the latter theory, then Hakkinen has palpably strengthened his bargaining position. Either way, there is winning potential in him yet.

Hakkinen said: "It is difficult to understand 100 per cent how important this win is for me. I always wanted to win at Silverstone, so this is one for my black book. It is a fear for every driver that he won't win again when he goes so long without winning. That's why you push, because winning is a great feeling.

"It was critical to get in front of Michael because we were on a two-stop strategy. Our strategy was absolutely right. I was surprised at what Ferrari did.''

In the circumstances, six points was no mean yield for Schumacher. He was also overtaken by Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams-BMW, although the Colombian was eventually manoeuvred out of the podium places and finished fourth, immediately behind the other Ferrari driver, Rubens Barrichello.

However, Schumacher does not sit easily with second place and made no attempt to hide his dismay that the Ferrari failed to compete with the McLaren. He maintained the one-stop strategy might still have worked had he been able to hold off Hakkinen longer, yet acknowledged his team's limited testing here may have accounted for the car's lack of pace. "We just didn't get it right,'' he summed up. "We were too slow.''

Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld sustained Sauber's excellent campaign with fifth and sixth places respectively. Eddie Irvine was ninth in his Jaguar and Jenson Button was 15th, two places down on his Benetton-Renault team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella.

RACE RESULT

1 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 25min 33.770sec (Ave speed 216.231kmh/134.40mph)

2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:26:07.416

3 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:26:33.050

4 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 1:27:12.542

5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap

6 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap

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