The Formula One world drivers' championship reaches the midway and potentially defining stage here this weekend, and David Coulthard has been told by his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, he will have to go it alone in his quest for the title.
Far from offering his support to the Scotsman, Hakkinen maintains he is prepared to defy team instructions and pursue his own unlikely prospect of winning the championship – at least for another four races.
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher heads the standings going into Sunday's Grand Prix of Europe here. Coulthard is second, 18 points behind, and Hakkinen is joint fifth, a further 32 points adrift.
With nine rounds remaining, the odds are palpably stacked against the Finn, yet he has not given up hope. Asked how he would react if asked by the team to yield first place to Coulthard, he said: "I would go flat out and win.''
Hakkinen believes he can produce a winning summer streak and emerge once more as McLaren's main threat to the German. He said: "I am fighting for the championship for myself. I am going into every grand prix to win. I have to. It is what I am paid to do and what the team expects me to do. That's what I'm trying to do. If, in four races, things were the same, then I would look at it in a different way.''
So now Coulthard knows that here, in France, in Britain, and back in Germany for this country's eponymous Grand Prix, he will be racing Hakkinen as well as Schumacher. Come Hungary, the McLaren pair may well have taken points of each other and left the champion in the clear.
Coulthard has been adamant all along that he prefers to stand or fall on his own ability. It seems, now, that he has little alternative. "I'm just concentrating on winning each of the races individually and leaving the team to sort out the other issues,'' he said. "It's not my job to say if and when team orders will be used.
"I think Mika will support me, but only when we know there is no way he can win the championship. I know I have helped Mika in the past but that has been only when I didn't have a chance of the championship."
Schumacher will be content for the McLaren drivers to race each other, secure in the knowledge that he has the backing of his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, who is third in the championship, 16 points ahead of Hakkinen.
The joker in the pack is Schumacher's younger brother, Ralf, who beat him into second place in Montreal. It was the Williams-BMW driver's second win and confirmation that Formula One has a third if, as yet, inconsistent power.
Hot, fast conditions suit the Williams. Ralf Schumacher observed yesterday: "The weather is good now but it could be snowing here in the morning.'' The elder Schumacher is more confident. He said: "Usually our car works well on every circuit so I think this will be a good opportunity for us.''Reuse content