The British Grand Prix emerged from its wretched, soggy weekend to throw a ray of sunlight on the world championship and one driver in particular. David Coulthard's naked elation at the end testified to the significance of this, his second consecutive victory in his home race.
Last year he profited from the misfortune of others and never pretended otherwise. Yesterday he crossed the line ahead of the reigning champion, his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, and the current title leader, Michael Schumacher of Ferrari.
In the build-up, Coulthard had been under as much pressure as McLaren. He was hearing more conjecture about his future, that he was to lose his place to Jacques Villeneuve. His team had lost three in a row to Schumacher and Ferrari. Something had to give.
McLaren responded to the challenge, capitalising on Schumacher's wayward start and Rubens Barrichello's capitulation in the other Ferrari. However, it was Coulthard, rather than Hakkinen, who led the team's triumphant chase to the line, and the release of emotion cast aside the Scotsman's cool, diffident image.
Coulthard leapt from his cockpit straight into the embrace of Mercedes' Motorsport director, Norbert Haug, who has consistently championed his cause. Coulthard has often, and usually with justification, been criticised for an apparent lack of passion, or aggression at any rate, on the circuit, but here, starting fourth on the grid, he demonstrated a relish for the fight, as well as the concentration to protect what was his in the closing stages.
He went around Barrichello in what he described as a "Nigel Mansell-type" move and was rewarded just as the old English warrior had been on a now fabled occasion against Nelson Piquet in 1987.
This, Coulthard's seventh Formula One win, lifts him to second place in the championship, 20 points behind Schumacher and crucially two points ahead of Hakkinen. McLaren trail Ferrari by a less daunting 17 points in the constructors' standings.
Ralf Schumacher and Jenson Button gave Williams-BMW more encouragement with fourth and fifth places respectively and Jarno Trulli salvaged consolation for Jordan-Mugen with sixth after the retirement of his team-mate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
However, the gap between the top two teams and the rest was reaffirmed. The important development was Coulthard's projection as a driver of conviction and purpose which he attributed to inspiring words from Mansell. "Nigel spoke to me a few days ago and told me that one per cent more self-belief would make all the difference," Coulthard revealed.
He took the advice on board and drew from it as he trailed Barrichello into Stowe corner. "I really did think about the Mansell manoeuvre here and I thought I'd give it a go and thankfully it came off."
It was not quite as flamboyant as Mansell's double dummy to pass Piquet but it was just as decisive and may prove a landmark in Coulthard's career. He had enough in hand to render Hakkinen's late charge futile.
"This win is right up with my best," Coulthard said. "I'm happy for my engineers and mechanics who have stood by me when Mika was winning. I had a small gearbox problem and was preparing to cry in the car but it held out and it's just fantastic.
"I know what my contractual position is and I'm happy with that. If I win my market value goes up. It's a simple formula. We still have quite a gap to Michael and we need to win more races. I see no reason why we shouldn't do that."
Ferrari provide the only logical reason and Schumacher will rarely be swamped as he was here yesterday. He was even fought off by his younger brother, Ralf, and spent the first half of the race studying the finer lines on the rear wing of Villeneuve's BAR-Honda.
The German was free to accelerate after the Canadian made his pit-stop and, with others making two stops, managed to gather four valuable points. Schumacher said: "I went on to the grass and got wheel-spin because there had been so much rain. Then I had a tough fight with Ralf and backed off at a vital moment at Bridge, because it would not have been good to go off with my brother. Against anybody else I would probably have gone for it. Then I was stuck behind Villeneuve and I was wondering how many points I would drop. In the end I have to be happy with third."
Barrichello, on pole, defended his advantage through the first corner to lead a trail of six cars. Frentzen and the Williams pair were committed to two stops and effectively eliminated from the contest for rostrum places.
A hydraulic problem was to scupper Barrichello's hopes. As he struggled with his car he spun, took an unforgiving route through a water-splash and called a end to his race in the pits. The Brazilian said: "I'm very sad because I had the opportunity of taking my first grand prix win. I spun because of the erratic behaviour of the engine. I decided to pit, but there was nothing to be done."
Jaguar made it to the line with both cars in this their home debut but will not have been comfortable with 12th and 13th places, delivered by Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine.
* Richard Burns emerged unscathed following a crash in the Pirelli Supercup race at Silverstone. The rally driver was competing as a guest in the 12-lap event when he lost control of his Porsche on a bend.
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