Mika Hakkinen rates Coulthard as future champion

Mika Hakkinen picks his McLaren teammate David Coulthard to win a Formula One title - but not next year.

Mika Hakkinen picks his McLaren teammate David Coulthard to win a Formula One title - but not next year.

The two-time defending series champion hopes to make it three straight next season, a feat pulled off by only one other driver: Juan Manuel Fangio, who won four in a row (1954-57).

"I don't know how I'll find the motivation, but usually the spark for winning will be found," Hakkinen said today as he prepared for a much-needed six-week vacation.

Hakkinen lauded Coulthard, aged 28, and the progress he has made since joining McLaren in 1996 following two seasons with Williams.

"I've seen the industriousness David puts into all work, and his concentration on the tasks. For sure, he will win the championship," Hakkinen said on a rare vicit to his native Finland.

Hakkinen said he was looking forward to his long break after a mentally exhausting season.

"That goes for whatever top discipline, where there are expectations for a win," he said. "It is easier to be third or fourth. If you've got a good enough car for first place you just have to make it. That is very hard mentally."

The Finn begins his title defense March 12 in the Australian Grand Prix and McLaren team boss Ron Dennis expects tough sledding. He said Ferrari was probably the top threat but might be hurt by the loss of Eddie Irvine.

"Eddie Irvine is a stronger competitor than their new driver Rubens Barrichello, who will feel the psychological pressure alongside Michael Schumacher," Dennis said.

Dennis also said the British American Racing and Williams teams would be stronger thanks to new engine partners. BAR will be powered by Honda and BMW joins Williams.

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