Villeneuve condemns treatment of Coulthard

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The Independent Online

Jacques Villeneuve has criticised McLaren's treatment of David Coulthard, believing his friend's morale has been undermined.

The former world champion believes it will be difficult for Coulthard to produce the goods on the track next season knowing he is likely to be replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005.

Ironically, Coulthard set the pace in testing at Valencia yesterday. He clocked a lap record of 1min 10.021sec at the Spanish track to pip Montoya to the top of the timesheets by 0.20sec.

Montoya, who finished third in last season's drivers' championship, has agreed to join McLaren from Williams-BMW at the end of next season when he is expected to form a partnership with Kimi Raikkonen, leaving Coulthard looking for a drive after nine years with the team.

"How can David perform next season - how can he feel wanted now," Villeneuve said of the 32-year-old Scot.

Villeneuve admits he is struggling to land a top drive for 2004 after losing his place at BAR-Honda to Japan's Takuma Sato. But the 32-year-old Canadian knows he is unlikely to figure in Williams' plans when they look for a replacement for Montoya, ruling out a return to the team with whom he won the world title in 1997.

"They won't go for me. I must have cheesed them off," Villeneuve said, facing up to the fact that his Formula One career could be over.

The technical director Patrick Head revealed towards the end of last season that Villeneuve's determination to go his own way on car set-up almost cost him title in 1997."If I had done everything they had wanted then I wouldn't have won," Villeneuve countered.

Nick Heidfeld has moved a step closer to driving for Jordan-Ford next season after signing a testing contract with the Formula One strugglers. The German driver was released by Sauber-Petronas at the end of last season. Team leader Eddie Jordan is also set to hand Czech newcomer Jarek Janis his big chance.

A decision on whether or not to stage next year's French Grand Prix will be taken on 12 December. The race has been thrown into doubt because the organisers owe money to Formula One.