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Coulthard for McLaren

MCLAREN will announce this weekend at the Nurburgring in Germany, that 24-year-old Scot David Coulthard is to join Mika Hakkinen in the team next year. Coulthard currently drives for Williams but was left out of the Williams line-up to make way for Indycar Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Despite this, Coulthard scored his first F1 victory yesterday in Portugal.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis actually signed Coulthard during the Australian Grand Prix weekend in Adelaide last year. At the time Williams argued that it had Coulthard on a three-year contract, signed when David began testing for the team at the end of 1993. Coulthard's management - Mark McCormack's International Management Group - argued that the Williams contract was not binding.

The matter was thus referred to the F1 Contract Recognition Board in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a body of independent lawyers with whom all F1 contracts are lodged. In the case of a dispute they are empowered by the FIA to decide if a contract is binding or not. This body examined the contracts and ruled that Coulthard had to drive for Williams - or not at all. We believe that immediately after the Recognition Board hearing in December, Coulthard and McLaren's Ron Dennis agreed to link up in 1996 instead. The contract is expected to be for several seasons - probably three - and is worth several million dollars a year to Coulthard.

Quite why Coulthard and McLaren have chosen to create a smokescreen suggesting that David was a possible driver at Ferrari is not clear, but the extra publicity cannot have done David any harm. There is no doubt that Ferrari did express an interest in signing the Scot but it was too late. The stories linking Coulthard with Ferrari did however enable McLaren to give the impression that Alain Prost might make a racing comeback.

McLaren is expected to announce that Danish rising star Jan Magnussen will continue to be a McLaren test driver, although we have also heard stories suggesting that German Bernd Schneider could be included in the team. Schneider is expected to test for McLaren this winter thanks to his strong links with Mercedes-Benz. Schneider won this year's German Touring Car series in an AMG Mercedes C-Class. The 31-year-old German was a very good single-seater driver in his day and drove for Zakspeed and Arrows in the late 1980s. Alain Prost is also expected to test for the team.

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