Dennis promises drivers equal shot

RON DENNIS said on Friday that he does not favor Mika Hakkinen over David Coulthard and promised to give both an equal shot at the title this year.

Coulthard is McLaren's best challenger in the series, while Hakkinen has endured a nightmare start to the year. But Dennis has insisted that he will not favor either driver in their title bids.

Coulthard's relationship with Dennis was thrown into controversy at the Spanish Grand Prix when Dennis accused Coulthard of "brain fade" when he failed to start the race well.

He later retracted the comment, but to some observers it highlighted an apparent preference from Dennis to Hakkinen. But he has now put these rumors to bed.

"There is a perception that I have a closer relationship with Mika than with David," said Dennis, who grew close to Hakkinen after his near-fatal crash in the Australian Grand Prix in 1995.

"There is that emotional value, but you've got to understand where it comes from. Walking into that Adelaide hospital, being sucked into the trauma of the whole thing.

"I got involved mentally in the milestones of his recovery through to the point where he was up and running again. You're not human if that doesn't effect you, but it doesn't mean diddly-squat when I have to take decisions about the outcome of a Grand Prix and who's going to win.

"This doesn't mean I favor Mika over David at all. We are a team that is focused on winning and that is what matters. Both drivers will have our full and equal support and that means David will have all the backing we can give him to win the world championship throughout the season."

Dennis' words will come as some comfort to Coulthard, who is currently the team's best placed driver.

But Mercedes-Benz motorsport director Norbert Haug believes Hakkinen will recover from his slow start to the season and have a shout in the championship shake-up at the end of the campaign.

Haug said: "Sure it's difficult with a gap of 32 points but with 12 races to go nothing is impossible.

"If you look at the start of the season everybody said nobody would beat Ferrari, then it turned around. Then it was said Michelin will not perform and they won a race.

"If Mika can win three time and Michael not score a lot then he's there. For sure mathematically David's chances are better, but things are changing and in theory Mika can win 120 points and that just shows you how much 32 points are."

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