Coulthard faces last stand for Championship at Silverstone

AFTER two weeks of nerves being strained taut as a bow over Tim Henman's roller-coaster ride at Wimbledon, British sports fans will have to spend another week agonizing as another of its heroes, David Coulthard, limbers up for what could be the most crucial race of his F1 career at Silverstone this weekend.

Martin Brundle, who manages Coulthard, has admitted that "it is essential for David to win at Silverstone, because he has to make the pendulum swing his way again."

Brundle, who himself finished a storming third for Benetton in the British GP nine years ago, told the MAIL ON SUNDAY newspaper; "A driver will tell you that one race is the same as the next and that there are ten points awarded for winning, no matter where you are in the world.

"By and large that's right, because they have to protect themselves from creating added pressure. Yet racing in front of British fans at Silverstone will give David just the lift he needs."

Yet the reality is a 31 point deficit with 70 points to play for is virtually unmanageable. What makes his position even more tenuous is that he's hit the best form of his career in the middle of a nightmare season for the McLaren-Mercedes squad which has yielded just two wins in ten races. Add to that the fact that Mika Hakkinen's form is wobbling just at the moment that he might usefully be pressed into service in a supporting role to Coulthard's ambitions and all commonsense tells you that the situation is bleak in the extreme.

Coulthard is understandably cool and controlled, his confidence coming from an inner knowledge that he has driven magnificently from the start of the year. In the past, he has failed to do justice to his equipment. This year, the equipment has failed to do justice to his own personal contribution to the equation.

David remains resolute. "The more intense the pressure becomes to win, the more attention is on you, the more demands there are on your time, and it has to become well managed," he says. "And you can't do that yourself.

"As I often explain to Andy, who trains me, his focus is purely to make sure I'm as fit as possible when he comes to the track and organizing all my gear. My focus is to train with him to do the media stuff as well as I can, because I know that one wrong word can cause all sorts of problems, to do the marketing side as possible, because that's good for me as well as the team.

"Then I've got to test as well as possible. There is a lot of responsibility on the driver which totally justifies the salary we get. It's not question of kicking a football around a pitch. There's a hell of a lot of things we do beyond that."

Winning the World Championship is nobody's due, but when Michael Schumacher is eventually crowned title holder for the fourth time in his glittering career, he can give thanks in large measure to McLaren technical unreliability.

By the same token, he needs to be worried. McLaren and Mercedes have been rocked by their experiences so far this season and - as the Adrian Newey saga proved to Jaguar - when Ron Dennis has his back against the wall he's certainly at his most dangerous as a competitor. McLaren will regroup and fight back.

Moreover, brother Ralf and the BMW Williams squad are also consolidate their role as World Championship challengers next season.

Ferrari may almost certainly have won the day in 2002, but with two Anglo-German partnerships on the prowl, they'd better enjoy their success while they can. Coulthard for Champion in 2002? Worth a bet, no question about it.

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