JANUARY 19, 2002

Coulthard upbeat about new season prospects

DAVID COULTHARD positively radiated a glow of renewed confidence at the launch of the new McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17 and is confident that he will challenge for the World Championship.

The 31-year old Scot believes that he is now the focal point of the team which will look to him to lead and inspire their efforts after six seasons in the shadow of his former team-mate Mika Hakkinen.

"If they need an opinion then they have to come to me this year," he said confidently. "In the past they didn't. But that said, it's important for me not to get bogged down in the history of what happened in the past. We just have to go forward.

"If the new car is at least as good as the close competition then race wins will come and that's what you build a World Championship on." Coulthard also said that he believes he will benefit from added close collaboration with Technical Director Adrian Newey at the races and is particularly impressed with what the team has described as a "seamless transition" from Bridgestone to Michelin tires.

He added that tire technology was more crucial than ever in F1; "Teams invest millions in a new front wing which enables them to pick up 0.2sec - but we put a different tire on at Valencia which enables us to pick up 0.7sec. I'm really excited about the MP4/17; it's a menacing looking package and it's got some really nice details round the front suspension pick-up points, the engine cover and the way the bargeboards have been integrated into the design are really good. I'm very excited and looking forward to driving it."