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TACH SPECIAL: Will McLaren Support Coulthard For World Championship?

By David Treffer
Contributin Motorsports Editor
April 5, 2001

McLaren boss Ron Dennis is known in F1 circles as one of the most approachable team directors in the sport. However, Dennis is also known as one of the best when it comes to giving a non-answer to a question regarding his team. The man can literally talk for minutes and disclose only the tiniest of details. Dennis has not acquired his stature in Formula One racing and exotic car building by revealing internal details of Team McLaren. Within the next six weeks, Dennis and his staff will have to answer a very important internal question.

Three races into the season, Dennis finds Team McLaren in a bit of a dilemma. McLaren’s star driver, Mika Hakkinen, is mired in a slump. Having scored only one point this season, it is safe to say that Hakkinen has a lot of territory to cover to catch current points leader Michael Schumacher (26 points) or his teammate David Coulthard.

Which poses the original question. Will McLaren Support Coulthard in his quest for a World Championship? The answer this year has to be yes. Coulthard is finally demonstrating the driving acumen that pit row pundits have said he never possessed. The thirty year-old Scotsman is always described as having the potential but missing a final ingredient.

McLaren managers have always maintained that both divers are treated equally. I posed the “favoritism” question to Ron Dennis in Montreal last year. His reply was, “Neither driver was getting “the upper hand” in qualifying or race set-up.” In the past that answer was always given with a bit of a wink or a sly grin. Perhaps this year is going to be different.

Coulthard displayed during the most recent grand prix in Brazil that he has the ammunition to challenge current World Champion Michael Schumacher. Granted Schumacher may have caused (two spins) some of his own troubles. Nonetheless, Coulthard drove with a single-mindedness determination that had not been observed in prior races. It was the kind of determination that wins world championships.

During Hakkinen’s quest for his two world championships, Coulthard was the dutiful #2 driver without being designated as such. Nowhere was it written that Coulthard was number two, but one could observe the on-track strategies and discern that Hakkinen was McLaren’s focus. To Coulthard’s credit he never uttered a negative word toward Hakkinen or the team. Which brings us to question number two. Will Hakkinen return the favor by helping Coulthard win a world championship? Obviously, the answer will be handed out over the remaining 14 races. However, Team McLaren does not have that long to determine a strategy. By the mid-point of the season (GP of Canada), McLaren will know what needs to be done.

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