Atlas F1 News Service, a Reuters report

McLaren Back in Championship Contention

Monday July 3rd, 2000

The problems that dogged McLaren at the start of the season appear to be over after David Coulthard's victory ahead of Mika Hakkinen in an impressive one-two for the British-based team in Sunday's French Grand Prix.

On the day that Ferrari suffered its first engine failure of the season, the race also re-emphasised the domination of Formula One's top two teams at the halfway point in this year's world championship.

Despite the best efforts of their rivals and the arrival in the Formula One paddock of many major manufacturers as partners or owners of teams, Ferrari and McLaren have turned the championship into a two-team contest.

Every one of the nine races this season has been won by a Ferrari or a McLaren and Sunday's hard-fought and, at times, acrimonious contest ended with Briton Coulthard on top of the podium, Finland's defending world champion Hakkinen was second and Brazil's Rubens Barrichello third for Ferrari after early leader Michael Schumacher of Germany had retired his Ferrari with engine problems.

Schumacher's Lead Cut

Coulthard's third victory of the season, after a tough fight with Schumacher and some bad-tempered gestures enabled him to cut the German's lead in the drivers' championship to just 12 points with eight of the 17 races remaining.

"We have now finished six races in a row with both cars," said Norbert Haug, head of McLaren's engine partners Mercedes-Benz. "I hope we can continue this streak. Both championships are wide open and we certainly want to reduce our points deficit further in the next races and try to win the titles."

Ferrari's frustration at claiming pole position and then being outraced was manifested in Schumacher's aggressive tactics and defensive weaving on the track to block Coulthard's overtaking moves. This angered the Scot, causing him to gesture with his finger from his cockpit.

Coulthard Criticises Schumacher

While later apologising for his behaviour, Coulthard could find no excuse for Schumacher's driving and accused him of unsporting and dangerous moves and called for the sport's ruling body, the FIA, to clarify what is acceptable on the track.

Meanwhile, Schumacher said he believed he had driven within the rules and one source close to the FIA suggested he had done little wrong. "It was hard racing -- they are racing drivers aren't they?" said the source.

The FIA is more likely to be concerned at the way in which the championship has become a two horse race. The prospect of a "tyre war" next year when Michelin join Bridgestone in Formula One could help provide a solution, but until then the rest of this season is likely to see some predictable racing. A point acknowledged by Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt.

"The rules of this championship are clear," he said. "If we don't win, they do. This happens at every Grand Prix and, unfortunately, today went badly for us.

"This has obviously been a bad weekend for us as our main rivals, who were stronger than us on the track picked up maximum points.

"We also experienced our first engine failure in a race this season which cost us precious points for Michael in the drivers' championship and for the team in the constructors' championship."

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