Sunday April 29th, 2001
McLaren cleared David Coulthard of blame on Sunday after suggestions that the Scot had suffered 'brain fade' on the Spanish Grand Prix grid.
"I'm sorry to say David had a bit of a brain fade on his part," team boss Ron Dennis told Britain's ITV television after a race in which Coulthard stalled on the grid before the formation lap and started last.
The comment stung Coulthard, who had been joint leader in the championship before the race, to retort: "I think Ron has suffered a brain fade. He has not spoken to me or my engineer yet."
The Scot fought his way back through the field to finish fifth but Ferrari's Michael Schumacher forged eight points clear in the title standings after a surprise victory fell into his lap. McLaren's Mika Hakkinen had been heading for victory when he was halted by a clutch failure within seconds of the finish in one of the biggest last-lap shocks in Formula One history. Dennis later clarified the situation in a team statement.
"Based on an initial analysis we felt that David was responsible for stalling on the dummy grid but closer scrutiny confirmed that a glitch in the software was at fault," he said.
The driver in turn said that he believed Dennis was now "comfortable that we have a problem in the system".
Coulthard said the sort of failure he suffered was a "nightmare scenario" that was not supposed to happen with the new electronics introduced for the first time in Barcelona since so-called driver aids were banned in 1993.
"As far as we know from the data we have...I initiated everything pretty much in the same way as we have been doing in practice," he told reporters in the paddock.
"The only difference was that I didn't go to full power. Obviously I didn't want to do that because Michael was directly in front of me and on a green flag lap you're waiting for him to go rather than the lights to go out. Even with that, with the modern systems, there's anti-stall.
"The boffins are standing there scratching their heads because these engines shouldn't and can't stall."
Coulthard had warned on Saturday that the so-called launch control systems, which allow the driver to set off at the press of a button or release of the clutch, might lead to some cars being left stranded on the grid. But he had clearly not included himself among them. While some teams and drivers used full traction and launch control, others stuck with what they felt more comfortable with.
Canadian Jacques Villeneuve revealed after he finished third and took BAR's first-ever podium that he had not used the electronic software for the start.
"We didn't use the launch control today, we weren't comfortable with it," said the 1997 champion. "Our launch control is not fully functional yet, it can cause some problems. We decided to use the normal clutch."
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya finished second and said he had used launch control but not the full traction system. Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen also had problems at the start of the race when he was briefly left standing on the grid as others sped past him.
Jordan said the driver had correctly set up the launch control but had inadvertently de-activated it.