Sunday July 29th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
David Coulthard prayed for a miracle before the German Grand Prix but it never came. Instead, the McLaren driver was left suspecting the dice were loaded against him, struggling to comprehend why organisers had apparently lent his title rival Michael Schumacher a helping hand.
Ferrari's triple champion had seemed down and out after Brazilian Luciano Burti's Prost piled into the back of him on the starting grid and shot vertically into the air in a spectacular shunt. Schumacher's car was shattered in the impact and the safety car was sent out while the two drivers walked disconsolately back to the pits.
Then a red flag saved the man in scarlet to the delight of more than 100,000 firecracker-throwing local supporters traumatised by the thought of a race without their Championship leading hero. Coulthard, needing a dramatic twist of fate to reduce Schumacher's 37-point lead with six races remaining before Sunday's start, eventually retired two laps after Schumacher when his Mercedes engine went.
But the Scot said afterwards he was baffled by what had happened and hinted indirectly at a political decision that had affected the nature of the race. While accepting that safety is paramount and the organisers had the final say, he could not see why the situation justified the decision.
"It's so unusual to have a red flag now, especially when a driver's out and unhurt, that I find - with the limited information I have at the moment - it difficult to accept," declared the Scot. "I said to the team 'you know, if you were cynical you would understand the reasons for the red flag' and (team boss) Ron (Dennis) said 'Let's just concentrate on the race' which is fair enough.
"I haven't had the chance to see all the facts," he added. "Once I have seen all the facts it may be as clear as the balls on a dog why they put the red flag out, but at the moment I am struggling to see it."
Coulthard said the field had already run over the debris and cars were not backing up on the track.
"To my mind we could have all driven through slowly and all the cars had to slow down anyway because the safety car was out," he said. "They had two and a half minutes minimum to clean the track before we came round.
"I feel you've got to have consistency. Accidents or injury off the track is not normally a reason to stop the race. There's lots of races that would have benefited from being red-flagged to give people a show. You want to see all the cars race, you don't want to see everyone pile up on the first corner, everyone go off and Minardi win."
Coulthard was backed up by Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, who finished third for British American Racing, but was opposed by Williams' race winner and Michael's younger brother Ralf.
"I was surprised when there was a red flag, because we already went through the debris once," said 1997 champion Villeneuve. "By then the track was clean so the most dangerous moment of the race is actually the start."
Ralf replied: "Personally everywhere else I would agree. But here, with all the debris on the circuit, you don't want to have a puncture or cut tyre which might explode on the straight. I think it was a good decision."
Published at 18:07:20 GMT