Saturday June 30th, 2001
Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug gave a strong vote of confidence to Mika Hakkinen on Saturday, saying he wanted him to stay with the McLaren team.
"I do not see a Mika Hakkinen crisis at all and I didn't see a David Coulthard crisis before," Haug told reporters at the French Grand Prix. Hakkinen, World Champion in 1998 and 1999, has scored just nine points in nine races this season and is now 59 behind the Championship leader Michael Schumacher.
It would still take the Finn six races, even if Ferrari's Schumacher failed to score any points and Hakkinen won every one, for him to catch up with the German and there are just eight Grands Prix remaining. But Schumacher has only been out of the top two places once this season.
Hakkinen qualified on the second row of the grid, alongside teammate Coulthard, for Sunday's race at Magny Cours and said afterwards that it was encouraging to be closer to the front than in the last race, the European Grand Prix, where he started sixth. Hakkinen last won a race in Belgium last August, also his most recent pole position.
Haug said Hakkinen, who led the Spanish Grand Prix in April until his clutch exploded five curves from the finish, could prove his critics wrong at any moment.
"If he wins tomorrow then a lot of guys will say 'I knew it, I knew it before,'" he said, reminding reporters that Hakkinen went 96 races without a victory from 1991 to 1997. "Then he won and he was a superstar and David was number two. Now David is the superstar. But at the end of the day these two guys are just fantastic and they are doing a fantastic job for us.
"This does not mean that we are not criticising ourselves internally but we've been together for six years. We have no reason to change and if we find all the solutions we want to find we are going to continue. There are still some details to solve but we are behind our drivers, that's why we are so strong as a team and I think that is very important."
Mercedes joined McLaren as partners and engine suppliers in 1995, the start of Hakkinen's record partnership with Coulthard, who has played second fiddle to the Finn in the past. Coulthard, though, lies second in the championship, 24 points adrift of three-time champion Schumacher, and is the team's main hope in the title battle. Team boss Ron Dennis said problems with the McLaren had contributed to Hakkinen's lack of form.
"If the driver has total reliability in a highly competitive car, his mindset is going to be completely different to his mindset in an uncompetitive car with unreliability," he said. "A great racing driver is exactly that, a great racing driver. It happens in every sport. Look at golf, it is a classic example of seeing people go in and out of form. But it isn't an issue with any of our drivers, past or present."
Published at 18:02:44 GMT