Monday March 19th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
McLaren's David Coulthard put on a brave face after Michael Schumacher and Ferrari overcame mayhem and mistakes to sweep aside their Formula One rivals in Malaysia.
"I'm ahead of the game," said the Scot. "Although things look pretty bleak...at this moment I'm better off than I have been in the last three or four years."
World champion Schumacher led a one-two finish on Sunday and added a magnificent sixth successive victory to his sixth pole position in a row.
Coulthard finished third, leading for a while after starting eighth, in a chaotic rain-hit and re-started race at the ultra-modern Sepang circuit.
The four points left him joint second in the championship on 10 with Ferrari's Brazilian Rubens Barrichello.
Both Ferraris skidded off, lost time with a bungled pit-stop and still won after Schumacher carved up through the field from 11th position behind the safety car.
The win made the German the only modern Formula One driver to win six in a row and was the sort of performance that had rivals wondering whether anything could stop his Italian team.
"At the moment nobody can touch Ferrari, you can assume that they will be first and second in every race from now on," said Jordan team boss Eddie Jordan.
But Coulthard took comfort in recent history.
At the same stage last season, with two Grand Prix completed, neither he nor team mate Mika Hakkinen had scored a point before they came back strongly at the first race in Europe.
Double world champion Hakkinen, runner-up last season, could also consider himself statistically better off after taking his first point of 2001 at Sepang after crashing heavily in Australia.
Not Quick Enough
But Coulthard kept his feet on the ground.
"The fact is, our car isn't quick enough at the moment," he said. "Ferrari are the class of the field and they're getting what they deserve, they are doing to us what we did to them in '98."
McLaren won the last race of 1997 and the first two of 1998 before Ferrari managed to respond. The Mercedes-powered team went on to win both world titles that year.
The next race is in Brazil before the championship returns to its European heartland and Coulthard recognised that, realistically, it might be another month before McLaren were up to speed.
"We've got to work hard to try and improve our car and you can be absolutely sure that's what we're going to do in the same way that they did (in 1998)," he said.
Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug agreed.
"They said in 1998 and 1999: 'That's it - nobody is going to catch McLaren Mercedes,'" he recalled. "And they were wrong. All the predictions mostly are wrong so I have some pleasure if people are saying that.
"They (Ferrari) are strong at the moment but nobody in Formula One is unbeatable."
McLaren have scheduled four days of testing at the Barcelona circuit in Spain this week, with Finn Hakkinen and Coulthard present along with Austrian test driver Alex Wurz.
"But I really feel that we're in a situation where probably in Brazil we're still going to be a little bit behind. It won't be until we're into Europe that we can actually start testing this car properly," said Coulthard.
He said Hakkinen would be chafing for success in Brazil.
"I don't think it's very motivating to run around in fifth and sixth place. But that's where we are at the moment and that's what we got to work with," said the Scot.
Williams and Jordan were the other teams to leave Malaysia with morale high.
Schumacher's younger brother Ralf was fifth, after challenging for pole, in a Williams while compatriot Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fourth for Jordan - his second points finish in succession.
"It has been a good weekend," said Ralf. "We seemed to improve, we seemed to get closer and I hope we can go further and be a bit bigger pain for Ferrari."