Monday May 14th, 2001
For the first time in six seasons with McLaren, David Coulthard has escaped from Mika Hakkinen's slipstream and is now the team's title favourite. After six of the season's 17 races, the championship battle lines are clearly drawn: Ferrari's Michael Schumacher versus Coulthard, winner of Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.
Both drivers have been helped, unwittingly and unwillingly, by teammates choking on personal disappointment. Apart from winning for the second time this season, the defining outcome of Sunday's race for Coulthard was the failure of teammate Hakkinen to score.
His most encouraging moment after taking the chequered flag was surely to witness the disharmony between the Ferrari drivers after Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was forced to move over for world champion Schumacher. Hakkinen's second stall of the season on the grid -- he was also stranded in Brazil -- left the two times champion with just four points, 34 adrift of the Scot.
Never before has Coulthard amassed so many points at this stage in the season or been so far ahead of his teammate. McLaren insisted that both men remained equal and team orders would not be applied.
But that is likely to become inevitable if Coulthard, the only driver to score in every race this season, continues to be the only McLaren man bringing home the points.
Hakkinen admitted as much, saying of his own championship challenge: "It doesn't look too promising, does it?"
Coulthard nonetheless made all the right noises afterwards, suggesting the Finn could still come back and there were a lot of points to play for. But his reaction to a question about Ferrari's controversial use of team orders betrayed his real feelings.
"Please don't get it banned before I, once in my career, get the benefit of this," said the Scot, who has given way to Hakkinen and ridden shotgun for him in the past.
"I've never benefitted from someone moving over for me."
Schumacher could not say the same after a race that saw the Williams team promise much and deliver nothing more than the incident that scuppered Schumacher's chances of a straight win. The blocking manoeuvre by Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya allowed Coulthard and others to slip past and pushed Schumacher back from second to sixth.
It also led to Barrichello, who pointedly stayed in second place until he was within sight of the finish line, being ordered to move aside by Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt.
The only surprise was that Ferrari, where the German is clear number one, had seen fit to call team orders so early in the season. That reinforced what a threat Coulthard now poses.
Before Austria, Schumacher was still insisting that he considered Hakkinen to be his main rival. No more.
"In this race already it was clear what will be the future because Mika hasn't finished the race," said Schumacher.
"David is in a good position for the championship and you have to think a little bit ahead and not say after 'actually, we should have done that before'," added the champion.
"With Mika not finishing the race, I think it's pretty clear who McLaren will send for the championship now, because there's very little chance for Mika to win (it) now in my view.
"David, having scored all these points, will be sent to the championship. I'm in the other position for Ferrari to do this."
McLaren, who raised a storm when Coulthard was accused of "brain fade" by team boss Ron Dennis after he stalled in Barcelona, were reluctant to reveal immediately what happened to Hakkinen. But technical director Adrian Newey gave a hint.
"Mika's difficulty at the start was a problem relating to launch control, something between the system and the driver shall we say."
Barrichello's uncomfortable role at Ferrari highlighted the tensions within the team and also heightened speculation that he would be moving on when his contract expires at the end of 2001.
"I still have to go down and talk to the team and clarify things," he said, the emotion clearly showing on his face after the race.