By Timothy Collings
DAVID COULTHARD, and not Nigel Mansell, will line up alongside Damon Hill for the Rothmans Williams Renault team in this year's Formula One world championship, Frank Williams confirmed yesterday.
As expected since last October, the 1992 world champion, 41 years of age and a winner of 31 grands prix, lost out to the 23-year-old Scot, a raw talent at Formula One level with only eight races under his belt. If being nearly twice Coulthard's age was a disadvantage for Mansell, his considerably larger salary demands must have been an even greater handicap.
Yet Mansell, whose only options now appear to be retirement or a campaign for the McLaren seat occupied last year by Martin Brundle, took the setback in his stride.
In a prepared statement responding to Williams' announcement, Mansell, without a trace of rancour, said: "I am pleased that the Williams team have made a decision regarding their driver line-up for 1995 and delighted for David that he has been given this fantastic opportunity.
"I would like to thank Williams, Renault and Rothmans for having given me the opportunity to drive the last three grands prix of 1994 and particularly for the victory in Australia. With regards to my future, it is too early to comment further at this time."
At something around half a million pounds a race, Mansell is no bargain
The next bulletin on this out-of-work driver's employment status could come on Friday when he opens the Autosport International Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. By then, however, little else is likely to have happened.
Mansell may be the most expensive item remaining on the left-over counter at Formula One's version of the January sales, but he is unlikely to be snapped up by any team. At something in the region of half a million pounds a race, he is no longer a bargain.
Brundle, like Mansell, stayed calm yesterday when, after a morning spent working out in the gym, he learnt of the latest moves in this winter's game of musical chairs. "It won't surprise me if it is a straight fight for the McLaren seat between Nigel and me," he said. "But I am quietly confident and I'll be watching this situation with interest."
With support from Bernie Ecclestone, who wants to see the undoubted crowd-pulling power of Mansell in Formula One, and Marlboro, sponsors of the McLaren-Mercedes team, Mansell's illustrious record may outweigh his age and Brundle's claims for a second year alongside Mika Hakkinen. Coulthard and Hill represent a formidable pairing for Williams-Renault
None of this, however, will be of concern to Coulthard or the Didcot team. The young Scot and Hill represent a formidable pairing for Williams-Renault and appear to be blessed by a competitive chemistry which ensures each extracts the best from the other.
If Hill feels capable of winning the championship which eluded him in the title-decider in Adelaide last November, he knows Coult- hard will be lying in wait behind him, if not alongside him, on the track.
"I am very happy we have now finalised our agreement with David," said team director Williams, whose pursuit of Coulthard, through the Contracts Recognition Board, reflected the same commitment. "He has proved his worth as a grand prix driver and I have no doubts he has a successful future ahead of him."
How successful can Coulthard be? Without a trace of conceit, the Scot has no doubt he can not only finish on the podium, but win. "And if I can win races, I know I can win the championship," he said. "I am confident."
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