The belief that the Marlboro McLaren Mercedes team had reached a turning point at the Grand Prix of Europe was confirmed last Sunday when David Coulthard led the first part of the San Marino Grand Prix, ahead of reigning World Champion Michael ...
The belief that the Marlboro McLaren Mercedes team had reached a turning point at the Grand Prix of Europe was confirmed last Sunday when David Coulthard led the first part of the San Marino Grand Prix, ahead of reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher and current Championship leader Damon Hill.
Despite suffering the disappointment of seeing both David and this team mate Mika Hakkinen retire later on in the race, the team could look back on Imola with the knowledge and satisfaction that the competitiveness of the MP4/11 and Mercedes-Benz V10 engine had once again been significantly improved.
David Coulthard's performance throughout the weekend was particularly reflective of this progress. The Scotsman finished fourth in the Saturday free practive, fourth in qualifying and third in the pre-race warm-up - each time within a second of the fastest driver. At the start of the race, he made another superb get-away from behind Damon Hill and took the lead at the second corner. The Marlboro McLaren Mercedes garage exulted: not only was David able to keep his pursuers at bay, but he could do so comfortably until his first pitstop on lap 20. Unfortunately, an hydraulic pressure problem forced him to retire a few laps after his final scheduled pitstop.
"If it had not been for the mechanical failure, we would have had a deserved podium finish", David commented. "I am feeling more and more confident all the time and things are looking a lot brighter for us all."
These final words should bring comfort to Mika Hakkinen, who went through an extremely difficult Grand Prix weekend. Having set the early pace for the team with fourth place in the Friday free practive, and kept close to David in the Saturday morning session with fifth place, he saw his hopes of obtaining a good grid position dashed by a series of problems hampering his qualifying efforts. Traffic on his first run, engine trouble on his second, and a spin on third run whilst on his fastest lap left him in an unhappy eleventh place. His race followed a similar trend, with more traffic, a 10 second penalty and an an engine failure depriving him of a place on the points.
Both Mika and David have stayed in Imola for a week of testing prior to the Monaco Grand Prix on 19th May - a race which will see McLaren celebrate the 30th Anniversay of its participation in the FIA Formula One World Championship.