DC holds the key to Hakkinen's title hopes

Mika Hakkinen will be looking to team mate David Coulthard to keep his hopes of a third consecutive world title alive in the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

DC holds the key to Hakkinen's title hopes

The Finn is looking to score maximum points in the last two races of the season, but with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher only requiring two second places to clinch third championship, who comes second at Suzuka is almost as important as who comes first. And McLaren believes it has in David Coulthard the ideal wing man to bring home a one-two victory in Japan.

"Coming second is still difficult for Michael [Schumacher] as David is in a strong frame of mind as well," said McLaren's managing director Martin Whitmarsh in Autosport's sister publication Motoring News. "All David can do is to come second and the car is capable of doing that."

Should Coulthard deliver his side of the bargain, then Whitmarsh is confident that Hakkinen will deliver his too, and have no problems in securing his third Japanese GP win on the trot: "We have the quicker car and we've got two drivers who are fired up," he said. "Mika is stronger and more focused than ever and realises that, if we give him a car that can finish, he's going to win in Japan."

The McLaren MD is also sure that there will be no repeat of the Mercedes engine failure that cost Hakkinen a finish in Indianapolis. With engines running at continuous full throttle for around 20 seconds of each lap at Indy, the blow-up is believed to have been caused by the failure of a single component.

"We've understood the engine problem," said Whitmarsh. "We know why it happened and we are confident that Mercedes and Ilmor will give us engines that work in Japan and Malaysia."

But although Coulthard lists Suzuka as one of his favourite circuits, the Scot knows that keeping himself between Schumacher and Hakkinen will be no easy task, and that set-up is key.

"The abrasive nature of the circuit means that it's often heavy on tyres because of the high level of degradation," said the Scot. "The track is a challenge not just for the drivers, but for the team as well, as it can be tricky to find the right balance."

If McLaren was to score a one-two in Japan, the title fight would then be decided at the season-closing Malaysian Grand Prix on October 20 - a scenario McLaren boss Ron Dennis is relishing.

"Our commitment to winning the world championship is undiminished," he said. "and we are as focused and determined as ever to make sure that this year's championships will not be decided until the last race in Malaysia."

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