DC: We're much closer to Williams and Ferrari

David Coulthard says McLaren has made up ground on rivals Ferrari and Williams-BMW in the last week, but is unsure if the advances are enough to take victory in Sunday's French Grand Prix

DC: We're much closer to Williams and Ferrari

The Scot put in a last lap flier to snatch third place behind brothers Ralf and Michael from his team mate Mika Hakkinen. Coulthard was less than a fifth of a second behind both Schumachers - a major leap from his third row start in the European Grand Prix in Germany last weekend - and knows he desperately needs to notch up a 10-point win to close the gap on Schumacher senior, who leads him by 24 points.

"We have to be encouraged because we are much closer than we were at the last race, and much closer than we have been in qualifying in some of the recent races, Monaco aside," said Coulthard. "But in truth we don't know and we'll find out in the race."

Coulthard says the comparative strength of the Michelin tyres used by BMW-Williams are an unquantifiable variable, but he expects his Bridgestone-shod McLaren will be stronger in Sunday's race than in qualifying.

"It is difficult to know exactly where we stand because Williams are on different tyre, and we don't know what to expect. But the race is a completely different issue than qualifying. We have not been particularly strong in qualifying at a couple of circuits, but in the races we have been a bit stronger."

Coulthard took a relatively lucky third place at the Nurburgring last Sunday, and has not won a Grand Prix since Austria six weeks ago, but he's confident his team can overcome the problems that have seen Williams and Ferrari take the limelight from McLaren.

"We will work through it," added Coulthard. "It's not like in 1994/5, for example, when the team was in the first year of new projects with Peugeot and McLaren and was really at rock bottom. We have ongoing relationships with our engine partner and all areas of key input to the chassis.

"There is a slight cross-over with the (new) Paragon (technical centre) wind-tunnel, which needs a whole series of lengthy tests to calibrate properly. Paragon takes time and resources, but will be an improvement when everything is finished."

And he insisted the team's supposed slump in form is not as bad as it appears to others.

"We've stayed at the same level as others have improved," said Coulthard. "Also, the tyres have changed. As the circuits get warmer at this time of year, a tyre that worked in cooler European races doesn't work so well. Last weekend at the Nurburgring, for example, was the first time we have had an oversteering car.

"You can drive around understeer to a certain extent. But when the car's out of balance and you can't bring it back, it's tough. And you don't get much time to sort it out."

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