Formula One: Anything can still happen, Coulthard

If David Coulthard needed any convincing that his world championship hopes could improve in an instant, then Michael Schumacher emphatically proved so with his high-speed shunt during testing in Italy.

The German who is well-within sight of a fourth drivers' crown admitted he was lucky to escape unhurt after he crashed his Ferrari at 180mph in Monza last Tuesday.

Schumacher could quite easily have seen his title dream left in tatters as it was at Silverstone two years ago when he suffered a similar accident at the British Grand Prix and was left with a double fracture of the leg.

'I have to say I was very lucky, because the guardrail absorbed much of the impact of the accident,' said Schumacher, who heads into his home grand prix at Hockenheim tomorrow week with a 37-point advantage over Coulthard and just six races left.

'It all happened very quickly. I braked and without warning the rear of the car snapped to the left and then I ended up in the right-hand side barrier and slid along the guardrail.

'I could not control it, because in the impact, the front right wheel came off, so I had no steering and more importantly, no brakes.

'I did not scrub off much speed as I went along the barrier on the gravel and then the car ended up where the barrier formed an angle.'

Eddie Irvine, who almost capitalized on Schumacher's 1999 crash when they were team-mates at Ferrari before missing out on the title in a last-race decider, had said before Silverstone last week that the only way Coulthard could win the championship was if his rival suffered an accident.

The Ulsterman's words so nearly proved prophetic at Monza, though ironically Schumacher was back behind the wheel by Friday while Coulthard missed the test because of a bout of food poisoning.

Apart from another more serious accident, it is difficult to see Coulthard overturning his rival's mammoth lead in the remaining races.

Coulthard's final chance looked to have gone when his bid for a hat-trick of home wins last Sunday ended early when his McLaren was ditched into a gravel trap following a suspension failure caused by a first-corner shunt with Jordan's Jarno Trulli.

Even if Coulthard wins every race for the remainder of the campaign - a seemingly impossible task in itself - Schumacher can afford to coast home in third spot each time and still be crowned champion.

This week's accident aside, Schumacher has been blessed with incredible reliability from Ferrari having failed to finish just one race in 11 so far this year.

Of those other 10, the Swiss-based racer has won six of them and finished runner-up in the others including last week when he refused to take any risks after being overtaken by Mika Hakkinen in the other McLaren.

Schumacher will have an extra reason to claim his seventh triumph at Hockenheim as victory would see him equal Alain Prost's all-time record of 51 wins in front of his faithful fans.

But the 32-year-old will certainly play safe if he has to knowing the championship is more important and his Ferrari bosses have indicated they will take a more conservative approach from now on in the interests of reliability.

'From an aerodynamics point of view, which is not a reliability consideration, then there's still a lot of work being done,' said Manchester-born technical director Ross Brawn.

'But in terms of a new engine spec, then perhaps we are going to do a bit more testing before we introduce it, because there's no need to take that risk.

'The engine reliability has been fantastic. There are decisions to consider that are a little bit different to other circumstances. But we still want to win more races. I wouldn't call it relaxing!'

Brawn believes Hakkinen's victory at Silverstone, when the Finn was back to his blistering best, proved that McLaren will be a real threat for the remaining races.

'They've been performing well for several races, it's just that they've not put the whole thing together,' added Brawn.

'They've had little problems, problems on the grid, David exceeded the speed limit in France. You only need one little glitch and your race is finished.'

Hakkinen - mathematically out of contention despite ending his 11-month victory drought - would surely have moved over for Coulthard had the Scot been in contention at Silverstone and will undoubtedly do so in future.

But it is probably too late for Coulthard, although after the Schumacher's accident in Monza, anything is still possible.

'It has got harder for me in recent races, but I won't concede the title until it is truly finished because anything can still happen,' said a defiant Coulthard.

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