David Coulthard can still become Formula One World Champion according to racing legend Jackie Stewart.

Speaking to Britain's Sunday Mirror, Stewart gave his backing to the under fire Scot, who is widely expected to lose his seat at McLaren Mercedes when Juan Pablo Montoya joins the team from Williams for the 2005 season.

"David is good enough to go out there and win the world championship," he told the newspaper. "He's certainly as good as an awful lot of drivers who have won it.

"He has a lot to offer as a driver. He has immense experience and when everything is working for him he's as good as it gets. He is an exceptional racing driver.

"Last season qualifying was an issue for him, but if he can get that bit to work for him from now on he is a talented enough driver to win races and go on to win the championship as well."

Stewarts support comes on the back of a disastrous 2003 for the Scottish driver who was comprehensively out performed by young team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Although his season started well with victory in Australia, Coulthard only recorded two more podium finishes as he finished a distant seventh in the championship race, the lowest final position the Scot had achieved since also finishing seventh in 1996.

At the same time, Raikkonen performed consistently throughout the season, only missing out on the title at the last race in Japan.

Many in the paddock believe that a team of Raikkonen and Montoya, the other main challenger of 2003, will give McLaren its best chance of challenging Michael Schumacher and Ferrari meaning Coulthard will, in reality, be driving for his F1 future in 2004.

So far the official line from McLaren is that no final decision has been made over who will partner Montoya in 2005, but there have been media reports during the close season that McLaren attempted to get Montoya a year early, with Williams getting Coulthard in return. The obvious suggestion from this is that there will be no place for the Scot at the team next season.

Also speaking in the Sunday Mirror, Coulthard's manager Martin Brundle said the star would have to "do very well this year" to try and win a competitive drive in the sport next season. Jaguar are believed to be one team Brundle could target for 2005, with Mark Webber rumoured to be on the list to replace Montoya at Williams. A move to Toyota has also been mentioned.

But whoever it is with, Stewart firmly believes that Coulthard will take his place on the F1 grid in 2005.

"I sincerely hope and feel there is a future for David in Formula One because he still has a lot to contribute to racing at this level," he told the newspaper.

"Let us not forget he will still be at McLaren this year and a lot can happen between now and next year. The onus is very much on David and I have no doubt that if the car is as good as McLaren hope it will be and he is on his game, he is capable of winning the championship."

 

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