David Coulthard believes Michael Schumacher will be remembered as one of the greatest drivers in history despite the furore over his gifted victory in Austria.
Schumacher is facing a race ban which would rule him out of the British Grand Prix in July after Ferrari ordered Rubens Barrichello to move over for him at the last race.
But Coulthard has given his old rival a boost by saying the four-time world champion’s status will not be affected by the events of the A1-Ring, which extended his win record to 58.
‘‘I don’t think what happened in Austria will be a blemish on his career,’’ said Coulthard, who has been highly critical of Schumacher’s aggressive track tactics in the past.
‘‘There is no question that Michael is a great driver.
‘‘The contract scenario which he has worked for by his performances during his career is part of the sport between drivers and teams.
‘‘Those who support Michael will always do so and those that don’t will stay the same. There is a lot of people who don’t like him but respect him because he has been one of the outstanding drivers of his time.
‘‘You cannot take away his results. I genuinely do respect Michael as an individual, though I have differences of opinion with him in terms of sport and I still maintain my position.’’
Coulthard’s show of support is in stark contrast to fellow Brit Johnny Herbert, who earlier this week launched a withering attack on his former fellow Benetton driver.
Herbert said three of Schumacher’s titles had been sullied because of the help he had received from his team-mates.
Coulthard’s main thoughts today are of trying to repeat last year’s stunning pole position in Monaco when the action resumes in Monte Carlo after the traditional rest day.
But the McLaren driver, who was third fastest in practice on Thursday, knows he faces a difficult task given the superiority of Schumacher’s Ferrari.
‘‘Last year’s pole position is very clear in my mind and in my dreams this week its another pole, but the reality is you can’t see a big upset,’’ said Coulthard, whose last pole was in Monaco.
‘‘This year the sights are set a bit differently because I don’t have a pole position car but I will go out and do the best I can.
‘‘It is frustrating what’s happened in the past 12 months but that’s part of the sport. My mind now is on using the experience I have and I have been in this position before with McLaren in 1996 and 1997 to get us through it.
‘‘I want us to be more competitive before the end of the season and then have a winning package next year.’’
Schumacher will resume in 11th place but is likely to be back on top by the time qualifying starts this afternoon.
Italy’s Jarno Trulli was fastest on Thursday with team-mate Jenson Button 10th. Allan McNish was second fastest for Toyota while Eddie Irvine was back in 20th after crashing his Jaguar.