A BOLTON man lost £1,000 after backing David Coulthard in the controversial Australian Grand Prix. The man placed the bet at William Hill, on Halliwell Road, the day before Sunday's race - the joint highest bet in the country.

With odds of nine to four, he would have scooped £3,250.

But the Scottish driver let team mate Mika Hakkinen pass at the Albert Park circuit on the penultimate lap after a pre-race agreement. Now William Hill and other bookies have been inundated with furious gamblers asking for their money back.

But William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said the punter was probably aware of agreements between team mates and would be "resigned" to the loss. The Australian Grand Prix, on which punters all over the world placed bets finished with Mika Hakkinen declared the winner while his McLaren-Mercedes team scored a one-two triumph.

David Coulthard, in what has already been dubbed "the most gentlemanly gesture in the history of sport", pulled aside with two laps remaining to give his team-mate the second win of his career.

According to their agreement, it was the right and fair action since Hakkinen had been first into the opening corner and led the race comfortably before being mistakenly called in for a pit stop after 36 laps.

It left angry punters accusing team leaders of fixing the result.

And it has led to questions about the morality of bookmakers taking bets on drivers in a sport where the outcome is contrived.

Betting experts are advising punters to put "savers" on team-mates by backing more than one driver.

Mr Sharpe defended bookies and said William Hill would not be giving punters their cash back. He said: "Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix, end of story.

"There's nothing within the rules that prohibits it from taking place.

"We pay out on the podium finish."

But Mr Sharpe said whoever had put the £1,000 bet on must have been an experienced gambler.

He said: "Presumably the person knew about this sort of pre-race agreement and would be resigned to not winning.

"But I know how I'd feel if it was my money."

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