David Coulthard’s last F1 race

David Coulthard made his F1 debut for Williams aged 23 (C) Sutton

David Coulthard made his F1 debut for Williams aged 23 (C) Sutton

David Coulthard starts his 246th and final Grand Prix at Interlagos this weekend.

He has spent 14 and a half seasons in the sport’s top flight, was championship runner-up in 2001, and won 13 races.

A difficult debut

It’s hard to imagine a more difficult set of circumstances in which to make your Grand Prix debut than David Coulthard faced in 1994. Two races after Ayrton Senna was killed, Coulthard was called up from the Williams test team to take the great Brazilian’s place.

He may have landed a seat with a top team straight from the off but it was not easy going. The FW16 was beset with problems early in the year, and Coulthard periodically had to make way for Nigel Mansell, making occasional returns to F1 largely because Bernie Ecclestone was concerned about the sport’s lack of star appeal post-Senna.

But Coulthard impressed his employers enough for them to keep him on for 1995. With better reliability, he might even have made bid for the championship. In the second half of the season he strung together five consecutive pole positions – at a time when qualifying was about who could do the fastest lap, not who could get away with carrying the least fuel.

At Portugal he won from pole and set fastest lap on the way. There were a few embarrassing rookie blunders though: spinning on the way to the grid at Monza, crashing into the pit wall at Adelaide…

Joining McLaren

But at this point a career decision was made that, in retrospect, might have robbed him of a chance to become champion. His management firm arrange a big-money move to McLaren alongside Mika Hakkinen, and while Hill won the 1996 title, Coulthard was battling an ultra-quick team mate and a car package that was yet to come good.

He persevered, however, and scored a surprise win in the 1997 season-opener at Melbourne. A second followed at Monza.

Title contender

The last race of 1997 and the first of 1998 were important moments in Coulthard’s career. On both occasions he was set to win, on both occasions he let Hakkinen by. Coulthard has claimed he felt Hakkinen was favoured at McLaren over him – but also admitted he volunteered the wins to Hakkinen of his own free choosing.

To some, this is Coulthard’s great strength – that despite the gigantic pressures of F1 he remains a gentleman of integrity. To others, it is proof that he lacks the killer instinct to grab any chance at victory, however it presents itself.

If that’s the charge Coulthard himself is happy to accept it. In a recent interview he said:

It’s like when Michael [Schumacher] told me after Spa ’98 that he could never remember being wrog. If that’s what it takes, if that’s the last little bit you need to be a champion, then I don’t want to be that person. I want to trust in people, and I want to be wrong sometimes. You can’t be right all the time.

Nice guy finishes first

The infamous Spa crash with Schumacher was not his first nor his last run-in with the German driver. Coulthard later accepted the Spa collision was his fault – he had lifted the throttle on the straight to let Schumacher by, not realising how close he was.

The rivalry between the two simmered in the late ’90s and early ’00s. They banged wheels in Buenos Aires, Coulthard slammed Schumacher’s start-line weaving, Schumacher claimed Coulthard blocked him during a season finale…

When it came down to a straight fight on the track it’s no secret that Schumacher often won – but Coulthard had his moments. At Magny-Cours in 2000 he was simply rampant, and when Schumacher rebuffed his attacks Coulthard responded with a gesture more typical of rush hour traffic than a Grand Prix circuit. With some style, Coulthard reeled Schumacher in and barged him aside.

Interlagos ’01 was, for me, Coulthard’s finest hour. He carried a heavy fuel load and when it rained late in the race he passed the (uncharacteristically) struggling Schumacher to win.

A close second to that virtuouso performance must be his battling drive to second at Barcelona the year before. It came mere days after he suffered broken ribs in a light aircraft crash in which two pilots were killed.

The Red Bull years

After nine year’s service at McLaren it seemed as though Coulthard had been squeezed out of F1 at the end of 2004. But a surprise move to Red Bull on a one-year-at-a-time deal rejuvenated a career that seemed to have petered out.

The early years with cars that struggled for reliability were a grind, but Coulthard brought the team its maiden podium at Monte-Carlo. He won twice at the prestigious venue for McLaren, and won his home Grand Prix twice too, an achievement few F1 drivers can boast.

There’s no sugar-coating his final season – it’s been a disaster. But even when he crashed out at Fuji and felt a pain in his ankle his first thought was that he hoped he’d still be able to start the final two races.

Coulthard’s been tipped to join the BBC’s F1 team in 2009. But whatever he does, I hope he doesn’t call time on his racing career entirely.

What’s your favourite moment from David Coulthard’s career?

Read more about David Coulthard

David Coulthard makes his final start for Red Bull on Sunday

David Coulthard makes his final start for Red Bull on Sunday

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31 comments on David Coulthard’s last F1 race

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  1. Jonesracing82 said on 28th October 2008, 7:21

    be sad to see him go, i wish him all the best for the weekend!

  2. yorricksfriend said on 28th October 2008, 7:27

    It’ll certainly be different without Coulthard on the grid next year

  3. I’d just like to pass on my best wishes for the future to Coulthard. He has been the consummate professional during his career.
    Good Luck with the final race in Brazil – hope he gets a good result in his last race.

  4. Should, apart from Coulthard, Barrichello retire, too, it would certainly be the end of an era, for me. They were the last two drivers having worked respectively raced with Senna. I saw all others debut in the past 17 seasons.

  5. Adam D said on 28th October 2008, 8:31

    one of the gr8 british drivers, when i was younger during his Mclaren years i wasn’t really a fan of his as i prefered Eddie Irvine, this was due to Eddie being a mouthy so-and-so and i sided with the rebel in Eddie.

    However during his later years with McLaren i started to like DC, his win at Interlagos as uv said was a gr8 win for him, the win shud’ve been JPM’s but Verstappen whacked in2 him. But DC’s drive was gr8 and his pass on Michael was reminisinct of Mika’s pass of Michael at Spa when a backmarker played its part. Mika had Zonta in front, DC had to get past Tarso Marques (who aside from being a crap driver in general will be remembered because of that move by DC where he took Tarso and Michael into turn 1).

    DC this season has been unlucky, it hasn’t been a disaster as he’s been the right man in the wrong place several times this year. Yes at Silverstone it was his mistake that got him and Vettel wiped out of the race but DC hasn’t had that bad of a season. 3 9th places and a 10th cud’ve easily led to points on other occasions. His drive at Canada admid the madness was gr8, think he led a lap there as well and his drive for 7th at Singapore cud’ve been 4th had it not been for pit problems and a bad out-lap that was heavily critized by ITV’s Ted Kravitz…lol.

    Overall DC’s been a gr8 driver, it was just a shame that after Mika left McLaren, Ferrari had 2 over dominant years in 2002 and 2004 when they simply blew every1 away. Had the Ferrari’s not been as dominant those years and DC been a tad quicker he cud’ve been a world champ.

    Best of luck DC in the final race, be brilliant if he got in the points wudnt’ it.

  6. Anonymous said on 28th October 2008, 9:36

    First race I ever saw was Australia 1997. Ever since then I’ve been a Coulthard/Hakkinen/McLaren fan.

    Sad to see him go.

  7. Mussolini's pet cat said on 28th October 2008, 9:53

    I’ll miss him for sure. Wasn’t keen on him at all in the early years, but I’ve come to like his style on & off the track. I for one loved the Magny Cours incident with Schumacher. Laughed my socks off when he showed ‘the finger’ to our German friend. Just hope now he’s part of the BBC F1 team.

  8. To me he’s been the spirit of F1 since he started with Williams, always there in a solid position to get the points when faster drivers have spun off or broken down.
    These last few years have been a shame, but I’m glad he will be sharing his experience with others at Red Bull.

  9. Robert McKay said on 28th October 2008, 10:05

    If there’s a god, he’ll be on the podium in Interlagos :-)

  10. I’ve always liked David and always enjoy his racing style and frank interviews, especially the one about Louise Goodman’s shall we say lovely bosom, but alas this year its been more DNC than DC.

    The up side is I’m really looking forward to his insights next year on the BBC commentary team. Every cloud… etc…

  11. Nice report Keith :)

    It’s certainly going to be strange next year without DC on the grid – I think France 2000 is probably the memory that sticks in my head the most, but it’s the fact he seems a genuinely decent guy which has made me support him over the years and is also the reason why certain other drivers put me off a bit!

  12. this guy has been around since my first full season watching F1, although i wasn’t a fan of his racing. i am a fan of his attitude and personality. for me he could easily be the image of what F1 drivers were before all the advertisment started rolling in.

    It’s sad to see him go, but you got to step out sometime. i wish him luck in his life, and hopefully he wont go to DTM, but will race somewhere else.
    i would like to see him at Le Mans.

    Good Luck for the final race Dave

  13. stevepCambsUK said on 28th October 2008, 11:22

    DC has been a credit to the sport over the years, he will no doubt express his views more than Brundle next year on the bbc, how long before Max’s cronies are hunting him down?

  14. ajokay said on 28th October 2008, 11:39

    Hopefully Interlagos will be a topsy-turvy race, and DC will end up doing a Vettel, it would be a fitting end. Here’s hoping he is on the BBC’s team next year.

  15. DC has been a fantastic ambassador to the sport. What stands out about him is his professional attitude, but also being able to have fun, and to brighten up an often dreary paddock, especially since joining RBR. His jokes with Louise Goodman will live long in the memory, as will his ability to drive through chaotic races to bring the car home solidly, as he did this year in Canada. But on his day, DC could beat anybody, as France 2000 and Monaco 2002 proved.

    Hope he has a great race in Interlagos, to finish in the points. He will be missed next year.

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