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

  1. Dorian said on 28th October 2008, 12:08

    I, too, will miss DC. I shall miss his off the cuff remarks and his blinding integrity (something which sadly is waning in F1 now). I always believed he was a very competent driver, capable of results, but was never going to be one of the greats. The fact that David says that about himself shows just how much humility and integrity he has.

    Hopefully he will join the BBC team next year as I think he’ll be invaluable.

  2. Roger Carballo AKA Architrion said on 28th October 2008, 12:15

    Favourite moments of Coulthard’s career…. let me think…. It has to be the races after his aircraft accident. It was an emergency landing. Although he and his girlfriend were safe, both pilots died, so it was really serious, one of those things that make your life pass before your eyes. For some time it looked like David simply thought he was inmortal. Really great to watch him…. I’ll miss a great driver and a gentleman. Good luck.

  3. Chris Johnson said on 28th October 2008, 13:32

    I followed his career since he was in Vauxhall Lotus (at the same time as Barichello). During his first full year 1995) he seemed to have what it takes to develop into a champion. I think Hakkinen’s speed, when he got to McLaren, was an eye-opener. Probably too nice of a guy to be WDC. He is a credit to the grid, but perhaps stayed a few years too long.

  4. schumi the greatest said on 28th October 2008, 13:33

    i think the last 3 years of dc’s career has showed the other side of him to everybody.

    i read his autobiography and it really is a good, honest and funny account of his life. he is very self critical in it, often saying that his qualifying poace let him down etc. i think thats what dc really missed that other people like hakkinen had, was that raw pace over 1 lap. he showed flashes of the ability to win the chamopionship in 00 & 01 but his best chance was 98 or 99 when mclaren had the far superior car, he just couldnt get as much out of it as hakkinen.

    still though a great career to look back on when he does hang up his helmet on sunday, hopefully he will be on the bbc next year (he said in an interview with f1 racing this month he would love to do it) his opinions will be much appreciated.

  5. AClarkson said on 28th October 2008, 15:43

    He was a great driver but never consistent enough to mount a sustained title challenge. I actually lost count the number of times when he drove like Senna in one race and went anonymous in another.

    but i like him still – F1 need ppl like him around really

  6. Steven Roy said on 28th October 2008, 16:28

    But for some seriously bad advice from IMG early in his F1 career he could easily have been a multiple champion. He tried to move to McLaren at the end of 1994 but Williams put up a fight to hold him. Had he not been advised by IMG he would in my opinion have won the 96 championship and in that case that case there would have been no seat for Villeneuve to occupy at Williams and the 97 title would have followed.

    The thing I like about DC’s wins is that they were rarely inherited and he was on the top step of the podium on occasion with Hakkinen and Schumacher on the other steps which tells you how good he was on his day.

    I think apart from his innate good manners one thing that held DC back was that he never believed he was the best. Even a few years into his F1 career he didn’t even Believe he was the best Scottish driver around. Fact was and is that he never was. McNish is the better driver. But DC made the best of the opportunity he was given and will be sadly missed. I only hope that when it comes to behavious on and off track future generations follow his line rather than Schumachers.

    My favourite moment will always be him giving Schumacher the finger. After the race he immediately apologised and I sat unbelieving thinking that he should never have apologised. He should have used that moment to prove to Schumacher that he was a changed character and to get under his skin but his manners won out and although his career probably suffered as a result he is a far better person because of them.

  7. he dated Heidi Klum, kudos to him.

    he helped develop the insanely ugly SLR, *rolls up newspaper* BAD COULTARD BAD!! no rabbit for you tonight.

  8. Robert McKay said on 28th October 2008, 19:10

    I don’t really buy the “moving to Mclaren from Williams harmed his career” theory. In a way he got it nearly right. He moved in 1996. Ok, Williams were the only team to be at that year, and he might have had a decent shot in 1997 against his teammate plus Schumi, but after that Williams were not much of a threat for the title. Mclaren were fighting for it in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (well, weak fight, but still best of the rest), and 2003. The only year Williams really featured was 2003.

    He jumped ship slightly early but givn contracts etc., it probably worked out better than being a Williams driver for 1998/1999/2000.

  9. Uppili said on 28th October 2008, 19:50

    For a guy who was often a match to Mika Hakinnen, it still remains a mystery to me that how and where he lost his speed during the recent red bull years. Particularly, the last two years against Webber.

  10. beneboy said on 28th October 2008, 19:53

    He’s been one of the few nice guys in F1 ever since he first joined Williams.

    While he’s been a good driver I don’t think he was or is great. In the end he’s managed to prove his quality & consistency but, by his own admission, he hasn’t got the killer instinct required to be a Champion.

    I’ll miss him more for his honesty in interviews than his racing so hopefully he’ll get the BBC job & we’ll still be able to enjoy his comments.

    He has brought us some good moments, as Keith has already mentioned, one of my favourites was seeing him in a Superman cape on the Monaco podium in 2006:

  11. Terry Fabulous said on 28th October 2008, 22:07

    Beneboy I loved the Superman cape as well!

    Fav DC Moment

    Albert Park 2008
    “I’ll speak to Felipe after the race and he’ll apologise and if he doesn’t I punch three shades of ***** out of the little *******”

  12. TisoyJrIII said on 29th October 2008, 0:04

    Farewell Superman

  13. The very first race I watched was Belgium 1998, and was hooked on F1 as a result. As I was living in Edinburgh at the time, naturally I chose DC as the driver I was going to follow.

    Sure, Spa ’98 wasn’t his finest hour, but when Schuey tried to take DC’s head off in the pits I was spluttering with outrage ! Loved DC and hated Schuey ever since. Not much has changed in 10 years then ;)

    So I guess you’d have to say Spa 98 is my fave moment, as thats where it all began (for me, anyway).

    I’d have to agree with Terry Fabulous though, that comment re Massa was just gold and prolly my other fave DC moment. The ‘finger’ is a close runner up.

    Good luck on sunday DC, hope your final race goes well and that its only au revoir, not goodbye. After all, if you bow out altogether, what will Sniff Petrol do with their “Crazy Dave” segment?

  14. Oliver said on 29th October 2008, 15:25

    In all honesty, I very much doubt that David will even be remembered next year, unless he keeps showing up at GP weekends, reminding us about that fact. Many drivers in the history of F1 who won only a hand full races, are still remembered and revered. DC is clearly not one of those drivers. He just lacked those few tenths that would have made him into a legend

  15. I think that Red Bull will use a special livery to celebrate the last Coulthard´s race.

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