David Coulthard’s last F1 race

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

31 comments on “David Coulthard’s last F1 race”

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:

  6. Terry Fabulous
    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 *******”

  7. Farewell Superman

  8. 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?

  9. 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

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

  11. I thought I was the only DC fan in the world, and am humbled by the sentiment of these posts. My best moment with DC……..
    Monaco 2000. 2 victories in 5 visits is reason enough for a rabid Pict to make the journey, but that day was something else. I had flown out my girl (now wife) from NZ for the spectacle, and in a roundabout way had the whole of the outside of the Rascasse to ourselves for the whole race. Very civilised. Shame that the whole area is now off limits because fans can’t see, hear and smell the explosive power in yer face! I was so impessed by Mika, DC, MS, in the top cars, yet Jackie’s cars, J Mags and Reubens were up there despite the helmets being smacked about like jackhammers comming out of rascasse. Scary. Hill and Herbert had veins popping out of their sculls when they came back to the pit.
    Bottom line, DC won, and the rest is history!
    DC, we are looking forward to seeing you and Karen and DC Junior here in Paradise soon.
    Luck 4 Sunday, as ever.

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