In the last guest article of 2008 Andrew Tsvyk takes a look at David Coulthard’s career highlights as he makes the switch from F1 racing driver to F1 TV pundit.
The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix was his last-ever Formula 1 race. In this article I will look at some of the races that shaped his career.
DC’s debut: Catalunya 1994
Coulthard spent the 1993 season testing for Williams. He would have continued developing the FW16 in 1994, had it not been for Ayrton Senna’s tragic accident at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 that year.
Senna’s death had a huge impact on Formula 1, especially the Williams team, which was left without its leader. Frank Williams decided to enter only one car (for Damon Hill) for the following Grand Prix in Monaco. But when the F1 fraternity arrived at the Barcelona Circuit in Spain, the venue for the fifth round of the 1994 World Championship, Coulthard was introduced as Williams-Renault’s second driver.
He qualified ninth, one second behind the time set by his team mate, Damon Hill. The number two Williams fought into the top six in the race, before Coulthard stalled the engine during his first pit stop. That dropped him to 16th, but he managed to regain a couple of spots before being forced to retire with an electronic glitch on lap 32.
His first podium. Estorial 1994
On this day Coulhard had a good chance of clinching his first Grand Prix win. Gerhard Berger led until lap seven, when his gearbox broke. Following his demise, Coulthard inherited the lead and looked set to win. But an unfortunate error while lapping a backmarker allowed Hill through to win.
The first F1 win: Estoril 1995
Exactly a year after Coulthard’s defeat at the Estoril circuit, he got his revenge. He dominated qualifying, adding another pole-position to his tally, getting the better of team mate Hill, and reigning world champion, Michael Schumacher. Coulthard maintained the upper hand in the race earning a well-deserved first win.
The infamous pit stop: Adelaide 1995
During his last race for Williams Coulthard was leading comfortably when his first pit-stop came. Entering the pit-lane, he somehow did not manage to brake in time and hit the wall. Game over.
They say that every racer wants to leave his team with a bang. I am not sure whether hitting the pit-wall was what Coulthard had wanted to do in his final race for Frank’s team…
As for the season, David was classified third in the final World Championship standings. Quite an achievement, considering that it was the Scot’s first full season in Formula 1.
DC’s first race with McLaren: Melbourne 1996
For 1996 Coulthard joined McLaren-Mercedes. In retrospect, Coulthard’s decision to move to the Silver Arrows might be considered as a bad career move, because when Ron Dennis’s cars started dominating the Grand Prix scene, Dennis took Hakkinen’s side. Had Coulthard stayed at Williams, he would have had a chance to battle for the 1996 world title with Damon Hill and he would have probably upstaged Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
Unfortunately for Coulthard, his first race with McLaren was something that he must have wanted to forget as quickly as possible. The problems started as early as lap one, when he got involved in an altercation with Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle. The race was stopped and restarted, giving a chance to the drivers involved in the earlier incident to start in the spare cars. But Coulthard’s bad luck followed him to the spare car, as his race ended prematurely as a result of mechanical problems.
The first win with McLaren: Melbourne 1997
David had a dismal season in 1996, with the best result of the year being a third place at the Nurburgring. Nevertheless, in Melbourne, the venue for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix of 1997, it was Coulthard who climbed to the top step of the podium. Thanks to the triumph the Scot also took the lead of the World Championship standings for the first time in his career.
Having qualified in fourth, two spots ahead of Hakkinen, Coulthard was able to take advantage of the Williams drivers’ misfortunes and pick up the lead of the race. The Scot drove flawlessly, bringing the car home in first position. And during the press-conference, David became so deeply moved that he admitted that this victory meant to him a lot more than his first F1 triumph with Williams.
A bad omen: Jerez 1997
In 1997 David was brilliant, making some critics claim that he would bring the world title back to Ron Dennis. The Scot took an emotional win at Monza, which he dedicated to Princess Diana, who lost her life that weekend.
Ron Dennis’s order to let Mika Hakkinen through at the European Grand Prix seemed weird, to say the least. Ron argued that Mika deserved to win as he had contributed a lot to the development of the Mercedes-Benz engines. Even weirder was the fact that Coulthard let his team mate pass. Some say that if another driver (like Villeneuve or Schumacher) was in this position, they would act differently. But Coulthard was different. Apart from being an excellent driver, he was also a team player as well as a gentleman.
Unfortunately, allowing Hakkinen to win was arguably Coulthard’s biggest mistake. He would soon be sorry about it…
Another switcharound: Melbourne 1998
During the winter testing Ron Dennis’s team managed to build a world-beater in the form of the MP4/13 and arrived in Melbourne as clear favourites. Nonetheless, there were some concerns about the reliability of the cars, which proved to be just as fragile as they were fast.
In order to prevent the victory slipping through their fingers, Ron Dennis urged the drivers not to push each other to the limit in the race. How would the winner be determined in such case? Simple, both Hakkinen and Coulthard agreed that whoever entered turn one as the leader, should be the victor.
Starting from pole, Hakkinen managed to defend his place from Coulthard and was comfortably in the lead of the Grand Prix. It looked as if the Finn would claim his second career win until – according to Dennis – an outsider broke into the McLaren radio communications and asked Mika to come in for a for pit-stop. Was it so? Only Hakkinen and McLaren can answer that question. It has been claimed Hakkinen misheard his engineer’s message warning him of the backmarkers ahead.
The unplanned stop allowed Coulthard to move into first place.But then the team came on the radio: “A mistake has occurred… It’s up to you to decide”. And, surprisingly, Coulthard performed the noblest deed since the times of Peter Collins, slowing down and relinquishing first place to Hakkinen.
In 1998 Coulthard won just once – in San Marino, while team-mate Hakkinen clinched eight victories on his way to the world championship crown.
A silver lightning: Spa-Francorchamps 1999
At the end of the 1998 season David made it very clear that in 1999 it would be his turn to do the winning. He kept his promise, winning his home Grand Prix at Silverstone and challenging for the title for most of the season.
At Spa, the venue for the 12th round of the 1999 World Championship, Coulthard qualified second, behind team-mate Hakkinen, before making a superb getaway, passing his team mate around the outside at the La Source hairpin. Hakkinen was not very happy with the manoeuvre, but Coulthard hardly cared, as the victory on the legendary circuit was his, and it kept him within 14 points of Hakkinen in the championship.
Coulthard’s chances of winning the title that year were quite good. Unfortunately, 1999 was also full of unpleasant movements for David. At Austria he tangled with Hakkinen and then lost victory to Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine, who was leading the Scuderia’ championship challenge in Michael Schumacher’s absence.
Shwoing the way: Magny-Cours 2000
The 2000 season was a good one for Coulthard. He won the British Grand Prix for the second time and also received the golden trophy from Prince Rainier of Monaco. But perhaps his greatest performance of the year came in France.
The beginning of the race saw a titanic struggle between Schumacher and Coulthard for supremacy. The German did not make the best start, but blocked Coulthard nonetheless, forcing the McLaren driver to back off.
The McLaren driver made a bid for the lead at the Adelaide hairpin on lap 35, but was firmly rebuffed by the Ferrari. Coulthard was not amused and infamously vented his frustration with a series of irate gestures. A few laps later he went for the lead again and succeeded in passing Schumacher, who would be soon forced to retire.
His finest hour: Interlagos 2001
Many race fans remember Hakkinen’s audacious move from the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, when he used the slipstream from the lapped Riccardo Zonta to pass Schumacher at the end of the Kemmel straight.
During the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix Coulthard duplicated Hakkinen’s legendary pass. When rain hit the Interlagos track late in the race, Coulthard pounced on Schumacher. As the Ferrari driver hesitated while lapping Tarso Marques, Coulthard flashed past both of them in turn one, robbing Schumacher of a likely win.
Despite this fine win and another in Austria, Schumacher’s dominant F2001 was beyond Coulthard’s reach throughout most of the season.
Second win in the Principalty: Monte-Carlo 2002
As Hakkinen retired at the end of 2001 Coulthard had the chance to get out of his team mate’s shadow and become McLaren’s team leader. There was a new Finn at the wheel of the second McLaren, however, as Ron Dennis recruited rookie sensation Kimi Raikkonen. But the inexperienced Raikkonen, in only his second season of Grand Prix racing, was not expected to be a serious threat to Coulthard straight away.
Coulthard’s hopes of a championship success had been dashed even before the season got underway in Melbourne. The new MP4/17 lagged behind Ferrari’s F2002 both in speed and reliability. Nevertheless, he managed to make his mark in the most important race of the season, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Having endured a difficult start to the season, David put his car second on the starting grid in Monaco. On Sunday, the Scot had a terrific start, outrunning Juan Pablo Montoya, the pole-sitter, in the sprint to Ste Devote. Even Michael Schumacher, who dominated much of 2002, couldn’t overcome Coulthard’s McLaren on that day.
Coulthard’s last victory: Melbourne 2003
Coulthard struggled to adjust to the one-lap qualifying system introduced in 2003. Nevertheless, during the season opener at Melbourne all those troubles seemed to be so far away.
Despite posting only the 11th-fastest time in qualifying, Coulthard succeeded in getting the upper hand on his rivals in the race. The Scot found himself lying in second position when Montoya made a mistake, handing over the lead to the McLaren driver. Coulthard took the win, which proved to be his last.
Farewell to McLaren: Interlagos 2004
At the end of 2003 Coulthard was told his McLaren contract would not be renewed for 2005, as Dennis had recruited Montoya. Coulthard’s final season with McLaren was a tough one, as the team had designed their worst car for years. Raikkonen’s victory at Spa was the team’s only win that year, and Coulthard never even made it onto the podium.
Coulthard started on dry weather tyres on a damp track, and the drying conditions played into his hands. With his rivals heading for the pit lane to change their wet weather tyres for dry ones, Coulthard was poised to make major gains.
But a switch to new, cooler tyres ruined his race, and after a brief battle with Schumacher for old times’ sake Coulthard finished 11th – only one place higher than where he had started.
Bouncing back: Melbourne 2005
Despite fears his final season with McLaren would be his last in F1, when the field gathered for the 2005 Australian Grand Prix, Coulthard was fifth on the grid in a Red Bull-Cosworth. The Scot had a great race in Melbourne, finishing just a step away from the podium.
The final podium: Montreal 2008
Coulthard’s last season in F1 was marred by crashes and retirements. While team mate Mark Webber scored regular points in the early stages of 2008, Coulthard grabbed a top-three place in Canada.
Montreal is famous for its unpredictable races and one needs to stay out of trouble as well as some luck to get a decent result. For a change, lady luck was on Coulthard’s side that weekend and a podium finish was his reward for staying out of trouble
The team had cut it fine on fuel in his last pit stop and Coulthard’s RB4 rolled to a halt shortly after he crossed the finishing line. He got out of the car and cheerfully ran towards the podium, making it just in time for the awards ceremony.
All over too soon: Interlagos 2008
Having announced his retirement during the British Grand Prix, Coulthard dedicated a lot of time to preparing parties. There was a party to commemorate his last race in Europe and another after the season finale in Brazil.
With a special one-off livery on his car and a helmet-mounted camera to capture every turn of his final Grand Prix, Coulthard was set to go out in style. But it was not to be: he qualified 14th, had a poor start, and collided with both Williams drivers, his car rolling to a halt at the Senna ‘S’.
He was typically philosophical after the accident:
I’m pretty gutted, it’s not how I wanted to end my career. I took a cautious approach into Turn one and left plenty of space for the car on the inside, but unfortunately I think Rosberg hit me though Turn two, which spun me round. I thought it would be okay, but then Nakajima ran into the front of my car and took off the front corner. I felt good on the warm up laps going to the grid, I had no problem with it being wet and I wanted to get to the chequered flag. I was going to do some donuts for the crowd, which is something you normally get fined for, but it didn’t work out. I can’t complain though, I’ve had a good career, so thank you to everyone who has supported me.
In 1994 Coulthard made his F1 debut by taking the late Ayrton Senna’s place at Williams-Renault. And 14 years later his career ended at a corner carrying Senna’s name.