David Coulthard: the driver debates

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Red Bull’s David Coulthard is the second most experienced driver on the grid – and is famously defiant when asked if he might retire soon.

But after four seasons at Red Bull his place in the team looks under threat from the promising Sebastian Vettel.

Should Coulthard keep his place in the team?

Coulthard seems to belong in that group of drivers – including Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger and Rubens Barrichello – who might have achieved more at the peak of their careers had Michael Schumacher not been winning everything in sight.

You can’t blame Schumacher for that of course and in the case of Coulthard he spent nine years at McLaren during some of their most competitive seasons without winning a title.

His team mate Mika Hakkinen did. Coulthard’s staunchest supporters may suggest that McLaren only had eyes for one driver and it was not Coulthard (something Fernando Alonso’s fans may sympathise with). In his autobiography last year Coulthard insisted that while McLaren’s distribution of equipment between the two drivers was scrupulously fair, Ron Dennis’s preference was towards Hakkinen.

If that’s true then it makes what Coulthard did achieve at McLaren more remarkable including some excellent victories at Magny-Cours in 2000 and Interlagos in 2001. He was one of only two drivers to stop the Ferrari steamroller in 2002, winning at Monte-Carlo – adding to his 2000 victory at one of F1’s toughest tracks.

Hakkinen often got the rub of the green as far as reliability went as well. But Coulthard was usually out-gunned on pace and made more mistakes than he should have done too – at Austria in 1999 he first took his team mate out of the race and then contrived to lose the lead to Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari. And he had plenty of controversial run-ins with Schumacher.

Many expected his F1 career to be over after being dropped by McLaren in 2004 but he bounced back with Red Bull. The team struggled with unreliability in their first few seasons but Coulthard took them to their first podium at Monaco in 2006. This year, however, Mark Webber seems to have the measure of him.

Will Coulthard still be in F1 next year?

Read more about David Coulthard: David Coulthard biography

Join in the discussion about the best drivers in F1 so far this year on the F1 Fanatic Forum.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “David Coulthard: the driver debates”

  1. As good as I think Vettel is, he’s very inexperienced and Mark Webber’s yet to prove himself as a team leader.

    I reckon DC has plenty left in him for F1. It would be a real shame if he were forced out because of the current trend for younger drivers.

  2. And let’s not forget that Coulthard debuted in Williams, in 1994, with a real race-winning car, and did little to help Damon Hill in that and the subsequent year…

    Neither Red Bull driver impresses me anyway but, even thought he’s clearly superior this season, I would still drop Webber, rather than Coulthard, don’t ask me why, but, analyzing rationaly his chances, I think Coulthard won’t have a seat in 2009.

  3. I would still drop Webber, rather than Coulthard, don’t ask me why

    This is something I’ve been feeling as well, but like Daniel, I can’t put my finger on it either. So far this year Webber has got the legs on Coulthard, and Webber is a little younger and can offer more in terms of longevity. But for some strange reason, if I was in the position of having to choose (and nationality and other such things are irrelevant to me), I would keep Coulthard. Just don’t ask me why…!

  4. “And let’s not forget that Coulthard debuted in Williams, in 1994, with a real race-winning car, and did little to help Damon Hill in that and the subsequent year…”

    I think by the end of his spell at Williams he’d upstaged Damon Hill in terms of raw pace.If he hadn’t moved to McLaren Damon would have had a much bigger fight on his hands to win the title in 1996.

    Back to present day F1 , and I really can’t see David staying around in F1 for much longer (another 1 or 2 years) despite his statements to the contrary.Having said that I thought he’d have been finished much sooner than this when he signed for Red Bull in 2005 – I think they would have had have a lot of problems without the benefit of Coulthard’s inputs and experience.

  5. I have been reading stories of DC’s imminent departure from F1 as long as I have been hearing the Siverstone is going to lose the GP.

    Hakkinen got the better of DC but only after DC gifted Mika his first two GP wins. The first was Jerez 97 where after Schumacher rammed Jacques Villeneuve there was a meeting in the pits between senior McLaren and Williams personnel. The outcome seemed to be that McLaren would play tail gunner for Villeneuve. When it became clear that Villeneuve was going to score enough points to win the championship the McLaren drivers were let loose. DC was told to let Mika take his first win which he did.

    The next race was in Australia at the start of the next season and again DC waved Mika through after some kind of agreement between the drivers and Mika being called to pit by someone other than his own team.

    DC was the Williams test driver but most of his time was not spent on the current race cars but on an older model fitted with CVT transmission which Williams invested vast amounts of time and money in only for the FIA to ban it because Ferrari hadn’t thought of it.

    DC was dropped in the deep end in F1 to such an extent that it is a miracle he lasted the season. He was not in any way prepared for F1 so it is a bit unfair to compare his performance to Damon’s in his first season.

    We have new regulations for next season and Adrian Newey needs good feedback while the new stuff is developed this season and when the new car is run next season and DC is the man to do that. Also if Newey pulls a rabbit out of the hat and produces a car capable of winning races DC is going to bring the car home in good positions regularly. Why would you drop a proven front runnig driver for an unproven kid and a guy who has the worst luck since Chris Amon? If Vettel is as good as some people believe then it makes sense to put him in with DC and let him learn. Webber may be a faster benchmark but speed can’t be taught. All the other stuff can.

  6. DC is good behind the scenes

    all the rumours of him making way for Vettel next season would be rather brash of Mr Red Bull (Ostrich Makeshift), as Steven Roy pointed out, Adrian Newey and the new regs next year…. gives Red Bull a huge upper hand, they worked together on those specs before…. and the newey Coulthard combination is already a proven winner from the 90’s

    its a working relationship no other team have.

  7. DC’s vast experience showed to the fore at Magny Cour! Need one say more? He’s had real DOGS to drive in recent years,and at last it appears that the combined input and experience of DC and Adrian Newey is beginning to pay dividends.I for one feel that these combined talents will give F1 a real boost in most departments this season and beyond.

  8. Robert McKay
    23rd June 2008, 22:02

    “DC’s vast experience showed to the fore at Magny Cour”

    No idea where that statement comes from: he started 7th and finished 9th. Webber started 6th and finished 6th. It was not a great race for DC, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. A poor start is possibly to blame, but Webber’s wasn’t great and he had some sort of incident too (ITV never showed exactly what).

    I’m a big DC fan. I’ve supported him since I started watching in 1998. What a frustrating career to watch over! Some individual, brilliant, standalone races. Let’s not forget that at the half way stage in both 2000 and 2001 he was Schumachers main challenger, but in both those seasons he had too many mediocre races in the second half of the year. A lot of unfortunate reliability problems, too, to be fair, but a lot of hamfisted qualifying attempts as well.

    I think this should be his last year. Not because he’s embarrassing himself like Hill did in his last year, but because as a driver he’s beginning to get to the point of diminishing returns. I can overlook Webbers consistently superior qualifying pace when DC outraces him, but that is beginning to happen ever more rarely this year. Canada was just luck in how the SC fell and the fuel loads came out.

    I think DC has offered a lot to the sport, but unless there is serious upturn over the next 4 or 5 races, I’d definitely say time to call it a day as a driver. There is still a decent career waiting for him either in some extended RBR management role or in some capacity with the BBC.

  9. The comments have been a real surprise – I thought everyone would be banking on DC hanging up his helmet after this season!

    I agree with the sentiments that if someone is to leave Red Bull then it will be Webber – and again, I’m not too sure why! Perhaps he will take Flavio’s advice and head to Renault to replace Piquet?

    DC’s future was announced at Silverstone last year, so hopefully the same will happen this year to put us out of our misery.

    There’s no doubting there will be a sense of disappointment when he does finally retire given that he didn’t achieve his goal of becoming World Champion. This will be balanced out somewhat by the knowledge that he did “the right thing” when presented with choices in his career – moving from Williams to McLaren when he had previously agreed to do so (take note Jenson), allowing Mika to win when it must have been so tempting to just carry on regardless, etc.

    As far as he is concerned, this is more important to him – and is quite a refreshing outlook for someone in F1. There are other drivers I can think of who would adopt a more “win at all costs” attitude instead.

    Will he retire this year? Hopefully not – for his sake, the fans’ sake and also Red Bull’s sake.

  10. Vettel should return to karts.
    Button should replace Webber.
    Coulthard gets one more year.

  11. For the first few races of the season I thought we were watching DC’s death throes.

    But now it seems like he has turned the corner, and I am not sure that we have seen the end of DC just yet.

    I think that he will be at Red Bull for 2009. After that though, is anyones guess. I’d be sorry to see him go though, he is *mostly* a gentleman, and in addition to being a great racer on his day, is highly intelligent and articulate. I thought his post race conference in Montreal was the most refreshing and pleasant I have ever seen from a driver.

  12. I find it amazing that so many people think Webber should leave Red Bull before DC – and they won’t back up these statements with any reasoning. Fair enough, if that’s your opinion. Personally, I’ve always suspected that Webber drops off the pace mid-race (ala Trulli-of-old, Ralf etc.), but since moving from Williams to Red Bull I begin to doubt this theory more each race. My opinion now though is that DC is being quite royally pasted this season by a driver that alot of people apparently don’t rate. Doesn’t that make any decision for Red Bull quite an easy one from a cold and rational business/racing perspective? The only reason I can see that DC will be racing next year is because of the new rules. Maybe experience and team stability might just save his career, because I don’t see Webber going anywhere.

  13. I always felt that David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello were very much alike concerning their careers.
    They both drove for the top two teams, against two formidably fast team mates, and both helped them to win championships. Coulthard’s actions back in 1997 are now well known, but there were other instances.
    Coulthard is the perfect foil in a team, and lets face it, the Hakkinen/Coulthard years were probably the most stable in McLaren’s recent past. Compare them to other pairings, and they stand out a mile.
    Add into the equation that Coulthard always felt second best at McLaren in the eyes of Ron Dennis, yet DC always handled himself the right way, the professional way.
    Much in the same way as Rubens did at Ferrari alongside the Red Baron.
    Despite this, I have always felt that Coulthard was missing that something extra, and would never win the
    As for his future, I am not certain. I would love for him to stay on a Red Bull, but my heart says that this year will be DC’S last. I hope not, but I think so!

  14. DC makes no sense in the Red Bull line up for 2009. Webber fills the role as the experienced driver, providing development feedback, and stability. Red Bull needs a young gun in the line up and Webber will provide the yardstick on how fast the young gun is.

    DC has had a good career, shown pace at times, but ultimately not quite fast or consistant enough to be a WDC. I can’t think of any team on the grid that needs a DC in their line up for 09.

  15. I’m with Toby on this one, I don’t see why so many people favour DC over Webbsy. While I understand DC is probably the more Charismatic of the two and holds a place in alot of racing fans hearts, from an objective perspective you have to say Mark is performing consistently better than DC. – Comments from a subjective Australian.

  16. Vettel is likely to get the Red Bull drive next year and latest words from Horner do not deny that. But it does not have to be at DC’s expense…

    a) Webber is out of contract this year and who says he will stay … There may not be too many openings but have to remember who is his manager … If Alonso leaves Renault I can’t see Briatore having Piquet and a rookie on the roster … Moving from Red Bull to Renault may not look like the best idea judging from their current perofmances, but next year all may be different with the brand new cars …

    b) Couthard is a centerpiece in Red Bull and who knows what kind of strings is he able to pull there …

    Coulthard however may decide himself to retire. Just listen or read his speach after his 3rd place in Canada. It so sounded like the farewell to podiums and the F1 …

  17. I like DC. Always have and always will (hope he does end up with BBC). But still, as a driver I think he always fell short of greatness, despite having the machinery to deliver.

    Webber has outperformed every teammate in F1 (i’m looking at performance here, not points – we all know about his history of bad luck). It breaks my heart when some suggest they’d replace Mark before DC, with no reasoning. There’s been a slight undercurrent of Webber-hating ever since Japan last year when he had the gall to criticize the prodigal son (but never made any official complaints).

    I’m rambling. In short, I think DC is a solid performer, but he’s had his chance. I think he’ll make a great BBC pundit.

  18. Scott Joslin
    24th June 2008, 10:38

    I have never been a fan of DC’s driving although I like him as a personality, he reminds me of drivers from the 80’s where they said what they thought and to hell with it, but his approach to driving is too cautious and uninspiring for me.

    Yes he is a steady Eddie – you would have though so after being around for nearly 14yrs, but in all those times I can remember 1 or two races that made me sit up and take note, I never thought he had it in him to be a champion. The moment he pulled over to let Hakkinen through in Melbourne was the day I gave up on him – sure enough a good team player, but that puts him in the Ricardo Patrese, Barrichello class.

    His career reminds me that of John Watson – good but not great.

    I don’t think F1 will lose much of a race driver, but will lose a paddock character when he goes. The fact he is still here indicates a lack of solid new drivers coming though – Something we touch on in the Live Blogs over the weekend.

    As for dropping DC for Webber – please! DC has only had 1 fair result this season.

  19. Switching DC for Vettel in 2009 will do nothing for Red Bull , perhaps even slow development , which in fact should be (and probably is) a priority at this point in time. Sure , if Red Bull were at the front , getting pole positions but losing out in races , it could make sense to have a younger driver who can keep the maximum pace throughout , but not the case at present. Webber seems faster than DC , but I can’t see he is better all round. So I think DC will stay around for at least 2009 anyway.

  20. I started working at TAG/McLaren the day after DC won the Australian GP in 1997. My impressions at the time was of Hakkinen being the underdog. DC was very well thought of within McLaren so I’m enclined to think he got beaten fair and square regardless of whether Ron Dennis really did have a favourite out of the two.

    Think back to when Kimi won his first race: Ron Dennis was almost in tears and those two certainly didn’t have the history Mika and Ron had. I think this favouritism may come from how the individual ingratiates themselves with Ron.

    DC did not NOT win a championship because of any favouritism in the team – he failed because he just wasn’t good enough.

    I’d like to see DC quit because I don’t like seeing him consistently beaten. He should sod off to DTM or somthing like that – god knows he would a better job than Ralph Schumacher is doing :-)

  21. i can see why everyone likes DC and wants him to stay, which i think is the best choice keeping both drivers, but what really frustrates me is the lack of respect for mark. in 2009 he’l be an 8th season driver, but a majority of you think hes a 2nd season driver learning the ropes of F1, sure experience counts, but what DC can bring from his days of 1996 or wateva isnt relevant to the cars of today. i respect mark really much, typical straight talking aussie who tells it like it is, pretty much the same with DC. and mark is human, he should be allowed to let off, i remember alot of people giving mark the craps after what he said during fuji, but the guy was having a off day. vomiting in ur frikin car and being taken out during a safety car, why wouldnt u be angry.

    what i really hope is for red bull to use there brains, and to keep mark and david, its in the best intrest of the team and starting development as early as possible will be ideal for the 2009 car with the new regulations, we only hope it will be an Adrian Newey masterpeice.

  22. I’m sorry Daniel but how was driving an F1 car in 1996 not relevant to driving one in 2008? There were refuelling strategies, safety car periods, many of the same tracks were on the calendar…

    However far back you go in F1 history, even to the pre-championship era, the fundamental concept of driving a car as quickly as possible over a set distance remains the same. However much they tweak the formula the essence remains unchanged. Vettel can learn from Coulthard just as Coulthard can from Senna, or Lauda, or Fangio, or Nuvolari…

  23. the limit: In fact, Rubens drove for only one top team (Ferrari, 2000-2005)… the others were midfield teams(Jordan 1993-1996; Stewart 1997-1999; Honda 2006-present). Despite that, I very much agree that Barrichello and Coulthard career’s are similar.

    Disclaimer: I’m not the same “Daniel” who wrote post 22.

  24. In 2001 he outscored Hakkinen 65 to 37…just thought that was an interesting stat that no one had mentioned. Monaco Qualifying 2001 and France 2000 are the 2 moments that I will always remember him for.

    When he retires I feel he will be remembered in the same league as Berger, Barrichello, Patrese…a driver with brilliant skill but not that edge thats needed to be a WDC.

    Im Ben Btw, been haunting this website for about a year and decided it was time to post a comment! x

  25. can anybody explian what the hell is wrong with honda…..they seem to be doing pretty well in 2004 and 2005….but now they are totally busted…and their japanese counterpart toyota seems to improving day by day…i really want them tom be in competetion…by the way i started watching f1 last year really enjoy it..
    sorry if i am asking this question in the wrong place.

  26. I don’t think everyone likes DC or as much anymore. He’s grown old. He now talks trash when interviewed, or maybe he thinks he has Sex Appeal.
    Realistically, DC will never be world champion, even if he was driving a Ferrari right now. His main problem has always being an inability to extract the maximum from a car during qualifying. He is a steady hands at the wheels frequently, but no longer as sharp or hungry as a younger driver.
    In a way also, it seems Webber has only just matured as a driver. I cannot remember any time in his history where he scored points or even finished races on a continuous bases.

  27. F1freak,
    It might just be a coincidence, but since Nick Fry took over at Honda, they’ve just gone downhill ever since, the win they had was pure luck, cause even Mclaren could have won that race with Pedro had they not fuelled him too heavy.

  28. It was an opportunistic win but I think it minimalises Button’s driving to say it was “pure luck”. He was up with Alonso on pace that day: 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix review.

    You’re dead right about Coulthard’s qualifying form though.

  29. F1freak, Honda have gone downhill since the V8’s, they finally nailed the V10 era and didn’t have the proper R&D for a V8.

    I read somewhere that the FIA put the Honda V10 on a rolling road and it registered 1200BHP.

  30. Keith, I’ve got no problem with Jenson’s driving whatsoever, His driving that day was great. I only used him as a reference because he drove the Honda to victory and a Mclaren could have won that race too if they had not gone to conservative with Pedro’s race strategy. What I was trying to get across was that, but for that win, Honda has been in very bad shape since Nick fry took over, and it actually reached its lowest ebb, when Gil de Ferran joined the team.

    If ever, my problem with Button was that he negotiated himself into driving for uncompetitive cars for an extended period of his career.

  31. Since David Richards lef BAR the team has gone backwards. They don’t seem to have the slightest idea how to move forward. Last year they had wind tunnel problems and claimed to have fixed them bu I have yet to be convinced.

    According to sidepodcast reporting from yesterday’s test session the engine sounds like a bag of rocks and nothing like any other engine. They also went on to suggest that Honda may as well shut up shop until the engine freeze is over as nothing that sounds like their engine will ever be right.

    Ross Brawn may be able to take the team forward but he can’t ge decenet results while he is saddled with an engine that sounds like a bag of rocks.

  32. i thought hondas engines is the best in the buisness….bloody hell they are messing up big time…i also heard from jensons interview on itv that the team is working for 2009 or 2010 (he said that as a joke) i am not sure abt this correct me if i am wrong…i think they should concentrate on the current situation…. who knows whats regulations FIA throws up next year and then they will be cursing themselves…..and where is that ross brawn effect…. does any one think that they should get a young driver in place of jenson and keep rubens for experience…

  33. F1 freak , although the DC debate , you sparked off an interesting one mentioning Honda. They will turn around , hiring Ross Brawn being the best move they have done since Nick Fry moved in (through Honda acquiring BAR 100% , effectively). The next big step is to look at a driver change , I see them in a similar situation to Red Bull in that respect , it may be wise to hang on to Rubens for another year (although I have some doubts as to his ability to help develop a top car) , and try to get the car developed to the maximum by end ’09. If they succeed , 2010 will be the year to look at a driver in the same calibre as Alonso. I bet Ross Brawn may already be thinking the “fast tracking” of the driver line up , so we could see a change even as early as next year. Oh , and more than a driver , I hope they lose the “antelope” wing soon …

  34. so looks to me its the proven designers and drivers at redbull and honda who seem to be versing each other for next year. you never know, redbull and honda could be fighting one another for the title and ferrai & mclarern having shockers….

    u never know with new regulations

  35. To Motion and Rowan.

    I agree on your points concerning Mark Webber. He is one of the most underrated drivers on the current grid and has a bright future ahead of him.
    Ofcourse alot of Brits are going to be banging the drum for David Coulthard, why not? You only have to look at his overrall record in points to see that DC has always had the talent to win races and score podiums, just not enough to win championships.
    Oh, and another thing. As good as Mark Webber is, and as promising as his career appears, he has yet to win a race. Now, one could argue quite rightly that Webber hasn’t been that lucky concerning reliability and the cars he has driven, but at the end of the day it is the results that people will remember.
    Coulthard has won Monaco twice, a feat not many drivers can associate themselves with. Anyway, I am biased. My favourite Australian driver will always be Alan Jones, by a country mile.

  36. He’s retiring. :(
    Shame, I was hoping for one more season from DC.

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