David Coulthard’s F1 career: 1994-2008

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David Coulthard at Magny-Cours in his final season for Red Bull

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

David Coulthard walks away having crashed out of his final Grand Prix

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.

Author information

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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15 comments on “David Coulthard’s F1 career: 1994-2008”

  1. Great last line, what a way to sum up a career.

  2. Great article Andrew. F1 just won’t be the same without DC.

  3. A good selection there, the only other race that I might have mentioned more about was Austria 2001 (and maybe the Spanish race where he turned up just days after that horrific plane crash and got second place). In my view his top races are:

    7th: Britain 2000
    6th: Austria 2001
    5th: Spa 1999
    4th: Australia 2005
    3rd: Monaco 2002
    1st equal: France 2000 and Brazil 2001 – I can’t really separate them

    and if I can ever be bothered digging out the tapes of them, I will write an article on each race, because I think the story of all those should be told in full.

    I can’t believe everyone raves about that Hakkinen-Zonta-Schumacher move and everyone (largely) forgets about DC doing an equally similar and brilliant move, in heavy rain, at Interlagos, but hey. And the day he took on Schumacher in France was just absolutely brilliant.

    A couple of other points – he never did get quali nailed, not really. He wasn’t bad in 12-laps-1-hour mode, but didn’t get as many poles as he might have. H was pretty dire in single lap, and even in knockout mode he dropped out in Q1 when Webber was making Q3 regularly.

    But on the flipside, in the mid-to-late 90’s I remember some of his starts being absolutely DEMON. I can’t remember for sure, but I think I saw a race in 1997 where he made up 2 full rows off the line, it was that good!

    There’s so much other stuff to remember…the rivalry with Irvine, Schumacher ramming him off the road in Buenos Aires 1998, letting the European GP 1999 slip away. The retirements in good positions, like Canada 1998 and France 1999. The samba dance on the podium in Sao Paolo in 2001…

    DC was my focal point for F1, the guy I was always rooting for, even when it went wrong or he screwed up or someone else was just plain better on the day…which made every one of those good results all the sweeter, and I will miss him terribly when he’s not on the grid in Melbourne 2009 – but he picked the perfect time to retire.

  4. Terry Fabulous
    1st January 2009, 9:04

    Great article mate. Brought back some memories of Buzz Lightyear at his finest.

  5. No mention of DC’s podium in Monaco in 2006 when he wore his Superman costume?

  6. What I never understood about Jerez 1997 was why Villeneuve let both McLarens pass. Hakkinen was third when Coulthard let Hakkinnen pass for “the win”.

  7. I think Villeneuve’s car was off the pace because of his earlier collision with Schumacher, he decided it was better to back off and let them pass rather than pushing his damaged car harder.

  8. yeah, that’s right. Jacque’s car was showing worrying signs of breaking down so he and Williams decided to nurse his car to the finish in order to grab the points he needed to win the championship. So instead of defending against the fast approaching McLarens – which could have possibly resulted in him crashing out and losing the championship – he let them past without a fight – thus guaranteeing a safe run to the line which was all he needed.

  9. Great article Andrew.

    DC is probably the last of the gentleman racers.
    He was always a good driver but always lacked the killer instinct required to be a Champion.

    What he lost in terms of success probably gained him a great deal of respect and love from the fans though, few people I know have anything bad to say about him and most have a lot of respect for him.

    Robert McKay – I remember him having a few seasons where he was making up 2-4 places from the start most races, had he been better at qualifying he definitely would have won a few more races.

  10. Well written piece Andrew.


    DC is probably the last of the gentleman racers.

    Spare me the puffin guano mate, next thing you’re be telling me that Stirling Moss is not only the greatest F1 driver ever but a true gentleman and genuine mans man the likes of which we’ve never seen since.


    Sounds a bit rose tinted to me. I think the point that Patrickl is making is that DC was ordered to move over for Hakkinnen, you know back in the good old days when team orders were publicly acceptable, before The Hun had the nerve to start using them to commit dastardly acts like win races. Anyway after Patrick Head and his chum Ron Dennis had agreed that the McLarens could take the gold and silver so long as they blew kisses at Villeneuve when they passed and lifted him up on the podium Big Ron got on the blower to DC and informed him that his illegitimate Finish son was gonna get the gold medal and that unless he wanted to loose his shiny silver toy he better do as he was told.

    Anyway I remember when DC made his debut, I liked him, he was young, quick and had potential. I never really understood why Frank Williams got shot of him but then Williams have done a variety of bewildering or just plain stupid things and that’s why they’re in the state their in now. Anyway DC never really lived up to the potential I thought he had but then maybe he never really had the chance to. You could always tell when DC’s contract was up for renewal because Brundle would start talking him up in the races and practically holding a visual for him in qualifying (I wonder why exactly he was given a job on the BBC). One of the best things DC did was to nearly get punched by Michael Schumacher (similar can be said of Irvine in relation to Senna). I won’t miss DC but he played his part in the Ringmaster’s great show and he never missed a cue, bravo and thank you. Anyway Vettel takes his place, he’s young, quick and he has potential, let’s hope he makes the most of it.

  11. The infamous pit stop: Adelaide 1995

    I sadly can’t find it now but I’m pretty sure that in David Coulthard’s autobiography (worth reading whether you’re a DC fan or not) he says that something on the steering broke on his car the entrance to the pit.

    If you have a look at the footage (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=aqLTWyr836g), DC’s on full right lock and the car doesn’t take the corner.

  12. Keith, I do not think that THE is needed in the following sentence: “A few laps later he went for the lead again and succeeded in passing THE Schumacher, who would be soon forced to retire.”


  13. He had something going on for him. It is not common for someone to last 15 seasons in F1 without ever being able to beat a teamate.

  14. Fantastic article.

    I’m comepletely with Dan in saying that the last line was a great ending.

  15. Good writing there. One of my all time favorite drives.

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