Atlas F1 David Coulthard:
The Quest For Success

  by Paul Murray, Ireland

For David Coulthard, the 2000 season will be the most important of his Formula One career to date. Having driven the best cars in Formula One in 1995 (The Williams-Renault FW17) and again in 1998/99 (The McLaren-Mercedes MP 4/13 and MP 4/14), the Scot has failed to make the maximum use of such equipment. 2000 will probably be his last realistic opportunity to become a Formula One Champion.

Since joining McLaren, Coulthard has been teammate to Mika Hakkinen. In 1996 and 1997, the pair were fairly evenly matched, but in 1998 and 1999 it has been the Finn who had the clear edge over the Scot, in addition to securing two Drivers' Championships and thirteen race-wins. Coulthard at Barcelona this monthCoulthard on the other hand, in the same two seasons, finished third in the 1998 Drivers' Championship and fourth in 1999 and secured three race wins. It is interesting to note that if both Hakkinen and Coulthard complete a full season as teammates in 2000, they will become the driver- pairing with the most race-starts to their credit (82 race-starts as team-mates from 1996 to 2000). The current record of eighty race-starts is held by Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi (team-mates at Ferrari from 1993 to 1995, and at Benetton from 1996 to '97).

Coulthard's position at McLaren is interesting. While the Scot and the Finn will start the 2000 season as equals, there is little doubt that should Hakkinen dominate as he did in 1998 and to a lesser extent in 1999, that Coulthard will end up playing a support-role to his teammate, should the latter be in contention for the Drivers' Championship.

The question of team-orders is relevant to the Hakkinen/Coulthard situation. During the 1998 Australian Grand Prix, McLaren team-orders dictated that Coulthard relinquish his lead of the race to Hakkinen, following the Finn's aborted pit-stop late in the race. A curious decision, considering that Melbourne was the first race of the 1998 season and at that stage, either Hakkinen or Coulthard could have been a potential World Champion. By contrast, at the 1999 Belgian Grand Prix, team-orders were not instituted, even though Hakkinen was contesting the Drivers' Championship with Eddie Irvine. Coulthard's win at Spa gave him a mathematical chance of winning the 1999 Championship. This was no longer the case when the Scot spun out of the rain-soaked European Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring, two races later.

David Coulthard's Formula One record is impressive, but not remarkable. His first race was the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix, as teammate to Damon Hill at Williams, the Scot filling the vacancy following the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola the same year. Coulthard, pulled form the Formula 3000 Championship, raced eight times for the British-based team being replaced by Nigel Mansell for France, Europe, Japan and Australia.

On the basis of his performances in the eight races he started in '94, Coulthard landed the second seat at Williams for 1995. In the 1995 Drivers' Championship, teammate Hill finished second to Schumacher, with Coulthard finishing third. In the Constructors' Championship, Williams finished second to Benetton, despite the Williams-Renault FW17 being the class of the field in '95.

His time at McLaren has been relatively unproductive, considering the quality of equipment at his disposal. However, accounting for this is difficult. On his day, the Scot can be as good as any, examples being Portugal 1995 - the scene of his first Formula One victory, driving the Williams-Renault FW17. His wins in Australia 1997 and Belgium 1999 are good examples of the Coulthard's racing abilities. Of those currently competing in Formula One, he is second only to Jean Alesi when it comes to making a good start and being able to move to the front, picking up places en route.

Coulthard is probably one of the most sporting drivers of the last decade. From the Public-Relations point of view, he always makes the right noises in a competent but reserved fashion. From time to time, however, he can take on a combative aspect. He is not averse to criticising backmarkers for failing to yield to drivers fighting for race-wins. An example of this being his criticism of Olivier Panis for delaying him during the course of the 1999 San Marino Grand Prix.

Coulthard's most notable conflict has been with Michael Schumacher, following on-track clashes between the two in Argentina and Belgium 1998 and Japan 1999. The Scot withdrew his threat to sue the German for comments made following the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix.

However, when things do not go according to plan for the Coulthard, he probably wishes he had stayed in bed. There are numerous examples of this. Australia 1995, when he clouted the pit-wall with his Williams-Renault FW17. More recently, Austria 1999, when he collided with teammate Mika Hakkinen, destroying the Finn's chances of a race-victory. Also, the 1999 European Grand Prix, when he fell off the road while in the lead of the rain-soaked race.

A close look at Coulthard's driving-style helps to explain his difficulties. His style is not ideally suited to most of the modern-day circuit-configurations where medium-speed corners are the norm. Because of this, he tends to perform well at circuits where chicaines are more common such as at Imola, Montreal and Monza. Beyond these, few of the other circuits currently in use feature chicaines in any large measure. Hakkinen on the other hand performs well at circuits with medium-speed coeners, giving him an apparent advantage over the Scot.

Aside from this, it is clear that Coulthard is capable of winning races but he probably lacks the consistency to put together a Championship-winning season, the forte of a Schumacher or a Hakkinen. With this in mind, 2000 could be his last season with McLaren, irrespective of whether he is able to capture the Driver's Championship.

If Coulthard does leave McLaren, he will not be short of options. Speculation has already begun regarding driver line-ups for 2001 and beyond. He could make his way to Jordan as a swap for Frentzen, who is also said to be talking to Jaguar. The Ford factory team could also be a possibility for the Scot, possibly as a replacement for Johnny Herbert, who could be commencing his final season of Grand Prix racing. There is also Ferrari, somewhat unlikely, but possible especially if Schumacher were to join McLaren, should he fail to capture the 2000 Driver's Championship.

Leaving McLaren would probably mean joining [another] team where race-wins would be a reality rather than being able to challenge for Championships. For Coulthard in 2000, winning the Driver's Championship is essential, a situation similar to Eddie Irvine's in 1999. The Ulsterman is unlikely to ever possess the equipment capable of propelling him to the Driver's Championship, following his time with Ferrari.

The 2000 season will certainly be competitive. It could be even more competitive if Coulthard can challenge team-mate Hakkinen in a more meaningful fashion than he has managed to date. If he can, the 2000 season could turn out to be more than the third instalement of the Hakkinen/ Schumacher saga.

      Related Articles:

David Coulthard: Overrated and Under-performed
(Oct-21, 1998)

Dear Diary
(Dec-9, 1998)

Scotsmen Can't Pass
(Aug-18, 1999)

Deconstructing Mika: What Happened at McLaren in 1999?
(Nov-3, 1999)

Paul Murray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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