David Coulthard - the men that shaped the man 29 Oct 2008
Of all the drivers not to have won the world championship, Red Bulls David Coulthard has scored the most points - a total of 535 to date. And although this bittersweet statistic is not what Coulthard hoped for when he embarked on his Formula One career 15 years ago, perhaps the Scot can draw some solace from it as he retires from F1 competition this weekend.
One of the sports true journeymen, Coulthard has made connections with some of its biggest hitters over the years. As the 37 year-old bids farewell, we take a look back at the relationships that have shaped his Formula One career
Coulthard recently revealed that he owes his Formula One career to the Williams team principal, and its no exaggeration. Back in 1993, Coulthard was steadily making a name for himself in Formula 3000, and although he had enjoyed a brief test with Benetton, a long-term Formula One opportunity had been hard to pin down. But then Williams decided to take a punt on the young Scot, offering him regular testing slots with his team. In fact, he was so impressed with Coulthards pace and maturity that he went on to name him as the squads official test driver for the 1994 season. It was the big break Coulthard had been waiting for.
In 94 Coulthard duly took up his first permanent Formula One role, clocking up mileage and honing his skills alongside Williams star line-up of Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill. It would have been a first-rate apprenticeship, but Sennas tragic death saw Coulthard abruptly promoted to the teams frontline. Despite the difficult circumstances, he rose to the challenge admirably and would have finished on the podium on his Grand Prix debut but for a technical problem on his FW16. Williams, however, were cautious of allowing a rookie to take over full-time and decided to split the seat between Coulthard and former champion Nigel Mansell, who was tempted out of retirement. It was the Scot, however, who finished the season with the greater points tally and who was retained on a permanent basis. He would go on to reward Williams faith with a maiden race win at the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix and third place in that years championship.
In 1996, Coulthard joined McLaren to compete alongside Mika Hakkinen, who was already well established with the team. Their partnership would ultimately last seven seasons, making it one of the most enduring - and successful - in Formula One history, even though the Finn proved to be more of a nemesis than a friend to the Scot. After a trying first season, Coulthard seemed to be gaining the upper hand in 1997, with two wins and a nine-point advantage over his team mate. All that changed, however, when he effectively gifted Hakkinen his first two wins after obeying team orders and a pre-race agreement. It established Coulthards reputation as a man of honour, but also started Hakkinen on a winning habit that would lead to two drivers titles and de facto number-one status at McLaren. Without Hakkinen, could Coulthard have won the championship? Possibly. With him, the Scot was hamstrung not just by the Finns strengths as a driver, but also by his close relationship with team principal Ron Dennis. It was only in 2001, when Hakkinens enthusiasm had started to fade, that Coulthard was able to get a real handle on the team and finish runner-up in the championship to Ferraris Michael Schumacher.
From Colin Chapman and Jim Clark to Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher, Formula One racing has seen some pretty firm friendships established between team bosses and their drivers. Hakkinen and Dennis were one such pairing, and Coulthard arguably lost the most from their camaraderie. Despite picking up the teams first win in four years at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, the Scot found it difficult to supplant the flying Finn in Denniss affections during his time at McLaren. Nevertheless, Coulthard proved himself to be a consummate team player, testing hard and wowing on track whenever the opportunity presented itself. And when Coulthard left the team in 2004, Dennis thanked him for doing a tremendous job.
With the departure of Hakkinen at the end of 2001, Coulthard had his first opportunity in seven years to step into the limelight. However, he had not counted on Hakkinens replacement - a newer, younger flying Finn named Kimi Raikkonen. Initially Coulthard was the unspoken number one, but Raikkonen was not a driver to stand on ceremony and quickly sized up his older team mate, outclassing him in qualifying and scoring four podium finishes in his first season with McLaren. Coulthard still doubled the youngsters points tally, but nobody expected the same to happen a year later. Sure enough, in 2003 Raikkonen beat Coulthards score by 40 points to thoroughly supplant his team mate. Coulthard was on the losing end the following year too. Over just three seasons, Raikkonen had effectively sealed the end of Coulthards almost decade-long relationship with McLaren, who drafted in Juan Pablo Montoya as his replacement for 2005.
Montoyas arrival left Coulthard without a drive for 2005. Although offered a testing role at Ferrari, he wanted to keep racing - and thanks to Red Bull billionaire Mateschitz, he could. Swapping from the monolithic McLaren to a set-up still in its infancy was a brave move for Coulthard, but also a leap of faith for the team itself. True, Coulthard had heaps of experience, but many thought he was past his prime. Those fears, however, were soon pushed aside. The Red Bull-emblazoned Coulthard was a different person. With his career gifted a new lease of life, he felt valued. As a result, the once world-weary Scot visibly relaxed amidst the razzamatazz of the paddocks self-proclaimed party team and has gone on to clinch two of their three podiums to date. At times, neither party has been completely satisfied with the others progress, but the fact Coulthard will stay on after his retirement as a technical consultant shows just how embedded he has become within the Red Bull family.
One of Coulthards closest and most enduring relationships in the paddock has been with legendary design guru Adrian Newey. Not only did Newey design his current car, the RB4, the British engineer also penned every car in which Coulthard scored his 13 Grand Prix wins. From Williams to McLaren and finally to Red Bull, Newey has been an almost constant presence throughout Coulthards career. As the Scot himself so succinctly put it: There have been three teams but only one designer, so he deserves special thanks for all the champagne that I have sprayed.
Fifteen years in Formula One racing may have failed to bring Coulthard a championship, but he can claim to have found the woman of his dreams through the sport. Once portrayed as something of a playboy by the media - an image Coulthard actually did very little to encourage - he has now happily settled down with Belgian Karen Minier, a former Formula One correspondent, who is expecting their first baby later this year. A bright future awaits