The career of David Coulthard

The Brazilian Grand Prix heralded the end of David Coulthard’s career. Unfortunately, the race ended in a turn 1 smash. It deprived David Coulthard of a dignified send-off to his career, as well as depriving us of the awesome helmet cam, used by FOM for the first time since 1994.

In most ways it sums up David Coulthard’s 2008 season, which has seen him become a magnet for crashes. It was a most unfortunate season for the Scot with only one or two highlights — most notably 3rd place in the Canadian Grand Prix. Overall, though, the impression left is that DC may have been better off retiring one year earlier.

It is going too far to say that the first corner crash sums up DC’s career. Even though he could never count himself among F1’s very most talented, the statistics of his career make for pleasant reading. With 246 grand prix starts under his belt, he is the fourth most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time.

He is arguably the most successful British driver of all time. His tally of 13 race wins is relatively modest compared to other British drivers, particularly Nigel Mansell, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark. But he has scored more points than any other British driver — 535. By this measure, he is the 5th most successful driver of all time.

For the majority of his career, David Coulthard has been lucky enough to have the best machinery. His race début came in the saddest of circumstances, as he was chosen to replace Ayrton Senna when the Brazilian died in 1994. But he raced for a Williams team that was just entering a phase of true dominance.

When he moved to McLaren just a few years later, it was in time for the Woking squad to make its own major resurgence. Ace designer Adrian Newey had moved across to McLaren from Williams at roughly the same time.

But at both Williams and McLaren, his team mate usually made much more of the opportunities the best car provided them. Damon Hill was a major contender for the 1995 World Championship. Meanwhile, Mika Häkkinen strung together two World Championships in a row in 1998 and 1999.

It is too easy to say that Häkkinen got favourable treatment at McLaren. DC may have moved over for the Finn in two successive races, in Jerez 1997 and Melbourne 1998. Critics point out that nice guys never win, and that DC’s apparent happiness to let his team mate past was evidence that DC did not have what it really takes. But the fact is that Coulthard struggled to get to grips with his McLaren car from 1998 onwards. That may have been due to the introduction of grooved tyres or whatever.

DC was to be further thwarted by another rule change a few years later. The Scot never could get to grips with one-lap qualifying. When the pressure was on him to deliver at the first time of asking, he more often than not found himself unable to deliver. Things did not improve much when the knock-out format was introduced.

Despite the patchy record, though, DC has had some great highlights during his career. When Häkkinen lost his motivation, DC was in prime position to challenge Schumacher for the title in 2001. He did, admittedly, finish up a long way behind Schumacher, having scored just 65 points. But he was definitely best of the rest that season, and the only person who could seriously claim to have given Schumacher any bother that season.

And a tally of 13 wins, no matter how good his machinery was, is fairly impressive stuff. David Coulthard was no fool.

Just when it looked as though DC’s career was coming to a halt, he moved from McLaren to Red Bull. It breathed new life into his career. He was reinvented as Formula 1’s elder statesman, a role he adapted well to. In his first season at the midfield Red Bull team in 2005, he scored as many points as he had at McLaren in 2004.

Since then he has been reunited with the chassis designer that has accompanied him throughout his career, Adrian Newey. He scooped up a clutch of great results, including two podiums along the way.

Overall, throughout his many many seasons, David Coulthard has driven for just three teams in his entire career. That demonstrates just how valuable every team felt he was to the package.

All the while, David Coulthard was great entertainment off the circuit as well as on it. Even though some nicknamed him ‘David Cardboard’ at first, he quickly developed a strong personality and was unafraid to use colourful language in his interviews.

Now his career has fizzled out. And even though DC never achieved the status of true greatness, and the World Championship eluded him, I think he has a lot to be proud of.

Thankfully, this colourful character promises not to go away for good. He will remain at Red Bull in an advisory role, proving yet again that teams invariably appreciate his input. Furthermore, it looks almost certain that DC will form part of the BBC’s team covering F1 from 2009 onwards. At least it looks like he will be entertaining us for years to come.

And here is one of the most entertaining moments in F1, provided by David Coulthard himself:


  1. I was just gutted when DC spun off at Brazil, he deserved a better ending than that.

    I’ll miss him for sure. Who else is going to threaten to kick five shades of **** out of the questionably parented Massa? 😀

  2. I’d disagree that DC joined a Williams team that were ‘entering a phase of true dominance’. The 1992 and 1993 Williams were the class of the field, the 1992 Williams definately being dominant. However the 1994 Williams was a pig of a car at the start of the year, despite it almost winning the WDC.

    I will miss DC though, here’s hoping he actually does join the BBC commentary team.

  3. I think DC was badly managed in his move away from Williams, had he stayed on there is a very good chance he would have been World Champion in my opinion.

    Although Newey ultimately would join him at McLaren, the car he had to start with at Woking wasn’t overly clever.

    But anyways, what’s happened has happened and as the man himself seems pretty much content with his lot and isn’t tearing his hair out with ifs and buts, I think it’s best to just be grateful he entered the sport at all as F1 would have been the poorer place without him over the last 14 years.

  4. Ponzonha, the camera is positioned beneath the visor in the centre of the helmet. The problem is that it’s too low down. But at least it gives a much better sense of what the driver goes through than the T-cam does.

    It was tried out in the Porsche Supercup earlier this year. I saw a picture of that helmet before, but now I can’t find it.

  5. Pilots are crazy people. They drive insanely fast without seeing too much of the track. Well, maybe that’s the point, not seeing…

  6. The saddest thing about DC’s turn 1 accident is that it will probably help long term perception about him being a crasher which despite his weak final season ain’t really fair. And he wasn’t even to blame for the accident.

    I disagree about the idea that he moved to McLaren at the wrong time First, I don’t think he could really wait. Bernie really want Jacques Villeneuve in a competitive car and Williams was always the more obvious choice. And he really got a weak car at McLaren only in 96. He took his chances going there specially when one has in mind that McLaren had hired and dropped a british driver (Brundle, Blundell) in both previous seasons. DC best shot was probably in 99 (given how much Hakinnen underperform and still won in the end), a better run in the last four races and he would be a contender.