- The man, the myth, the legend.

F1 Spotlight - David Coulthard

This week, we take a look at another fan favourite of the sport and underrated legend.

6w ago
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David Marshall Coulthard MBE was born on the 27th March 1971 in Twynholm, Scotland. His father Duncan Coulthard was a road haulier and was married to Elizabeth Joyce Coulthard née Marshall. His family already had a history in motor racing as his grandfather had competed in the Monte Carlo Rally and his father raced karts, becoming Scottish National Champion. From an early age DC knew motorsport was where he wanted to be and planned on following in the footsteps of his childhood heroes - Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost.

David began racing karts at the age of eight and his father later gave him his first kart for his eleventh birthday. He was a natural and won several local championships including the Scottish Junior Kart Championship and the Scottish Kart Championship, before moving on to events further down the UK – taking the title victory in the Cumbria Kart Racing Club Championship in 1985. Then in 1989, he made the move from karts to car racing, going on to win the P&O Ferries Formula Ford 1600 Junior Championship and became first recipient of the McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year award, which allowed him to test a McLaren Formula One car. Not a bad prize at all I’d say.

In 1990, Coulthard travelled to Belgium to compete in the EFDA Nations Cup for Great Britain, finishing 9th. Also that year, David was selected by Vauxhall Motorsport to race in a one-off appearance in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Brands Hatch, where he finished 13th. He did not return to the series after suffering a leg injury in a Formula Vauxhall race at Spa.

For the 1991 season, DC signed with Paul Stewart Racing to compete in the British Formula 3 series, taking five victories and finishing second in the Championship behind a certain Rubens Barrichello, though he did win the Macau Grand Prix and the Masters of Formula Three. He later travelled to the Fuji Speedway to compete in the annual Formula Three Fuji Cup, where he took pole position and finished second.

Doesn't he look dashing?

Doesn't he look dashing?

In 1992, David moved to the International Formula 3000 series, where he finished ninth in the championship and in 1993 he joined the Pacific Racing team, claiming one victory and finishing third in the series. He also entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside John Nielsen and David Brabham for the TWR Jaguar Racing team, winning the GT Class, although they were later disqualified over a technical infringement.

Coulthard was then signed by Williams in 1993 as the team’s official test driver after a telephone call from team principal Frank Williams to test the Williams car at Jerez circuit over four days (which led to him missing the Formula 3000 race at Pau.)

He briefly joined the Vortex team in 1994 after a private investor injected funds into the team and in his first (and only) race for the team at Silverstone, Coulthard finished third.

After the death of Ayrton Senna, who had died two races earlier in San Marino, David made his F1 début for Williams at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix. He qualified eighth but an engine failure robbed him of any chance to score points. At the next round in Canada, he took his first points with a fifth-place finish but was replaced for the French Grand Prix by Nigel Mansell, due to pressure from engine supplier Renault – a move that strained relations between Coulthard and the team.

David was back in the seat at the British Grand Prix, where he finished fifth. At the German Grand Prix, Williams introduced the Williams FW16B but David suffered two back to back retirements in the next two races before bouncing back with three consecutive points scoring positions—including taking second-place in Portugal. Nigel Mansell returned to take Coulthard's seat for the last four races of the season as it was thought that it was important to have a World Champion on the grid – which you can kind of understand but at the same time, isn’t so great if you’re David Coulthard at that moment in time.

Despite being forcibly absent for several races, Coulthard finished the season in eighth place with Williams first in the Constructors' Championship. His role and achievements across the season were recognised as he was awarded the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year and also received an award at the BBC Scottish Sports Personality of the Year.

"I'd like to think I can win a Grand Prix this year."

David Coulthard, 1995.

Williams had an option to keep Mansell for 1995 but decided instead to give Coulthard the seat full time for the coming season. However, during the Australian Grand Prix weekend Coulthard had chosen to leave Williams and signed a contract with McLaren. Williams insisted that they had the right to exercise their option to keep Coulthard, who was on a three-year contract with the team and the dispute went to Formula One's Contract Recognition Board, who ruled in favour of Williams on 14th December, forcing Coulthard to stay with the team.

The start of the season did not go to plan – at the first round in Brazil David initially finished second but later on, both he and Benetton driver Michael Schumacher were disqualified for fuel irregularities. But then following an appeal, the original results of both drivers were eventually reinstated. What a load of bother over nothing. The next five races saw four retirements for Coulthard, plus a fourth-place finish in San Marino. That admittedly, was not so good.

Despite his poor form in the early part of the season, Coulthard secured four consecutive podiums, but did suffer from another two consecutive retirements in Belgium and Italy - where he had secured the first pole position of his career. For the Portuguese round, Williams introduced a revised version of their car, the Williams FW17B. Coulthard took pole position and, after leading much of the race, took his first Formula One race victory. He took a further two podiums at the Nürburgring and Aida and retired in the final two races at Suzuka and Adelaide. He finished the season third in the Drivers' Championship.

"I just couldn't accept signing a number two contract and that's why I decided to sign at McLaren and I think that was the right decision for my career."

David Coulthard

Coulthard was offered the Ferrari race seat as record champion Michael Schumacher's team-mate in 1996, but turned it down in favour of taking his chances at a resurgent McLaren after deciding to leave the Williams team.

Joining McLaren, Coulthard was partnered with the experienced Mika Häkkinen. David believed there was a chance of him winning some races that year but that a challenge for the World Championship would be unlikely in his first couple of years with the team. His season started badly; a throttle issue and a first lap collision with the Jordan of Martin Brundle ended his race in Australia, he spun off in Brazil and finished outside the points in Argentina, though he secured a podium at the Nürburgring and despite leading in San Marino, a hydraulic failure ended his race prematurely. At a wet Monaco he secured himself a second-place finish before being taken out in a first-lap accident in the wet in Spain.

Despite the mixed early season results, before the Canadian Grand Prix, McLaren offered him a contract extension which Coulthard signed, tying him to McLaren until 1998. Possibly buoyed by this extension, Coulthard finished in the points at the next four races, before suffering three more consecutive retirements. He was outside of the points-scoring positions in Portugal and Japan, ending the season seventh in the Drivers' Championship. Not too bad considering.

In 1997, Coulthard, again partnered by Häkkinen, made up for the previous years’ issues and took victory in the opening round in Australia, although he was unable to score in the next four rounds after a collision in Argentina and more unreliability with his car. This unreliability would continue to plague his car throughout the season. He suffered from five more retirements throughout the season, though he was able to take victory at the Italian Grand Prix. David achieved two more podiums that year, in Austria and Jerez, where he conceded second place to teammate Häkkinen under team orders. Coulthard managed to finish in third place in the Drivers' Championship, tied on points with Benetton driver Jean Alesi.

In 1998, Coulthard remained at McLaren again alongside Mika though there was some controversy at the first race in Australia, when Coulthard who was leading, let Häkkinen past to win the race. Coulthard later revealed a pre-race agreement by the team that whoever led into the first corner on the first lap would be allowed to win the race. Whilst still a gentlemanly thing to do, not the kind of thing fans like to see in Formula 1. The race marked a run of decent results, with Coulthard scoring three further podiums, including a victory in San Marino. The now familiar pattern re-emerged as Coulthard retired from three out of the next four races, before taking a further five podiums across the remainder of the season, though he did suffer another retirement in Italy.

Then came Spa.

The round in a very wet Spa was to become famous for David’s involvement in the first lap crash that decimated the field, taking out thirteen cars. The race was restarted (teams were still permitted spare cars then) though David went on to be involved in a collision with Michael Schumacher when being lapped, which led to an angry confrontation in the pit lane where several McLaren team members had to step in to keep the drivers apart. Although he briefly retired from the race due to car damage, Coulthard later re-joined and finished the race – he was classified in 7th place, his only finish outside the points-scoring positions.

Many motorsport critics labelled 2000 as Coulthard's "make or break" year and so he reorganised his schedule for the season in order to concentrate more on his performance. The first rounds of the season proved difficult for Coulthard; he retired in Australia after experiencing engine problems. Then, in Brazil, he finished the race in second but was disqualified due to a technical infringement with the front wing endplates. Coulthard then finished on the podium in the next five races, including winning the races in Britain and Monaco. In June, Coulthard signed an extension to his contract, keeping him with McLaren for 2001. At the Magny-Cours circuit in France, David scored what he would later describe as the most memorable victory of his career (the win was McLaren’s only ever win at the circuit,) this high then being countered by the low of finishing outside of the points in Canada. The next three rounds provided another three podiums followed by a fourth-place finish in Belgium, he finished the season third in the Drivers' Championship and was again awarded the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy.

"I honestly feel that David can win the world championship this year."

Ron Dennis

Heading into the 2001 season McLaren team principal Ron Dennis was ambitious about Coulthard's prospects for the new season. DC performed well in the first seven races, taking wins in both Brazil and Austria, though in Canada, he suffered his first retirement of the season after his car developed engine problems while running in fourth position. He recovered from this disappointment with a podium finish at the Nürburgring and then taking fourth in France. The remaining seven races were a mix of podiums and retirements, with the loss of points scoring opportunities robbing Coulthard of the result he could have had – though he did achieve a career best second place in the Drivers' Championship, he was 58 points behind World Champion Michael Schumacher. Close but no cigar. He was again awarded the (his second consecutive) Hawthorn Memorial Trophy.

The 2002 season saw Coulthard joined by a new teammate – Kimi Räikkönen, making DC the more experienced driver in the team. He was again optimistic for the new season though as before, things didn’t go quite as he might have wished. In the first race of the season, Coulthard's car retired after suffering gearbox issues and then in the following race in Malaysia, both cars retired with engine failures. Thankfully two weeks later at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Coulthard did manage to secure his first podium of the season, taking third place. This was the start of a positive rebound and DC then took four consecutive points finishes, including his only win of the season in Monaco. If you’re going to win anywhere, it might as well be at Monaco. By the end of the season, David was fifth in the Drivers' Championship and was awarded his third consecutive Hawthorn Memorial Trophy for his efforts throughout the 2002 season.

Coulthard began the 2003 season by taking victory in Australia but was forced to retire at the next race in Malaysia after his car developed an electrical problem. He took back-to-back points finishes in Brazil and San Marino but retired in Spain following a collision. He signed another contract extension in August that would see him stay with McLaren for another year and, after two more podium positions, he finished seventh in the Drivers' Championship. After the end of the season McLaren announced that Coulthard would be dropped at the end of 2004 and replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Knowing he would lose his seat at the end of 2004, Coulthard went into the season insisting that he had the team's backing, and that his approach for 2004 would be more aggressive. He started the season with an eighth place finish in Australia despite being off the pace and followed this with a sixth place finish in Malaysia However, in Bahrain, both McLarens suffered engine failures and retired. Coulthard did not score points in the next four races, but did score points at the following two rounds in Canada and the United States.

At the French Grand Prix McLaren introduced a revised version of the McLaren MP4-19B and with the improved reliability came better results - Coulthard finished in sixth, scoring more points at Silverstone and then at the Hockenheimring as well as the rounds in Belgium and Italy. A collision with the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello put him out of his last race for McLaren in Japan and he finished the season in tenth place in the Drivers' Championship. Not quite how I imagine he wanted his season to end but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes in Formula 1.

On 17th December 2004 Coulthard announced that he would move to Red Bull for the 2005 season following the purchase of the Jaguar team by the energy drink company. He signed a one-year deal for a reported £1.8 million to drive alongside Austrian driver Christian Klien.

Before joining Red Bull, Coulthard was offered a testing role at Ferrari, but he turned this down as he wanted to continue in a race seat. That marked the second time that Ferrari came knocking for him, only to be denied.

The Red Bull car was good and Coulthard's season started with finishes in the points-scoring positions in the opening five rounds. Before the San Marino Grand Prix, Klien was replaced by Red Bull test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi who partnered Coulthard for the next four races (even in their first year they were moving drivers around like nobody’s business). The forced withdrawal of all teams using Michelin tyres, including Red Bull, at the controversial United States Grand Prix, meant Coulthard did not start a race for the first time in his career but despite this, across his first season with Red Bull, he scored as many points as he had in his last season for McLaren.

The 2006 season did not go so well but did have its highlights, e.g. Coulthard did score a podium at the Monaco Grand Prix - a commercial tie-up with a film studio saw DC stand on the podium in a Superman race suit and, following a bet made before the race, also saw team principal Christian Horner jump into a swimming pool, wearing only a Superman cape. You know, normal F1 stuff.

The final team Coulthard drove for in Formula 1 was none other than Red Bull. Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool.

The final team Coulthard drove for in Formula 1 was none other than Red Bull. Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool.

In August 2006, it was announced that Coulthard had extended his contract with Red Bull for 2007 and would be partnered by Williams driver Mark Webber. Before the Chinese Grand Prix, Klien lost his seat at Red Bull, so Coulthard was partnered with Robert Doornbos. Coulthard finished the season 13th in the Drivers' Championship.

2007 started with a collision in Australia (a bit hit and miss for David there) with the Williams of Alexander Wurz leading to a retirement and it would not be until the Spanish Grand Prix before he was able to score his first points. Across the 17-race season he scored just 14 points, ending the season tenth in the Drivers' Championship. It was announced in July that he would stay with the team for 2008. Red Bull moved up to fifth place in the Constructors' Championship.

The 2008 season started with a retirement after a collision with the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. At the next round in Malaysia, he had a suspension failure during practice but was later cleared to race, finishing the Grand Prix in 9th. After that he was unable to score points until Montreal, when he finished on the podium in 3rd. Before the start of the British Grand Prix, where he retired on the first lap after being hit by Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel, Coulthard announced that he would retire from Formula One at the end of the season, though he would remain at Red Bull as a testing and development consultant.

Coulthard finished outside the points at the next five races, before taking his final career points in Singapore where he finished seventh. In his final race in Brazil, Coulthard's Red Bull RB4 was decorated in the colours of "Wings for Life", a charity dedicated to raising awareness of spinal cord injuries. He was unable to finish the race, when his car was hit by Williams driver Nico Rosberg and Coulthard's car was sent into the path of Rosberg's teammate Kazuki Nakajima.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

After retiring from Formula One, Coulthard continued working with Red Bull as a consultant and on 25th November 2008, it was announced that Coulthard would join the BBC as a pundit alongside Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan for the broadcaster's coverage of Formula One. At the end of 2010, Coulthard was announced as a co-commentator alongside Martin Brundle.

He returned to active motorsports in 2010 joining Mücke Motorsport in DTM before he announced his retirement from racing at the end of 2012, so that he could spend more time with his family and to concentrate on his co-commentary role with the BBC, as well as managing his off-track businesses – he has owned several luxury hotels in Britain and is a former owner of the Columbus Hotel Monaco. Fancy.

Coulthard has also participated in the Race of Champions, finishing runner-up in the Drivers' Cup in 2008, and winning the competition in 2014 and 2018.

In 2016, Coulthard left the BBC to join Channel 4 after the BBC abandoned its coverage of Formula One. With Channel 4, David continued to commentate and be a co-presenter of their Formula 1 coverage. Coulthard co-owns Whisper Films, along with former co-presenter Jake Humphrey, and the production company was chosen by Channel 4 to produce its coverage of all of its races. As part of his work for the BBC and Channel 4, David got to do some pretty cool stuff like this -

On 10 October 2018, Coulthard was announced as a spokesperson and advisory board member of the forthcoming W Series. Then in 2019, he was elected president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (owner of Silverstone Circuit).

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Coulthard was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours for services to motorsport.

David is an ambassador for the spinal injuries charity Wings For Life and also a Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassador. He was involved with the development of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and he owns a 1971 Mercedes-Benz W113 280 SL built on the same day he was born. Nice.

He released his autobiography in 2007, entitled ‘It is What It Is.’ in the book he revealed that he had suffered from bulimia as a teenager, caused by the need to lose weight when competing in karting championships. He also produced a second book; ‘A Driven Man: What F1 Teaches Us About the Business of Life‘ which he has used as the basis for inspirational talks to a variety of audiences.

Coulthard is a bit underrated in my opinion. A fierce driver and competitor in his day, you can really tell that there's motor racing embedded in his DNA. Together with Mark Webber, he gives awesome insight into every Grand Prix that you just can't get from other places. Championing W-Series is another excellent feather in his cap as is being elected president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (owner of Silverstone Circuit). Whilst we might not see him race competitively again (not just in F1), I hope he sticks around the F1 paddock for many years to come.

What do you think of David Coulthard? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments (7)

  • One can only imagine what might have been if he had gone to Ferrari...

      1 month ago
  • DC was always one of my favourite drivers growing up. It is a shame that he never won a championship in Formula 1 but that never put a downer on the fact that he was legitimately one of the best drivers on the grid during the peak of his career. He's also super entertaining as a broadcaster.

      1 month ago
    • He's been a great advocate for the sport since he retired from racing in F1, love his Channel 4 coverage (they should really have all the races live) and glad that he got into W-Series. A definite would be World Champion.

        1 month ago
  • It's a bit sad how bad of a #2 he was treated as in McLaren. I remember him telling a story about how the entire McLaren pit wall cheered when Mika stole the Monaco pole position from his own teammate.

      1 month ago
    • Yeah, he's another driver from the early 2000s that could have been a World Champion. So hearing stuff like that makes you scratch your head a bit.

      Still he's been great for F1 both on and off the track 🙌

        1 month ago
    • Yeah he's a great character! I love him

        1 month ago
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