Coulthard surveys the F-1 scene

"Well, not to be disrespectful to the others that have been nominated (for the Laureus Award), and clearly as a motorsports person, I think that Lewis (Hamilton) has continued to show that he has all the qualities of an elite sportsman. Certainly, he’s delivered consistently since he first joined McLaren in 2007. So there’s no question that out of a quality field of drivers, he deserves that nomination."... David Coulthard in a teleconference with Sportstar.

The former FI Grand Prix driver David Coulthard is now a commentator. Here he talks to Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes at the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on April 3. Hamilton is one of the nominees for the Laureus Male Athlete of the Year award for 2015 and Coultard approves of the same.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Drivers Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso... ones for the future.   -  GETTY IMAGES

After an illustrious career on track that included 13 GP wins, David Coulthard has successfully transitioned into the role of TV commentator. The former McLaren and Red Bull driver, who is an ambassador for Laureus, spoke about the state of F1, the current season and more during a teleconference. Excerpts:

Question: In the Laureus Awards this year, Lewis Hamilton has been nominated for the Sportsman of the Year prize. Is that a worthy nomination?

Answer: Well, not to be disrespectful to the others that have been nominated, and clearly as a motorsports person, I think that Lewis has continued to show that he has all the qualities of an elite sportsman. Certainly, he’s delivered consistently since he first joined McLaren in 2007. He’s been the man that you watch during qualifying to see what lap time he can deliver, and he races in a sort of Senna-esque way. So there’s no question that out of a quality field of drivers, he deserves that nomination.

Nico (Rosberg) has won the first two races. He also won the last three last season, so he’s won five in a row. Do you give him a realistic chance of beating Lewis this year?

Yeah, Nico is a fast racing driver, and there’s nothing like winning the first couple of Grand Prixes and giving yourself a 17-point lead, with 19 races to go. This really gives you confidence and a bit of breathing room. Any driver statistically who has won five races, four races in a row, has won the World Championship. He’s just as you mentioned, won five in a row. So it would be a shame if he broke the stats.

Obviously, one of the big events recently was the Alonso crash. Do you think there’s any lesson from that for Formula One?

I think Formula One has made incredible strides in the last 20-odd years to make the safety cell the safest place to be in a crash. There are inherent dangers in motor racing when you have a 700-kilo vehicle travelling at 200 miles an hour.

Sadly, as we found out a couple years ago with Jules Bianchi, there’s always going to be those freak incidents where the driver’s head can come in contact with something, and that’s obviously a weak link in the system.

I am all for continually improving safety. I don’t think there’s immediate reaction to that crash because it’s something that the run-off adequately dealt with.

But that’s an element of our sport. I think the governing body continues to react well. We can’t sanitise life to the point where our children don’t trip and fall over, so I don’t see how we can do that with motor racing amongst adults.

What are your thoughts on the halo device?

If that is something that would offer protection to the frontal impact of the driver’s head and protect against injuries that sadly killed Senna and Jules Bianchi, then I find it very difficult to see how anyone could argue against that.

But you know, there obviously is a historical sort of acceptance of what a Grand Prix car is. It’s an open-wheel, open-top car. If you start closing the wheels and closing the top, then it becomes a sports car, as we traditionally know it. I think whenever there is something new implemented, there will always be, as there always is in life, varying opinions. But it’s the governing body that is there to try and sift through all that and do the right thing.

Your thoughts on young drivers like Max Verstappen, who is nominated for the great Laureus Breakthrough Award, and Carlos Sainz?

Well, from the way both of them have arrived at Formula One and delivered, I do believe they are both at the very least potential Grand Prix winners, and then depending on the decisions they make, potential world champions. They are both quality, young drivers.

I think that the spotlight initially has been on Max, because of being the younger of the two. But Carlos has absolutely been able to hold his own and deliver, and it’s actually a dilemma for the Toro Rosso team, because historically one driver has shone and he’s moved up, and then the other one has gone on to something else; here they are both shining.

I would have no problem having either of those two, if not both on the team driving for me, because they have got all the character traits of potential champions, which is they are both focused, hungry and got that steely edge about them. They have grown up around racing families.

And again, with Stoffel Vandoorne coming in and delivering for McLaren in Bahrain, the future of Formula One and the next generation of drivers looks good, looks positive, and that’s important.

Quite an unusual event for the Grand Prix Drivers Association to make some comments about how they thought the sport was run. Generally their interest has been around safety issues. Was that a significant moment?

Well, it was, and it did focus primarily on safety in the past. I think arguably the driver’s voice adds the visual and physical representation of success and failure, should be listened to and should be relevant and shouldn’t be dismissed.

So I would rather treat people with respect and allow them to have a voice, because they are the main visual part of why people turn up to watch Formula One.

 

The lap times of the cars are right now back to almost 2013 levels. Do you think it’s still wise for the rule makers to go for new rule changes next year to make the cars faster, considering they are already there or thereabouts.

Historically, when you have a big change in regulations, there’s one team that gets it right, and the others have to then spend the next couple of years catching up.

So, I think you have a good point; that arguably the sport has settled down in its third year of hybrid engines. There’s a consolidation in allowing a bit more close wheel-to-wheel action, rather than coming up with something completely different again. But that is at the mercy of the rule makers.

Could you give us your views on the new tyre regulations and the qualifying system?

Well, I never heard anyone really saying that the problem with more wheel-to-wheel action was because of qualifying.

Therefore, I was surprised when there was a change to the format. As a commentator trying to broadcast what’s actually happening, I find it a little bit frustrating that we have, if you look at how things tend to build to a crescendo in life of excitement, two or three minutes at the end of sessions where no one is out there and nothing’s happening. So I don’t believe that works.

And tyre-wise, bringing another compound of tyres has certainly brought another element of variation to the race, but these are the words of the drivers, not mine, because I haven’t raced in Formula One with these tyres.

But they are universally united in their dislike of the current compound and construction of tyres because they are very thermally sensitive, and they are unable to push and lean on the tyres in a way that we were traditionally able to do in the past.

I don’t want that to be seen as criticism of Pirelli because Pirelli have answered that request from the FIA and commercial rights-holders to come up with high-degradation tyres.

But what my on-the-record position is that we have competition between drivers, competition between engines, competition between cars, competition between teams. I don’t understand why you don’t have competition between the tyre manufacturers.

I know the argument would be cost because you have to test and develop. I think the argument would be if you ended up with the wrong tyre compound for a season, you could have Ferrari, for instance, in the wrong compound struggling relative to smaller teams.

Well, there you go. McLaren are struggling right now because they have chosen an engine which is not competitive.

I personally think it should be open. Pirelli are a great company and can develop high-quality, high-performing tyres, but they have no incentive to do so because right now they win every Grand Prix.