David Coulthard is someone who has traversed multiple eras of Formula One. The Scottish driver came into the sport as a replacement for Ayrton Senna, after his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Over the next 15 years, Coulthard secured 13 race wins and was runner-up in the driver’s championship in 2001, behind Michael Schumacher.
After joining the newly formed Red Bull Racing in 2005, he marked several firsts for the Austrian side, including its first podium. His retirement from F1 in 2008 paved the way for the entry of Sebastian Vettel into the Red Bull team. Vettel would then go on to bring in the side’s first championship.
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Coulthard has since reinvented himself as an F1 pundit and commentator, and also continued his association with Red Bull as a consultant, all the while performing show runs across the world.
The 51-year-old Coulthard, who was in Mumbai for a Red Bull show run at the Bandra Bandstand, shared his thoughts and memories on the sport.
You have been with the Red Bull team right from its inception. You were the one who secured the team’s first podium. How do you view the team’s growth from an outsider to the dominating force that it is today?
It has been a fantastic journey and it is a reflection of the investment the team has done in people. If a team’s success is based just on historical standing or legacy, Ferrari will win every single thing. But it is about identifying the right people and investing in them and empowering them. Red Bull is an energy drink company, but they now make Formula One-winning cars and have successful football teams. They have a way of connecting with people and that is the root of their success. I am proud to have been part of the journey.
One of your greatest wins happened at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2002. Does this Bandra Bandstand street remind you of that circuit, considering the narrowness and everyday feel of it?
I was always pretty good at street circuits like Macau and Monaco. I have always felt comfortable in races where is very little room for error. It was in line with my driving style. I was never comfortable in tracks with wider run-ons. Driving on these streets [Bandra] feels comfortable for me.
This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the infamous 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, where you and Michael Schumacher had a spat after an on-track collision. How do you look back on that incident?
It was a crazy day. There was a big crash at the start, which I was also part of. Then there was a restart and my teammate [Mika Hakkinen] crashed out. I had a pretty bad race and then Michael [Schumacher] was about to lap me. I tried to let him get past me. He couldn’t see me and he crashed into me. And everyone saw the reaction after that. He was clearly not happy and I understand that. A couple of weeks later we made up with a face-to-face talk. Every year for the Belgian Grand Prix, the incident gets replayed and now it is a part of the folklore [chuckles]. What is to be noted is that even with only three wheels on, Schumacher was exceptionally fast.
For the Mumbai show run, you drove the RB7, the car which Sebastian Vettel drove to win at the Indian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, that race is no longer part of the F1 schedule. Do you think the race deserves to be back on the calendar, considering the rising fan base of the sport in the country?
I think so. India is a very important country for F1. A lot of brain power here and technology is developing rapidly. The enthusiasm is also encouraging. We were at a college for a promotion event the other day and the response from the students and the audience was brilliant. It clearly shows that the sport has grown at an impressive rate among the younger generation.
Vettel entered Red Bull after your retirement in 2008. Now, he has stepped down from the sport. Where would you rate him among the best F1 drivers of all time?
He [Sebastian Vettel] is definitely among the greatest. Phenomenal success rate. Four back-to-back world titles with an incredible amount of poles and wins. And he did it his own way. I admire the journey he took. It was a little difficult to watch in the end, with him not meeting his own standards at Ferrari and Aston Martin. I met him recently at the race of the champions. He was with his family and he seems to be in a happy place.
Speaking about another replacement in your career, you got your first chance in F1 after the tragic demise of Ayrton Senna. What influence has he had in your career?
Ayrton [Senna] was an exceptional driver. We all know that. Luckily, I had the opportunity to interact with him in close quarters as a test driver a few months before he died.
Working with him, I learned what an incredible human being he was. The way he communicated with the team and the time and effort he put into me to help me as a test driver were incredible. He had a presence about him. Whenever he walked into a room, you could sense the aura of greatness. His death is a constant reminder of how dangerous this sport is. Thankfully it has become a lot safer now.
One of the major factors which boosted the popularity of F1 is the Netflix series - Drive To Survive. How do you think that has changed the way people have looked at the sport?
I think it has given insights into the personalities in the sport, which you don’t get when you just watch the races. If you just watch the race, it is just cars going around in circles.
‘Drive to Survive’ has given a bit of life and colour to the sport and that has definitely helped in its growth.