Coulthard was consigned to the supporting cast as his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, dominated the Spanish Grand Prix and extended his lead in the world championship with a performance that dispelled any notions that the balance of power had shifted.
Coulthard's victory at Imola, a fortnight ago, suddenly seemed a distant, almost unreal memory. Hakkinen had commanded practice all weekend, and his clean start in the race ensured the pattern would not be disturbed. He crossed the line nine and a half seconds clear of the Scotsman, with Michael Schumacher, in the Ferrari, 37 seconds further back in third place.
Also, a lot further back, more drama and controversy. Damon Hill condemned Heinz-Harald Frentzen as "stupid", blaming the man who displaced him at Williams for forcing him off the road. Hill had to retire three laps later with a broken engine.
Eddie Irvine, in the other Ferrari, collided with Benetton's Giancarlo Fisichella and the pair slewed into a gravel trap. Fisichella blamed Irvine, Benetton accused Ferrari of dark tactics, but the stewards decided that the Italian driver was at fault, fining him $7,500 (pounds 4,600) for "causing an avoidable collision".
These, however, were sideshows to the main racing event, and that was an all too predictable anticlimax. Hakkinen claimed his third win of the season and now has a seven-point advantage in the standings.
Coulthard admitted: "I was given a bit of a driving lesson. It was a real struggle and I had to battle with myself. I gave everything and it wasn't enough. At the beginning of the race I had such a fight with the car. I wasn't quick enough, so it's back to the drawing board."
Hakkinen's only anxiety was caused by back markers, but he had the time in hand to negotiate them with care. "It's never as easy as it looks but my car was better than a lot of cars, probably the best on the track."
There is no probably about it. McLaren are currently on a different plane from the rest so Formula One looks to Coulthard to provide his team-mate with a wheel-to-wheel challenge.
Ron Dennis, the team principal, suggests that may come, and sympathises with those who wait in the meantime. He said: "We can understand people looking at it and thinking it's boring but we're here to do the best we can. It's taken us years to get back into this position.
"Mika has been dominant here and the car was right for him. But there will be other races where the roles are reversed and places where both will be together and I, like any racing fan, am looking forward to that."
Schumacher forfeited a couple of places with a sloppy start but recovered them with a typically quick pit stop. Too quick. He exceeded the pit lane speed limit and was called back for a stop and go penalty. Relegated to fourth, he was back in third again after his second scheduled stop and this time his third place was secure. Hill had designs on a coveted first point of the season until he tangled with Frentzen on the 44th lap. He managed to fish his Jordan out of the gravel, but had to park it soon after and retire.
The former champion said: "Frentzen is a brick short of a full load. He pushed me wide. He's stupid. There's no point in talking to him. He doesn't understand common sense. He was running way back and must have known where I was when he came out of the pits. He seems to get in a state when he sees me on the circuit. It's not good driving for someone of his experience."
Irvine, too, felt the wrath of an opponent after he and Fisichella walked away from their beached cars. The Italian gave him a piece of his mind and then left it to his boss, Dave Richards, to accuse Ferrari of deliberately trying to slow him and shield Schumacher.
Alexander Wurz was fourth for Benetton, and Rubens Barichello gave the embattled Stewart-Ford team an excellent fifth. Jacques Villeneuve, in a Williams, beat Johnny Herbert, driving a Sauber, for sixth place.
Spanish Grand Prix
1 M Hakkinen (Fin) 10pts
McLaren 1hr 33min 37.621sec
2 D Coulthard (GB) 6pts
3 M Schumacher (Ger) 4pts
4 A Wurz (Aut) 3pts
Benetton +1min 02.538sec
5 R Barrichello (Br) 2pts
Stewart +1 lap
6 J Villeneuve (Can) 1pt
Williams +1 lap
7 J Herbert (GB) Sauber +1 laps
8 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Williams +2 laps
9 J Trulli (It) Prost +2 laps
10 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber +2 laps
11 R Schumacher (Ger) Jordan +2 laps
12 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart +2 laps
13 T Takagi (Japan) Tyrrell +2 laps
14 S Nakano (Japan) Minardi +2 laps
15 E Tuero (Arg) Minardi +2 laps
Not classified (did not finish)
16 O Panis (Fr) Prost 60 laps completed
17 D Hill (GB) Jordan 46 laps
18 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 28 laps
19 G Fisichella (It) Benetton 28 laps
20 M Salo (Fin) Arrows 21 laps
21 P Diniz (Br) Arrows 20 laps
Fastest lap: Hakkinen 1:24.275 (ave 201.967kph/125.500mphReuse content