Motor racing: Time for Coulthard to move out of neutral

David Tremayne says that the Scot must prove his ability to compete

IT TOOK less than a second of the Brazilian Grand Prix for David Coulthard's hopes of a strong start to the season to stall as embarrassingly as his Mercedes engine just had. Going into this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, the 27-year-old Scot has no points on the board and his back to the wall. "I know what I have to do this year," he said before the season began in Melbourne last month. "And I intend to come out fighting."

But so far he has not been punching hard enough. It is now five years since the tragic events at Imola thrust him on to the F1 stage as Ayrton Senna's replacement at Williams, where he showed sufficient speed and flair to win the Portuguese GP. Ron Dennis then partnered him at McLaren with Mika Hakkinen, the man most believe comes closest to Michael Schumacher on sheer speed. Initially Coulthard thrived as he and the Finn rode a seesaw; one week one of them would be up, the other down. The next race the status quo would be reversed. On several occasions, notably Canada in 1997, Coulthard had it made until mechanical gremlins singled him out.

Yet there were underlying factors which continually suggested that Hakkinen was Dennis's golden boy, the chosen one to whom Coulthard must defer. But this was not Ferrari, where Schumacher's status over his team-mate Eddie Irvine has never been in doubt. At McLaren, the most corporately obsessive team in the paddock, it had to be seen to be an even playing field, even if insiders suggest that on more than one occasion Coulthard had to back off when he was running quicker than Hakkinen. In Germany in 1997, as the two McLarens chased one another, Coulthard was allegedly slowed on team orders because with one planned pit-stop it was clear that his pace would take him ahead of the Finn, who was scheduled to stop twice. Later that year, in the dramatic race in Jerez where Jacques Villeneuve clinched his world crown, Coulthard was forcibly instructed over the radio to make way for Hakkinen. The Finn won his first grand prix that day.

Since then Hakkinen has had things pretty much his own way, and last year his superior consistency won him the world championship and left Coulthard floundering. And as Ferrari's challenge increased and Hakkinen's advantage came under threat, Coulthard was obliged to ride shotgun. By the end of the season the Sir Galahad,who had obligingly handed back the lead to Hakkinen in the opening race in Australia after the Finn pitted by mistake, was looking a little shop-soiled.

Heading for Imola, the sole race he won last season, Coulthard acknowledges that his season had better kickstart itself, pretty damn quick, if he is not to be thrown yet again into the sort of supporting role that could jeopardise his future.

"Most of last year I was doing the lap times, I was qualifying and racing well, but sometimes that got lost due to the fact that I wasn't the main contender," he said. "What I did got lost behind Mika's fight with Michael. People should remember that for the second half of the season I was working solely to help Mika win the world championship."

Teamwork became ever more an issue as Ferrari put the squeeze on. "No one could count against McLaren their desire to get back up and win the championship again," Coulthard pointed out. "And they had to do whatever they needed to do in order to achieve that. Outsiders probably wouldn't believe that the team spirit could be so strong between two drivers. Both of us had a genuine chance to fight for the title, to begin with."

Dennis admits to the special relationship between himself and Hakkinen, forged from the problems they endured together since 1994, and the Finn's near-fatal accident in Adelaide at the end of 1995. It cannot do Coulthard's psyche much good, but Dennis insists: "Both Mika and David will start on a level playing field and this status will only change in the event that a situation similar to last year's arises."

For all his disappointment, Coulthard remains upbeat and objective, a smart driver able to see the big picture. "The reality is that the world championship represents everything we are racing for as a team. Going against any team requests would be a quick way out. I'm with the best team, but in any case you need an engine and you need a car; I've said it before, I'd look pretty silly sitting on the grid with just my pyjamas and no car to race. Last year, if you like, I was investing in the future."

When Hakkinen clinched his title in Suzuka last year, his first words as he embraced his partner were: "Next year it's you." Now, as he heads to Imola, Coulthard must start to make the investment pay off.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Advisor - Automotive Parts

£16400 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading online E-commerce ...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

£27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Customer Service Advisor

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading boiler ...

Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea