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.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; VMWare, Windows; Disley; £40k

£40000 per annum + benefits: Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; V...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?