Get­ting off Scot free

MO­TOR­SPORT Look­ing ahead to next week­end’s Aus­tralian Grand Prix, David Coulthard dis­cusses the race’s ab­sence of Scot­tish tal­ent and con­trasts Celtic’s dom­i­nance of the Pre­mier­ship with Mercedes’ seem­ingly un­stop­pable su­pe­ri­or­ity on the track. Ste­wart Fi

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 SPORT -

DAVID Coulthard’s late grand­fa­ther was a Celtic fan. What rel­e­vance, you might ask, does this fact have to do with this year’s For­mula 1 cham­pi­onship, which gets un­der way with next week­end’s Aus­tralian Grand Prix?

Well, just as the Chan­nel 4 com­men­ta­tor ad­mits his an­ces­tor would prob­a­bly be thrilled to see the Park­head side rid­ing high some 30 points ahead of the rest of the Scot­tish game, so fol­low­ers of Mercedes were pre­sum­ably thrilled last sea­son to see Nico Ros­berg and Lewis Hamil­ton claim 19 of the 21 Grand Prix ti­tles up for grabs as they bat­tled it out for the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship. For the good of the sport, though, it is im­per­a­tive that an­other team comes along to dis­rupt that monopoly as soon as pos­si­ble. Thank­fully, the 45-year-old from the Borders feels that both Fer­rari and Red Bull will have some­thing more mean­ing­ful to say about the 2017 event than they did 12 months back.

“My grand­fa­ther, who is no longer around, I am sure would be thor­oughly en­joy­ing Celtic’s suc­cess be­cause he was a big fan of them, but you know, you need that light and shade, that com­pet­i­tive chal­lenge,” said Coulthard. “If you are a Mercedes fan then ev­ery­thing is great, but if you look at the sport as a whole, we re­ally need a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor to Mercedes.

“It is also a bit like the Pre­mier­ship [in Eng­land] isn’t it?” the C4 com­men­ta­tor added. “Le­ices­ter last year came from nowhere to win the league so you do get it oc­ca­sion­ally. Like we saw with Brawn, every now and then you get a per­fect storm, ev­ery­thing com­ing to­gether. You are never go­ing to have 10 teams in For­mula 1 all with a gen­uine chance of win­ning. But you need two or three teams ca­pa­ble of win­ning Grands Prix to re­ally show­case the com­pe­ti­tion.

“Fer­rari have had a strong win­ter of test­ing, the car looks like it is ex­ploit­ing the new reg­u­la­tions well. And Red Bull, you can’t dis­count them, they are one of those teams that re­ally de­velop over the course of a year. But it is go­ing to be about those three teams, be­cause Re­nault are too far away, and so are Wil­liams and McLaren.”

It isn’t just the driv­ers’ reg­u­la­tions that have changed since the 2016 cam­paign to that breath­less end in Abu Dhabi in Novem­ber. Soon the sport will no longer be avail­able on ter­res­trial TV, its diminu­tive, yet larger than life im­pre­sario owner Bernie Ec­cle­stone has moved on, and so too has last year’s driv­ers’ cham­pion. Ros­berg’s de­ci­sion to re­tire at his crown­ing mo­ment elec­tri­fied the sport, but Coulthard won­ders if he might live to re­gret the de­ci­sion.

“I spent a bit of time with Nico dur­ing the win­ter at a cou­ple of events and we have had this con­ver­sa­tion,” Coulthard said. “The ini­tial de­scrip­tion was that he wanted to spend more time with his fam­ily. But I know with the way my ca­reer has gone that I am more busy to­day do­ing all the things that I do. Men­tally I think he wants to have a nor­mal life,” he added. “But I think at only 31 or 32 years old he might look back and re­gret do­ing it so early. Schu­macher came back in his 40s. I was ready to stop at 37, men­tally tired from the jour­ney, but when I was 31, 32, I was still hun­gry and mo­ti­vated.”

Ros­berg’s re­place­ment in the Mercedes hot­seat is Val­teri Bot­tas, a 27-year-old Finn who moves from Wil­liams. While he has yet to win a sin­gle F1 race, he hopes to fol­low in the foot­steps of Keke Ros­berg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikko­nen, all pre­vi­ous world cham­pi­ons from Fin­land, a coun­try of just 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple. Coulthard sees com­par­isons with the Scot­tish mo­tor­sport scene in the con­veyor belt of tal­ent from the Baltic. While the level of fi­nance now re­quired to suc­ceed in the sport is a game changer for young Scot­tish kids, he feels it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore the next wave of as­pir­ing Scot­tish driv­ers comes along.

“I think there is a cul­ture of com­pe­ti­tion [in Fin­land], a cul­ture of go­ing out and driv­ing on the lakes, and the forests,” said Coul­tard. “Scot­land is also a kind of good ex­am­ple of that. Un­til maybe a decade ago, Scot­land had a lot of Grand Prix wins on the av­er­age. Pho­to­graph: Chan­nel 4

“I think the whole jour­ney to For­mula 1 has be­come more com­pli­cated, be­cause of the cost,” he added. “But I have to be­lieve it comes in cy­cles. I came through in a pe­riod where there was my­self, Al­lan McNish, Dario Fran­chitti, we all grew up rac­ing against each other, sep­a­rated by two or three years. And I’m sure there will be an­other wave of Scot­tish driv­ers.”

Scot-free zone or not – Paul di Resta is a test driver for Wil­liams – it all gets un­der way in the wee small hours of next Sun­day morn­ing. “I know I would get up in the mid­dle of the night to watch the Aus­tralian Grand Prix,” he said. “But I have to say our high­lights from that Grand Prix will be on at a very re­spectable mid­day, which could be a far more com­fort­able time to watch it.”

You need two or three teams ca­pa­ble of win­ning Grands Prix to re­ally show­case the com­pe­ti­tion

David Coulthard be­lieves that a new wave of Scot­tish mo­tor­sport tal­ent will hit For­mula 1 soon.

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