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
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.