The most recent British driver to have won the British Grand Prix still drives in Formula One today and like 19 others, will compete on Sunday for the victory. His name is David Coulthard, and while this may be his final season at the top of the motor racing world, and while he isn’t likely to win again, Coulthard’s name is in the record books for twice succeeding in victory at the Silverstone circuit. Both at the wheel of a McLaren, Coulthard first won in 1999 and repeated the feat the following year.
This is the final post in the British Winners series, and over the coming weekend BlogF1 will of course cover the grand prix from Silverstone, the race possibly being the last time David Coulthard competes in a Formula One car in front of his home-fans. But while the Scot may have never won the championship, he does have thirteen victories to his name and a career that to date, has lasted for 15 seasons and 236 starts. However, of his wins the two on home soil will perhaps be the most remembered.
In 1999, the McLaren Mercedes MP4-14 was a competitive machine and Coulthard’s team mate was using it to good effect, Mika Hakkinen being the reigning world champion. However, Coulthard wasn’t far behind his team mate and the nation expected as the British Grand Prix weekend began. Qualifying had gone to Hakkinen and Coulthard was directly behind on the grid in third, although he was some eight tenths down on the lead McLaren.
The start of the race was aborted due to Jacques Villeneuve and Alex Zanardi stalling. The second start would prove to be just as luckless as the race was stopped almost immediately. From the line both Coulthard and Eddie Irvine got ahead of Michael Schumacher in second as they went through the Copse corner. However, on the run down to Stowe Schumacher suffered rear brake failure and was pitched across the gravel and into the tyre barriers. It was immediately clear that all was not well as Schumacher couldn’t get out of the car; he had broken his leg.
For the third start, Irvine managed to get ahead of Coulthard but Hakkinen maintained the lead and the three drivers continued in this position until the pitstops. Mika’s stop didn’t go well and the Finn returned after his out lap saying that he felt a wheel was loose. When Irvine stopped he missed his marks and caused the team to reposition the equipment, loosing out on valuable time. Irvine rejoined the race behind Coulthard and Hakkinen eventually retired when his wheel came off. The net result of these blunders meant that David was in the lead.
The Ferrari and the McLaren fought it out for victory, but by the sixtieth lap Coulthard was still leading and took the win for himself and his team. It was David’s fifth career win but he would only manage another by the end of the season. Hakkinen took his second title and Irvine finished in the runner-up spot, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen edging out Coulthard into third.
The following season Coulthard was once again partnered at McLaren by Hakkinen, and once again the pair would duke it out for the championship. Unfortunately for them both though, Schumacher had recovered from his broken leg and was on a crusade to win the title. The Ferrari was competitive and Schumacher was on a winning charge. The German took the first three races, and the trio came to Silverstone each with a mission to win.
Qualifying was all about getting the set up right as the track was in a drying condition following rain showers earlier in the morning. Rubens Barrichello was the driver who got it right and the Brazilian would start the race from pole position. Coulthard was back in fourth alonside his team mate Hakkinen and between them and Barrichello’s Ferrari was Frentzen’s Jordan.
On race day the morning warm-up session had to be delayed; thick fog had prevented the safety helicopter from flying. However, by the time the race was due to start the weather had improved and everything looked good for an exciting race. Barrichello left the grid well as did Frentzen in the Jordan. Coulthard squeezed past Hakkinen going into the first corner. The order remained until the first round of pitstops. The Jordan was demoted to seventh after the first and only stop and that left Barrichello leading Coulthard and Hakkinen.
At about mid-distance Barrichello would make a couple of mistakes that allowed the lead to change. On lap 29 the Ferrari pilot lost three seconds to the chasing McLaren, and with Coulthard right on Rubens’s gearbox, it only needed another minor error from the Brazilian and Coulthard would be able to pass. The following lap, Coulthard was presented with his opportunity. Barrichello had been slow on the exit of Chapel and this allowed Coulthard to stay right with the Ferrari down the Hangar Straight. Going into the Stowe corner, Barrichello held the defending inside line but Coulthard decided to attempt a pass around the outside.
Remembring Nigel Mansell’s move on Nelson Piquet [in 1987], I thought I would give that a try. It held together. David Coulthard.
The crowd stood in celebration and the cheers reverberated around the Silverstone circuit. Rubens’s Ferrari was malfunctioning, which was the cause for his decrease in performance, and by lap 35 he was out of the event. For the remainder of the race Mika Hakkinen stayed on Coulthard’s tail and only 1.4 seconds separated the pair as Coulthard crossed the line to win at home for the second time in succession.
Coulthard would go on to take two further victories that year and finish in third in the drivers title. Hakkinen finished in second while Schumacher romped to his third championship and his first with the Ferrari team. David stayed with McLaren for another four years but couldn’t win the title nor the British Grand Prix again. In 2005 he switched to the newly-formed Red Bull team who took on the failed Jaguar project. David was given a new lease of life and has driven well for the Milton Keynes team.
With rumours of his retirement failing to disappear, this year could very well be David’s last in the sport, and the Scot would undoubtedly like to leave Formula One on a high. His RB4 has been relatively quick in places, but consistency has fallen to Coulthard’s team mate Mark Webber. The Australian has scored points in six of the first eight races this year, while Coulthard has only scored once, albeit a fine podium in Canada.
To read more in this series of articles, click the tag ‘British Winners’.