Q & A with David Coulthard
Q. Red Bull, a big year coming up. Christian Horner said on Thursday that you are as motivated as ever, is that right?
David Coulthard: I feel pretty motivated for the year ahead. Obviously I am in regular contact with Christian so he can follow my mood, especially having worked together for a number of years now.
I've had three weeks in one place, which is fantastic as normally we are traveling around so much. Obviously after so many years in F1, the constant merry go round, it has just been great to be able to get into a routine for those three weeks of training, and obviously planning for the year ahead.
I love racing, so there is never any question of whether I am excited to go to the first Grand Prix. Inevitably at this time of the year you are always a bit nervous about just how good the car is going to be.
You will hear today everyone talking about their hopes of the year ahead, and how they expect this to be a much better season but we simply don't know until we get the car out on the track, which will happen on Wednesday. And then we will get an indication on whether we are going to make a step forward or not.
Q. The pace is so relentless during the season and all the winter testing. Are you able to switch off, relax and unwind - and not think about F1?
DC: I don't feel the need to not think about F1. I love Formula One. I love motorsport and when you are passionate about something why do you not want to think about it. That does not mean I am sat at home watching reruns of Grands Prix, but I have got an opportunity. I have had a fantastic career, a long career in F1, and it is still continuing.
I want to go out and do my best ever season. Now, what that will be will depend very much on how I perform and how the car performs, but I am looking forward to getting down to Melbourne and presumably everyone here is looking forward to finding out who has got the quick cars and who has produced a dog - and hopefully we haven't got one of those.
Q. I bet you have watched reruns of the 13 Grands Prix you've won, haven't you?
DC: No, I haven't actually. Maybe you would expect me to do so. The only Grands Prix I have watched in full over the last few years was the American GP, when we had the problems with the tyres and the Michelin runners did not race. And I watched the last Grand Prix from Brazil because it looked like it was quite an exciting end to the championship.
When you are in the car, you don't get the benefit of seeing everything that is going on. Most of the time I don't actually watch the Grands Prix, I will look at a snippet for a reminder of the previous year when I go to the various Grands Prix this year, but when you know the results it is not quite the same watching the race, is it? So I don't watch them.
Q. You've done three years at Red Bull Racing. Mark Webber has said you are looking for consistency this year. Is that the aim for 2008? The pace seems to be locked away in the car, you just need to make it reliable, haven't you?
DC: Of course you need a reliable car but you need a fast car. We were about a second and a half away from the quickest cars last year and that is a hell of a lot of lap time, well over a minute during a typical Grand Prix. So we have to take a step forward and if McLaren and Ferrari within the regulations are close to maximizing the potential you can get out of these cars, then there is scope for us to reduce that gap.
There is a lot of technology involved in F1, but that technology is developed by people. So we have been investing in the people at the factory and trying to give them the tools to use their skills to ultimately develop a quick car, so there is no magic involved. It is just good decisions and hard work and now we have to wait and see if that group of people have been able to come up with the right package.
Q. Adrian Newey now has his feet firmly under the table. You've worked with him for many years, notably at Williams and McLaren. Can he produce the goods with his second complete car?
DC: Well, Adrian's fingerprint is on the design of cars that have won more than 100 Grands Prix. So he is more successful as an individual in F1 than Michael Schumacher, who only won around 90 Grands Prix. Of course it is not all down to Adrian, there is a large group of people that he has worked with in the past at Williams, Layton House and McLaren.
But you have got to have a leader in every organization and he clearly leads that department. So we are getting quicker, we are progressing and hopefully we will take another step this year. But this time of year it is always the same thing - we are always full of hope and (high) expectations, but you have to go out and deliver.
Q. Does Formula One miss Schumacher?
DC: I think life moves on. There will be people who do miss certain aspects of Michael. He was such a large part of my career and trying to beat him was obviously very difficult. To reminisce of my best championship year, I finished second, and I finished second to him. So if he had just never been born then maybe it could have been different!
But that is life. With Michael, you knew that he was one of the best, if not the best there has ever been, and if you were able to beat him then that was a big sense of achievement.
Q. Michael has been testing for Ferrari. Do you think there is any weight in the stories that he might come back?
DC: I understand that there is always speculation and rumours, and that is what in many ways fuels life. We are always trying to guess what is going to happen. Could he come back? He is fit and he is quick, there should be no surprises there. Would he come back? I don't see why he would if you have made the decision to stop.
He would not need to do it for financial reasons. He clearly achieved a great deal in his career, and he is in a luxurious position of being able to do pretty much whatever he wants to do. If he wants to go and have a little play in a Formula One car, he just phones up Ferrari and of he goes. If he wants to play football with the German squad, he probably can. I don't think he needs the attention.
What really surprised me was when he came back and tested at Barcelona, people were surprised he was quick. But he was in the world championship-winning car, and he is a multiple world champion. It is not like John Barnes in Strictly Come Dancing with a big fat belly trying to get back in the car.
It is only less than half the year that he last drove a Grand Prix car. You don't lose your inherent talent to drive. What happens to some drivers is that they lose the desire and the need to do it, and simply don't want to get back in the car.
Q. There are some big changes coming in 2008. Long life gearboxes, no traction control. You've seen it all in your career, where do you think we are at in terms of the level of technology and the way you are going to handle driving the cars, the technique?
DC: Well through the time I have been driving F1 cars there have been a lot of changes. I think I started testing in 1991 or 1992, so there were active cars, with traction control, ABS, slick tyres and lots of different gadgets. The only thing that has really remained the same during the time I have been in F1 has been the name. Everything else has changed - the grooved tyres, the narrow cars, the 2.4-litre V8s, obviously a lot of technology changes. You obviously adapt each year to what regulations give you.
In a lot of cases the cars are just as quick, if not quicker, on certain tracks that we have seen in the past, so even with the restrictions they are still the fastest cars around a closed circuit.
So the season ahead, I actually think the biggest difference is something that isn't really spoken about a great deal, which is engine braking. We have a device that helped release the rear axle if you locked the rear wheels under braking and this is a real driver aid. It enables you to be more consistent and make less mistakes, whereas traction control - you have an inbuilt traction control.
If the car gets sideways you know you are losing time so of course you lift. It is an instinctive thing to do, it is not a surprise for a driver to do that. So I think you will see very little difference on what happens for the racing because of traction control. But on (corner) entries you will see more mistakes and more cars running wide.
I don't think the tyre wear issue, although it will be higher, I don't think it will be such a limiting factor on performance. Bridgestone have won the championship already, there is no competition, so the tyre they provide us with is quite a hard tyre. And there was only a couple of races this year where the tyre was marginal. The rest of the time you could do two Grands Prix with a set of tyres.
Q. Do you think you will be at an advantage, having raced in Formula One without traction control? Some of the teenagers in F1 don't know any difference, do they?
DC: I don't think so. I think it is just something that is there, along for the ride. If you have spell check on your computer you use it, if you don't you do it the old fashion way - you use your brain or get the dictionary out. There is a misperception that the driver aids that were there mean that everyone can drive the car as quickly, or it makes it easier to drive the car. I think it makes it more consistent, but the quick guys are the quick guys irrespective of the technology that is there.
Q. There has been a lot of talk about racing in the wet without traction control, and the safety issues. You've been part of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) and safety is a big issue. Are we going to have problems if we have wet Grands Prix?
DC: Yeah. I think Fuji this year, you saw really difficult conditions and it was helped a great deal by us having traction control. This is something the other drivers understand, and I appreciate it may be difficult for the public who haven't driven cars in those conditions, but the worst thing that can happen is to hit standing water at high speed.
We have a step bottom below the car and this wooden plank, so it is a like a rudder effectively. If you have got a car running at 5mm or 6mm ride height or maybe even less, and if you hit water which is crossing the track at an angle, then this plank effectively turns the car. The contact patch you have with the tyre, it just fills up with water, so you become a captain of a ship rather than the driver of a car.
We have seen through the years, and anyone who has been watching F1 for a long time, if you go back to Adelaide when Ayrton Senna ran into the back of Martin Brundle and I think Nigel Mansell ploughed it into the wall. These are undoubtedly great drivers, so how can Senna run into the back of another car if he is such a talent. Well, because he couldn't see a thing.
It is important to emphasise that F1 cars are designed to run in dry conditions. If you have a rally car, if they compete in snow then they set them up for snow. If they are in the forests, they set them up for the forest stage. And if they race on tarmac, they set them up for tarmac. To take an F1 car, which is optimised for running in the dry and then put it out in monsoon conditions, then of course it is not optimized.
It is not that we are not up for the challenge, but I think we just need to appreciate that when you take away one of those driving aids that makes it a lot safer in those conditions, then you are going to potentially see big incidents and accidents, and I don't think anyone wants to see that.
What people want to see is great racing, and you do get that in the wet, but we need to let the safety director understand the conditions in which we can run.
Q. Some people would say tough. 'You are paid a lot of money, you are talented, shut up and get on with it'?
DC: Yeah, but what has money got to do with anything? It has no bearing on the fact of whether you can see where you are going, or whether a car aquaplanes off the circuit. Alonso crashed at Fuji and he had TC because he aquaplaned. Then you are just a passenger.
I understand it is difficult for people who don't drive these cars to know what it is like to sit there at 180mph with no visibility, and what you are trusting is that the other cars are also sitting there at 180mph. But if a car has spun on the track because he has aquaplaned and is in the middle of the track, then there is only one result if you crash in that situation, and I don't think we want to see that.
We want to have good racing because we want to put on a great show because we are very lucky to have the opportunity to go racing. And we do that whether we are paid or not. I had a long career before F1 when I earned nothing and I did it because I was passionate about racing.
I think that what we want is just to use the experience we have as drivers to help the people who are running races that pre-traction control and where we are today, a lot of things have changed and you've got to move with the times.
Q. There has to be an acceptable level of risk, doesn't there?
DC: Absolutely. If there is a race we will be out there and we will be doing it, but it is foolish to talk about how difficult or dangerous it is after the event. The thing to do is to talk about it before so we are all educated and can make some good decisions.
That way, the public and fans, I am a fan of the sport, then we can understand why decisions get made and be supportive of it, rather than what happened in America (in 2005) when we didn't race because of the tyre situation. That was bad for the sport because no one knew what was going on because it hadn't been communicated properly. If everyone knew before we went to America that there might be a problem, the you would be geared up for it. You would understand and be sympathetic towards it.
I am very conscious, and you probably see me saying this time to time, that as I am the oldest driver, it can be seen as 'the old boys are nervous about going out in those conditions', but talking in detail about the difficulty of Fuji-type races, I can assure you that the younger drivers who maybe haven't been quite so vocal to the public, in the drivers' meeting are extremely vocal about how difficult the conditions were, and how we got lucky and no one got hurt.
I say that partly to defend myself so you don't think, I'm old boy gone soft, but it is not just a view held by myself. It is held by every single driver, including the guy who won the race thought the conditions were unlike anything we experienced before.
Q. We have got a night race in 2008. What are your thoughts about that?
DC: I am completely relaxed about it, I am sure the FIA will come up with a set of criteria for how much light there has to be, and we'll just get on with it. It will be spoken about from now right through until we get to Singapore and it will be a good marketing tool for that Grand Prix.
But we drive through the tunnel at Monaco with lights, and I don't think you've ever heard a driver say that on their qualifying lap the most difficult part was the tunnel with the artificial lighting. A lot will be spoken and in the end it will be just another Grand Prix, but the background will be dark.
Q. How difficult was it sitting down and putting your life on paper for your book?
DC: Putting the book together itself was done over the course of six months or so, so it wasn't that bad. But it was very difficult to proof read it - and realise I can't say that or I can't tell that. I realised I had been open and honest to a point that I was just embarrassing myself, but I didn't want it to just be an Autocourse where said I went to this Grand Prix, qualified here and finished there.
For better or worse I wanted it to be a reflection of my journey from a wee village in Scotland through 14 years of Formula One. And hopefully if you've read it, it is as honest as you can be without getting yourself thrown in jail. It's upset some people, some family members and all the rest of it, but the truth hurts sometimes.
One of the things you've got to be able to do is reflect on some of the decisions you made in your life, and take responsibility for them. There are certain things I am not happy about what I did when I was younger on track and off track, but there you go. Those were the decisions I made at the time and you've got to learn from them and move forward.
I have actually just updated it, and I was proof reading the update because the time it came out was August, and at that point the world championship wasn't finished. There is a foreword by Ron Dennis, and I asked him in Bahrain if he would do it, because reading the book I had a real up and down relationship with him during my nine years at McLaren.
There is an underlying respect I have for Ron, and later in the year when I was getting closer to the publication date, I think he was busy with Alonso hating him and 100 million dollars fines and all that. So I didn't push him to get the foreword, and it actually arrived a week after the book went to publication.
So it is included in the paperback, which will be coming out soon. The best thing that has come out of doing the book is his foreword, it is fantastic. It really is good because he takes on the chin my criticisms, he takes it like a man, and acknowledges the relationship below the ups and downs. Even if you just flick through the foreword in a bookshop and don't buy the book, you will enjoy that.
That is one of the best things that came out of it. Nine years there was longer than any other relationship I've had in my life, so it is a big part of my life and it was great to see his take on our time together. It all sounds very romantic!
Q. How do you feel about Grands Prix moving to the far Eastern countries, and the British Grand Prix being under threat?
DC: There are always lots of rumours over the years about whether Silverstone would lose its place or not. To not have a British GP would be bizarre given that so much of the motorsport business is based in the UK - software and computers are based in Silicon Valley and everyone recognizes that. It is impossible to imagine not having a British race.
At the end of day F1 is a business and Mr. Ecclestone has developed the business in such a way that a lot of people have become financially successful and the viewing figures continue to grow and the track attendances appear to be stable.
But the main money is coming from the television money rather than spectators at the track, so that is a harsh reality of the business model but the popularity of F1 still appears to grow and as it grows these countries in the emerging markets will want to publicise themselves - and there is no better way to do that than F1.
In summary I hope we still have a British GP. I know they are looking at doing some changes to the track to improve the racing, and obviously other facilities have been improved over the years.
When I first went there in the late 1980s and early 1990s to watch the Grand Prix, I camped like a lot of you probably have done, and waddled around in the mud. I remember when I first started in Formula Ford, I remember washing my hair in the cold water in the toilets. It wasn't very glamorous, but I've upgraded to a motorhome since then so I'm a bit more comfortable.
Q. With Prodrive not making it into F1, and teams like Super Aguri and Toro Rosso being a B-team to the big manufacturers, as a driver would you rather have that extended competition, or is it something that doesn't really bother you?
DC: Competition is the main reason we are out there and doing it, so the more cars we have on the grid the better it is, for the viewers and more exciting for us. Whether it is a front running car coming up to lap you, if you are having a particularly bad weekend, or a slower car that you are coming up to pass, that is the excitement. It would be great if the F1 car was full and obviously there is room for another one or two teams.
Q. Over the Race of Champions weekend you said you were considering NASCAR after Formula One. Previous to that, you've always said that if you think about post-F1 then you are mentally prepared for retirement. What has changed?
DC: The modern reporting world that we live in, the websites and everything are under so much pressure to have something fresh that the headline is often quite different from the story. You may notice 'Button slams Honda', but when you actually read in there, he says we really need to hope the Honda car is quicker this year because we can't keep going on like this. The story is often different from the headline.
That story came from an ESPN journalist at the ROC, because some American drivers come over, and he was talking about NASCAR, saying that (Juan Pablo) Montoya is there, (Jacques) Villeneuve is there, Dario (Franchitti) is going there, so would I consider NASCAR in the future?
I could have said no, but that would have been a short answer, but I thought it was growing in popularity and seems to be something which is becoming more known outside of America, so never say never, but at the moment I am fully concentrated on Formula One.
So really I haven't changed anything. I don't know anyone in America, I have no intention of going out there. I am committed to driving in Formula One for the foreseeable future, so nothing really changed. I was just being polite to the American, but then he put it on his website and all the other websites pick it up and say I am thinking about NASCAR. I don't think about NASCAR, I think about other things!
Q. With the standard ECUs coming, and them being developed by McLaren, do you feel suspicious about that?
DC: For sure McLaren get an advantage because their software will talk to the new ECU in a seamless way, and it has been more difficult for other teams to get a Renault engine to talk to a McLaren ECU and then talk to the Red Bull software.
I am sure you've all seen it when you've tried to load new software on your computer, it is easy if it is Apple to Apple, but if it is Apple to something else then it is a bit more complicated - and that is what we all have to go through right now.
McLaren have really supported the teams very well in ensuring all the problems we have are dealt with very quickly, so of course it is a transitional part of the regulations. For sure McLaren get the advantage, but that is the business. If it had been Magneti Marelli then Ferrari would have got the advantage, or some other software provider. Someone is always going to win in these situations. Hopefully very quickly it will level out.
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