Coulthard says F1 teams must upgrade to challenge champions Red Bull
The 13-time F1 race winner hails Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen, urges Mercedes and Ferrari to raise the performances of their cars to compete this season
Seated in front of the RB7, Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 Formula One title-winning car, David Coulthard turned back the clock. The 13-time retired F1 race winner reminisced burning the rubber in the company of some "really strong teammates", the likes of Damon Hill and the "winning machine Finns" Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren.
Asked who among the current lot the 51-year-old would like to race alongside, Coulthard picked Red Bull’s F1 champion Max Verstappen.
“Not because I think I could beat him, but I've always wanted to compare myself from the best, not hide from the best,” Coulthard, back in Mumbai after 14 years for the Red Bull Showrun where he will drive the RB7 along the streets of Bandra on Sunday, said. “I admire success. I admire commitment. I admire work ethic.”
Traits which the Scotland-born Brit believes have been instrumental in the Dutch driver being the two-time champion. Verstappen, 25, has motorsport in his family; his father was an F1 driver and mother was into karting. “But he wasn't gifted a route into F1. He had to slog it out," Coulthard said.
“He's worked so hard in his early career. And time and again he’s shown that he's got that fighting spirit, that he is not frightened by any competitor. His work ethic on the track, along with natural talent, has given him an edge over a lot of his competitors.”
It also gave Red Bull their first constructors’ title since 2014 last season, ending an eight-year dominance of Mercedes. As the 1-2 sweep for Red Bull by Verstappen and Sergio Perez at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix showed, their success in the last two seasons promise to extend into this season. Coulthard, who drove for Red Bull from 2005-08, reckoned it may not be a one-team cruise if the rivals step up in their backroom work.
“You could see in Bahrain that Ferrari were a bit quicker on the straights. When it came to qualifying, the pole position went to Red Bull. Maybe on a circuit like Spa that would be different because there are longer straights. The gap between the fastest car and the one that finished third was very little in qualifying. It was bigger in the race.
“What can the other teams do? Use that analysis to understand where they need to focus, and then unleash their creative brainpower from their design office. There's no magic. There's no secrets.”
It’s an issue Mercedes are desperate to resolve. Their struggles with the car came to the fore again in Bahrain and a frustrated Lewis Hamilton said his inputs were not considered for the 2023 engine. Coulthard felt the recent lull of the likes of Hamilton—the seven-time world champion did not win a race in 2022—and Fernando Alonso only reiterates who has the upper hand in the man versus machine tussle.
“The most important thing is the car, because without a great car, a great design team, no matter who you are as a driver you'll not win a Grand Prix,” he said. “Maybe Lewis is an example of that. Alonso, a great champion of the past, hasn't won a Grand Prix for a while. And then the driver makes a difference. In Red Bull, Sergio Perez is a very talented driver, but there are record books which tell us that he lacks that half a tenth, or whatever number it is, that Max has. The same way I lacked that half a tenth relative to Mika and Kimi. Facts don't lie.”