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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 07:35 GMT
Coulthard makes his point
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor

David Coulthard
Coulthard is doing everything he can to secure a Williams drive
In early November, David Coulthard would normally be happily ensconced on a tropical island somewhere, relaxing after a hard Formula One season.

But this year is different - Coulthard is looking for a job.

It is an unfamiliar and unpleasant situation for a man who has been Britain's leading F1 driver for much of the last decade, but McLaren's decision to sign Juan Pablo Montoya for 2005 has left him on the sidelines.

Coulthard, though, is not about to settle into a comfortable retirement.

There is still one competitive F1 drive available for next season following Williams' defeat in the battle for Jenson Button - and Coulthard is determined to get it.

"It isn't a financially-charged decision," Coulthard told BBC Sport in an exclusive interview, emphasising that he is after a fast racing car, not a big salary.

"I quite simply want the opportunity to show what I can do at a team outside the nine years I had at McLaren. I believe I can deliver."

The 34-year-old Scot is not the only driver in with a chance at Williams, but he is by far the best known. He is also convinced he is the best - and with good reason.

I can't deny I haven't been up with Kimi but that's not because I ran out of talent
David Coulthard
Coulthard's opponents appear to be the Jordan driver Nick Heidfeld, Williams test driver Antonio Pizzonia, and the British BAR test driver Anthony Davidson.

On the face of it, they are hardly rivals that should concern a man of Coulthard's record. But Williams, typically, seem not to be able to make up their minds.

Coulthard's biggest selling point is that only he of the three candidates is a proven winner.

He has won 13 Grands Prix and has been instrumental in developing McLaren's F1 cars throughout a period in which they, on balance, have been Ferrari's most consistent rivals.

On paper, he is just the man Williams need when their only confirmed driver for 2005 is Mark Webber, whose best result, for all his potential and talent, is fifth place in a Minardi.

But Williams can see negatives, too.

David Coulthard leads McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at the 2004 French Grand Prix
Coulthard has not always been behind Raikkonen this year
Coulthard has had a disappointing last season with McLaren, struggling particularly in qualifying in the second half of the year.

And in his nine years at McLaren, he has generally been beaten by his team-mates - Mika Hakkinen, the 1998 and 1999 world champion, and Kimi Raikkonen.

For Coulthard, though, the fact that he has been as close as he has been to men of such undoubted speed and talent is a good thing, not a bad one.

"I have been beaten by my team-mates, in key years," he admits. "But I've also beaten them. I finished in front of Mika twice in my time there, in 1997 and 2001, and in front of Kimi once, in 2002.

"It was just unfortunate that the three times I finished in front of them were in years when the team's competitiveness dropped."

It may also not be fair to focus on 2004 as the arbiter of Coulthard's potential.

All sports people go through ups and downs in their form
David Coulthard
He knew from the moment Montoya's signing was announced in November last year that he would be out of a drive at the end of 2004, which is hardly the ideal mind-set with which to approach a Grand Prix season.

"I can't deny I haven't been up with Kimi in the second half of the season," Coulthard said. "But that's not because I ran out of talent.

"You've got to be mentally and physically well prepared and that's very difficult to do in a position where you know you're not wanted.

"All sports people go through ups and downs in their form. But there are three fundamental questions that have to be asked.

"Do I still have the speed? The data would suggest 'yes'.

"Do I still have the desire? I can absolutely say I do.

"And do I still have the commitment?

David Coulthard celebrates winning the 2001 Austrian Grand Prix
Coulthard has won 12 races for McLaren, and 13 in all
"Well, not parking the car at somewhere like Spa, where I've rattled down the barriers at 190mph when the team are telling me to park the car, shows either a level of commitment or stupidity.

"In the cold light of day it's absolutely ludicrous to do that."

Coulthard will be 34 by the start of the 2005 F1 season, and undoubtedly has more of his career behind him than in front.

But that does not mean he would be the wrong man for the job.

Perhaps this writer should declare an interest here. I have known Coulthard for 12 years, like him enormously, and think he would be a loss to F1.

But it seems to me that he also has more going for him than Pizzonia or Heidfeld.

The safe option might be Pizzonia, but he was no more than adequate when he filled in for the injured Ralf Schumacher last season - and the team's competitiveness noticeably improved when Schumacher returned.

Pizzonia was also outpaced and psychologically undermined by Webber when they were team-mates at Jaguar, whereas Coulthard and the Australian are friends and would be happy to work together.

Williams technical director Patrick Head and team owner Frank Williams
Williams (right) and Head are agonising over their driver choice
If Heidfeld was better than Coulthard, then he would have replaced him at McLaren, for whom Heidfeld was a test driver for three years.

You can say that Coulthard has had his chance, that he has had 10 years in competitive cars with Williams and McLaren and not won a championship.

And you can say that Pizzonia and Heidfeld have talent and deserve a chance in a front-running car.

But Williams are a serious team who cannot afford to play safe or pander to nationality.

F1 is not about sentiment or fashion. It is about serious money and hard results, and for that you need the best driver you can get your hands on.

And for Williams that, without doubt, is David Coulthard.




SEE ALSO
Coulthard endures tough goodbye
24 Oct 04 |  Formula One
Coulthard keen to drive on
12 Aug 04 |  Motorsport
Webber to join Williams
28 Jul 04 |  Formula One


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