Monday, June 23, 2008

Exclusive - Coulthard on Red Bull, Lewis, and weight loss

He may be the ‘elder statesman’ of Formula One racing, but David Coulthard’s recent performance in Montreal proved he still has the skills and the hunger to score unexpected podiums for Red Bull, only the second in their short history. We spoke to the Scot about the team’s chances of finishing fourth in the championship; about the pressure on the new generation of title contenders; and about the importance of staying slim…

Q: David, based on your season up until Montreal, many had already written you off. Last weekend you silenced your critics with a vengeance. How did that feel?
David Coulthard: It felt phenomenal. I am long enough in the sport to know that you are only as good as your last result - and if the previous six results didn’t look so good then of course I know that it was because of circumstance rather then a lack of pace or a lack of desire - quite the contrary. So to have such good pace in Canada, and to have a bit of luck on your side - even if those three cars had not crashed in the pit lane - I believe I had it to be seventh, which of course is not as good as a podium, but which would still be a strong result for where we are as a team, as we know that the two Ferraris, the two McLarens and the two BMWs are quicker. Normally you’re fighting over seventh position with Toyota, Honda and Williams. So, all of that said, I delivered - and it shuts people up for a few weeks!

Q: One of the first to congratulate you was Hollywood star Michael Douglas. And no doubt you had Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz on the phone…
DC: Getting Michael’s congratulations was the icing on the cake. I’ve known him for years. He’s a real race fan - and a very down-to-earth person when you consider what a big celebrity he is. And Dietrich, of course, is delighted with the podium result. In the end that is what Red Bull wants to do: they want to be up there fighting with the manufacturer teams.

Q: It was expected that BMW Sauber would start winning races, but to see a Red Bull on the podium was something of a surprise. Can you recap the crucial phases in your race?
DC: Well, I started with a full tank, so the question was who will be the last to stop in terms of making the one-stop-strategy work. We knew that in the previous six or seven years there had been 16 safety cars, so the chances were big that there would be a safety car. Now the crucial question was whether it would come before your stop or after. This time luck was on our side. When the safety car came out I knew that I was in good shape because everyone who was on two stops in the top ten had to make their stops. The next key thing was obviously seeing Rubens (Barrichello) pit and the moment he pitted I knew that I was in for a good result. The two stoppers had been upset by the safety car, all the one stoppers had stopped before me, so I had track position and the car behind was Rubens and the Toyotas - and they were one second slower than me. My fastest lap was only half a second away from Kimi’s (Raikkonen) time and very close to the BMWs. So the pace of the car was good, but on a day like that you also need a bit of luck!

Q: At the beginning of the season Dietrich Mateschitz was quoted as saying he expects Red Bull to finish fourth in the 2008 constructors’ championship. It caused a few smirks at the time, but after seven races you are indeed lying fourth. Surprised? And will it last?
DC: It’s surprising only in that we are competing against such well established teams: Honda, Toyota, Williams and, of course Renault. It is a very optimistic goal, but on the other hand it is realistic because if we as a team are going to be a serious team in the future we have to be moving forward each year. One thing I am particularly proud of is that when I joined he team it was the challenge of trying to take the team forward. I believed in Mr Mateschitz’s commitment financially to find the right people - and obviously I helped to bring in people like Adrian (Newey), and slowly but surely we have taken out those that don’t fit within the organization - and we are moving forward. It looks as if the team is building a solid foundation and that is especially satisfying as it shows that I influence the direction not only in the car but outside it as well. How long the fourth position will last? There is no reason why we should not be able to maintain that throughout the year. After seven races we’ve scored more points than Renault, Toyota, Honda and Williams. What we need to focus on is to have both cars continue to score points.

Q: Lately we have seen some unexpected driver errors from supposed title contenders. Is pressure taking its toll?
DC: I remember when I started my career, people used to say ‘wow, you are so calm’. The reality is that you are so calm because you don’t know anything - you just drive. I have said about Lewis (Hamilton) that he is a fantastic talent, but you don’t judge him on one season - you have to wait to see several seasons. Even when he wins in his first year you cannot say everything about his career. You need to see more because there is a big difference between winning when you’re not expected to, and winning - or taking the title - when you’re expected to win. Now he is expected to win and it is inevitable that when you are under the spotlight if you make a mistake people start to question why you did it. Pressure starts to build.

Q: Montreal is considered a pretty difficult track in many regards, so if you can do well there can you do well everywhere else this season? What do you expect for the next round at Magny-Cours, a distinctively different circuit?
DC: Magny-Cours is not the Formula One world’s favourite venue because of its location, but I like the track. I think it’s very challenging, it’s very smooth and it requires a car with good aero efficiency. I expect Ferrari to be very strong there and, of course, McLaren - and I am hoping that we can bring in a strong performance.

Q: The impression is that development has stalled slightly at several teams, perhaps as the focus moves to 2009. The Barcelona test is to make the cars fit for the French Grand Prix - any new parts or aero packages for the RB4?
DC: Well, I think a lot of teams are thinking already more towards next year, as in the case of Honda. Toyota took a step forward before the first Grand Prix and they’ve maintained that position. I think Williams have progressed, and Renault - especially at the Spanish Grand Prix. In the case of Red Bull I see a steady progression and that is encouraging. We will develop this car as long as we can - because we need to finish fourth in the constructor’s championship! That is why I am here testing to try and work on the balance. I have tested a new front wing. We will work with Renault on the engine to improve the driveability and do some software checks.

Q: What is the state of the 2009 car? It must be quite a challenge to simultaneously develop the current car and build a completely new one for next year...
DC: This is were the big teams get their advantage when you have such a significant change in regulations. If it’s an upgrade of the current regulations it is less challenging for the small teams, but now we have to develop KERS, we have to develop low downforce and we have to understand the influence of the slick tyres. So for sure teams like Ferrari or McLaren are able to invest more time earlier, but I hope that the skills of Adrian and Geoff (Willis) and the whole design team means that we don’t get stuck too far behind.

Q: In your autobiography ‘It is what it is’ you reveal that you suffered bulimia in your early years. At the beginning of this season we learnt that Robert Kubica - an already slender driver - had lost seven kilos. Is there pressure on drivers to be extra slim in order to give the engineers more flexibility with the car’s weight distribution?
DC: The weight of a driver is an issue. I have a very healthy weight now and I am lighter than (team mate) Mark (Webber) so therefore I don’t lose any advantage. But if I had a team mate who was 60 kilograms then he would have almost 20 kilograms (of ballast) that he could manoeuvre around the car. Obviously the teams have an issue packaging these 20 kilograms, but if they can package them it may be to their advantage. A lot of the teams now run a very forward weight distribution because of the tyres and the challenges that we have. Getting the weight far forward is the demand of the hour. But personally I am not thinking about any rapid weight loss!

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