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Re: The All Time Greatest Williams Drivers
Posted by: mayhemfunkster
Date: 23/01/2014 21:03
From now on, reviews will probably be a shared effort. This one features a mass of Crusty-written analyisis and supporting info. So we bring you:

David Coulthard

Best WDC Finish for Williams: 3rd (1995)

Total Number of Races entered for Williams: 25 (P19)

Total Points: 63 (P14)

Best Result for Williams:1st (Portugal, 1995)

Debut: 1994 Spanish Grand Prix, Catalunya.

Head to Head Qualifying vs Team-mate

1994: 0/8 (Hill)
1995: 8/9 (Hill)

Head to Head Racing vs Team-mate

1994: 0/8 (Hill) (ouch!)
1995: 6/8 (Hill)

1994: 14/62 (Hill)
1995: 49/69 (Hill)

Nature of Arrival

As inaugural winner of the BRDC McLaren Autosport award in 1989, David Coulthard had been on the F1 radar for some time. His results in the lower formulae were steady rather than red hot, but he was well spoken of by those who worked with him and by 1993 his career was gaining momentum. He finished 3rd in the Formula 3000 championship, and was part of the driving team that won in the 1993 LeMans 24 hours (in a Jaguar XJ220C contesting the new GT class). He also landed a Williams-Renault test contract (paid the princely sum of £20,000 no less) and did much of the development of the Williams CVT transmission that was randomly banned during the year like so many F1 developments were at the time. His first test had actually been at Silverstone in 1992, part of a hap-hazard agreement with the team:

DC: ”I can remember having my first run and thinking 'Wow this is fantastic!' It led to a slightly bizarre informal testing agreement. It was informal in that there was no contract and no payment, and it was always explained to me that because of Elf having an association with the team, and them having a number of French drivers at the time, the French were always pushing for French drivers. But because I had always done well and had done well in Formula 3 at Monaco and that sort of thing, Williams were keen for me to carry on doing the testing”.

video: [url]


This role continued into 1994. Of course, the death of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix put the Williams team into a state of emergency. After contesting Monaco as a one-car entry (partly out of respect to Senna), Frank Williams initially approached Heinz-Harald Frentzen, then into his 4th GP weekend to take the drive, having impressed relative to Karl Wendingler and having matched Michael Schumacher in other categories, (Michael by this stage was making quite an impression on everyone). After Frentzen turned the drive down in order to honour his contract with Sauber, Coulthard was given the chance to make his Grand Prix debut at the Spanish Grand Prix. Although he would qualify 9th and retire, he suitably impressed the team to contest 8 Grands Prix, sharing the drive with one Nigel Mansell (who contested the races he could around his 1994 Newmann-Haas IndyCar programme).



Setting the Scene – Williams in 1994/5 incorporating “The Cars”

With a change in colour scheme, The fortunes of Williams changed for 1994 and the death of Ayrton Senna had far-reaching effects both for the sport, but also on how Williams engineered it's racing cars. The single biggest factor in the change was the banning of driver aids for 1994, this forced Williams (who had been using active suspension longest and had most to lose) to passively suspend their cars. It was quickly found that Williams aero concepts, that had been developed through FW14 and FW15, had become too peaky to run on a passivley suspended car. FW16 still bore a family resemblance to FW14 and I think Williams underestimated the effect that the loss of their stable underbody aero platform would have on the car overall. The car was reportedly very difficult to drive in the early races of 1994. Senna could drag a time of it using his talent and dogged determination, but Hill would struggle more with it:

Adrian Newey: “Having active suspension banned was a big setback to our 1994 programme. I have to admit that in designing the 1994 car I underestimated how important it was going to be to get a very broad ride-height map again. I think, having been away from passive cars for longer than anyone else, I disadvantaged us slightly. So when the FW16 first came out it was too ride-height sensitive, which made it very tricky to drive, even for someone of Ayrton's huge talent. It was very difficult to handle over a race distance”

Over the course of the year, FW16 was massaged and developed by Hill, Coulthard and Mansell (all respected testers), and probably towards the end of 1994 had become the fastest car of the year after all. However this was the first year since 1990 that Williams did not have the overall best car. Benetton's plucky Cosworth V8-powered B194 held that honour (even without trick ECUs). Only the brilliance of Senna could put the car on pole in the early races, yet even he was unable to manage the car's ill handling to the extent that he could outpace Schumacher over a full race distance. It was a difficult period of adjustment.

The deaths of 1994 forced the FIA to fundamentally change the formula for 1995, as much for actual safety advances as to be “seen” to react. Cockpits were lengthened, given higher cockpit sides, crash tests were increased several-fold in severity, engines were reduced to 3litres (without airboxes, though these were reinstated when the cars proved a bit asthmatic), wing dimensions reduced and a pronounced step in the underbody (including the 1994 plank) were all mandated. This forced most teams into clean sheet designs. Predictably Adrian Newey was right on the money with a new, modern concept that would be visible in Williams F1 cars until the end of 1998.

The FW17 had a high nose (pioneered by Tyrrell but made famous by Benetton), allowing more air across a single front wing to the new, less efficient, underbody. The car had a very laid-back driving position with high(er) cockpit sides and exposed steering wheel and drivers hands (unseen for a while in F1). The car had a new 6 speed transmission which would prove to be an Achilles heel for much of 1995, and a new 3.0L Renault V10 which was the class of the field. The only problem was Benetton had secured the same engine for Michael Schumacher's B195. Schumacher's talents, when combined with the Renault V10 and a reliable and reasonably quick (if decidedly pointy) car left Williams level-pegging at best with the boys from Enstone. Indeed, 1995 was to be a very different kind of championship.

It would be in this car that Coulthard would embark on his first full season of F1 racing. A season full of highs, lows, impressive pace and crawling to a halt retirements. As debut seasons go, it was...eventful.

High Point

His first win at the 1995 Portugese. Great start, dominated the race and reeled off his first victory like he had been doing it for years. This was the first sign of what DC was capable of “on his day”. It is said of many drivers that they were good on their day – but it should be mentioned that on his day, DC could beat the might of Schumacher and Ferrari in their pomp. That is no mean achievement, and one that is often lost on many observers. I think it should be remembered.

DC won the race comfortably, 7 seconds clear of Schumacher. In some ways, this win was reminiscent of Frentzen's victory over Michael in San Marino- beating the best driver in the world with a car only marginally faster, however, clouding the issue was the fact that Hill trailed home 22 seconds behind which begs the question, was this a better demonstration of speed and dominance from DC, or a disappointing effort from Hill? According to Newey, Hill wasn't the same driver in 1995 than in 1996.



Low Point

There were several, like spinning on the formation lap in Italy, but overall it has to be the famous sliding into the pitwall in Australia. He just went too quick, and carries it with good humor now, but it was a terribly embarrassing end to his Williams career at the time.



Race Analysis

1994 Spanish GP
Q 9/2 (Hill), +1.2 (gap always relative to teammate, not the pole-sitter)
R DNF/1 (Hill) (Electrics)
His career debut and getting up to speed, DC payed for his poor qualifying, spending most of the race running 6th, bottled up behind Alesi and Lehto before retiring with Electrical issues during his first pitstop. Unlucky- unimpressive.

1994 Canadian GP
Q 5/4 (Hill), +0.1
R 5/2 (Hill), +1 lap
Good qualifying relative to Hill, muddied by both qualifying a second behind Schumacher and Alesi. DC jumps Hill at the start to run impressively in front of his more experienced team leader in only his second race. Unable to pass Berger, DC defended strongly from Hill for 8 laps before honouring team orders to allow Hill through. Hill then put things in perspective by passing Berger and setting a race fastest lap some 1 second better than DC, finishing 2nd, a country mile up the road, but it was DC's first points and he had caught people's attention in what was still a very tricky handling car. DC cooked his tyres behind Berger and fell at one stage to 10th. Hill sounded off at DC after the race to which Coulthard told him to stop being so immature (!) Those opening laps were a tense affair as DC initially defended his place out of the hairpin. Hill was clearly not amused, and the relationship between them was tense after that- albeit civil.

Canadian GP 1994 Part 2

1994 British GP
Q7/1 (Hill), +1.3
R 5/1 (Hill) +1 LAP
Skipping the French GP, DC qualified miles behind Hill in 7th. He then stalled on the grid, putting him last. He picked his way through the field to finish 5th, albeit 1 lap down on Hill who won. Poor qualifying, and a fundamental error ruining his weekend, but his race pace was respectable- faster than the Ferraris and McLarens, and fought desperately hard harassing Alesi for 4th before his final pit stop which was great fun.

1994 German GP
Q 6/3 (Hill), +1.1
R DNF/8 (Hill) (Electrics)
Again, qualifying suggested DC was struggling to get up to speed compared to Hill. Squeezed on either-side at the start, DC was left with with a broken nose behind forced to pit, but set the fastest lap before another retirement, jammed in gear on lap 11. Unlucky because he had demonstrated very good race pace- a possible chance to shine robbed.

1994 Hungarian GP
Q 3/2 (Hill), +1.4
R DNF/2 (Hill) (Spun off)
A promising 3rd on the grid, yet the gap to his teammate makes you wonder where he would have started on the grid had the field been more competitive. Canada aside (where it looked increasingly likely that Hill had messed up, given his much superior race pace) DC was consistently over a second behind Hill in qualifying.

DC ran 3rd in the race, running a second a lap slower than Hill in 2nd before a poor out-lap saw him drop to 6th and get embroiled in everyone else's strategies. Finally up to 3rd a country-mile behind the leaders, DC spun out on lap 59 when under pressure from Brundle's McLaren. A promising weekend on the surface, but not team leader material by a long chalk and 4pts gone begging.

Hungarian GP 1994

DC shunt 1hr28 in.

1994 Belgian GP
Q 7/2 (Hill), +0.6
R 4/1 (Hill) +1m45 (5th on the road)
Wet qualifying, DC performed respectably on Saturday, before passing Irvine out of La Source at the start and Verstappen into Les Combes. Alesi's retirement and a mistake from Rubens put DC in 3rd. Impressively, DC kept up with Hill before passing him through the stops. Opening out a 4.2 second gap, this was reminiscent of Coulthard's performance the same track over Hakkinen in 1999. The team were clearly impressed by this.

Then, unseen, DC's rear wing started to fail- running askew, (he lost 3 seconds on one lap to Rubens so perhaps he had a brief off?) which allowed Hill to close to within a second. Hill then radioed the team to order DC to yield and was, incredibly- refused, to which I can imagine Hill was none too pleased about, what with a title on the line and a rookie showing him up (you can see the tension on Frank's face in the video)

The interesting thing here was Hill's contract option had yet to be taken up for 1995, whilst Mansell was considered a very likely signing. Hill had a world title on the line, whilst DC did not, and DC was clearly hampered with damage, so why was DC allowed to stay ahead? Perhaps the team were challenging Hill to get on and overtake his crippled rookie teammate? Perhaps Williams were considering DC over Hill for 1995? Or perhaps they just didn't like imposing team orders after the Reutemann incident in 1981? This was all curious stuff considering this was the first time DC looked a genuine match for Hill and this drive probably secured him a 1995 seat.

With all this radio dialogue going on, DC managed to set the fastest lap despite his wonky rear wing, leading for a lap during the stops until frustratingly, having to ease off and pitting for a precautionary check, perhaps a politically strategic move on Williams' part? Still, it dropped him to 4th, and after his stop, he was stuck in gear, which cost him more places and probably contributed to him ramming Blundell off to finish 5th on the road, 4th in classification. Considering Schumacher's disqualification, DC had probably been denied a cheeky debut victory, having earned 2nd on merit, though you have to wonder why, on a powerful track, Williams weren't able to give MS a harder time of it.


Well worth watching bits of this video- so many nuances lost on the season summary edits. I recommend skipping to:
16m: First lap
40m: Pitstop, DC pulling away from Hill, impressively.
1hr19: Wing concern, slowing, allowing Hill through, pitting, Patrick lying on the floor sticking his head under the wing and wobbling it before giving a forthright go ahead signal- which was entertaining in it's own right.
1hr29: Ramming Blundell

1994 Italian GP
Q 5/3 (Hill) +0.3
R 6/1 (Hill) (Out of Fuel)
Disappointingly behind Herbert's Lotus on a track Williams needed to make hay on, DC was swallowed up by the Herbert carnage at the start, spun around in the middle of the pack. At the restart, in Hill's car, DC followed Hill closely in 4th as Alesi hit trouble and Berger was leapfrogged in the pits. Leading the race for 3 laps, DC generously gifted Hill the lead to shadow Hill in a close second, Coulthard running out of fuel on the last corner of the race when running right behind Hill. He had a debut victory in the bag and gave the win away- not for the first time. Hugely impressive, dependent on your opinion of Hill, even if Alesi had them both beat.

1994 Italian GP

(apologies for the hesitant commentary- but the DC action is covered reasonably well)

1994 Portuguese GP
Q 3/2 (Hill) +0.3
R 2/1 (Hill) +0.6
Qualifying well, starting well, jumping Hill and running 2nd behind Berger, Gerhard's engine failed to allow DC into the lead- after which he pulled away from Hill. After the stops, a backmarker allowed Hill to catch DC and whistle up the inside into the chicane: which DC wasn't pleased about after the race, feeling it wasn't a safe attempt to pass his a teammate. After that, they circulated together to finish 1/2 to score DC's first ever podium- though by rights it should have been his 3rd. Another win gone? It's hard to say- Schuamcher had him beat in Belgium, Alesi in Monza and Hill caught him out in Portugal regardless of his speed, but MS was disqualified, Alesi retired, and DC would probably have had to give the win away anyway, so there were 3 wins on the cards for him.

DC was now operating at a very high level in his rookie year and this was a great note to go out on before relinquishing his seat to Mansell, but considering Berger out-qualified them both and was running ahead on a twisty track, or the fact that Frentzen got his Sauber as high as 3rd before DNF'ing, or that their main rival Michael Schumacher wasn't even at the race, then DC's drive starts to be put in perspective. He was driving the fastest car, and Hill struggled consistently from 1994-1996 in Portugal, so perhaps DC was really just doing what was necessary and not much more, as impressive as it looked.



A positive spell never the less and enough to secure him a Williams drive for 1995 after much misfortune.

1994 Season Summary
Coulthard spent a long time getting up to speed in a top car that was a long way clear of the rest (ruling out Schumacher's Benetton), whilst in qualifying, he never quite got there relative to Hill, losing out 8-0. Too often during his first 5 races, he made mistakes and looked much slower than Damon in a manner suggesting he really wasn't up to speed in F1. I struggle to find much sympathy because DC had been at the team , test driving regularly since 1992, and although the cars in 1994 were tricky to drive, it was the same for everyone. The margin between himself and Hill was huge, but it was mitigated by the field being pretty strung out. During the final 3 races he showed pace comparable, if not slightly faster than Hill as Hill set his sights on the championship, and Coulthard really stepped up a gear or two, but incredible misfortune denied DC a run of 3 podiums and quite possibly 3 wins as Schumacher was first disqualified, then banned. Would Frentzen have looked as equally capable of winning? a driver who was already up to speed right out of the box, in the perhaps less technically critical Sauber? Would he have been over a second behind Hill in those early races? Would he have eclipsed Hill for speed on tracks where he was impressing enormously in the Sauber? Or would he have struggled, technically to step up to the plate?

Who knows, but this promising pace in DC's final 3 races led to a curious legal tug-of-war as first McLaren offered him a firm race contract, to which, unsure of Willams' intentions DC signed, then Williams tried to enforce the conversion of his multi-year test contract into a multi-year race contract- which had to go to the contract recognition board. Ultimately, the CRB enforced the contract with Williams for 1995, whilst acknowledging DC's contract with McLaren for 1996- which meant that before the 1995 season had even started, DC knew he would be leaving Williams at the end of the season, come what may. Apparently, when Patrick Head fond out that he was challenging the multi-year contract, he stormed into Frank's office red necked and declared "you'll never drive for this team again" to which he later apologized.

In the midst of all this was Adrian Newey, who pushed hard for Frank to sign Mansell for 1995. Frank passed on his option to sign Mansell- perhaps due to DC's promise (he eclipsed Hill at times when Mansell had not), Hill's resolve at the end of 1994, or the simple fact that DC was cheaper and (initially) a better long term prospect, which is why I guess they were mad at him having signed something with McLaren.

Adrian Newey = "If Nigel had been in the car for the whole of 1995, I believe he would have won the championship. When he made a few guest appearances he showed great speed but not the stamina. I'd certainly pushed through the winter of 1994 to have Nigel in the car alongside
Damon. I have nothing against David of course, he's a great guy, but he wasn't very experienced and he wasn't going to win the championship in 1995"

With Newey frustrated, this incident would sow the seeds of discontent that would eventually see Newey leave Williams. Newey worked in an infamous clause to his new contract which allowed him a say regarding future driver decisions- something Frank Williams would not honour.

1995 Brazillian GP
Q 3/1 (Hill) +0.4
With a more tractable car, Williams looked the fastest team in Brazil, Hill outqualifying Schumacher with DC 3rd- who was starting to gain a reputation for poor qualifying. With DC suffering from tonsillitis Schumacher took the lead with Hill all over his gearbox as DC kept a close watching brief before falling away in a deliberate attempt to pace himself. With Hill leading and pulling away, his suspension failed leaving DC to pick up the baton. On a 2 stop strategy to Schumacher's 3, DC lost the race by 8 seconds, unable to lap fast enough despite driving the fastest car. It was the one that got away for Williams, despite DC equaling his best finish in F1. This race is likened to Frentzen's 2nd to Schumacher in France 1997, difference being here, Hill was plainly faster in the Williams whereas in France 1997, Villeneuve was a long way behind HHF with the Ferrari being the better package on the day.

1995 Brazillian GP Highlights

1995 Argentine GP
Q 1/2 (Hill) -0.8
R DNF/1 (Hill) (Electrics)
Responding well to criticisms about his qualifying, DC took pole by a large margin in soaking wet conditions. In a dry race, DC steamed ahead of Schumacher by 4 seconds before suddenly slowing with electric problems. It then righted itself, so he closed the 3s gap back up to Hill and Schumacher before both Williams drivers passed the Benetton by lap 16, only for DC's throttle problem to reoccur on lap 17. A crushing shame- he looked faster than Michael in admittedly, a faster car. A world class showing, very unlucky not to score a maiden win that he had earned on merit.

1995 Argentine GP

1995 San Marino GP
Q 3/4 (Hill) -0.1
R 4/1 (Hill) +52 seconds
An anticlimactic 3rd on the grid, ahead of Hill, yet both in a car they felt should have been on Pole. Both spent much of the race dicing with Alesi before Berger suffered a bad stop and Schumacher crashed out. With Hill leading, DC and Alesi were right on his gearbox contesting for the win on slightly lighter fuel. DC then pitted- then spun, damaging his front wing endplateend plate and losing 2 seconds a lap. He then banged wheels with Alesi trying to defend 2nd into Rivazza with Hill pulling away before being hit with a pit-lane speeding fine, training home a distant 4th. Alesi criticised DC harshly for his driving after the race, one which DC showed the pace, but not the temperament to win. A poor weekend.

1995 Spanish GP
Q 4/5 (Hill) -0.02
R DNF/4 (Gearbox)
Ahead of Hill on the grid for the 3rd time in a row, but shockingly, 0.8 seconds behind Schumacher, and 2 tenths behind the Ferraris, both struggling with balance and DC still suffering with tonsillitis. In the race, DC is confused by the green light- dropping to 7th before passing Irvine and Hakkinen, (nice!) and looking set for 3rd after Alesi's retirement. His gearbox then failed, costing him 4pts. Hill was on for 2nd before issues of his own. Unlucky, but unimpressive again, with Alesi, Berger and Schumacher all proving a handful despite driving slower cars. Shades of Boutsen and Patrese?

1995 Monaco GP
Q 3/1 (Hill) +1.1
R DNF/2 (Gearbox)
At this stage, this margin to Hill was unacceptable for DC even if if was his debut race at Monaco. In a car fast enough for Pole by 7 tenths, Hill was still no match for Michael over a race distance suffering with a faulty differential. As for DC, a start shunt with the two Ferraris put him in the spare car, before running 3rd, losing chunks of time to the lead two despite Hill's issues before retiring with gearbox trouble on lap 17- another 4pts gone, although frankly, he was not cutting the mustard- Alesi would have had him for breakfast and Hill's qualifying suggested the car was more than capable of contesting the win. Poor.



1995 Canadian GP
Q 3/2 (Hill) +0.1

Another track Schumacher excelled on, the Williams drivers looked second rate. In a wet sunday practice, both Williams spun complaining that the car was un-driveable. In the race, on a dry track with damp patches, Coulthard spun off under braking on a damp patch under the bridge when running in 3rd. As the race panned out, a possible win was on the cards with both drivers in-front hitting trouble, but DC was neither fast enough nor consistent enough to challenge for a win on merit, despite the car. When he wasn't suffering mechanical problems, he was crashing, or being too slow.

As an aside, how could a car that started the year handling well and rapidly now be un-driveable, and outpaced by the Benetton without DC and DH both coming in for criticisms for their development ability? I can understand Benetton improving in speed as they settled down with Renault, but underivable? A lack of technical leadership in the Williams stable perhaps? Or a case of both drivers being outpsyched by Michael in Spain and Monaco, and wilting under the pressure of the media, Frank, Patrick, and themselves? Food for thought. Either way, DC left Canada in 6th in drivers championship on a scant 9pts, with Schumacher on 34. In terms of outside "misfortune" Schumacher had lost a certain win in Canada with DC losing maybe 17pts over the course of the year. Which ever way you cut it, DC was unlucky, but not fast enough to take on Michael in a car that was, a lot of the time, blatantly faster, and other times, arguably under-represented by the drivers.

Canadian GP 1995 Coulthard Spin

1995 French GP
Q 3/1 (Hill) +0.7
R 3/2 (Hill) +31secs
DC's tonsils were gone, feeling better, but his Argentina form had not returned. Qualifying a long way behind Hill, it was worrying that he was behind Michael yet again on the grid against a car that Michael claimed was better in the races- whether that was down to car or driver is hard to be certain on. DC was (illegally) jumped by Rubens off the line to run in 4th, 8 seconds down on Hill. With Rubens pitting for his penalty, DC struggled on in 3rd with fast corner handling problems as Brundle's Ligier gave him a serious fight for 3rd on a 3 stop strategy- getting ahead in phases before hunting down and harassing DC for the podium. Competent, but lacklustre as Michael put his Benetton lightyears ahead, (well 1m02) and Hill 31secs clear. Ouch.

1995 British GP
Q 3/1 (Hill) +0.8
A repeat of the French grid, aero revisions introduced in France didn't appear to be suiting Coulthard as well as Hill, but once again, he was spared a poor grid position by the spread of the field to line up 3rd, a similar phenomenon to 1994. (For perspective, Frentzen lined up 0.8 seconds down on Villeneuve in Brazil 1997 and that put him 8th on the grid with the media in a frenzy, despite a dodgy roll bar. Frentzen was behind Villeneuve in qualifying generally by much smaller margins than Coulthard was to Hill)

In the race, a great start from Alesi trapped DC, Schumacher and Herbert behind him. Clearing Alesi in the stops, DC battled with Herbert before receiving a pit lane speeding penalty after his button had malfunctioned. Herbert didn't race him, so after Hill and Schuamcher collided, he took the lead briefly before finishing 3rd, which was probably no more than he deserved given the dominance of Hill and Schumacher, even if he was faster than Herbert and Alesi. still, it was spiriting seeing DC take the lead from Herbert at the British GP in the middle of a slump in form for DC. He seemed to be going backwards from his late 1994 performances.

1995 German GP
Q3/1 (Hill) +0.2
A much better showing. After Hill led and crashed out on lap 1, DC gamely hung on to Schumacher as the two outstripped the rest. He was unable to beat Michael, finishing 6 seconds down, but it was a respectable performance and for once, no errors or mechanical issues. Was that Williams faster though? That was the nagging doubt as DC looked unable to take the fight truly to Michael as Herbert finished 1m17secs down on DC in 4th. Was Michael better at tailoring a car to himself? Was he simply racing harder and more precisely? Or were Benetton a better overall team when it came to putting it all together for one man, giving Michael a better package to work with on the day? Whatever, DC wasn't able to get the better of Michael on a day Hill was able to get ahead, so although it was better from DC- it still wasn't good enough.

1995 Hungarian GP
Q 2/1 (Hill) +0.4
R 2/1 (Hill) +33secs
A repeat of Germany in many ways. On a track Williams looked more competitive on (the FW17 was better in the twisty stuff relative to the Benetton- a role reversal from 1994) Running 2nd, holding up Schumacher on over inflated tyres, DC sadly fell behind Michael in the stops and was left trailing a distant 3rd before MS retired, leaving him P2. A solid showing and a happy result for Williams, but where had his pace relative to Hill gone that we had seen in the final 3 races of 1994 or early 1995? 33 seconds behind Hill at the end, and losing out to Michael on a track Williams were clearly the best on was disappointing in the extreme- his 8th disappointing race in a row relative to what the best could have theoretically managed. This wasn't a driver capable of taking on Hill or MS consistently enough to be able to sustain a championship challenge, although to put it in perspective, since Belgium 1994 he was always performing at a respectable level when he wasn't pirouetting.

Coulthard was not going through a good spell, and this string of off-the pace races coincided with Frank arranging a test with Jacques Villeneuve at Silverstone in August, which impressed Frank enough to sign Villeneuve for two seasons, with Hill agreeing terms for 1996 shortly after. The fact that DC was on his way out for 1996 was largely a coincidence, as he had committed to a McLaren contract way back in 1994, but perhaps his team were now getting disenchanted with him, particularly with this new kid on the block hanging around. Newey was not involved in the decision to sign Jacques and was pretty annoyed about that fact, but not enough to quit,although in fairness to Frank, signing Jacques would prove to be a decent decision.

After DC's spin in Canada, he seemed to have changed his approach in order to ensure he landed solid results, which given his poor position in the championship, his hopeless mission in the WDC, and Williams desire for the WCC, made an awful lot of sense. But if he had consciously changed his approach- perhaps after a ticking off from Frank, it was a shame that came at a cost to his competitive edge as he now looked incapable of challenging for wins. In many ways, this reminds me of Rosberg, albeit under more scrutiny and pressure as a world title was at stake. Both seemed capable of great speed- DC perhaps, more consistently as it would pan out, but not without making too many errors, and neither he, nor Rosberg, nor Ralf Schumacher seemed able to consistently maximise their abilities without making errors, flitting from brilliantly fast, combative and fragile, to solid, slower, not quite on the edge, and submissive.

1995 Belgian GP
Q 5/8 (Hill) +1.5
R DNF/2 (Gearbox)

Wet qualifying was handled pretty well again by Coulthard, and further-more, he exploited his well-earned advantage over Hill and Schumacher to cut through the field in the dry, pressurising Hakkinen into spinning out from P4 on lap 2, Overtaking Berger into La Source on lap 4, Alesi retired on lap 4 with suspension trouble, leaving Coulthard to pass Herbert to take the lead on lap 6 into Les Combes as Herbert tried to defend the inside line without the same level of grip as DC and spun off.

With a 1.4 second lead on Hill, Coulthard, just as he did in 1994, started pulling away, building a 6.7 second lead and setting the ultimate fastest lap of the race, with both Williams on another planet from the rest in the dry before…retiring on lap 16 with another Gearbox failure. This was perhaps the 4th race of his career where he looked set for victory, faster than his teammate, leading, before hitting problems outside his control- be they political mechanical, or backmarkery. It was a superb race weekend and quite against the pattern of the mid-season. Fast, reliable, decisive, aggressive, exactly what I look for in a driver- for once, without making any error.

Belgian GP 1995
Race start, 8mins in.

Belgian GP 1995 Part 2

Belgian GP 1995 Part 3
DC retires, 4m30 in.

1995 Italian GP
Q1/4 (Hill) -1.4
R DNF/DNF (Spun off)
With his dander up after Belgium, DC qualified on pole by 0.5s from MS, a whopping 1.4s ahead of Hill. A pattern was developing in which he looked great on certain tracks- those being primarily, and almost exclusively- Belgium, Italy and Portugal, and a tad mediocre everywhere else. Sadly for DC, it went from the sublime to the ridiculous, spinning it all away on an oily patch on the parade lap and dragging dirt onto the track. This forced the race to be stopped as a crash occurred at the same corner, allowing DC to restart from pole in the spare.

On the restart, the oh so lucky DC pulled himself together with an excellent getaway, building a 3 second lead on Berger who in turn, eased ahead of Michael. But for the third occasion whilst leading in 1995, DC suffered a problem, this time a wheel bearing failure, spitting him into the gravel on lap 13, which I guess made it 37pts down the drain due to mechanical issues in 1995 alone. It was a stand out performance again and a bit crazy to think he had yet to win a race, for all his indiscretions.

Italian GP

1995 Portuguese GP
Q1/2 (Hill) -0.3
R 1/3 (Hill) -22s
Third time lucky for DC. On a track he enjoyed with a car that was fastest (Michael some 7 tenths down) DC took a lights to flag win, collecting fastest lap along the way as Hill got caught behind Michael and gambled on the wrong strategy at a track he rarely shone on. DC won by 7 seconds from MS to win his maiden GP victory, no errors this time, with a performance that was at least on a par with MS as the driver of the day, though according to Murray, that honour went to HHF, who climbed from last to 6th. What's a guy got to do to get recognition? This had been a brief period of dominance for DC during an otherwise disappointing season. but the sort of spell the team expected all the time, and not just in fits and starts.$T2eC16JHJGQE9noMZNFiBRO3%2BqZOWw~~60_35.JPG

1995 European GP
Q 1/2 (Hill) -0.2
Maintaining his strong run of form, DC took his 3rd successive Pole, before, incredibly, spinning off and stalling on his outlap to the grid. Resuming in Hill's spare, DC led the opening stint on a wet track on wets with MS and DH in close proximity before being overtaken by both after the stops as he began to suffer from oversteer on slicks. Despite an error strewn race, Hill looked much faster in race conditions, spinning off and dropping 9 seconds back, only to close up to 3.3seconds before crashing out for good. It was all DC could do to limp home 3rd, a poor showing in the best car, totally outclassed by Alesi and Schumacher as Williams felt disgruntled with both drivers- one driver error strewn, the other, too slow and unable to adjust to the conditions.

1995 Pacific GP
Q 1/2 (Hill) -0.2
R 2/3 (Hill) -34 seconds
Another race, another Pole, but after his poor mid-season, all this served to achieve was to raise questions about what he was doing earlier in the year, and give Hill's reputation a bit of a battering as neither seemed capable of being consistently fast across the whole 1995 season, or free of errors.

In the race, Alesi rocketed up to 2nd, but was slow, granting DC a 14s lead by lap 18. With Hill stuck behind Irvine for a lot of the race, Schuamcher outpitted them before embarking on a brilliant charge on a 3 stop strategy to DC's 2, closing up an 18s lead AND an extra pitstop to win by 15s in a rampant display of dominance, with admittedly revised suspension.

It was a solid P2 for DC, some 24s up the road from the delayed Hill, but with the win there on a plate, 2nd was a bitter pill to swallow. Could the Benetton really have found such a staggering advantage overnight? Or was Coulthard outpsyched by the obviously highly motivated Schumacher, chasing a win to underline his dominance and win the title in style? Williams admitted they were on the wrong strategy, but that couldn't have explained the whole picture. Whatever- Benetton looked- I repeat- looked- the faster car now.

1995 Japanese GP
Q 6/4 (Hill) +0.1
R DNF/DNF (Spin)
A decent qualifying effort on a tough track he was unfamiliar with, but both drivers over 1 second down on MS to the dismay of FW, despite the Benetton's revisions. Both spun on Saturday, before suffering truly calamitous races- which did much to destroy both driver's reputations in the eyes of FW.

As MS stormed away, a drying track afforded Alesi the opportunity to totally upstage the rest of the field before retiring, leaving Hill 2nd, DC 3rd, both some way adrift of MS. With Hill spinning, then pitting, then spinning some more, DC had a possibility of threatening Hill's 2nd place in the drivers championship- for all of 3 laps before making exactly the same error at exactly the same corner, ploughing through the gravel, only to recover back onto the track, before spinning off some more- this time for good as the gravel sprayed out from his sidepods, making the track hard to drive on. Outpaced by Hill, Schumacher, Alesi, outclassed, 0pts.



the spin is 2m50 in, but the commentary is very good and pertinent to Hill and Coulthard throughout the 9 minutes.

and just if you missed it….



I find Jonathan Palmer's comments interesting in the first video. In his opinion, the Williams was the best car, but that both drivers were good, but not quite of the same calibre as Schumacher, Alesi, and possibly even Hakkinen. I think DC was perhaps the 6th most useful man on grid across the 1995 season, even if you took out his unreliability, as too often he was either too slow, or making mistakes.

Adrian Newey = "The FW17 was, generally speaking, a bit quicker than the Benetton. But we just didn't get it together. Damon had got himself into a war of words…he came out the loser. He wasn't the driver in 1995 that he had been the previous year. David did a decent job but he was pretty inexperienced and kept making stupid mistakes. So 1995 was a very disappointing year because we had a car that was at least quick enough to win the world championship. We did have a few unreliability issues, but we also had drivers who didn't make the most of the car"

With DC already on his way out, FW made another approach to HHF regarding his availability for 1997. It would seem neither Hill nor Coulthard would feature in his long term plans...

1995 Australian GP
Q 2/1 (Hill) +0.1
R DNF/1 (Hill) (Pit lane accident)
Great qualifying at a new track, DC, keen to make up for his Japanese embarrassment improbably braved it out around the outside of Hill to take the lead in his final race for Williams- a testament to their differing levels of aggression in wheel to wheel situations perhaps? Or due to Hill's greater desire to avoid FW's ire by colliding with a teammate, as he was staying on for 1996, and DC was leaving?

1995 Australian GP Part 1

race start

Either way, both Williams absolutely streaked away of the rest, and when MS cleared the Ferrari's he was slowly dropped as well, despite being on the same strategy. If Benetton really had gained the advantage in the slower corners due to a new differential, there was no evidence of it here which makes you wonder what exactly was going on with the drivers at the Pacific GP and in Japan. It was days like this that made much of the 1995 look like an unsolvable riddle, yet with a shadow of doubt resting on both drivers as Williams' form seemed all over the place relative to Benetton.

1995 Australian GP Part 2

lap times and gaps early first stint.

DC and Hill looked closely matched, DC having had a strong end of the year relative to Hill, but he was behind Hill in the championship for a reason- he wasn't consistent enough, and that fact would be underlined when he ignominiously dumped the car into the pitlane wall as Murray almost loses his voice, with Hill soldiering on to win the race. It just wasn't good enough for DC- making critical mistakes on occasions where he had a great chance, and when those chances should really have been created more often.

Coulthard Crash

Nature of Departure

Thinking ahead as ever, Frank had tested Jacques Villeneuve at Silverstone in 1995, and frankly had been very impressed by the exploits of the young Franch-Canadian. Despite his pragmatic attitude, Frank has plenty of passion for F1 and the thought of unleashing a junior Villeneuve on F1 was too much to ignore. He was duly signed for 1996. Coulthard, as a promising Williams employee known to McLaren, was quickly snapped up on a big-money contract to partner Hakkinen at Woking. It was a fairly typical move for Ron Dennis, to sign Williams-blooded talent for more money. The relationship proved to be successful, with DC working alongside both Hakkinen and Raikkonen at the team until the end of 2004.


I was never a particular fan of DC, but it seemed to me he was very “Buttonesque” throughout his F1 career. Professional, polite and quick all the time – sometimes as quick as the very best. I think being forced to submit to Hakkinen in 1998 destroyed his head and this combined with his real-world limited self-belief (unlike drivers like Michael Schumacher), led him to lose confidence and become merely “good” as his career progressed.

During his time with Williams, he suffered by comparing well to Hill at a time when Damon was probably underrated and the FW17 in contrast was possibly overrated. For all the consensus, there were clearly times- though not all time- when the Benetton was plain faster in the races- a phenomenon that was evident again in 2002 when Montoya could score a string of poles, only to see both Ferraris eclipse him in the races, but the difference then was that Rubens was a lot closer to MS as a result of enjoying perhaps a little more support in a car that was less edgy, which diminished some of the awe in 2002 that Michael invited in 1995: it was clear that the Ferrari was better in race conditions, and that Montoya and Ralf were not simply doing a rubbish job in the races relative to Michael.

Coulthard was a good starter, a good overtaker (most of the time) and could fight with Hill and Schumacher a good period of the time. He was quite inexperienced during his baptism in 1994 and was suffering with fitness and even keeping the car on the track in his early races, but could still perform quite well against Hill given a fair crack of the whip.

How to summarise his greatness in terms of Williams F1? He was capable in difficult circumstances towards the end of 1994, and had an error-prone but promising first full year in 1995, including his first victory and 3rd in the Drivers Championship. He drove a car that was the fastest for at least half of the time he was racing for Williams, and showed the capacity to win on at least 6 occasions, denied due to unreliability or team orders, but that still wouldn't have been enough to have beaten Schumacher in the final standings, and that is without taking into account Hill and MS's misfortunes. Too often, though, Coulthard was not fast enough relative to Hill, not to mention Alesi, Schumacher etc, and he made too many mistakes, and whilst it is debatable whether Hill or Coulthard really aught to have won the drivers championship in the FW17, what isn't debatable is that both drivers made too many errors, and their pace was erratic, which cost Williams a constructors championship that should have been a dead certaintly versus a team putting all their support behind one man.

Including his contribution to Williams testing in 1992 and 1993, I would say he is greater than many on this list, but won't trouble the top in the final reckoning. Much like his F1 career in general. Perhaps the men to keep in mind are Frentzen, Ralf, Reutemann, Patrese, Boutsen when considering the job he did on-track.

P.S. Couldn't resist:

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