Even in his darkest moment of disgrace, David Coulthard took a big step towards securing one of the most coveted Grand Prix drives for the 1995 season.
Lying a comfortable third to team-mate Damon Hill, the Scot’s world was suddenly turned upside down – or, more to the point, back to front as his – FW16B careered backwards off the circuit. His car was no longer under control, but his senses were, and for that reason it wasn’t only the armco upon which he made a big impression.
“He crashed out of the race at high speed in Hungary,” recalls Frank Williams. “He was disappointed. It was a heavy impact, and about a second after the car had stopped he came on the radio and said to the engineer, ‘I don’t really know what I did wrong then. I’ll think about it on the way back.’ Very cool.”
And cool he remained, even in the midst of a protracted close-season legal tussle for his services. From the moment the verdict was delivered in the Didcot team’s favour, the writing was on the wall, rather than on the contract, for Nigel Mansell. Why did Williams choose a 23 year-old in preference to a World Champion?
“That is something I will never discuss with anybody,” maintains Frank. “I’m sorry, but whatever I say will obviously offend Nigel, or the other way round. It was not an easy decision.”
But, for the remainder of the pit lane, it was an enviable one. Mansell offered proven ability; his rival, as Ayrton Senna had suggested earlier in the year after watching Coulthard test, offered a glimpse of the future.
”It was all the engineers who said he was going to be very good,” explains Williams. “And they were quite right. Obviously we’ve got a guy who is very fast, very cool, seems to have excellent car control, and a good head on his shoulders. He’s always got his brain working well for him. He’s young, so he should go a long way.”
In the process, as Williams Grand Prix Technical Director Patrick Head concedes, the sparks could fly: “Damon and David are so close in their performance; they are both mighty quick. Everybody relishes aggravation and controversy between the drivers but, at the same time, the situation within which it exists is exactly what you should want.
“If you have the sort of Hunt-Mass situation, where one driver proves that he is quicker than the other, you get a clear psychological number one and two, and you don’t get any aggravation. The only time you get aggravation is where you have two drivers who are literally taking points and racing closely.
“These days you just do not get too many of the ‘Wasn’t that great fun on the circuit,’ mentality! For the media that is lovely: that’s meat and drink.”
So far, courtesy of the new recruit’s rivalry with Hill, the contract wrangle, and the release of Mansell, the media has already enjoyed a veritable feast. What’s on the dessert menu? A championship ‘showdown’ would go down rather nicely.
“I hope David wins a race or two, and scores a lot of points,” says Williams. “I don’t think he expects to challenge for the title in what will really be his first season. That’s the sort of stuff dreams are made of, and there’s not much room for dreaming in Grand Prix racing.”
Perhaps not, but Coulthard’s meteoric rise to date illustrates that some dreams are worth pursuing…