I’ve never been a fan of David Coulthard. Not after that rain-soaked race at Spa in 1998 when Michael Schumacher drove his Ferrari into the back of Coulthard‘s McLaren Mercedes while lapping the Scotsman. The German had led comfortably and was poised to seize the championship lead after rival Hakkinen (Couldthard’s team mate) had crashed out. With three races left, it was looking as if Ferrari might break the drivers’ championship jinx after last winning it in 1979.
(When Murray Walker was still commentating, with Brundle assisting)
The crash proved pivotal. Even though Schumacher won the next race, Ferrari were eclipsed by Hakkinen and McLaren at the season-ender at Suzuka. It would take another two long years before Schumacher finally won with the scarlet team. Images of a livid Schumacher charging into the McLaren garage to remonstrate still live in infamy though the German quickly absolved Coulthard of any fault after initially accusing him of deliberately slowing to cause the crash.
Coulthard the spokesperson
The fact that Coulthard is still closely connected to Formula 1 is admirable (he drove his last F1 race for Red Bull Racing in 2008). Like Martin Brundle, he has established a name for himself in punditry and commentary. He is also a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz (since 2011), and was recently in Malaysia to help introduce the new C-Class coupe.
Brand ambassadorship is a tricky subject. More often than not, ambassadors are either limited by their own charisma or function mostly as glorified eye candy at the behest of brand owners. Not so in the case of David Coulthard, even if the square-jawed Scot did look dapper in that slim-fit sky blue blazer.
In the 10 minutes or so when given the opportunity to talk about Mercedes-Benz and fielding questions from the members of the media, Coulthard not only connected with the audience, more importantly he was humble, authentic and believable. In that short span of time, he also revealed that:
1) While he wasn’t born in a Mercedes-Benz, his mother was rushed to a hospital in one, and he ‘arrived’ on a stretcher with wheels; so you could say he was born with wheels
2) He owns a Mercedes-Benz 280SL of 1971 vintage (the year he was born), and he intends to pass it on to his son though he’s not sure if the gift will be appreciated
3) His daily driver is a C63 AMG saloon. For family duties, it’ll be the GLS three-row SUV (not sold in Malaysia)
4) He lives in the principality of Monaco and sends his seven-year-old son to school in a modest Smart car (instantly connecting himself with parents in the room)
5) He wouldn’t climb Mount Everest alone as he would not be able to find anyone to ‘high-five’ with when he reaches the top
Let’s see how good he is…
Posing tough questions is a ply of the trade. So when the gentleman sitting next to me (who goes by the name Daryl) suggested that we ask Coulthard about his thoughts on Hamilton and Rosberg taking each other (and Mercedes-AMG) out at the Spanish GP, I reckoned Coulthard would be earning his appearance fee for the day, though it could also be the last Mercedes-Benz event we’d ever get invited to, judging from the dagger stares of a few Mercedes-Benz executives present.
Coulthard didn’t flinch one bit. He explained that the coming together between Hamilton and Rosberg, while unfortunate, is very much part of racing, and that even he and Hakkinen (who were amicable team-mates) ran into each other twice during their days at McLaren Mercedes. More importantly, according to Coulthard, Mercedes-AMG is a team that treat their drivers equally and will always allow them to race each other on the track simply because that is the only way they can improve themselves and stay ahead of rivals.
I could see Mercedes-Benz execs nodding their heads in unison, there might even have been a few quiet fist pumps. And almost 18 years after that fateful race at Spa, David Coulthard has just won over a new fan. Isn’t that what brand ambassadorship’s all about?
(Watch this interview of Coulthard by Mario Muth)