David Coulthard has suggested that in hindsight, he might have hung up his F1 helmet too soon – as the 13-time grand prix-winner hinted that he may be tempted back into the cockpit for another crack at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours in the future.
The Scot walked away from the top flight at the end of his 2008 campaign with Red Bull Racing, following almost 250 starts that yielded no fewer than 535 points and 62 podium finishes – making him statistically the most successful British driver of all time, and the fourth-most successful driver in F1 history outright, behind only multiple world champions Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
His final season was far from his most glorious, however, with just a brace of points finishes, albeit one of them up on the rostrum with third place in the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal – and ahead of his home race at Silverstone mid-summer, the 38-year-old announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year, albeit remaining at the energy drinks-backed outfit as a consultant and occasional test driver.
Given RBR's outstanding success in 2009, however – with two victories for successor Sebastian Vettel – and in light of the ban on in-season testing taking the pressure off drivers to a certain extent and allowing for more relaxation and 'down time', Coulthard confessed that he had perhaps underestimated his physical capability to cope with what has become a less punishing schedule and as such had made his decision a touch too hastily.
Still, in his new role as a BBC
F1 pundit, he at least has the satisfaction of seeing all the development work he put in at the Milton Keynes-based squad paying off on-track this year, as Vettel and Mark Webber chase down runaway Brawn GP pace-setter Jenson Button for world championship glory.
“In such a high-pressure sport you have to be able to recover and come back and deliver each time,” he explained in an interview with Scotland's Daily Record
. “I questioned whether I still had the energy to do that. As it happens, the way the regulations changed, I almost certainly would have had the energy to handle a season.
“I felt that Red Bull had good alternatives, and that it would be better to recognise ahead of time than recognise after or be the last to know it was time to go.
“There are middle-grid teams that stay in the middle grid, but along with other people I helped influence the positive development of Red Bull and they've gone forward and progressed each year.”
The Twynholm-born ace – who also competed for Williams and McLaren-Mercedes over the course of his hugely successful 16-season career at the highest level – suggested, moreover, that a return to Le Mans is not beyond the realms of possibility. He previously entered the round-the-clock La Sarthe classic in the GT class with TWR Racing alongside 2009 winner David Brabham and sportscar veteran John Nielsen back in 1993, but the luckless trio found themselves disqualified after the chequered flag had fallen when their Jaguar XJ220 was found to be running with an illegal exhaust system.