The latest Formula 1 rumour mill is suggesting that David Coulthard - set to retire at the end of the 2008 season in the top flight - could now vacate his seat considerably earlier than that.

The experienced Scot announced ahead of his home race at Silverstone back in July that he would be bringing down the curtain on his 15-year career in the uppermost echelon at the end of the current campaign. Given his struggles this year, however - scoring just once, courtesy of a strong run to third place and the bottom step of the rostrum in Montreal three months ago - it has now been mooted that he could in fact make way for his replacement Sebastian Vettel rather sooner.

Coulthard has been out-qualified by team-mate Mark Webber on all but one occasion thus far in 2008 - on the latter's home turf in Melbourne, when the Aussie was afflicted by brake problems - and has made the top ten on the starting grid just five times, dropping out in Q1 in a further three grands prix.

Paddock whispers are now suggesting that, with junior Red Bull concern Scuderia Toro Rosso ramping up its search for a new driver to replace Vettel [see separate story - click here], the young German could be parachuted into Coulthard's place as soon as the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in just over a week's time.

That would enable STR to spend the last five races of the season evaluating potential prospects for 2009 - with the small Faenza-based squad confirming that both Takuma Sato and S?bastien Buemi will test for the team next month, and persistent speculation that Bruno Senna is high up on Gerhard Berger's shopping list refusing to go away.

Coulthard, meanwhile, has admitted that the Ferrari engine in the back of STR's STR3 is currently handing the team an advantage over its parent outfit, as RBR's Renault powerplant continues to struggle to keep up the development pace of its rivals.

In the European Grand Prix in Valencia a fortnight ago, both STRs comfortably out-qualified both RBRs, and the 13-time grand prix winner wrote in his latest column for ITV that the R?gie's current 2.4 litre unit is inferior to that of Maranello 'in both the power and driveability stakes'.

"That's something that we're aware of, Renault is aware of and we're trying to work through," the 37-year-old insisted.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, though, has recently pointed out that many of the Milton Keynes-based concern's woes are tyre-related [see separate story - click here], and Vettel similarly reckons that Ferrari's purported 30 horsepower advantage over Renault is too simplistic an explanation.

"I think the way you set up the car can make a huge difference for straight-line speeds," the 21-year-old told Speed TV. "It's a bit more complicated than it looks."

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