Red Bull Racing can sense 'a great opportunity' in Formula 1 in 2009 with the raft of technical and aerodynamic changes sweeping the top flight - and that could even stretch as far as winning its first race, reckons David Coulthard.

The highly-experienced Scot - the fifth-most successful driver of all time in the sport in terms of points scored, with a staggering 535 to his name, beaten only by multiple world champions Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Fernando Alonso - hung up his helmet from active competition following the 2008 season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

He will remain a conspicuous part of the F1 paddock, however, by dint of his ongoing consultancy role with the Milton Keynes-based concern and his new commentating duties with the BBC. He is confident that in its fifth campaign in the highest echelon, RBR could finally be about to break the big time this year.

"We've spent a lot of extended time in the wind tunnel," the 37-year-old told Radio, describing pre-season preparations as 'very good' and his record-breaking replacement Sebastian Vettel as a 'great driver, great talent and, at the beginning of his career, [one with] so much potential'.

"Our car will be out later than some of the other cars, but that was just down to the fact that we spent more time trying to develop the package. It's a later start to the season, so I don't think that will affect the team too badly, and there's a real sense that this could be a great opportunity with all these regulation changes.

"They effectively won a grand prix last year, because of course it was Red Bull Technology that designed the car that Toro Rosso won the Italian Grand Prix with. We just need to do it under the Red Bull Racing banner now."

One man who assuredly will be winning races in 2009 is the sport's recently-crowned, youngest-ever world champion Lewis Hamilton, but Coulthard pointed out that in an era of such great upheaval, nothing can be taken for granted.

"He's a great driver in a great team, so it's a good basis on which to go racing," the Twynholm-born ace contended, "but the formula has changed significantly, so we have to see who has made the best interpretation of the rules.

"I think it's quite difficult to predict with all the new regulations, so I'm excited to see just exactly how that plays out."

Coulthard was also forthright on the plight of the embattled Honda outfit, which faces having to close the doors of its Brackley operation should a deal not soon be struck with a buyer. Regardless of Honda's fate, though, the 13-time grand prix-winner is optimistic that his friend, erstwhile rival and fellow Brit Jenson Button will not be on the sidelines for long.

"I can't judge that," he responded when asked as to how strong he believed the squad's chances are of being on the starting grid Down Under come the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of March. "They know how serious the various potential buyers are for the team. I think that anyone who is looking at Formula 1 with a longer term view has a great opportunity to come in with a serious manufacturer team in terms of the facilities that they have.

"It all comes down to whether they manage to offload that to someone or not, and if Jenson's not on the grid I think he will be very, very quickly thereafter, because he's a great talent and he deserves to be in Formula 1."

On the subject of his own absence from the grid, finally, Coulthard insists he is currently unperturbed, with his new son Dayton proving to be more than enough to keep him occupied for the time being. As for any potential return to racing in other categories in the years ahead, he confessed that he has 'an open mind on what the future may hold, so let's see'.

"It was my first Christmas as a father," he explained, "and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I love it; it surpassed whatever my expectations were. It's really wonderful.

"The reality is that this would always be a quiet period for driving, so the point I'll probably notice I'm no longer a grand prix driver of course is when I get to Melbourne."

by Russell Atkins

by Russell Atkins