EXCLUSIVE: David Coulthard on DTM's future and F1 2018

We speak exclusively to ex-Formula 1 driver and Channel 4 F1 pundit David Coulthard, who gives his thoughts on the future on DTM following Mercedes' decision to pull out, the direction of this year's F1 title fight, and has his say on the current situation of his former teams McLaren, Red Bull and Williams.

DTM is returning to the UK this year at Brands Hatch, how big a coup do you think that is for the series and for the circuit as well?

 EXCLUSIVE: David Coulthard on DTM's future and F1 2018

We speak exclusively to ex-Formula 1 driver and Channel 4 F1 pundit David Coulthard, who gives his thoughts on the future on DTM following Mercedes' decision to pull out, the direction of this year's F1 title fight, and has his say on the current situation of his former teams McLaren, Red Bull and Williams.

DTM is returning to the UK this year at Brands Hatch, how big a coup do you think that is for the series and for the circuit as well?

DC: “I think it’s great and it’s something that when I was in DTM, I was keen to get on a more prominent UK channel, so at that time we got it on ITV4, which was not the main channel but I think it was a satellite channel and it just wasn’t getting the platform. You’ve got British drivers winning championships like Gary [Paffett] and Paul [di Resta]. I think it’s fast and exciting so from that point of view I was keen to see it coming back. I spoke to Gerhard [Berger, chairman of ITR, promoter of the DTM], got him to meet with Jonathan [Palmer] last year at the Hockenheim race and they agreed a deal. Not that I’ve got any skin in the game on that but I just think Briton has a great history in motorsport, Brands is a great track, Jonathan is a great promoter, these are great drivers and I like to see good racing. So it’s perfect."

How significant do you think it will be for DTM as well, perhaps a chance to also attract a new fanbase?

DC: “It is significant, but they should have been doing this 20 years ago and they would have had already a really strong fanbase. But for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. I still think, even though Mercedes are pulling out at the end of the year, there will be other manufacturers that come it, it will evolve, it will retain its fastest form of touring car racing, which is important. Like Formula 1, it changes regulations, the name remains the same but regs have changed significantly, but as long as F1 remains the fastest form of single-seater racing then I think it will have a fanbase. What we have to do on the UK is have it sustained where people can get used to the names, get used to the television coverage, be able to access that, and then want to come along and watch the event."

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DTM is at a crucial stage in its history, do you not see Mercedes leaving as being the beginning of the end for the series?

DC: “No I don’t, because it survived for many years with just Mercedes and Audi involved and then they got BMW to get back onboard. There are many great manufacturers, OK they may not have the history of Mercedes, but things change. Motorsport and marketing spend changes. Mercedes was taking a decision that Formula E represents a smaller investment for a very specific and targeted demographic, and it’s interesting that it’s not actually under the motorsport arm that its entering Formula E, it’s more the marketing arm because they see it as that. They are coming out of DTM right now but that’s not to say they won’t come back again in the future because although the way we use cars will change, in terms of youngsters appear less and less getting a driving licence, but for many people mobility is very important, and so is the brand. If DTM, in whatever name it has, continues to be the fastest form of touring car racing, I think you will see maybe Mercedes come back in the future and maybe other manufacturers getting involved."

Aston Martin has been linked for a possible DTM entry in 2020, do you think that's realistic? 

DC: "Yeah I do. I think what Gerhard is working on is making it more of a sort of silhouette type championship, so the base of the car will remain the same. Because we don’t actually see too much of that. If the racing is close and people can identify brands… Brands work in terms of people buying an Aston, or a BMW, or a Tesla over other brands because they feel some kind of brand affinity. Is the engineering actually any better in one or the other? I’m sure they are in some areas but they are all good at the end of the day. For me there’s no question that I’ve got an affiliation and a passion for Mercedes, AMG cars you can take them on the track and it will drive hard and then you can drive it back on the road. A lot of other cars that look good and go fast on the road, two laps on a race track and the brakes are burned out. Manufacturers need to have authentic marketing behind the products and I think touring cars enables them to do so."

Do you see parallels with the DTM/Mercedes story and with Ferrari’s F1 quit threats and the argument of F1 being bigger than Ferrari?

DC: “Well of course Formula 1 is bigger than Ferrari. If you look at tragedies like in 1994 when Ayrton Senna was killed, Roland Ratzenberger, Rubens Barrichello had his huge crash on the Friday, the sport… Ok the love might have declined slightly in Brazil because a lot of people were deeply passionate about Senna, but it is still a big motor racing country and F1 has continued to grow beyond the revenues F1 had at that time, so even if Ferrari pulled out, it doesn’t end. I respect Ferrari, I like Ferrari, I’ve never owned a Ferrari, I could but I don’t. There will be those who only buy Ferraris or only dream of Ferrari and for them they may lose some of their passion for the sport. But some go out, some come in and as long as you are connecting with your young audience and not just relying on your older audience I think it won’t be an issue.”

Moving onto F1, we’ve seen the title fight this season is on a knife-edge with momentum swinging between Mercedes and Ferrari. How do you see it ultimately shaping out?

DC: “I think its great isn’t it? They haven’t all been great races but there have been some great races given what F1 has been over the last few years. Ferrari have genuinely made improvements, that’s what I love about F1. Mercedes were dominant but as sure as you are dominant in any given period, your competitors will catch up. Because people move on, people lose creativity, people lose passion. It’s like any relationship - if anyone could maintain that excited energy of when you are dating versus when you have been married for a few years, then of course everyone would want that. But things evolve, things change. Ferrari have come up and put Mercedes under pressure and it’s really difficult to call who is going to win this championship, because it’s not just about individual car, engine, driver performance, there’s the Pirelli factor as well. Which car on those tyres, on that track, on that day in history, suddenly starts working. Not even the teams know that. That’s what I think makes it a bit more exciting."

What are your thoughts on the potential points format revamp (points on offer for the top 15 or entire race finishers). Do you think that could devalue the achievement?

DC: "Well I raced at a time where you got points for being in the top six, and I raced when it was 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Points make prizes in terms of constructors’ position and it’s not good from a marketing point of view with sponsors if you are small team trying to convince sponsors to come onboard and you have no points on the board. But in the end it’s not going to change the on-track result, so is it really a significant thing? They are not going to suddenly, because they put the points down, they are not going to take away the winning pot of money and distribute it all the way down, they will need to find the money somewhere else. Because why would the top teams, who are running a business, go ‘if we win a race we want to give some to the 20th placed car’. 

"F1 I think reflects every day life in many ways. Every day life isn’t fair despite us all wanting it to be fair. F1 isn’t fair. It’s a meritocracy based on not only who has got the money to spend but it’s about how to spend that money. If money was the only key to success Ferrari would have won every championship they’ve entered because they’ve always had more money. They haven’t because they haven’t always used that money effectively with the right people. It will always be about brain power, it’s not the name above the door, it’s the youngsters that come in with a fresh view and challenge things that the old establishment go ‘oh we can’t do that’. 

"Your generation go ‘why can’t we do that, have you thought of this’ and they go ‘oh shit, no we didn’t think of that’ because things move. The ability of teams being able to adapt is always going to be key. I respect all of the teams, its a huge commitment to put an F1 car on the track and I’d like it to be as sustainable as possible but nobody gives handouts in life and that’s the case in motor racing."

After another successful British GP with record attendances, how crucial is it for Liberty and F1 to ensure that not only the British GP remains on the calendar, but that it stays at Silverstone post-2019? 

DC: “Silverstone is the only usable track in Briton that can handle Formula 1. It’s a huge weekend, the weather played a part and everybody had a great time. I think it is important and I think they will find a solution. I’m confident it will be fine. The BRDC couldn’t continue with the contract because they were losing money and that’s not a business. Liberty can look at BRDC’s numbers and then work out what is the way that they can have revenue, maybe share some and get a bigger stake if it’s a very big grand prix. There’s many different ways to skin the cat."

On your former teams - Red Bull are switching to Honda engines for next season, do you think that’s the right move? 

DC: “I think given where they are in terms of the relationship with Renault, the uncertainty over what happens beyond 2020, I don’t see any downside for them. Renault have a great history in Formula 1 but whilst they try to built up their team to be a Renault-Renault world championship, are they really going to be happy to be winning in the back of a Red Bull? Nobody knows what the future holds but if you use all the same ingredients all the time you get the same cake. If you want a different outcome you’ve got to change something in the process.

"They’ve made that decision, they’ve got all the data they can possibly have from the sister team and it represents ultimately a decision that has been supported by Dietrich [Mateshitz]. I hope it returns success for them because they are a major player in Formula 1. A lot of people benefit from Red Bull’s investment and I don’t think anyone should underestimate mr Mateshitz’s ability to just switch everything off if he just doesn’t find it enjoyable anymore."

Do you think it’s a risk that had to be taken if they want to start winning titles again?

DC: “Yeah I think it’s less of a risk now that they have the information from Toro Rosso because when you are looking at sound analysis of your competitors, there’s unknowns that give you that data. With Toro Rosso they will know the top data, so they will know what power is travelling out to the wheels of the car and they’ll know what they’ve got from the Renault. No-one will know how the Renault will develop, no-one will know how the Honda will develop but you look at the development plans, you look at the budgets that have been spend and you assume that if continue along the profile that they have in the past, it will get you to a certain point."

 EXCLUSIVE: David Coulthard on DTM's future and F1 2018

Difficult times for both McLaren and Williams at the moment, how do you view their respective situations?

DC: “It’s very disappointing. Two great British teams that played a big part in my career, for them to be having the difficulties that they are. I feel the performance future is brighter for McLaren given that I believe that the momentum of that bigger group of companies and investors they have, it’s maybe not an infinite amount of money but I just feel that it’s so important for them that they will somehow be able to unleash the finance to put in place the structure that’s necessary to get people delivering. Clearly people have under-delivered of late. 

“For Williams, a smaller company, they need to run their business differently and therefore will they, in the business model they have, be able to be that aggressive and that risk-taking. The stories of people re-mortgaging their house to get on the race track, do people have that bravery now that maybe they had in the past, I don’t know. Times have changed but I think motor racing still thrives on energy and passion and commitment, beyond just a strategic and engineering base.”

For McLaren, is it case of when, rather than if they will recover from this slump? 

DC: “Yeah absolutely. McLaren will be back. You’ve got to feel somewhat for Eric Boullier because I didn’t see him design the car, I didn’t see him build the car, I didn’t see him drive the car. But yet he’s stood down because someone has to be the scapegoat. So the focus has to be on design, coloration with the race track, build and operation of the car. When you’ve got all those right, ideally you don’t need to have the best drivers to be in a winning situation. What tends to happen is if you have a great product the best drivers want to be in it and you are talking moments of great success like they’ve had in the past. They will need finance, they will need structure, and if they can bring all that together they will have success.”

Will Alonso stay? 

DC: “I hope he does but I’ve got to believe that it’s a fifty fifty at this stage of his career with what he would like to achieve. Are they going to be giving him a winning car next year? That’s possible but unlikely.”

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