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David Coulthard to retire from F1

British Red Bull driver David Coulthard has announced he will retire from Formula One racing at the end of the season.

The 37-year-old Scot, who is currently 12th in the Drivers’ Championship with six points, told of his decision ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which will be his 237th start.

Coulthard made his debut with the Williams team in 1994 before joining McLaren two years later. He remained with them for nine years before switching to Red Bull in 2005.

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Lewis Hamilton pole position in US GP

Lewis Hamilton has snatched pole position for the second week in succession.

Fernando Alonso at first dominated the United States Grand Prix practice and qualifying sessions until Hamilton made his late move with awesome ease.


Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren

Hamilton produced two flying laps at the death to take front spot on the grid for this afternoon’s race.

“I knew Fernando would go for it on his last lap and I’m surprised he didn’t go quicker,” said the young Hertfordshire driver after finishing 0.2sec ahead of the Spaniard.

“I really thought Fernando would get pole here. He has been quicker all weekend. My last two laps were spot-on, though — perfect. Getting my second pole was even better than last week and it’s great to see so many British flags.”

Alonso replied, “Being on top in practice makes me confident for the race. I have the pace. I still think I’m in a strong position.”

There was some confusion after Hamilton changed his Mercedes engine, but he will not suffer a grid penalty as it was fitted before final practice.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa will start third alongside team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

David Coulthard is in 11th spot for Red Bull, two places ahead of Honda’s Jenson Button.

This circuit is not Alonso’s favourite track. The best he has come here is 5th. Nevertheless, his pace in practice suggests he will be hard to beat this time.

If anyone can do it, though, you’d back Lewis Hamilton, who is beginning to take on the same mantle of near-invincibilty once held by Ayton Senna — perhaps the greatest of them all.

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The Red Bull Charge

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Bahrain was David Coulthard’s drive through the field to seventh before having to retire the car. Add to that Mark Webber’s unexpectedly high qualifying positions in the Red Bull RB3 so far and one begins to suspect that Adrian Newey’s design is a lot better than it looked in pre-season testing.

DC

David Coulthard in the office

At this moment, the Red Bull are the most interesting of all the teams. We are becoming used to Ferrari and McLaren being at the front with BMW just behind them, but Red Bull are currently the most likely to emerge from the tussle behind the leaders and become a front-running outfit. The car gets better all the time and the team’s intention is to solve their niggling reliability problems during the break before Barcelona. If they can do that, they could be amongst the top teams for the rest of the season.

Now Red Bull’s oft-criticized choice of drivers does not look at all bad. Webber is wringing the utmost from the car in qualifying and is always good in the race; Coulthard is playing his usual game of disaster in qualifying but magnificent performances from the back of the grid. Don’t write off the old guys just yet!

The big question mark remains on reliability – but, if you’re going to have a weakness, this is more desirable than the mystifying handling difficulties being experienced by Honda. At least if something breaks, you can tell immediately what it is and find a fix before the next race; Honda, however, can only try a range of solutions to see what works and what doesn’t. Consider how worried BMW were about their gearbox failures in testing and how they have managed to find a solution.

So I see Red Bull becoming the fourth contender for podiums by mid-season. And, if that turns out to be true, we may have to watch Toro Rosso as well. Whatever excuses are given, the fact remains that their car is an RB3 clone and it has the same potential therefore. Should the team share in the knowledge gained by their parent team, the TRs too could become a whole lot more competitive, perhaps even running with Webber and Coulthard.

Which could be a lot of fun, too, considering the drivers involved; one team of experienced veterans and the other composed of young bloods eager to prove their worth. None of them will be champion this year, but they might score enough points to have some influence on the championship race. Considering how close that race is at the moment, a few points lost here and there to drivers coming through from the midfield could easily be the deciding factor in where the championship ends up.

Yes, I hope Red Bull solve their reliability problem – that would be one more factor to take into account in the resolution of this brilliant season.

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The Perfect Second

Mention of Riccardo Patrese yesterday reminds me of a quality that he developed in the later part of his career; in his era, he was the ideal second driver. Much fuss is made of a driver’s chances of becoming World Champion and we tend to disregard anyone who will obviously never make it. Yet, from a team point of view, it makes a lot of sense to have a clear number one backed up by a solid number two driver. And good second drivers are even less common than potential champions.

Patrese

Riccardo Patrese

Time and again in history we have seen the weakness of the “two number ones” strategy – they tend to push each other off, take points away from each other and end up squabbling over the amount of support each is given by the team. Much better is to have a stated number one backed by a sound, honest and capable number two.

I am not talking about the Michael Schumacher type of arrangement, where the second driver is not only expected to take points from the competition but also to sacrifice his position to the number one when necessary. That is where the honesty bit comes in – any driver needs some form of incentive and the possibility of beating the number one in a fair fight should always be left available.

The ideal second driver is capable of adding regularly to the team’s points score and moving up to the number one’s position should he drop out. Usually, the second is an experienced driver who has come close to beating everyone on occasion but now recognizes that he lacks that final edge of genius that belongs to the champion. Yet that does not deter him – love for the sport keeps him in the game and he becomes a real asset to any team, sharing his knowledge with the other driver and steadily racking up the points.

This was Patrese in the second half of his career. In his youth, he had been a little wild and was often accused (sometimes unjustly) of causing accidents. As time went on, however, he settled down and became a solid, dependable veteran, unlikely to win but always giving his best and a valuable yardstick to the performance of others as a result. It is no wonder that he lasted in F1 for so long.

Looking at today’s crop, now that Mickey the Shoe has gone, it is not immediately apparent that there are any perfect number twos around – or it would be so if David Coulthard had not kept popping into my mind as I wrote this. He has all the necessary ingredients and it remains only to be seen how he will react if Mark Webber starts to beat him consistently. I suspect that he will cope with it and continue to give honestly of his best, remaining an indispensible part of the Red Bull team, but only time will tell.

So few drivers manage to deal with such situations. Jacques Villeneuve went off in a huff at the mere suggestion, Webber himself found it intolerable that his employer seemed to put more faith in his rookie teammate at Williams, Barrichello struggles to prove that his Ferrari years have not broken him; all very understandable, since everyone comes to F1 with high hopes and rightly so.

But real character and maturity is shown by the man who learns his limits and comes to terms with them. And that is why perfect number twos are so rare. It’s a sport for huge ambitions, unassailable egos and belief in one’s own superiority. When time has eroded those youthful dreams, few are able to see that they still have much to offer.

But the wise team manager will grab such a driver and put him with their new hotshoe discovery, knowing that this is the sure road to success.

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