When Coulthard escaped a plane crash, then scored a podium

The 2000 Spanish Grand Prix was a resounding 1-2 finish for McLaren, as it bounced back from a Ferrari-dominated start to the season to get Mika Hakkinen’s title defense back on track. But the bravery of David Coulthard, to not only take part so soon after a near-death experience but to finish second, was the real talking point of the weekend.

When Coulthard escaped a plane crash, then scored a podium

Just a week after beating Hakkinen to victory at Silverstone, teammate Coulthard was on board a chartered LearJet when it suffered an engine failure en route to Nice.

While making an emergency landing at Lyon, the plane crashed, killing the two pilots. Coulthard’s girlfriend, the fashion model Heidi Wichlinski, and his personal trainer Andy Matthews were able to escape the wreckage. Coulthard returned to the plane, “to see if I could do anything for the pilots, but there was nothing I could do to help.”

Following hospital checks, and a consultation with F1 doctor Prof. Sid Watkins when he arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya, Coulthard was cleared to race in Barcelona. But, ahead of the race, he told ITV’s Martin Brundle that the tragic accident just days previously had affected him.

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15

Photo by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

David Coulthard, McLaren speaks to the media

David Coulthard, McLaren speaks to the media

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“You can’t have a situation like that which brings you so close to the realities of how fragile we are on this earth and not change in some way,” he said. “I have an increased sense of how lucky I am, how lucky I am in my life and what I have. I don’t live in the real world being a grand prix driver. It’s made me realise the importance of family and friends.

“I felt focused before, but I feel a renewed focus and a renewed determination to get out as much of every day as possible.”

Asked if he had encountered any physical problems in practice, he said: “No, not really, I’ve got a few little bruises but that is not going to affect the way I can drive the car. Obviously I expect to be a little more sore on Sunday evening than in a normal grand prix, because I’m starting in slightly worse physical condition. But from my first lap on Friday, I was quick and focused and thinking about how much I can get out of the car.”

Read Also:

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes

Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes

Photo by: Motorsport Images

In qualifying, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher claimed his first pole position of the year by just 0.078s from Hakkinen, with their respective teammates Rubens Barrichello and Coulthard sharing the second row.

“It was very close today,” admitted Schumacher. “Certainly it is nice to be on pole position for the first time this season. I was not completely happy with the car, even though I had a clean run, so we made some adjustments but they did not work out the way I wanted.

“As for the race, the start will be important because it is easier to plan your tactics and control it in the lead. But we have proved this season we can also win from behind.”

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000, David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, at the start

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000, David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, at the start

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000, Jacques Villeneuve, BAR 002 Honda, Jarno Trulli, Jordan EJ10 Mugen-Honda, at the start

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000, Jacques Villeneuve, BAR 002 Honda, Jarno Trulli, Jordan EJ10 Mugen-Honda, at the start

Photo by: Motorsport Images

At the start, Hakkinen made the better getaway, but Schumacher chopped across him to hold the lead, with a fast-starting Ralf Schumacher sprinting up to third in his Williams.

Leader Schumacher’s race was going to plan until his first pitstop on lap 24. Refueller Nigel Stepney was still engaged with the car when Schumacher was released by the 'lollipop' holder, and although Stepney managed to hurriedly disengage the rig, Schumacher ran over him with his right-rear wheel, breaking Stepney’s ankle. Despite this, Schumacher continued to lead.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1-2000, leads Mika Häkkinen, McLaren MP4-15 Mercedes

Photo by: Motorsport Images

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15, pit stop

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4-15, pit stop

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Coulthard also suffered a poor first pitstop, dropping back to fifth position after pulling away in second gear instead of first. But Schumacher’s race went from bad to worse in his second stop, as the reserve refueller struggled to get the hose attached, and he lost 10s. 

A fired-up Coulthard was on a charge and caught Schumacher. After one aborted attempt to pass when Schumacher chopped him – “incredibly close and not entirely fair,” complained Coulthard – the Scot then pulled off a brilliant pass around the outside going into Turn 1 a lap later.

A struggling Michael, who had a slow puncture, then came under pressure from brother Ralf but, in a controversial move, he ran him wide in a corner to allow Barrichello past both of them. “All I can say is that racing is racing,” said Michael. Ralf refused to comment.

Mika Häkkinen, Mclarens MP4-15 leads Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22

Mika Häkkinen, Mclarens MP4-15 leads Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22

Photo by: Sutton Images

Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, leads Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000

Ralf Schumacher, Williams FW22 BMW, leads Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari F1-2000

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Hakkinen cruised to the finish to score his first win of the season, 16s clear of an aching but happy Coulthard at the conclusion of his dramatic week, with Barrichello third ahead of a silently fuming Ralf Schumacher.

“I can’t really find the words to explain how happy and relieved I am to have claimed my first victory this season,” said Hakkinen. “We have been so close before but today was the day and the team did a fantastic job. My start from second wasn’t ideal, despite having a lot of traction I didn’t get the clutch to bite properly. Fortunately Schumacher didn’t make a great start either, so we were side by side coming into the first corner. In the end I had to give way because I was on the outside. 

“Schumacher managed to pull away during the first couple of laps but when his tyres started to go off I was able to catch him and could start putting him under pressure. The team did a great job in the second pitstop so I was able to take the lead.”

Race winner Mika Hakkinen, McLaren and Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari on the podium

Race winner Mika Hakkinen, McLaren and Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari on the podium

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Podium: race winner Mika Hakkinen, second place David Coulthard

Podium: race winner Mika Hakkinen, second place David Coulthard

Photo by: McLaren

Coulthard said: “It’s great for the team to get another one-two victory. All in all, I’m pleased that we scored maximum points this weekend.”

Following his slow puncture, Schumacher inevitably had to pit for an extra set of tyres so could claim only fifth, and later admitted: “You cannot always have lucky races and today’s race did not go so well for us. We had a problem at the first stop and that gave us problems for the second one also. 

“At the first one, the lollipop man lifted it and then put it down again. But it is impossible to stop that quickly. I felt I had driven over something and I looked in my mirror and saw a mechanic on the ground. I asked the team what happened, but they did not reply. 

“Then I had a slow puncture and it was obvious that the race was out of our hands. I am not angry. I took two important points and we are still looking very strong for the rest of the season.”

David Coulthard, McLaren and Adrian Newey

David Coulthard, McLaren and Adrian Newey

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

David Coulthard, McLaren

David Coulthard, McLaren

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

After the race, Coulthard went for a full medical checkup at London’s Princess Grace Hospital, where it was discovered just how much pain he'd had to deal with in the racecar, and how much he'd played it down. A team statement confirmed: “The inspection established that David has a bruised right chest wall and that the eighth, ninth and 10th ribs on his right side are cracked.”

shares
comments
Extra venues in contention for F1 races in 2020

Previous article

Extra venues in contention for F1 races in 2020

Next article

Giorgio Piola’s F1 tech decades: The big bang 1980s, part one

Giorgio Piola’s F1 tech decades: The big bang 1980s, part one
Load comments
How Red Bull took French GP "payback" on a day of Mercedes mistakes Prime

How Red Bull took French GP "payback" on a day of Mercedes mistakes

The French GP has been a stronghold for Mercedes since Paul Ricard's return to the calendar in 2018. But that all changed on Sunday, as a clever two-stop strategy guided Red Bull's Max Verstappen to make a race-winning pass on the penultimate lap - for once leaving Mercedes to experience the pain of late defeat it has so often inflicted on Red Bull

The Mercedes lap that puts F1 victory fight back on a knife-edge Prime

The Mercedes lap that puts F1 victory fight back on a knife-edge

Red Bull led the way after the first two practice sessions for the 2021 French Grand Prix, but only just ahead of Mercedes. There was all the usual practice skulduggery complicating the performance picture, but one aspect seen at the world champion squad gave it a ‘surprise’ lift, as it looks to leave its street-circuit struggles firmly in the past.

Formula 1
Jun 19, 2021
How Ferrari got its F1 recovery plan working Prime

How Ferrari got its F1 recovery plan working

After its worst campaign in 40 years, the famous Italian team had to bounce back in 2021 – and it appears to be delivering. Although it concedes the pole positions in Monaco and Baku paint a somewhat misleading picture of its competitiveness, the team is heading into the 2022 rules revamp on much stronger footing to go for wins again

Formula 1
Jun 18, 2021
The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness Prime

The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness

Long-awaited wins for ex-Formula 1 drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen in IndyCar and IMSA last weekend gave F1 a reminder of what it is missing. But with the new rules aimed at levelling the playing field, there’s renewed optimism that more drivers can have a rewarding result when their day of days comes

Formula 1
Jun 17, 2021
The F1 figures Red Bull and Mercedes can't afford to see again Prime

The F1 figures Red Bull and Mercedes can't afford to see again

OPINION: An interloper squad got amongst the title contenders during Formula 1’s street-circuit mini-break, where Red Bull left with the points lead in both championships. But, as the campaign heads back to purpose-built venues once again, how the drivers of the two top teams compare in one crucial area will be a major factor in deciding which squad stays in or retakes the top spot

Formula 1
Jun 16, 2021
Why Alfa's boss is up to the task of securing a stronger F1 future Prime

Why Alfa's boss is up to the task of securing a stronger F1 future

Two tenth places in recent races have lifted Alfa Romeo to the head of Formula 1's 'Class C' battle in 2021, but longer-term the Swiss-based squad has far loftier ambitions. With the new 2022 rules set to level out the playing field, team boss Frederic Vasseur has good reason to be optimistic, as he explained to Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview

Formula 1
Jun 15, 2021
How Barnard's revolutionary McLaren transformed F1 car construction Prime

How Barnard's revolutionary McLaren transformed F1 car construction

The MP4/1 was pioneering by choice, but a McLaren by chance. STUART CODLING relates the tangled (carbon fibre) weaves which led to the creation of one of motor racing’s defining cars

Formula 1
Jun 15, 2021
Why the end is nigh for F1’s most dependable design tool Prime

Why the end is nigh for F1’s most dependable design tool

Wind tunnel work forms the bedrock of aerodynamic development in Formula 1. But as Pat Symonds explains, advances in virtual research are signalling the end of these expensive and complicated relics.

Formula 1
Jun 13, 2021