He remembers Eddie Jordan selling the idea as an act of philanthropy almost, a seat in his team garlanded with audacious promises.
avid Coulthard is laughing as he recalls the Dubliner’s sales-pitch, the index-linked assurances, the soaring blarney. Their legal people sat down one day in Monza, teasing out the ‘financials’ and the contract on offer could have come from Glocca Morra.
“Basically, I would have been paying a chunk of money to race with Jordan in Formula 3000 with the carrot of him then paying me a chunk of money when I stepped up to his F1 team,” reflected Coulthard from his home in Monaco this week.
“And, of course, he had no real intention of ever making me a Formula One driver. All he wanted was my money. We joke about it today. I say, ‘You never really thought about me as a Grand Prix driver, did you?’
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“And he’s, ‘Of course not, but I needed your f**king money!’
“Anyway, I never did the deal. Eddie’s too razor-sharp as a businessman for my south-west of Scotland approach. I’m sort of more the farmer’s approach, the ‘Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow’ approach.
“Whereas Eddie’s more the trader, ‘Buy, sell, let’s do it!’ I’m not suggesting Eddie Jordan is insincere. But I think deep down he’s shallow!”.
Laughter ignites down the phone-line again, Coulthard’s warmth palpable as he chats about the man who ran an Irish team in Formula One for 14 seasons. The two are seen as an almost imperishable TV double-act today, once of the BBC and now Channel 4 for a sport, like all others, currently frozen in a state of dormancy.
Coulthard describes the now 72-year-old Jordan as “one of those freaks of nature”, an unprivileged, unwealthy individual who broke into the so-called ‘piranha club’ of Grand Prix racing and came out of it “with the shirt still on his back”.
Jordan entered Formula One in ’91, three years before Coulthard inherited a seat at Williams (where he was already Test driver) after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna at Imola.
Until Lewis Hamilton came along, Coulthard was the highest points-scoring British driver in F1 history, winning 13 races including two around the storied street-circuit of Monte Carlo. He finished second in the Drivers’ Championship to Michael Schumacher in ’01, two years after Heinz Harald Frentzen finished third in the Championship with two race wins for the Irish team.
He says of Jordan’s F1 record: “It is an exceptional success story of overcoming adversity, winning Grand Prix races and coming out of it with finances and family intact. Obviously people will have their stories of the carnage he’s left along the way. But I take as I find. I admire what he’s been able to achieve.
“Eddie’s good fun. He’s a controversial character who is old enough not to have to mind their p’s and q’s. He’ll call people out if they’re trying to be economical with information and that’s to his real credit. Because I’m a bit more… I don’t like conflict and controversy… so I’ll always tend to sit on the fence a bit more.
“I’m never going to get as deep into the truth of the matter in an interview as EJ would. And he was always the one to get us access to (Bernie) Mr Ecclestone (former CEO of the Formula One Group).”
In an interview on Newstalk this week, Jordan pretty much concurred with Coulthard’s portrait, describing himself as “the biggest blagger on earth” during his time as a team owner.
He also spoke of his habitual frustration with another Irishman in the sport, Eddie Irvine, who spent three seasons driving in F1 for Jordan. Describing the Newtownards man as “a nightclub guy”, Jordan suggested Irvine had the talent to be a world champion, but was “the laziest driver of all time, hilarious to work with, but very infuriating. He used to drive me around the twist!”
Coulthard says that he and Irvine never really had a relationship in F1, though he is in regular contact with his sister, Sonia, who runs the successful F1 hospitality company, Amber Lounge, from Monaco today.
“I see their father who comes over to the odd Grand Prix too,” says Coulthard. “I’ve always said that for such a lovely family, Eddie could be a bit of a d**k at times (laughing)! But then, that’s just the way he’s wired. He speaks his mind. We were never naturally drawn together as two people who would hang out.
“I’ll see him occasionally, but it’s just pleasantries and niceties. He wouldn’t be going out of his way to hook up for lunch any more than I would. Not because we’ve ever had a fall-out particularly. We’re just different characters.”
Coulthard remains hopeful that the 2020 F1 season will eventually find traction, though he expects race circuits to remain largely silent until deep into summer at least. When racing resumes, he expects the same protagonists – Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc – to be battling at the front of the grid.
As for any potential young firebrands breaking through, he says: “They’ve got to show us how good they are. They can have all the excuses about what could have been, I know that from my own career.
“But a part of your job is to make what could have been actually be.
“So whatever it is that isn’t working for you, it’s your job to make it work. Not the job of everyone around you.
“I recognised early on that I wasn’t a Mika (Hakkinen) or Senna when it came to qualifying, so I focused on making sure that I was fast and consistent in the races. No point swimming against the tide when you’re not making headway.”
Best driver he ever raced against?
“The quick and easy answer is Senna. But if I look at the guys I spent most of my time racing against, guys like Michael and Mika, I think Michael had an ability to deliver consistently fast laps throughout an entire race because he was physically very fit.
“My opinion is that Mika was a faster driver than Michael. Just in terms of one-lap qualifying. But he wasn’t the overall package. That’s what made Michael such a winning machine.”
David Coulthard won 13 Grand Prix races in his career and is a Red Bull Athlete today