David Coulthard believes it will be “fantastic” if Lewis Hamilton can make history at Silverstone on Sunday and that he is already on a par with greats of Formula 1 such as Ayrton Senna.
The Scot is expecting a reaction from Hamilton after his travails in Austria last weekend as the 33-year-old seeks what would be a remarkable fifth British Grand Prix win in a row and a record sixth in total, taking him past the mark of five he currently shares with Jim Clark and Alain Prost.
The late Senna famously managed only one win in Britain, in 1988, but Hamilton is perhaps yet to capture the public imagination in the way that the Brazilian legend did.
Coulthard, whose first grand prix came when, as test driver, he took over the Williams car after Senna’s death at Imola in 1994, says four-time champion Hamilton’s achievements mean he does deserve to be considered in that company.
“It’s always difficult when you’re talking about someone younger than yourself to have the same realisation of what they are achieving,” said the 47-year-old who won two British GPs in 1999 and 2000.
“I think of your Mansells, Prosts and Sennas I was watching as a kid. Now there are a whole bunch of kids watching Lewis and I think he is one of the exceptional drivers. He deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as a Senna. I think it would be fantastic if he wins this weekend. Records are there to be broken. The next generation should always be better, wiser and better equipped to make decisions than the previous one and performances should be higher.”
Hamilton heads into Silverstone a point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel following a weekend to forget in Austria when a strategic error while failing to pit during the Virtual Safety Car period, which led to a public apology from head of strategy James Vowles, was followed by a mechanical failure.
“It’s a track Mercedes have always gone well at and one he has been exceptional at,” said Coulthard, who will be part of the Channel 4 team covering Sunday’s race. “Yes they were disappointing in Austria but it’s unreasonable to expect 100 per cent reliability. It’s engineering, with tolerances, and occasionally those tolerances go against you. With in-built redundancy you are always making calculations to make the cars live their lifespan and that’s it.
“When you’ve got a lot to lose that maybe makes you take less risk versus return. The other teams have more to gain and when they take a gamble look like heroes. We all make mistakes, but that’s life. Lewis has made the odd mistake as a driver. The whole team has made mistakes but it’s about not hiding, coming forward and taking responsibility.”
Former Williams, McLaren and Red Bull driver Coulthard, who was runner-up in the 2001 World Championship, looks back on those two wins at Silverstone, a track he grew up at during his karting youth and first drove at on grand prix weekend in a 1990 support race, as career highs.
“Yeah they are. The second one, particularly, I look back at that and I’m on the podium with Mika Hakkinen, my team-mate on my right and Michael Schumacher, our big rival at the time, on my left,” he recalled. “It’s a pretty good day at the office when you’re beating your team-mate and Michael. And to do that at the British Grand Prix at a track I’d go to as a kid, as a Brit and a fan of Formula 1, it really doesn’t get much better than that.”
After his Channel 4 duties, Coulthard will make a flying visit back to Scotland on Monday, visiting Orkney for the first time after buying a cask of malt whisky from Highland Park for his own label. It is a 13-year-old he reveals, in a nod to the 13 race wins he enjoyed in a 14-year F1 career.
Before that he will be savouring the grand prix which is, along with Italy, the only one to be staged every year since 1950.
Mercedes and Hamilton head into the weekend as hot favourites but Coulthard is wary of putting the champagne on ice too early and is not as surprised as some that Vettel finds himself top of the standings, albeit by a whisker..
“Ferrari made a big step with the engine in the winter,” he said. “They’ve got plenty of power. They have been mixing it. I think Ferrari have been as fortunate as Lewis has been unfortunate.
“Australia could have been Lewis’ race but for a strategic mistake, in Austria there was another strategy error but then ultimately the car failed. It has given Ferrari the opportunity to be leading the drivers championship heading to the halfway point.
“They’ve put out the word that they don’t expect Silverstone to be one of their better races. Teams start to plot these things out. They’re not just plucking something out of their backsides there. They are basing that on the nature and speed profile of the corners.
“That said, nobody knew the tyres were going to blister in Austria and nobody knows what they’re going to do at Silverstone. Even Pirelli don’t know what the track temperature will be.”
l The British Grand Prix is live on Channel 4 on Sunday at 1.40pm.