David Coulthard has revealed how he was given a dressing down by McLaren boss Ron Dennis after photographers got photos of his car’s floor.
Earlier this year, Sergio Perez allowed photographers to get a great opportunity to take pictures of the complicated underside of the RB19 as he crashed during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Back in 1998, David Coulthard allowed photographers the same chance as he spun his dominant McLaren MP4/13 off during practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, earning him a trip to Ron Dennis’ office.
David Coulthard remembers incurring wrath of Ron Dennis
Appearing on the Formula For Success podcast, Coulthard recounted the story as he opened up on his relationships with the three team bosses he had worked with as a driver – Sir Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, and Christian Horner.
Dennis, famously fussy in how he approached his racing, was well-known for keeping his drivers in check, and Coulthard explained how his error led to him being marched off to the team bosses’ office.
“Ron was meticulous in his preparation and the way he operated, and his expectations of the team. But, when crossed, you had to obviously be respectful of the fact that he’d done the hard yards,” Coulthard said.
“I remember in 1998, when we had a particularly quick car, I spun off at Barcelona at Turn 4 during free practice. [Fans] will know that the Holy Grail for the photographer is a picture from the underside the car because the underside generates a lot of the downforce.
“So I got stuck in the gravel, I was on the radio – the team manager at the time, Dave Ryan, said ‘Come back to the pits’.
“I got out of the car and headed back to the pits and when I get there, Ron comes off the pit wall because the practice session is still ongoing. He goes ‘Why didn’t you stay with the car?’ which was a way of the driver making sure photographers didn’t get too close to it and all that sort of thing.
“My slightly childish response was ‘Ask your team manager’, because clearly he hadn’t been listening to the instructions of the team manager. Anyway, the session finished.
“Then, about 10 minutes or so before the start of the next free practice session, Dave Ryan came to me and said, ‘We have to go and see Ron’. I said, ‘Well, I’m in the car in a few minutes’. And he was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. We have to go and see Ron’.
“So we went to his office in the motorhome. Ron sat there moving papers around, making sure everything was aligned, and gathering his thoughts. He then goes off on one, where he’s going, ‘When I asked you, why are you not with the car? You don’t say to me, ‘Ask your team manager’ – you don’t leave the car in the first place. Those are the rules of engagement. We’ve discussed this’… blah, blah, blah, he goes on for several minutes, and then eventually stops.
“I’d already been briefed by Dave Ryan not to say anything, so I’m not saying anything. He gets to the end and he goes, ‘Have you got nothing to say?’ I just sat there [mumbling in disagreement] because I’ve been told not to say anything, but what I wanted to say was, ‘Are you finished?’
“Because whilst he’s going through the ramble, practice has started. The Grand Prix cars are out practicing, and my car is in the garage because I’m getting a bollocking for not staying with the car in the previous session. So I eventually said ‘No, nothing to say, sorry, Ron’, and I eventually got back and got in the car.
“But it showed… he waited until the last moment to give me a bollocking. Even though it was going to cost the team some track time, he knew it was going to really resonate with me as a driver that I was missing being out on the racetrack. So that was an unusual one.”
How Ron Dennis compared to Christian Horner and Sir Frank Williams
Having recounted his fond memory of Dennis at McLaren, Coulthard detailed how Sir Frank Williams had operated his team – Coulthard having raced with Williams for two years before his switch to McLaren.
“Incredible, different personalities,” he said.
“There was the obvious disability that Sir Frank had to deal with and overcome. It was so inspiring to see how the power of his mind was ultimately the power of his leadership skills.
“He really gave young drivers an opportunity. Many young, inexperienced drivers from Formula 3 and Formula 3000 were given the role of test driver, and it was a way of him learning about whether they were good enough and it was also a way of him seeking out the future talents. Frank was a racer through and through and I always really respected that.”
As for Christian Horner, with whom Coulthard saw out his F1 career with a four-year stint at Red Bull during their fledgling seasons, the Scottish driver said Horner had been very straightforward.
“Christian was always very firm, but fair,” he said.
“He only flipped his chips, or whatever the expression is, once when Mark [Webber] and I were fighting over points in China, and he had to have a very firm chat with the two of us back in the debrief after the Grand Prix.
“But otherwise, he was fairly straightforward in his approach and his expectations.”