Laureus Ambassador David Coulthard, who won 13 Grand Prix in a stellar career lasting 15 years, is tipping Nico Rosberg to narrow the gap to world champion Lewis Hamilton when the new Formula One season begins in Melbourne on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with Laureus, Coulthard looks ahead to the new season and the much awaited re-match between Hamilton and Rosberg, and also gives his special insight into the Nominees from Formula One who will be hoping to win Laureus World Sports Awards, when the winners are revealed in Shanghai on April 15.
After a thrilling 2014 season, the world’s media have selected Lewis Hamilton as a Nominee for the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award, Daniel Ricciardo, who won three Grand Prix in his rookie year, is on the short list for Laureus World Beakthrough of the Year, while the all-conquering Mercedes AMG Petronas team, winners of the Constructors’ World Championship, are contenders for the Laureus World Team of the Year Award.
The two Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers, Hamilton and Rosberg, had a titanic battle last year, which Hamilton won after a scintillating burst of six victories in the last seven Grand Prix. But David Coulthard, now a respected commentator and analyst, says:
“Nico will be stronger this year, but it is difficult to imagine how Lewis can be any stronger – he has already won two world championships. For Nico, it was the first time that he’s had that world championship battle, so I think he’ll grow from that experience and that puts pressure on Lewis this year.”
Looking ahead to the new season, Coulthard adds:
“Lewis goes into the season as a favourite because he is a winning package. He’s got the psychological edge and he’s got all that experience behind him. Nico could very easily have won last year, but, even if he had, I think Lewis would still have been seen as the better racer.
“It is not a question of who is faster, as they are both incredibly fast, but there is just that one area that Lewis has shown himself consistently to be a bit stronger. If Nico can get on top of that, then he’s absolutely got all the skills to be a world champion.”
In a wide ranging interview, Coulthard also compliments Mercedes AMG Petronas on how they managed two such brilliant drivers in the team. He says:
“I do take my hat off to Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and the Mercedes-Benz board for having the strength to allow the drivers to race. Mercedes said that the rules were very clear: ‘Try and avoid crashing into each other. We can’t say don’t crash into each other because accidents will happen from time to time, but you both have an equal opportunity’. So I think the way they managed it was correct for the sport and correct for the fans of the sport.”
Coulthard thinks Lewis Hamilton, as a result of his second world championship win, will be a strong contender for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award.
“He has to be. I really believe he’s grown as a person, he’s matured, he’s turned 30. He’s not necessarily faster than when he started Formula One, but he would definitely be a better all-around person, which is what life is about. I really believe that Lewis is sincere in his appreciation of the support that he’s been given and that he races for the fans and takes energy from them.”
He also congratulated Nico Rosberg on the commitment he has made as a Laureus Ambassador, supporting the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
“I think it is very important to have the lateral vision to realise how lucky you are as a sportsman and appreciate what you have. Sometimes it gets lost when you’re in the middle of your career, but Nico has the intelligence and maturity to really get it and sincerely wants to support Laureus, which is a great Foundation. Laureus has done amazing good already and will continue to do so with the support of the future stars.”
Does he expect to see the Mercedes AMG Petronas team as dominant as last year? “I would never be so bold as to predict someone dominating, but I absolutely see them start as favourites and the momentum is with them,” he says. “Mercedes saw the opportunity with the new hybrid technology and the key to their success is the heart of the car, which is the engine. The team have always done a great job mechanically and aerodynamically with the car as well. They’ve headhunted great drivers and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Coulthard picks out Red Bull’s Danny Ricciardo, winner of three Grand Prix in his debut season, as a man to watch in 2015. “He is a breath of fresh air for Formula One. Great driver, great physical commitment to his training and he’s got an endearing, energetic, enthusiastic personality, which I think will really help capture more fans for Formula One, and that’s good.
“There are a number of new drivers to Formula One: you’ve got Max Verstappen with Toro Rosso and I think everyone is going to be looking in to see how a 17-year-old can get on in racing. Personally, you deserve to be there if you’re skilled enough and it is not a question of being too young or too old. What he can’t have, of course, at 17 is life experience and Formula One is not just about driving a racing car, there are a lot of other things, so he will be growing up in the public eye and pressure comes with that.”