David's Heart Will Be with the Victims, but He'll Race This Weekend. Drivers Get Used to the Constant Spectre of Death

Article excerpt


DAVID Coulthard does not consider himself to be a particularly brave man, neither would he describe himself as insensitive or just plain dumb.

Yet, come Friday morning three days after walking away unscathed from an air crash which killed the pilot and co-pilot of his chartered jet - the 29-year-old Scot dearly wants to be at the wheel of his 200mph McLaren-Mercedes racing car in Barcelona, practising for the weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.

Naturally, that will depend on whether there is any reaction to the battering and bruising he suffered in yesterday's tragedy at Lyon airport, along with his American fiancee Heidi Wichlinski and personal trainer Andy Matthews.

Early reports last night suggested Coulthard, like his fellow passengers, was in miraculously good physical shape and determined to make his appearance at the Circuit de Catalunya.

For most people, such a trauma would require weeks of counselling before they stepped on to another aeroplane - and certainly before risking another of their nine lives by squeezing into a 750 horsepower machine and dicing with 21 other guys similarly armed with potentially lethal projectiles.

It must seem incomprehensible to the 'ordinary' person that Coulthard could have the strength of character or willpower to put himself through such an ordeal so soon after enduring the terrifying violence of an air crash.

But at least one experienced voice believes Coulthard would not be foolhardy to get straight back to business - one who is perfectly qualified to know. Jonathan Palmer was once a general practitioner and was also a more than useful grand prix driver who contested 85 races from 1983 until 1989 for Williams, RAM Hart, Zak-speed and Tyrrell.

Palmer, who also had a spell as a television commentator, said last night: 'I think it is a pretty straightforward situation. The two aspects that have to be considered in David's case are his physical condition and his psychological state.

'It would seem from the reports that David is in reasonable physical condition with no serious injuries that are likely to impair his driving. You have to remember that the modern racing driver has to be in peak condition to cope with the G-force stresses.

'The chances are that the air crash in which he was involved contained less G-force than a driver would have to face in a severe accident in practice.

'David, being a very nice bloke, will naturally be upset for the family and relatives of the pilots who died in the accident. But from the time you make racing your job, you live with the spectre that something could happen to either yourself or someone you know well.

'I'm not suggesting you become immune to tragedy or the possibility of it occurring on the track. But, in a way, you do become a lot more used to it than the ordinary person and, therefore, able to cope with it better should it happen. I lost two close friends during my time in motor-racing, the Germans Stefan Bellof and Manfred Winkelhock, but it did not stop me wanting to carry on.

'I suspect that the major problem for David this weekend will not be the racing but the extra attention he is likely to get from the media hounding him about the air crash. I am sure he would rather put that to the back of his mind and concentrate on his job as a driver.

'My guess is that he is professional enough to eliminate all thoughts of the events at Lyon and those leading up to it - to get the job done for McLaren. But he will require a sympathetic attitude from people in the paddock and a protective arm around his shoulders from the team, which I am certain he will receive. …