One of the most fascinating things about Formula One is the mix of personalities that it draws together. There are few other disciplines where people from all around the world converge on a fortnightly basis to engage so intensely with each other.
Despite the many different nationalities and characteristics that make up the Grand Prix circus, it is rare for heated rivalries to develop between Formula One drivers. Teams are very keen to remain PR-friendly and this leaves some of the sport’s biggest stars unable to freely speak their mind. It is not uncommon for a racing incident to be watered down in a carefully worded post-race press release.
Even last year when Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso started bickering, it remained a relatively civil dispute. Throughout the season you often heard both drivers denying there was any problem between them, and even now they are hesitant to offer criticism.
Thankfully there are still a few drivers who don’t hold back, and David Coulthard is most definitely one of them.
When the Red Bull charge collided with Felipe Massa at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, he had some uncomplimentary words ready for the Brazilian on his return to the pits.
Coulthard said during a live TV interview that if Massa didn’t take responsibility for their accident on lap 26, he would “kick three piles of shit out of the little bastard”. It was an extraordinary outburst and one that earned more than a few surprised giggles around the world.
The crash he was referring to was the latest in a series of incidents that have brought Coulthard and Massa into conflict with each other over the past few years.
David had earlier suggested that Massa was driving dirty by declaring “you can’t just ram into the side of someone like that.”
The angry scot may have been a little harsh. If you look at the television replays it is clear that Massa didn’t purely shove Coulthard off the road.
The drivers made contact twice, and it was the second impact that put Coulthard into a spin. Massa pulled alongside the Red Bull as they approached turn one and David squeezed him all the way into the corner. Massa made contact with the front of DC’s sidepod, and that touch put Massa into a slide that ended when he tagged Coulthard’s rear wheel. At that point Coulthard may have felt that Massa had simply driven into the rear of his car after the apex, in which case he would have every right to feel aggrieved. However that simply wasn’t the case. The second impact was a direct consequence of the first, at which point Massa was well and truly alongside Coulthard’s machine.
David’s manager, Martin Brundle, said as much on air when he told viewers “I don’t believe Massa was wrong in holding his ground there.”
The Brazilian’s flippant cockpit gesture to the crumpled Red Bull summed up his own feelings pretty well. When told about Coulthard’s remarks after the race, Massa responded with “If he wants me to apologise then he should just go and watch the television instead. I was on the inside, I did nothing wrong.” Felipe later exclaimed “He didn’t see me. Next time ask him to watch in the mirrors because I was completely inside. I’m definitely not going to speak to him.”
It isn’t the first time that Massa and Coulthard have squabbled on and off the track. Their rivalry dates back to 2005 when a race long battle they had at the San Marino Grand Prix ended in tears.
DC and Felipe actually came together on two separate occasions during that race. The first of those incidents occurred in the early stages and it destroyed Massa’s front wing. Felipe had been trying to pass Coulthard but ended up in the back of the Red Bull when David squeezed him just a little too much. Massa was furious and publicly stated that Coulthard was trying to run him off the road at 300kph.
Felipe got his revenge twenty laps later when he came up to the back of DC again. This time he didn’t ease off, and with a red mist on, Massa forced his way through and pushed Coulthard off the circuit. Still angry from before, Massa also threw in the time-honoured one finger salute for good measure.
This made Coulthard livid also, and with both men fuming there was little surprise when their anger continued after the race.
David spotted Massa leaving the circuit and confronted his new adversary by stepping in front of his car. Not content to give the young Brazilian an earbashing, David reached into the vehicle and started to get physical.
David said of the altercation “I leaned in and grabbed him by the neck. Then I looked up and saw his parents were in the back and that cooled things down pretty quickly. I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of them, but he continued ranting that I had used unsporting behaviour.”
Not surprisingly, Massa had a very different view.
Strangely, one of the things that upset Coulthard the most in San Marino was Felipe’s body language. He said “I once showed Schumacher the finger when I was angry but I apologised afterwards. Massa had the chance to do that after the race but he didn’t”.
Their relationship didn’t get any better in 2006 when they crashed at the Chinese Grand Prix, and there was no love lost between the pair last year either. Quite bizarrely they had an ungainly exchange during a routine press conference.
At last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix Felipe Massa’s car ran out of fuel in qualifying because Ferrari simply forgot to fill it up. It ruined his weekend and he finished well behind the leaders in 13th.
Coulthard and Massa both attended the official FIA press conference at the next Grand Prix, where DC suggested that Ferrari’s mistake was made deliberately in an effort to help Kimi Raikkonen. It was a comment that was always going to make Felipe feel uncomfortable in front of the world’s media.
“How do we know that Ferrari didn’t deliberately not put fuel in Felipe’s car?” said Coulthard. “Maybe that was a team decision to benefit Kimi. How do you forget to put fuel in a car?”
Felipe was a little embarrassed and responded awkwardly to the cheeky comments by saying “Yes, but it was not on purpose. It was a misunderstanding.”
“A pretty fundamental misunderstanding” replied DC. “I think it’s a conspiracy to favour Kimi. Good luck.”
It is clear the two don’t see eye to eye, and Coulthard is not the only driver to have expressed frustration towards Massa. Felipe’s old teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, once said the Brazilian “couldn’t even drive in a straight line”.
Fernando Alonso is another more recent driver to have exchanged heated words with Felipe. Behind the podium of last year’s European Grand Prix, Fernando started roasting Massa for damaging his McLaren during their late race skirmish. Fernando’s timing was poor because Felipe had just lost the race in the dying stages, and was understandably upset. Alonso got the reaction he wanted when Massa fired back at him with “go fuck yourself”. Alonso continued condescending to Felipe and used the occasion to attack him about an incident that had taken place two months earlier during the Spanish Grand Prix. Just like Coulthard’s outburst at Albert Park, Alonso’s rant was unwarranted, but it goes to show how little respect some of the drivers have for Massa’s aggressive style. You could safely suggest that Felipe may not have the maturity to accompany his forceful driving.
Felipe Massa is a tough cookie and will likely shrug off the negative analysis from others. Besides, he is his own worst enemy at the moment. Spinning off the circuit on lap one at Melbourne was an embarrassing blunder to say the least. Those who thought he might struggle without traction control didn’t have to wait long for their suspicions to be confirmed.
Last year Massa faced lots of criticism after his poor performance in Malaysia, and he responded by thrashing the field in consecutive races at Bahrain and Spain.
Here’s hoping he can do the same again, providing Coulthard doesn’t get a hold of him first.