DC meets GT

Words: Werner Jessner
Photography: Bernhard Spöttel

A 13-time Grand Prix winner at the wheel of a 510 hp sports car on 2.6 miles of the finest racetrack. David Coulthard plus Mercedes-AMG GT: You do the math.

David Coulthard, what car are you driving at the moment? “The last car I bought myself was a Smart Fortwo BRABUS. It’s practical, easy to park and perfect for taking my 6-year-old son to school in. I still have the light blue Mercedes SL280 that was all I could afford back when I was a young racing driver, and there’s a Mercedes M-Class at my holiday home in Switzerland. It’s eight years old now and I don’t see any reason to upgrade. Everything still works.”

So, there’s no place for fun cars for the winner of 13 Formula One grands prix? “I am one of the few people who has had the privilege of driving in F1. It’s the premier league, which is why driving fast on public roads is no fun for me. I’d need to have a private racetrack in my backyard to drive like that. But I live in Monaco, so that’s why I drive a Smart.”

The morning after he says this, Coulthard is standing next to something entirely different: a 192 mph, pearl-white Mercedes-AMG GT, a car that technically doesn’t exist. Overnight rain means he has to wait for the tarmac of the Red Bull Ring racing circuit in Spielberg to dry off under the Austrian winter sun before getting behind the wheel. “This car,” says Coulthard, “will make a lot of people who’ve driven a Porsche 911 up till now think again. What marks out BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes-AMG is that they make cars that work on a racetrack but are still suitable for everyday use. That’s actually a really tough job.”

Once the track is dry enough, Coulthard, in full driver garb, takes a minute to get his bearings in the cockpit, where he is joined by The Red Bulletin. He adjusts the driver’s seat and pulls the steering wheel (covered in fine-grain leather and leveled off at the bottom) as far out as it will go. He does this to get the greatest degree of control. You can spot a bad driver a mile off with his arms outstretched at the wheel, a habit almost as bad has having a smartphone held to your ear.

Professional viewpoint: “It’s easy to make an out-and- out racing car. It’s all about performance. Giving them creature comforts is much harder to do.” 

A press of the start button on the broad, curved center console rouses the V8 engine from its slumber. The muffled hum suggests obedient restraint and stifled power. The engine in each AMG GT is assembled by just one person from start to finish, whose signature appears on the engine plate. If anything should go wrong with it, the customer is to get in touch directly. In this case, that man is Jens Müller, and he must be a genius. The spec: an S-Class with 510 hp, rather than the standard 462 hp.

You select from four different driving modes— comfort, standard, sport or sport plus—on a dial positioned by the driver’s knee. In view of the wet conditions, Coulthard opts for sport, as the engine and gearbox characteristics aren’t as aggressive as in sport plus and the chassis less stiff. The Red Bull Ring, the host of a regular stop on the Formula One Grand Prix tour, is notorious for making victims of even the best drivers.

Then there’s the added detail of the AMG GT being a pre-release version of a six-figure sports car. “If you write off a car when you’re 16, you can get away with it for not knowing any better,” he says. “At 43, you have no excuse.” Coulthard comes out of the pit lane and the car is nowhere near straight, and lightning-quick steering is required to reel in the live weight of 3,461 pounds. “Let me tell you, it’s damned slippery.”

The long hood is a formidable presence in front of the cockpit, which some might say is where the car most differs from the Porsche 911. Coulthard hurtles uphill toward the second bend, Remus, a tight right-hander. A tug on the right-hand paddle shift behind the steering wheel and we’re going up through the gears. “It’s not as quick as in Formula One, but it’s miles better and quicker than any manual transmission. You can fully concentrate on the line you’re going to take.”

And it’s certainly a funny line. Coulthard drives precisely where the rest of us would not. “It’s the line I take in the rain,” he says. “Rubber particles make it almost impossible to drive the racing line under tough conditions.” Out of Remus, on the Schönberg straight, he positions the Mercedes-AMG GT where the layman would. A glance at the speedometer shows 149 mph. It’s then downhill toward Schlossgold, another, less tight, right-hander, where Coulthard says perfectly coolly, “If you lose grip on the front axle when you brake here, you’ll be getting the car back out of the gravel before you know it.”

David Coulthard Mercedes AMG GT

David Coulthard: “At the age of 43 you have no excuse.”

This is exactly what happens, but it was intentional, and he brakes, seemingly out of control, to move away from the slippery racing line. The coupe recovers on the pristine tarmac, which is enough for a pro to adjust the car’s direction slightly. He then crosses the racing line again, finds grip on the outside of the track just before the turn, and the car finally makes the corner. Wow. “That would have been better the other way round,” says Coulthard. “Lose speed when you’re coming into the turn and you can put your foot back down sooner and get out of the turn more quickly. That definitely cost us 3 to 6 mph, but it’s great how well balanced the car is.”

“THE BRAKES WERE STEADY FROM START TO FINISH. THAT’S NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.” 
David Coulthard

David Coulthard Mercedes AMG GT

Race ready: Coulthard in fireproof suit and helmet prepares to put the Mercedes-AMG GT through its paces. 

The Mercedes-AMG GT comes with ESP, a traction and stability control system. It can’t be turned off completely, but you can still lose control if you’re stupid enough, and it’s very easy to be like that when you’re dealing with 510 hp. Racing drivers communicate with the car sensibly. “I use the engine brake to take pressure off the rear of the car and stabilize the rear axle with the means I have available to me—brake pressure, the steering wheel—in the same way you balance a pencil on your fingertip. The only use I have for the ESP is as an orientation tool, so I know where the back of the car is.”

This translates as: Whereas the rough and ready driver barely notices if he’s made a mistake, the professional is ashamed to have blown his nose on the tablecloth.

Although the wet spots on the track mean that playing to the limit is a non-starter, Coulthard still whips the car around the next few laps, and you’d be hard put to say where he could have made up much more time. The church clock up in Spielberg shows it’s approaching midday. It’s getting warm in the car, and as Coulthard pulls into the pits, the 4-liter engine is being maternally fanned. “The most amazing thing is that the brakes were steady from start to finish. That’s not always the case,” he says.

At noon, David’s wife, Karen, turns up to collect her husband. “Looking good,” she says, but she’s talking about the Mercedes-AMG GT. “Can I get in it?” She takes a long time to electronically adjust her position in the cockpit, and also opens the trunk. This is more than just polite-but-faked interest. “Would you really want to take the kids to school in it, baby?” her husband asks, and she fleetingly lets on that, when it comes to many things, she might not think as pragmatically as he would.

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02 2015 The Red Bulletin

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