The Road Well Travelled: David Coulthard
David Coulthard raced in 246 Grands Prix, winning 13 of them, between 1994 and 2008 and is now a commentator on the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage. Coulthard finished third in the Drivers Championship four times (1995, 1997, 1998, 2000) and was second, to Michael Schumacher, in 2001. Only four drivers in the history of Formula 1 have competed in more Grands Prix.
This interview first appeared in the print edition of CSMA Club Magazine in 2012
How difficult was it for you to give up driving in Formula 1?
In the end it wasn’t difficult at all because I had had a long career in F1 and I had really enjoyed each of the teams I drove for. Williams was at the start of my career and it was all new and exciting and I got the chance to test for Mansell and Prost and then Senna who was tragically killed in 1994. So that was a great early life experience and then nine years at McLaren winning Grands Prix and battling for the championship and then the building years for Red Bull in the latter stages of my career. Even though I didn’t have outright speed in those final years I had the opportunity to play a part and help bring people from other teams I had worked with so that was really enjoyable. But the minute you start to feel not physically tired as such but mentally tired after all those years… it tells you it’s time to be planning, if possible, a graceful exit…
What was it like for you stepping up from test driver to race driver after the death of Ayrton Senna?
I had worked with him at the beginning of that year and of course it was unbelievable that someone of his experience and stature within the sport could be killed. We had gone for a long period of no fatalities – it had been late ’80s when Elio de Angelis was killed in testing at Paul Ricard – and before that it was something like 1984 that someone had last got killed in racing. People had become complacent. I couldn’t replace Senna – he was a much higher standard than I was – I just had to take the opportunity and do the very best I could and hopefully that’s what I was able to achieve.
Now you have a family of your own, how does it affect your attitude when you go racing?
Well with the greatest of respect to my family I don’t think about them when I’m in a racing car. I think that’s part of the make-up of a racer – essentially we have a selfish streak which allows us to just think about ourselves when we are in the car. If you’re a loving giving person when you’re in the race car you are never going to have what it takes to concentrate 100 per cent. My son is here, my parents are here – my son comes to all the races with me; he’s not quite three but it’s a big part of me going to the race weekend and enjoying and sharing that experience with him.
In 2000, you were involved in a tragic plane crash – how did that affect your life?
It was definitely a turning point because I had just turned 30 – I was a young racing driver and inevitably you get into spinning around your own self-importance if you like. It was a good grounding in tragic circumstances because although I didn’t know the pilots – I had only just met them when I stepped on the plane – tragically they were killed and they had wives and children so the impact on all their families was horrendous. It could have been the same for me and the other passengers but as tragic as it was for them it was mercy and stroke of good fortune for us because we survived – I had the opportunity to reflect on where I was going with my life and whether I wanted to race and to fly and do all those sort of things. The bottom line was I did – I enjoyed competition, I enjoyed that aspect of my life therefore the risk versus return was worth it.
You said in your book that you didn’t think you would live past 30. Why did you have that kind of mindset?
I think with racing – all I ever did was race – race, race, race. If you are doing things like that there is a certain amount of risk. It wasn’t something that I feared but I never saw myself as a 40-year-old guy – but now I am 40 I am delighted of course because I would never have experienced being a father or experienced in many cases the best decade of my life so far from 30 to 40. I am tremendously enthusiastic for what I hope will be decades to come.
How do rate yourself in the history of F1?
I think that I would like to be seen as a worthy winner of a number of races. The championship is the goal but I’m not sure its the ultimate gauge of how good you were: I competed at that time when you had the most successful driver in the history of F1 – Schumacher with seven world championships. So my best was to finish second to him and I’d rather that than having won it in an average period in F1. My proudest moments are when I’ve won a race and my teammate is standing beside to me and Schumacher - I was teammates with Mika, Kimi and Damon – all good drivers. Schumacher was the successful guy – there’s a good feeling and satisfaction from beating those guys.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
Life is about people. A perfect example is F1. The drivers get the glory but you are nothing without the designer, the manufacturer, the sponsor, the pit stop… Everything that gives you your success is to do with people. Although the designers are bright and creative people, F1 and motor racing and life in general is not about whether you are academically bright its about whether you have a focus and a determination and an ability to deliver. My bottom line in life is that it doesn’t matter what you do it should be the very best you can do – so when I see people who don’t keep their home clean or don’t present themselves well – that’s got nothing to do with money – that’s everything to do with an attitude and how and what you consider to be enough.
[portrait: Getty Images]