David Coulthard. Success comes to those who dedicate everything to their passion in life.
David Coulthard is exceptional. Not just because he is one of the very few who has had the privilege of lapping the concrete of Circuit de Monaco, Silverstone, Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit or the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in the Interlagos neighborhood of São Paulo, but also because David lives the team spirit of Formula 1. David has a strong work ethic combined with inner personal inventiveness and brilliance, and he is determined to get things done and contribute in any way he can.
David Coulthard made his Formula One breakthrough in 1995, winning the Portuguese Grand Prix with the Williams team and finishing third in the championship that year.
From 1996-2004, David drove for McLaren. He scored 12 of his 13 Grand Prix wins and 51 of his 62 podium finishes during this period. In his career, he appeared in 247 races, winning 13. In 2001 David was runner-up in the World Drivers’ Championship while driving for McLaren.
David humbly says: “If you look at my career, I would say that I had speed, but I did not have consistency so I would say I was good but not good enough. That is why I am comfortable to give my opinion because I do not see myself as being as perfect as everyone else.”
In 2010, David launched TV production company “Whisper Films” with Bafta-winning Producer Sunil Patel and TV broadcaster Jake Humphrey. Focusing on sports, live events, non-scripted and high-end branded entertainment, Whisper Films is one of the fastest-growing TV production companies in the UK and has been named Broadcast Best Places to Work for three consecutive years, (2016-2019).
Previous and current productions include the NFL Show for the BBC, the award-winning Formula 1 coverage for Channel 4, the channel-defining Paralympic Games coverage for Channel 4, host broadcaster for the all-new SailGP series, the US Open coverage on Amazon Prime, FA Women’s Football for the BBC and The Feud: Liam vs Noel, amongst others. It will also produce the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Since 2016, Whisper Films has been partnered with Royal Holloway University, offering mentoring, training and employment opportunities to its media arts students.
David says: “Yes, I was a professional driver, but I know it is more about being a businessman entrepreneur and enjoying that journey. I enjoy all kind of different opportunities.”
David’s latest book, “The Sunday Times Bestseller” “Winning Formula: Leadership, Strategy, and Motivation the F1 Way” recounts David’s own stories and combines them with the first-hand experience of stellar individuals such as Lewis Hamilton, Ron Dennis, Sir Frank Williams, Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel. It also gives a fascinating fly-on-the-wall insight into F1 but at the same time offers an invaluable guide to the business of sport and the sport of business.
The book is also a profound and creative manual about how to conduct oneself to achieve success in life. David said: “I just think there are some great things you can learn from the business of sport.”
Billionaire Chronicle sat down with ex Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard to find out more.
BC: How did you fall in love with car racing?
DC: Well, when I look back and how I started, my father had a passion for motorsport, and motivation had always been a part of the family.
As a young child, my father took me to Donington, Brands Hatch, and Silverstone to watch races. When I turned 11, my father bought me a kart. We had so much fun just playing around the garage where his transport company was.
It is fair to say I was not particularly good at the beginning; I was even lapped in my first ever race. That is normal when you are learning. You are racing against more experienced people, and practice gives you more skills and develops throughout races. There is a progression in performance.
I won two races in Scotland and then had the opportunity to go more into the bigger races and championships down South. I did two or three races in Europe.
So, it was only really when I turned 17, that I realized that racing could be a potential career, and an opportunity to earn money. It was never a motivation, I wanted to race at the highest level possible and try and do drives all over the world.
When I look back on the Karting years, I loved Karting. I enjoyed myself. I knew some of the drivers, of course, I was having some success. That to me seems almost enough, and I was a little bit reluctant to go into cars in some respects because it was another world.
BC: When did you realize that F1 racing was your destiny?
DC: I wanted to believe that I could race in Formula 1, but I did not. However, I was dreaming of it. I think my father believed that I had the skills to make my way to Formula 1.
I remember when I was 14, my father and I were watching the Grand Prix on BBC and he was saying to me “Look, son, when you get to Formula 1, I think you should move to Monaco. It would be a short career, so you have to maximize your income”. Ten years later, I was moving to Monaco.
BC: How did the opportunity arrive?
DC: Jackie Stewart and Paul Stewart gave me the big opportunity. I did not need to bring a budget for Formula 3000. I had already had effectively two years of free racing, and that helped me progress a great deal and get the test drive at Williams and then suddenly I was connected with a Formula 1 team.
So, in that respect, I was fortunate. There is no question that it is a hit and miss business. If you hit, then you are on your way to Formula 1. If you miss, you can still make a career in Motorsports maybe in touring cars or sports cars. There have been many good drivers who never have the opportunity to race in Formula 1 because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
BC: Tell our readers about your F1 experience.
DC: I remember about my first Formula 1 test and the McLaren; it was in 1990 at Silverstone in a V12 Honda over 20 laps. It was the car that was being raced in Massena at that time, and I remember going down to McLaren being fitted in the car and how detailed the process was. They made sure the car was fitted for me.
I went to the test alone. My father did not come; no one else came. My family created an opportunity for me, I took it, and I was on my own. However, the full story involves lots and lots of people as it often does as I look back on my career.
Formula 1 is Formula 1, but the regulations change. We went from slick tires to grooved tires, and back to slick tires. Technology, design, configuration, high-performance engineering evolved over the years. There were many changes but in the end, it is still the fastest one who won, and you still needed to work with the team.
BC: F1 is a team effort. How do you see the driver’s position in the team?
DC: As a driver, someone is employing you to do a job. Most contracts I have ever signed had a clause which says, ‘you should accept the reasonable instructions from the team.’
The team has an element of control over the employees; otherwise, all hell could break loose. Moreover, it is not easy to take the team instructions. It was easier at Williams because I was younger. More difficult at McLaren because at that time, I had not won a Grand Prix and of course I still had this belief that I could win a championship.
People often use the example of Michael Schumacher as being a single-minded and selfish individual who was able to really bring a group of people together and still it was all focused on him. I never had a number one status, and any member of the teams understood the meaning of “team.”
BC: Any regrets?
DC: Of course. You can look back and start picking away at certain things; you wish you had not done this, and you hit on that, but I did not do that, and I do not want to re-live my life again. I am here today 48 years old, continuing my journey of life. The record books will show that I entered X amount of Grand Prix, I crashed some cars, and I won some races. You have got to be comfortable with what you have done.
I think the biggest thing for me now when I look back in my career is to realize the level of commitment and focus, which I had. It seemed reasonable to me at the time, but it seems an unusually high level of focus now. Until you step back from that particular career, it is challenging to see yourself. I now realize how fit I was despite not training a lot.
I also never realized how selfish I was not to share my time with a family, with our son, with other opportunities.
My son is ten years old now. Despite the fact that I work at weekends, I want to spend more time with him. I did not want to push him to get behind the wheel at all and waited for him to ask me. So now that he has asked me to go karting, he enjoys it.
BD: You parted from McLaren in 2004. What are your thoughts when you look back?
DC: What is interesting about the end of my career at McLaren in 2004, is that it was very much like the ‘94 season. In 1994’, we went into that season with not a full budget, not sure that the team was going to be the right team for Vortex because they had not had a great deal of success. However, we believed and worked hard to secure sponsors, and to make opportunities happen. It was very much like that at the end of the 2004 year. I remember going to a meeting with Frank Williams and writing why I thought I could still be motivated and still be quick in 2005.
Then Red Bull came in and Christian Horner.
It created an opportunity which I embraced. I used my experience to work with Christian, to identify who were the right people within the team and who were not. Christian had already run his own team in Formula 3000, but he did not have Formula 1 experience. So, I think we were able to help each other a great deal. It was a fun period to get that opportunity and to be part of the headhunting.
I saw Adrian Newey coming to the team and having the team grow brought a nice conclusion to my career.
I am happy with the way I managed the relationships with Red Bull as a Formula 1 team and with the individual who owned the entity that sponsored the team.
BC: From the driver seat to co-presenting F1 on BBC?
DC: The transition from Formula 1 as a driver to working in television seemed like a seamless transition. I knew that I wanted to remain involved in sports; there was an opportunity. I spoke to ITV who held the rights to show F1 races until November 2008. Then from 2009, the BBC’s commentary team alongside Jonathan Legard won back the rights to show F1.
I started as a pundit and gradually grew into it. I was hanging around a lot, and I did not feel engaged enough, so I asked for more and more until I was given a commentary role.
Working with Martin Brundle and Eddie Jordan was a great experience. Eddie, like me, relatively inexperienced in television but Eddie as a personality is very flamboyant with the benefit of age and experience. He is always prepared, says what he thinks, and he is pushier. When I did not push in and grab someone for an interview well, he did it happily. We complemented and contrasted each other. I have a great deal of respect for Eddie because he has achieved a lot in the sport.
Despite all the images of racing on my office wall I am not living for the past. I do not have any desire to lead the race. I am detached from that although I am still involved in motor racing. Being a race car driver has its challenges; we hold a very privileged position within the team to do what we enjoy doing. However, as we get older, there is a physical and mental change.
BC: When you look back at the career transitions in your life, what messages are apparent to you?
DC: Not for one moment do I presume that everything I do is perfect. I know that there are more dedicated, more articulate, more knowledgeable people doing the role than me. However, I am a great believer that you can only do what works for you. What I am doing right now feels right for me in terms of the workload and the opportunity.
The focus is essential. I stayed true to my values and beliefs, worked hard, respected authority and people that were in a senior position. There are so many elements in racing that I applied to everyday life.
When I look at ’94, a Formula 3000 opportunity happened out of nothing without any money. In 2004, where maybe drivers would have just sat at home waiting for the phone to ring, I created a new career by getting off my backside and going around teams, ringing doorbells and pushing for it.
When I look at my career, I never had the qualifying speed and consistency of a Mika Hakkinen or Michael Schumacher, but with everything lined up, I had the due diligence to work hard on setup and motivation to keep pushing with the team.
When you are younger, you think you are working hard, and you do not know how lucky you are. I guess when I was younger maybe I was not as organized and structured. The reason I wrote The Winning Formula is to show lessons to the younger generation who can apply these teachings in their everyday life.