Two-time British Grand Prix winner David Coulthard swapped the high-powered world of Formula 1 for a new career path a decade ago, but he is still putting the skills that racing taught him to good use today.
Since hanging up his racing gloves in 2008, the 47-year-old Scot has carved out ventures in the worlds of broadcasting and business, including television production, hotel ownership and event management, among others.
“I still function at my best when there is pressure to perform,” he says, referring to the demands of having to make crucial judgements, but this time in the boardroom rather than while flying around a race track.
“Having lived my life at 200 miles an hour, I’m used to making decisions at high speed and thinking quickly on my feet. That has been a real asset to me in business.”
Coulthard took part in 247 races, winning 13 of them and finishing on the podium on 62 occasions. In 2001 he was runner-up in the World Drivers’ Championship while driving for McLaren.
He also drove for the Williams and Red Bull F1 teams, in a career which began when he was given a driving seat at Williams after the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994.
The Scotsman has written a book called The Winning Formula looking at subjects such as teamwork, motivation and leadership, and how the strategies required to be a winner in the world of Formula 1 can be applied to business and life in general.
“I find it fascinating how much I learned in F1 and did not realise it,” he says of a career that brought him into contact with a large and diverse group of inspirational motor racing leaders.
They included triple world champion Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams at Williams, Ron Dennis at McLaren, and Dietrich Mateschitz at Red Bull, each of them with very different personalities.
Focus and energy
“The two that I spent more time with were Jackie Stewart and Ron Dennis,” Coulthard says.
“Jackie was a real racing legend. When I was a young driver he invited me to join his own Paul Stewart Racing team. This was before they raced in F1.
“He was one of my earliest influences – I learned so much from him, not only about racing, but also about life and business.
“I learned about the importance of presentation, dressing properly, being punctual, and bringing energy and focus to everything you do.”
He adds: “Ron Dennis redefined engineering in F1 with his high attention to detail. That detail included non-engineering things too, such as various rules, such as no hands in pockets, no drinks on work tables. present yourself in a certain way.
“Then you had Frank Williams, who built his business up from nothing. He came up the hard way, then had other challenges after his crash that left him tetraplegic – which he overcame and is still a giant of the sport.”
He says that all these successful individuals had a high work ethic.
“Whenever they came up against the barrier of a problem, they tried to find solutions, they would not relent until they found a solution,” says Coulthard who took part in his first Formula One race in 1994, and kept racing at the highest level until 2008.
“They were all brave individuals who were not afraid to make brave decisions.”
He says that as well as hard work, attention to detail, and strong decision making, other characteristics that business and sport share are commitment, teamwork, and an ability to meet deadlines.
“There are lots of similarities between sport and business. And in both if you do well people will reward you for it,” he says.
“I wasn’t the greatest F1 driver, I never won the World Championship, and only won 13 races, but I always gave my best. If you always give your best then people will know that they can rely on you.”
Coulthard modestly forgets to mention that as well as being a championship runner-up in 2001, he was also third-placed driver three times, and was part of two Constructors’ Championship-winning teams.
After failing to complete his last race in Brazil in 2008 following an incident in the opening lap – a “sad end” he says – he went straight into a new career in the media.
“My father had actually referenced my post-racing career in my teens, before my racing career had started,” he says. “We were watching James Hunt commentating with Murray Walker, and he said that going into TV would make a good post-racing career for me.
“So after I crashed out in Brazil, three months later I was back in the paddock in Melbourne with the BBC.”
He adds: “I have always had plans, and looked ahead beyond my given role at any time. A lot of people in business and sport can suddenly find themselves replaced, or pensioned or paid off, and can’t understand why it should happen to them.
“But you have to think ahead, and always make yourself employable. Even if you have to temporarily downgrade in order to see where you can fit in.”
As well as Velocity Experience, a brand experience agency that helped to deliver F1’s Live London event in 2017, his business interests include Whisper Films.
It is a TV production company specialising in high-end branded content, documentary films, and sports productions, including producing the F1 coverage for Channel 4, and also working on NFL Football, women’s football and rugby, and this year Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
“Whisper Films is something I am particularly proud of, because it was an area I was not particularly experienced in when the venture started,” Coulthard says.
“Anything to do with motorsport is safe ground for me, but when we started Whisper Films it was not so clear what the skills sets needed would be. I put my money where my mouth was, and we have grown year-on-year.
“This is the last year of Channel 4 coverage of F1, and as the end of this chapter gets closer, I will either say ‘I have enough on my plate’ or more than likely I will put my focus into something else.
“I am just not sure yet what it might be. I couldn’t envisage completely how my evolution would be over the past 10 years, and I can’t foresee it for the forthcoming 10-year period. It is still a play in progress.”