Saturday, March 27, 2021

When you win

’It is an amazing rush of emotion that flows through your whole body when you win. I certainly don’t get that feeling in anything else I do in life. It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy, a physical sensation that is almost sexual.’ Happy birthday David Coulthard - 50 today. At the time of his retirement as a Formula 1 racing driver in 2008, he had competed in the most races and amassed the highest points total of any other British driver. He won his first F1 Grand Prix in 1995, and then two in 1997. The following year, 1998, the media made him favourite to win the championship, and he kept a diary of his efforts to do so. 

Coulthard was born on 27 March 1971 in Twynholm, southwest Scotland, into a family with a racing history: his grandfather had competed in the Monte Carlo Rally, and his father was a Scottish karting champion. He went to school locally, did well at O-Levels, but was increasingly drawn into the racing world. From the age of 11, he was racing karts, and by the age of 18 he was racing cars. He was the first recipient of the McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year award. In 1991, he signed with Paul Stewart Racing to compete in the British Formula 3 series, taking five victories and finishing second in the Championship. Several further jobs followed before, in 1993, he joined Williams Grand Prix Engineering team as their official test driver. After the death of Ayrton Senna in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Coulthard himself was given the chance to race.

In 1995, Coulthard remained with Williams, winning his maiden Grand Prix in Portugal, but then, for 1996, he switched to McLaren-Mercedes alongside Mika Häkkinen, scoring his first win for McLaren in Melbourne at the start of 1997. In all, he scored 12 of his 13 grand prix wins and 51 of his 62 podium finishes with McLaren, and, after supporting team-mate Häkkinen to the drivers’ championship in 1998 and 1999, he finished runner-up to Michael Schumacher in 2001. In 2005, he moved to the newly formed Red Bull Racing team. By the time he retired from Formula 1, in 2008, he had notched up 535 points, making him then the highest scoring British driver of all time.

Coulthard switched to working for the media, a pundit for the BBC and then Channel Four; but he also returned to racing as an active driver in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series in 2010-2012, piloting a 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class for Mücke Motorsport. In 2018, he was appointed spokesperson and advisory board member of the forthcoming W Series, a racing championship for women based on Formula 3-homologated Tatuus T-318 chassis. According to his own website, Coulthard ‘now uses his talents in the business arena from starting a number of successful businesses to ambassador roles to guest speaking’. According to Wikipedia, Coulthard was engaged to Karen Minier, a Belgian Formula 1 correspondent for French TV channel TF1, in 2006, and they had a child in 2008. He lives in Monaco, but has homes in London, Belgium and Switzerland; also, he owns several luxury hotels in Britain. Additional further information is available at RaceFans

In 1998, Simon & Schuster published David’s Diary - The quest for the Formula 1 1998 Grand Prix Championship by David Coulthard with Gerald Donaldson. See Goodreads for several reviews. Here are two extracts.

25 April 1998
‘In morning practice I was quickest, by eight tenths of a second over Mika, even though I spent much of the session working with different set-ups to try to reduce the understeer I had been experiencing while turning into the corners.

After the first qualifying runs I was fastest. Then, when we changed the set-up to reduce the understeer so I could attack the corners harder, Mika nipped ahead. For my third run we returned my car to its original settings. Three quarters of the way through the lap I was a couple of tenths slower than Mika’s time, so I threw everything I had into the final sector and finished up on pole by a tenth of a second over Mika.

It was my second pole in succession and very satisfying to get it. There was an element of relief to it because I had made it hard work for myself. Near the end, I knew Mika had improved, and that it was always going to be tight. So it was a good feeling to go out and do what I had to do, and react positively to the pressure of qualifying.’

26 April 1998
‘In the warm-up I was fastest by a considerable margin and felt very content with the car in race trim. The spare car was set up for me this weekend and I even had time to check it out for a few laps. Mika wound up fourth quickest after losing time with boiling brake fluid. I had a similar problem but chose not to come in and have the brakes bled the way he did.

To me, this was an indication that Mika was not as settled in his mind as I was. In a situation like this both drivers are thankful, in a way, that they are suffering with the same problem. It's easier to deal with in your mind when you know fate hasn’t singled you out. But it seemed like a push too hard. There was no need to be on the limit at every corner and as I had not won a race yet it would be foolish to risk making a mistake. I just quietly eased away.

The early laps went by without incident and then on lap 17 I was informed over the radio that Mika was out of the race. I didn’t see his car anywhere on the circuit so I presumed he had retired in the pits, which meant it was unlikely he had an engine failure. A few laps later I was instructed to short shift - shift gears earlier than usual at a lower rpm.

I never questioned why the team wanted me to do this, though ! suspected it had something to do with whatever Mika’s problem had been. I didn’t want to have to worry about it. When your team mate has a mechanical failure you have to be prepared for a similar problem in your car, but there is very little you can do about it other than follow the team’s instructions. You don’t want any unnecessary information. As it turned out Mika had a gearbox problem, but there seemed to be nothing wrong with mine.

Everything continued to go fairly smoothly and on lap 44 peeled off into the pits to make my second stop. I came in slowly to avoid overheating the brakes and the guys put in the fuel and changed the tyres with their usual efficiency. When I regained the circuit I immediately saw in my mirrors a red Ferrari. I then wondered at the wisdom of being so cautious on the entry to the pits, because I wasn’t sure if the Ferrari behind me was being driven by Michael or Eddie Irvine, who had been running second and third.

Since I was quite busy trying to get the most out of my new tyres I didn’t want to ask over the radio which Ferrari was behind me. When you’re concentrating hard a conversation can be distracting and any information you receive may not be immediately absorbed. So I focused on keeping the gap to the Ferrari and when I came around after the first lap my lead had actually increased. At this point I became more relaxed because If I could open up the gap with a full load of fuel and new tyres I was obviously in good shape.

It was Michael in the following Ferrari. He made a pit stop, after which he began to close up on me quite quickly. To counteract this threat Dave Ryan came on the radio and said I should go back to normal shifting. It was funny, because Dave said I needed to do a certain lap time to maintain the gap to Michael, and when I came around again I had actually gone a tenth of a second quicker than instructed. I felt like going on the radio and apologizing.

It was important to let Michael know that he could chase me all he wanted but if he got too close I could still go quicker than him. If you are chasing someone and they start to open up a bigger gap it can be demoralizing and they tend to back off. That’s what Michael did and he settled for second place.

On the final lap I spoke to the team over the radio, saying my usual thing when I am about to win: ‘Here I come!’ All the guys were leaning over the pit wall as I crossed the finish line and I jinked over close and gave them a bit of a victory wiggle.

It is an amazing rush of emotion that flows through your whole body when you win. I certainly don’t get that feeling in anything else I do in life. It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy, a physical sensation that is almost sexual.

This victory was especially satisfying because it was so timely. I had to come here and do exactly what I did. It is important not to allow people a comfort zone. That gives them extra confidence, so I had to take pole and lead from the start. When you’re under such pressure you have to take yourself back to the core of your self belief and motivation. You have to keep reminding yourself that you have what it takes to do the job. When you get proof of that, with a w it can put you on a roll.

In the post-race interviews I made a point of saying that my result was the best response to the earlier criticism, and to the rumours that my future in the team was not secure. It brought me to within three points of Mika in the championship, which meant the team would continue to focus on us both. If Michael had retired, it would have been perfect, but I was still three points ahead of him.

There was no partying or celebrating after the race because I was actually feeling unwell. I had a very sore stomach, probably from something I ate, and had to lie down for a couple of hours in the back of the team motor home. Heidi and I didn’t leave the circuit until late and it was well after midnight when we got home to Monaco. The next day I was involved in a Mercedes ‘A’ Class promotion with Mika and Ron near Nice, and that night we went to Barcelona to begin a week’s testing.’

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