For years, David Coulthard has been a leading figure in pushing what performance can mean in racing. As a seasoned driver spanning across 1994 and 2008, he has watched the sport grow, develop and change, all whilst securing 62 podium finishes and 13 Grand Prix victories.
Few people know the world of racing as well as David Coulthard. With years of experience on the track, Coulthard embodies AMG’s always-on mentality. Week on week, David Coulthard set out to be the best. That’s why he joins us as one of AMG’s 55 Years Gamechangers.
With forty years of experience being on a race track of some form, be it karting or Formula One, Coulthard has spent decades honing what performance means to him in his own mind, both on and off the track. Behind the wheel, that all began in 1994 during his first experience of Formula One, driving with Williams, and only one year later winning his first Grand Prix race in Portugal.
But in Coulthard’s personal life, finding the balance between racing and living life outside of the track proved to be a question of two different mentalities. The driving legend explains that whilst in the driver’s seat, with the helmet on, you’re focussed on performance and going as fast as you can – there’s no alternative, and mediocrity is not an option. But day-to-day life didn’t quite seem to match up the standards and levels of determination apparent in competitions. For Coulthard, normal ways of living did not equate with the feeling and expectations of motorsport. Performance became a mindset that could not be shaken.
In many ways, AMG and David Coulthard are a match made in racing heaven – for both, performance sits at the heart of everything they do. And it’s not that it’s rare to find people who believe in performing to the same high standard, but he has seen AMG grow over the years, and knows what it takes to maintain your position and stay ahead of the game.
“The celebration of AMG 55 Years represents that human endeavour,” he explains in our 55 Years Gamechangers video. “It’s the spirit that took what was a normal four door Mercedes car and took it to the racetrack, and showed people what could be done.”
We sat down with David Coulthard to find out more about the early days of his career, what performance has meant to him throughout his life, and what the future of motoring looks like…
How can you describe the early days of your career?
The early days of my career were all about aspiration, they were about desire, they were about trying to find my route to the top. And that ultimately led me to being a test driver for Williams. And then beyond that time being test driver for Williams, it led me to McLaren Mercedes. And that's where I spent nine years of my career and ultimately shaped the relationship that I still have today.
You’ve mentioned before that, in the middle of your career, it was easy to feel as if normal life didn’t live up to the life you live on the racetrack. What do you mean by that?
I've come to realise, when you grow up in the world of just absolute performance and absolute desire to improve, a lot of everyday life accepts mediocrity. And it doesn't have to be that way. By way of example, we expect a train, plane or a bus to leave at a certain time. But yet we totally accept that we will get a service from a gas company at some time between 10 and 12. It doesn't have to be like that, but we've accepted it. And therefore, that breeds a culture of people going well, I'll turn up at 10, or I'll turn up at 12, because that's the window that's been given. If you look at Formula One racing, or any form of motorsport, or sport generally, the whistle blows, the lights go out at a fixed time, everyone's there, everyone's ready. And you can, you can run a life like that.
So how did your idea of performance change throughout your career?
Growing up in a world where you just accept what is around you, then that's your reality. But when you go into sport, and you work with driven, focused, high achievers, it just brings out that in yourself that you want to be more driven, you want to achieve more, you want to be more creative. It means that in that space, anyone that has the attitude “it's five to five on a Friday, I'll deal with that Monday” – they will not survive in a sport like Formula One. They need to be thinking, “right, I've got an idea. I know it's Friday five to five, but I'm not going to finish until this idea is developed.” And those who do that are then delivering that on Monday morning, as opposed to trying to find a solution to the problem on Monday. And that gives you a massive advantage over your competition.
Generally speaking, what do you think is the power that Formula One has?
If I use the words of Nelson Mandela, he said that “sport has the power to change the world and has the power to bring people together.” I think that Formula One, along with other sports, has that power. We've seen an increase in the younger generation following the sport more recently. And I think that it has technological advancement power – a lot of the technology we develop in Formula One is born out of necessity, need, desire for performance. And when you have something that's high performing, it's so much easier to then make it reliable than if you have something that's reliable to then make it high performing is more challenging. So, I think it drives forward automotive brands. And, you know, companies like Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG have committed to Formula One over decades because of what it does overall for the brand beyond just marketing.
What do you think the future of racing looks like?
I think that the desire for humans to go wheel to wheel in competition will never disappear. I think that the freedom that comes from ability is a joy, whether it's a kid learning to pedal the car, or whether it's an adult, male or female, watching the lights go out, and then taking on the competition. I think that it will continue to help shape the future of mobility for all of us going forward and looking for solutions to more sustainable ways to have mobility. But we're not all going to get on trains and buses anytime soon. It just doesn't work for the world. It works for certain sections, cities, and the likes. But the world is a very diverse place and it's a very spread-out place. Therefore, the automobile is always going to be something that, given a choice, people will make that choice. And why would you choose second best if you can have best?