An MBE with the nerve to speed

2011-03-25 11:41

If you don’t follow the F1 Grand Prix, you won’t know who David Coulthard is. The Formula 1 champion – he lifted the championship trophy in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2006 – was in South Africa last week for the Top Gear Festival staged at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Midrand.

Coulthard, who was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) last year, was auctioned off for R40 000 at the Top Gear charity dinner.

For a man of iconic status, he is remarkably down to earth. After all, apart from his prowess behind the wheel, rumour has it that he “christened” all 181 rooms of the fancy Hotel Columbus he once owned in Monaco, gossip he’s neither confirmed nor denied.

Trying to enjoy himself with his wife in the Red Bull lounge, he is constantly interrupted by members of the media and fans for autographs and photographs. He greets each person with a smile.

He has calmed down since he stopped chasing the record of seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher and, some might say, the ladies as well. He and his wife Karin, a former F1 TV correspondent, have a two-year-old son, Dayton.

After 13 wins, 62 podium finishes and 535 points from 246 F1 race starts in a career spanning 15 years the Scotsman, who turns 40 today, says his greatest moment in life was nowhere near the race track. He looks over to his wife and says with a smile: “My wow moment was when I met her.

“That was almost life-changing for me because when I met Karin I just knew she was special.”

Despite knowing the danger an F1 driver faces every time he gets into a race car, Coulthard says he would support Dayton if he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“I’ll encourage him if he wants to take up racing and support him, and if he doesn’t it won’t matter as long as he is happy,” he says.

Coulthard hails from the small village of Twynholm in Kirkcudbrightshire. When his go-karting hobby took a serious turn, his father was supportive.

“If I came fifth in a race he’d still be proud of me as long as I enjoyed myself. He never shouted at me.”

His F1 career took off when he was promoted from test driver at the Williams-Renault team after Brazilian Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola, for the Italian Grand Prix.

Ironically, in his last race at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, Coulthard crashed. He suffered a broken leg and that led to his decision to retire aged 37.

But the thrill of the race hasn’t been completely purged from this petrolhead. He started racing a Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the German race series last year, is also a Red Bull team consultant and recently became an F1 commentator on BBC for this year’s series.

As for South Africa, Coulthard says the country has a lot going for it.

“There’s no reason why F1 should not be brought back here. You guys have had an F1 champion before (Jody Scheckter in 1979) and I believe you can do it again.”

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