David Coulthard - It Is What It Is

I make no secret of the fact that I have been a fan of David Coulthard since he entered F1 in 1994.

DC grew up in south-west Scotland like myself, so the fact that a local boy had made it to the very top of his chosen profession - coupled with the fact that this profession happened to be my favourite sport and was televised every other week made it all the easier for me to follow and support him through his career.

The promise that this book would tell the story of his F1 career from his own perspective was what encouraged me to buy it - I’ve always wondered what actually happens behind the scenes as it would appear that what is said in public is not necessarily what is truthfully happening in private. With the current Alonso/Hamilton fued, this has come more to the fore in present times, and involves DC’s old team McLaren so it was going to be interesting to read what his time there had really been like.

I’ve not been a huge fans of autobiographies, and I’ve certainly never read any from other F1 drivers so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect of this book - the last thing I wanted was to read a pretty dull account of what had happened in each of his races, together with a list of achievements. This would have been an easy way to fill a couple of hundred pages, but thankfully DC has refrained from doing so.

The book starts off at the beginning of his story, with his childhood in Twynholm but once we pass this and get on to the racing it does jump about in time a little. The core narrative is pretty chronological, but there are offshoots which go on to talk about things in the future or past, but these are always relevant to what is happening at the time so it never gets confusing or feels that there is a lack of structure to the book.

Although Coulthard has been in F1 for 14 years now, there is not a huge deal known about him other than what has happened in those 14 years themselves. Unlike Damon Hill, Jenson Button and now Lewis Hamilton, he was never really regarded by the media as worthy of huge hype - which is probably a good thing. Even when he was Britain’s only realistic chance of getting anywhere near a World Championship, he was rarely the main focus of TV attention which does seem a bit strange when you consider the massive media spotlight which focussed on Button and is now homing in on Hamilton. In the book, DC says that he never expected to be considered Britain’s best driver mainly due to the fact he is Scottish - although he wears the Saltire on his helmet, he is proud to be British but knew that because he wasn’t English then this would hold him back a little from getting the nation’s full support.

This may sound like he has a bit of a complex on the subject, but it’s a generally held belief that Scottish sportspeople are only called British when they win and Scottish if they lose - it may sound like sour grapes on our part, but it’s not really something that bothers us. The same thing happens to Andy Murray in tennis and will no doubt continue to happen in the future.

Following the release of this book, the media latched onto the story that DC was once bulimic. As the media are into sensational stories, this was obviously going to happen and presumably something Coulthard was prepared for - but in actual fact this only takes up about half a page and he doesn’t really dwell too long on it. He simply offers his explanation of how it came about, and stresses that it’s certainly not something he would condone others to do.

The story of his rise through the ranks in karting and then into single seaters documents just how hard it is for young drivers to get into this sport - and also how it impacts on their whole family. Coulthard was lucky enough to have a family who were in a position financially to get him on the first step of the ladder, and with enough contacts to see him rise up the rungs to eventually reach F1.

It also shows just how close he was to missing out on his dream. His funding was dwindling away, and but for Senna’s fatal crash in 1994 when DC was a test driver for Williams, he may never have actually raced an F1 car at all let alone have such a long and distinguished career at the top of motorsport.

There are plenty of stories about his life away from the circuit, the most notable being about surviving his plane crash in 2000 in which both pilots were killed, but the most interesting stories for me at least concerned his time at McLaren.

In all, he raced for the team for nine years which is an amazing feat when you think about it. During this time there were various rumours about the team favouring his teammate for some of those years, Mika Hakkinen. Team boss, Ron Dennis, always denied this publicly and DC spoke out at the time that he was sure the team were being impartial however in the book he offers some proof that Dennis eventually confessed that he had a special connection with Hakkinen and was indeed favouring his side of the garage.

To think how this must have hindered DC during his career must really annoy him - to know that your boss is favouring another driver must be a bit like driving with one hand tied behind your back. Driving in F1 requires a lot of concentration and you really need to be mentally strong, but with all these insecurities flying about in his mind it must have been very hard to Coulthard to do his job to the best of his abilities. But still he played the team game and didn’t speak out against his boss or anyone else in the team - unlike some modern drivers!

The book finishes off with his move to Red Bull, and the progression in his private life. He is now engaged to be married and seems to be very happy - both at the track and away from it.

The book is an engaging and entertaining read and allows the reader to get to know the real David Coulthard rather than the media’s perception of him. It is an excellent lifestory which would be interesting for both F1 fans and those who don’t follow the sport. There are mentions of races, but he doesn’t go into much technical detail so it is very easy to follow for those who have no F1 knowledge.

My only concern really about the book is it’s timing - I think it’s fair to say that DC is closer to the end of his career than to the start of it, so why release the autobiography now rather than in a couple of years once he has retired? I dare say that a publishing company asked him to do it so he though “Why not?” - after all they may not have asked again in a couple of years!

Plus of course, he has a wedding to pay for…