From early in his F1 career, David Coulthard became synonymous with stunning race starts, passing numerous cars before the first corner. As David begins his twelve season in F1, the driver tells us about his race preparation, a routine that has seen him become one of the highest point scoring drivers in F1.
The first few seconds of Grand Prix are both the most spectacular and the most significant. At this point both driver and team have spent two days trying to secure the best possible grid position, but in an instant a driver can gain or lose three or four places, that’s if he makes it past the first corner!
Like their cars, drivers are carefully prepared for every race. Millions watch as the drivers sit in their cars and focus on achieving the best possible start, analysing strategies and acting out every corner in their minds. This is important but the real preparation is usually undertaken away from the cameraman’s eye.
“I usually go through the same routine the night before a race”, says the accomplished Scot. “A Grand Prix weekend is so intense that it is nice to keep some things as normal as possible”, on a typical night before a Grand Prix David would try to get to sleep before 11 o’clock but he is usually in his room by around 9 o’clock. “It allows me to get away from the rush and pre-event build-up and I try to read a book, watch television or listen to music. It lets me unwind, which is important”.
With all the adrenaline and focus that is exhausted driving an F1 car at speeds of up to 200mph, it is unsurprising that David finds himself shattered come the morning before the race. However, David’s love for his sport carries him through his tiredness. “The feeling is one of excitement, because I love racing, and I really look forward to getting out in the car.”
After breakfast in his hotel or motor home, David aims to arrive at the racetrack around 8am; this enables enough time to run through the plans for the day with the mechanics. This is one of David’s favourite moments of the weekend, “you know the race is around the corner, and you do feel the race-day atmosphere, but you can get away from it all in the car.
However the race morning can be far from perfect for David, “there are people grabbing me and disturbing my train of thought when I am trying to concentrate for the race”. Distractions on race day include a serious debrief with his engineers, drivers’ briefing and parade lap, before speaking to sponsors and guests in the paddock club. After all these responsibilities are completed David can then grab a bite to eat while finalizing the race strategy with his engineers. It should be noted that just a couple of years earlier, DC would have also had to partake in the Sunday morning warm-up session too.
Despite a four-hour gap between the end of the warm-up session and the race, David only gets around thirty to forty five minutes to himself to gather his thoughts. “A little before 1pm I like to get a lie down somewhere, or at least find a quiet area. It is usually in that period when I perhaps get a bit more focused. I wouldn’t say you get nervous, but there is an edge about you and you do keep looking at your watch. I think what might happen, and visualize different scenarios.”
“I normally do a little warm-up about five minutes before I get into the car, if I have time. Its nice to have a stretch out and make your body feel good.” Now in the car David would typically do a couple of reconnaissance laps before threading his car through the masses of guests and mechanics on the grid. “At this point tension is mounting, and it’s important to keep a clear head.”
Once David has taken up his grid position he has finished the majority of his race preparation and again has some time to himself. “I always get out of the car straight away. I’m a tall guy; the cockpit is a cramped area. So I get out and have a chat with my engineer, go for a walk and go to the bathroom. People might think we do this because we are nervous, but it is because we are drinking so much fluid – normally up to five litres on race morning!”
With just ten minutes to go David puts his helmet on and gets into the car, now he becomes really focused, “I am totally concentrating on the race and I don’t even notice the crowd or any of the other pre-race spectaculars. All I can think about is the red lights going out and the race getting underway”.
After the lights disappear David’s heart rate rockets as he along with twenty-one other competitors race towards the first corner upon their 850 horsepower machines. “Nothing excites me more than a Formula One Grand Prix. I love to race, it is what motor sport is all about, and the feeling of racing down to the first corner, with all the cars jostling for position, is just fantastic”.