INTERVIEW

David Coulthard

When Frank Williams announced that he had hired David Coulthard, he was asked why he was hiring an unknown 23-year-old Scotsman to replace the late Ayrton Senna.

"Because he has a sensational-looking girlfriend," said Williams.

What Frank was really saying is that the square-jawed, clean-cut Scot has everything one associates with a top-line racing driver - even down to the glamorous female companion.

In the last two months David has not become an overnight F1 sensation. He has simply arrived and looks as though he has always been at Williams. His Grand Prix career spans four races: he led Damon Hill and scored points in his second and set the fastest lap in his fourth. It is impressive stuff but David says it is not good enough.

"The thing which concerns me is that if you start at the top, if you have to move somewhere else the chances are that it will be a step down," he says. "I have no real interest in racing in the pack. I want to race up at the front."

And he won't accept that lack of experience is an excuse.

"If you are good enough, your potential will shine through," he argues. "I want to show that I am quick and consistent but what I really want is a podium. Anything other than that will be very disappointing."

When you talk to David Coulthard you often forget he is just 23. He has an assurance way beyond his years.

"When I arrive at the races I park in the Formula 1 car park and come in to drive my F1 car. I feel I was always meant to be here. I am very relaxed with the situation. I know what I am expected to do both in and out of the car."

David's self-confidence is anchored in a tremendous natural talent and an ability to relate to people. Some of this, Coulthard admits, is due to Scottish triple World Champion Jackie Stewart. For three years David drove for Paul Stewart Racing.

"Jackie really made me aware of what I should be thinking about when I am driving and also what I should be doing to structure my life outside the car to get the most out of my time," David explains. "He advised me to sign up with the International Management Group and things like that."

But you cannot create a natural ability to communicate.

David shrugs.

"When you look at it I am a young Scottish chap from a small village in the middle of nowhere and I didn't have a great deal of contact with a lot of people. I had a good upbringing and that helped. The family business is haulage and part of the secret of my father's success is his contact with people. He makes everyone feel very special. I grew up in that situation."

It helped that the family had racing roots.

"My grandfather was very interested in the sport and my father raced karts until he was 14. My grandfather bought him a little racing car - I'm not sure what it was - but he died soon afterwards and my father stopped racing to finish his education and come into the family business.

"He was still interested and when I was about five he began sponsoring a karting team. When I was old enough to race we started.

"My father was a Jim Clark fan and when I was a little boy all I remember is Jim Clark this and Jim Clark that. I was only born in 1971 - Clark was gone in 1968 - but he was the first racing driver I could name."

David's other racing hero was Alain Prost.

"It's funny because Clark and Prost were similar in their style - on and off the circuits. They were quite gentlemanly and that is something I admire much more than being absolutely ruthless and cut-throat."

Even so there are times when being a gentleman is tough. Coulthard wasn't very happy when Williams decided to hire Nigel Mansell for the French GP.

"I was very disappointed," he says. "There was no way I wanted Nigel in the car. You become very attached to your car and, even though I am on a race-by-race contract, I thought of it as my car, my mechanics and my engineer. And Nigel was there playing with it.

"The team was very fair and told me when they started talking to Nigel, what the likelihood was and when it was confirmed. I cannot ask for more than that.

"I was disappointed and it probably didn't help me because I had to spend a month not racing. Now it is up to me to get as much testing as possible so I can get on a even footing with Damon."

David's aim in to be re-signed by Williams.

"I would love to be able to stay with Williams. That would be the ideal situation. But, you know, it's too early to know what is going to happen next year. To be honest I don't even know about the next race!"

The rest of the F1 paddock is now convinced that we'll be seeing a lot more of the distinctive Coulthard helmet. Blue and white for Scotland.

"I'm very proud to be Scottish," he says, "but I'm borderline nationalistic - quite literally because I live in the Borders. I see myself as British. I'm not a hairy-arsed Highlander."

No, hairy-arsed highlanders don't have girlfriends like that!

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