F1 and the Secrets to High-Performance Success | A Q&A with David Coulthard

19 February 2020

As one of the world’s most widely recognised sports personalities, David Coulthard  is a former Formula 1 Grand Prix driver, television broadcaster, author and entrepreneur and is sharing his widespread knowledge on how to succeed in a high-performance and high-pressure environment on the corporate circuit.

He took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our burning questions on the key to manoeuvring in a high-pressure environment and what qualities makes a successful team, with a few anecdotes thrown in along the way.

You had an incredibly successful career racing for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. How did a boy from rural Scotland work his way up to racing on the global stage for F1’s leading teams?

I was given an opportunity, and then I developed the desire and commitment to keep progressing until I reached the top. I was able to never dwell on setbacks and failures, but instead use them as learnings for future competitions.

What are some of the biggest lessons you discovered during your time in Formula One that businesses can learn from?

I realised that you don’t need to be an expert in every field to be able to play your part in a team. In F1 you need talented designers, engineers and mechanics with internal support from marketing and media. I possess none of those skills, but I could drive – that was my skill - and that is an important part of our industry!

Over time I learned how to become the voice of the car for the engineers, and they learned how to translate that into opportunity.  Ultimately it is this team work which, time and again, delivered the success for which I have been given so much credit.

As a racing enthusiast myself, and with a father who worked in F1, I know there’s a huge team supporting one or two drivers. So, what’s the secret to a successful high-performing team?

Separating a natural desire for self-gain for the greater good of the team.  Many industries fail to bring people together and give them the confidence that they will be rewarded as a group and not just an individual.  Everyone has to contribute in order for the team to stand a chance of winning, and unlocking that sense of personal accountability to the whole team is a vital part of the learning we can take from Formula 1.

You’re now a successful businessman – how did you make the transition to the business world?

I simply continued my approach to finding the best team mates to work with and allow them to be creative. I play my part in developing opportunities for the business to grow. If you take Whisper, my media production company, that started with three of us sitting around a table and discussing ‘what if?’ and now, 6 years later, we have a larger team of talented people delivering success for the whole business. We had the vision, and brought in the best people to deliver that vision for us.

Aimee read and loved your latest book  The Winning Formula . What was the inspiration behind writing this book, and what can readers expect?

I realised that I had learned a lot from others on my journey, and I would have benefited from that insight when I was younger. I decided that it could be useful for others, and if nothing else our son can read my views on business and life without feeling like daddy is lecturing!  I also enjoy speaking to companies, and in distilling the takeaways from my career in Formula 1 I thought it would be useful to put everything down in a book which people can pick up and dip into.

If you had one message that you would want an audience to take away from your speech, what would it be?

Every person will have their own view on what’s helpful, as after all I am not revealing some super formula, but that said I do believe in keeping things simple, knowing how to identify teammates and work to collective strengths. No one has all the answers, not even the CEO of a business, so situations need to be fluid and reactive to customer or market changes. You can’t do that with a fixed formula, so keep your focus, adapt and empower people to help you.

Finally, David, what’s on the horizon for you?

More of Life hopefully! I don’t have hobbies as such, but I am lucky to enjoy what I do, to choose who I work with and work hard not to let my teams down.  I feel very privileged to still be doing things I love and enjoy, and that will continue to be my formulae into the future.

Thanks for chatting to us David, we look forward to following your next adventures!

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