David Coulthard Actor to observer

Here he reflects on making a life-changing decision that propelled him into a new career and allowed him to plan for his legacy.

The moment I stepped out of the new season's Red Bull car, I made the decision to retire from F1. Anyone involved in motorsport or business will know that sinking feeling. You have been waiting for a new car or product to be released, expectations are at a certain level, and then the reality of its performance hits you – and it's not quite what you had hoped.

It's a decision I have never once doubted or regretted

For me, that feeling came in January 2008. Leaving the track, I knew the team's new car wasn't one that could be developed into a winner. I felt like the wind had been taken from my sails. For the first time, in a career spent in a relentless pursuit of performance and improvement over 14 seasons in Formula 1, I felt doubt.

I recognized from that day that my life needed to change. If you don't want to fight for every second of every lap, every single day, then you're the wrong person for that job. It's better to be the one that understands that rather than have someone else tell you.

David Coulthard testing a Formula Ford car after his racing days, 2012

I suspect it's the same feeling a boxer has. Fighters don't always stay on the canvas because they're knocked out, occasionally they stay there because they just don't want to get up and get punched again. In the same way, I knew I wasn't going to have the energy to get back up again in the way I wanted.

The next month, February, I hurt my neck in testing while taking a curve, so I suggested that a young driver called Sebastian Vettel jump in my car so we could see how good he was. My manager told me that decision was a bit like a turkey voting for Christmas.

I harbored these thoughts for a few weeks, as I mulled over how things were developing. Then I eventually decided to discuss it with my family, before telling the team, that I planned to retire at the end of the season.

One decision I would have taken earlier was to think long-term about my legacy

It's a decision I have never once doubted or regretted. Maybe if the car had gone faster in testing that day and we were winning Grand Prix races suddenly, then I would have kept going, but there is a time for everything. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the one decision I would have taken earlier was to think long-term about my legacy and engage in the property market much sooner. But I was a racing driver living in Monaco and money was not really a concern so much at that time. My focus was absolutely on driving and engaging with the team.

Knowing what I do now, if I had the buying power and started building up properties the benefits would have been so much greater just the way the markets have gone. I haven't had sleepless nights about it, but if I had had the mental capacity and the life experience at the time, I probably would have done that much earlier.

David Coulthard in broadcaster mode

I had always planned to continue to be engaged in the sport when I finished racing and wanted to develop work in television and to work towards a few brand contracts. I began working for the BBC as a commentator, before moving to be a Formula 1 analyst and presenter for Channel Four in 2016. I wasn't sure I had all the skills I needed for the next stage of my career, but then I wasn't sure I had all of the skills necessary to be a Grand Prix driver and I had done ok.

I guess the thing I have always focused on passing on to my son is to grow up being polite and respectful and education-wise for him to be the best he can. If that's top of the class that's wonderful – if he is the bottom of the class but tries his best, then what more can you ask of someone?

Do I miss racing? No. I miss my sister Lynsay every day. She's no longer alive, but motor racing is still there. I feel like I was fulfilled and I did the best I could with the opportunities I had. Some drivers could have done more, some could have done less, but I had my journey.

I try and influence things the best I can. Beyond that, I would like to make sure the family doesn't have worries or difficulties, if I exit the stage a bit earlier than expected.

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Biography

David Coulthard is a UBS F1 Ambassador and one of the most successful British drivers in the history of Formula 1. He was a Formula 1 co-presenter and sporting pundit for the BBC, moving on to Channel 4 for the same role in 2016. David joined Red Bull Racing in 2005 and announced his retirement from Formula 1 in 2008 after his fourteenth Formula 1 season, with 13 grand prix victories and 62 podium finishes.