INTERVIEW: David Coulthard

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Former Formula 1 driver and BBC commentator David Coulthard is celebrating his 20th year of involvement in the grandest motor-racing event with a new watch from TW Steel.

The TW Steel CEO Tech David Coulthard is the Scot’s third special edition watch launched in conjunction with the Dutch brand, which has become impressively synonymous with motor-racing in its short nine year history as a company.

Coulthard was in London at the end of February to officially launch the watch where we sat down with him to discuss his involvement with the brand, the design process behind the special edition, what he needs from a watch when he’s on the road and TW Steel’s support for the traditional gateway to Formula 1, karting.

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The globetrotting Scot is a world away from the stereotypical image of the cosseted modern racing driver. He mingles among guests at the launch introducing himself and shooting the breeze on topics from motor-racing to the lengths he’ll go to for charity – the previous evening saw him on stage in heels and a gold lamé dress in order to raise funds for the Wings for Life spinal cord research foundation.

As we sit down to talk, Coulthard turns to a merchandising display of TW Steel watches set up beside him and clearly proud, tweaks the position of the new model bearing his name.

Coulthard first became aware of the TW Steel brand when he was offered the chance to run the Scottish A1 GP team. He turned down opportunity because of his close association with Formula 1 but bumped into former associate Stuart Morrison, now PR and Communications manager at TW Steel. Morrison had previously worked on marketing the Columbus Hotel in Monaco, that Coulthard jointly owned at the time.

“Just through seeing the brand grow over several years into their life, knowing Stuart, we just became aligned. This is my third edition and my fourth year working with the brand. Obviously through Formula 1, my face and image as a racing was used with other brands but that was through the team contracts rather than a direct contract with me, so this is the first brand I’ve been involved with directly. I was drawn to it because it was different, you can get into the watch competition of all of the very high end Swiss brands, like I was with a friend at the weekend in Courchevel and he dropped 200 Grand on a watch for his wife, very nice it is too but you don’t have to drop 200 Grand to have a nice watch that feels good.

“But I like the way TW Steel operates, I like the fact Jordy [Cobelens] is the owner of the business, his father [Ton Cobelens] is heading up design, you can feel part of the family and if you look at my career in Formula 1 it’s all very much about team. You know who your boss is, you know who’s the boss of the engine side, you know who’s the boss of the tyres and you’re talking to the top men at all time to develop the product and I think that’s something which makes it an enjoyable relationship. It’s beyond business.”

When watch brands bring out a special edition attached to one of their brand ambassadors I’m sure I’m not alone in cynically suspecting that any collaborative design process went as far as a few cursory emails or a chat over coffee. While Coulthard didn’t exactly dust off his draftsman’s tools, he did have a very clear idea of what he wanted from this latest collaboration and was confident in handing the design process over to Ton Cobelens, TW Steel’s chief design officer.

“Ton is obviously responsible for ultimate design but I get involved in choosing colour layout, whether I think that’s something I would wear. That was something I was happy to be involved in with my previous watch [the 2012 TW Steel CEO Diver David Coulthard Swiss Automatic Limited Edition]. I wanted something in grey, because I tend to travel with only one watch, so something that could work brown, could work black, casual, could work in the evening and it evolved from there. The rubber strap was something I particularly liked, how it blends in, I just think that’s a nice detail.

“And this [the 2014 CEO Tech David Coulthard] is an elegant watch, something I can wear daily whether it’s gym or whether it’s an evening function. Because my travelling job today is partly on television and includes a number of evening functions for the likes of Mercedes Benz and Hugo Boss and various companies I have brand ambassadorial contracts with. It’s grey, I’ve got any number of different TW Steel watches but I’m not going to pack them all in my briefcase when I go travelling.

“Of course I’m proud to have my name on any particular watch and inevitably people will go ‘ah, what’s your watch?’. Some people will go ‘I’ve never heard of TW Steel’, some people will go ‘ah, okay’ could be they think it’s maybe something else and they’re expecting you to say this is a half a million pound watch. It’s like when I’m driving around Monaco, not in my classic car [a Mercedes Benz Pagoda 280SL from the year of David’s birth in case you’re interested] I’m driving around in my Smart because I’m not in the competition of who’s got the fanciest car, I’ve been the racing driver I don’t need to drive the sports car.”

Coulthard has lived in Monaco, where he took two of his 13 Grand Prix victories in 2000 and 2002, for the past 19 years and sounds as content as it’s possible to be in the safety and security it affords his wife and young son.

“They don’t have the experience when I first moved into Formula 1, my place in Chiswick got broken into twice and actually if you’ve got a front door onto the street it’s not difficult to work out, if you know who lives there, that if you’re live at the Australian Grand Prix you’re not coming home. So you get into the whole thing of what level of security do you have, do you have people in and I just don’t want to live like that.”

TW Steel has recently sponsored Daytona Karting which operates three karting venues in the UK and now gives the watch brand sponsorship deals across a complete cross-section of motor-racing. Coulthard had only discovered the new partnership that day and was enthused by the link to the sport which gave him, and the majority of Formula 1 drivers, their entry into motor-racing.

“I love karting and I raced karts for a living until I was 17. I couldn’t start until I was 11, Lewis and Sebastian and people like that started racing at eight, because the regulations had changed. I have a five-year-old son and I would definitely like him to race, not because I want him to be a Formula 1 driver but it’s a great discipline, it gives you car control which will come in handy when you’re older on the road, it teaches you mechanical understanding, teamwork, respect on the track. It ticks so many boxes. McLaren have young karters signed up. Oliver Rowland came from karting, Lewis came from karting. It’s more pure, it’s more man than the machine, when you get into Formula 1 it’s man and machine but the machine has to be the dominant factor because without a quick car the best driver can’t win."

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