David Coulthard will bow out of Formula One at the wheel of a dramatically-liveried Red Bull Racing entry in this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix, having been appointed as an ambassador for the Wings of Life charity.
After 245 races in the top flight, the Scot is dedicating his last ever F1 appearance to a 'special vision' - making spinal paralysis curable - with his regular Red Bull livery making way for exclusive branding for the Wings for Life campaign, which was founded by Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and Heinz Kinigadner, whose son suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorbike accident.
“I was lucky more than once in my career when I walked away from crashes," Coulthard reflected on the eve of his farewell, “so I dedicate my last race to the vision of making paraplegia curable.
“In Formula One, success is determined by a few seconds but, in medicine, people think in terms of years. In both disciplines, however, ambition and commitment are crucial factors that are needed in order to reach the finishing line as soon as possible, and Wings for Life helps to accelerate the breakthrough in spinal cord research.
"It is great that, at the last grand prix, we've had permission from all the teams to run my car in an independent livery - which I think is a first in this modern era of Formula One, [although] I am sure it might have happened decades ago.”
It is hoped that Coulthard's final race, after 15 years in the top flight, will turn a worldwide spotlight on paraplegia and increase awareness of the ever-present risk of receiving a spinal cord injury.
“I want to express how grateful I am that I have the ability to walk and run, as I know that many aren't as lucky as me,” the Scot added, aware that, not only has he survived accidents in F1, but also walked away from a plane crash in 2000 that killed his pilot and co-pilot. He suffered only bruising in the accident in France and was able to compete in the Spanish Grand Prix just a few days later.
"I think, in a lot of cases, people imagine that it is extreme sports where most people are suffering from those sorts of injuries, but the statistics show it is actually only about three per cent of the injuries that come from extreme sports. All of the other injuries, which is about 130,000 people a year, find themselves confined to a wheelchair through household injuries, car crashes, everyday life.
"Currently there is very little government funding for this type of research and the pharmaceutical companies are not interested, of course, as you can't buy a pill to cure spinal cord injury, so all of the money that is raised [by Wings for Life] through public donations goes to fund various institutions throughout the world and works with other foundations, like the Christopher Reeve Foundation, to find a cure for spinal cord injuries."
“David has been supporting us greatly in the past, with several projects such as the Faces for Charity action at the British Grand Prix in 2007,” Wings for Life co-founder Kinigadner commented, “He will make waves and increase worldwide awareness for Wings for Life with his car at the [Brazilian] race.”