He still wears the winning smile captured on this early school

photograph. But now he's famous. For when young Scots racing driver

David Coulthard got into a Williams grand prix car earlier this year, he

never looked back. Driving with smooth assurance, he earned many

world-championship points, a podium position, and the admiration of many

experts who now hail him as a future champion. But he doesn't forget his

background and his old school. And to judge by the reception he got on

this hello-again return to Kirkcudbright Academy, you can be sure that

the school and its pupils are unlikely to forget him . . .

DAVID COULTHARD blames Kirkcudbright Academy for his success as a

world-class grand prix driver. The rangy, 23-year-old former pupil

claims, with tongue firmly in cheek, that ''the school gave me too much

time off to go racing . . . which was all part of my programming for

Formula One''.

Scotland's most likely bearer of the mantle previously carried by Jim

Clark and Jackie Stewart left the red sandstone edifice in the town's St

Mary's Wynd six years ago with eight O-levels, one Higher, and the

single-minded self-belief which separates the sport's elite from its

legions of clubmen.

Coulthard admits to owing a genuine debt of gratitude to the former

rector, the late James Manson, for his latitude in modifying the

teenager's timetable so he could excel in karting, the breeding ground

for virtually all of today's F1 elite.

''I used to have to leave early on Friday, not returning until the

small hours of Monday,'' David recalls. ''Most weekends involved racing

karts but there were week days when trips to foreign tracks were

involved. It was hardly a recipe for quality school work.''

But the Twynholm-born sportsman concedes: ''I did not put a great deal

of effort into my school work. To be honest, there were times when

revision was finished on the school bus and perhaps a bit of subtle

copying came into it. I do like the the challenge of learning the

greatest amount in the shortest time, which came in useful.''

Learning rapidly is an asset which has proved invaluable when

translating technical characteristics into fine-tuning the chassis of a

200mph grand prix projectile.

Escorted by current rector Alex Scales and deputy Ian Mitchell, the

racing driver appears relaxed in the familiar wood-panelled and ceramic

tile environment -- and even confesses to having had the school blazer

he wore on the last school day preserved for some kind of posterity in

the attic of his nearby family home in Twynholm.

''It still has my pens and diary in the pockets, exactly as I took if

off,'' explains the immaculately-groomed young man -- whose father

Duncan, a haulage contractor, is one of his biggest fans and preserves

David's sporting record by displaying in the company's former sugar

store the karts, racing cars, overalls, helmets, numerous victory

wreaths, trophies and empty champagne bottles associated with

achievements on the track.

Alex Scales and Ian Mitchell, both converts to watching Coulthard's

eight-race exploits on television this year, admit that their ex-pupil,

who discovered he had six detentions instead of the ten he remembered,

has raised the school's profile this year.

Mr Manson used to flag up the success of his high-speed pupil by

announcing his results at assembly and Mr Scales plans to repeat the

process when Scotland's 54th grand prix victory is recorded.

Jim Clark scored 25 wins, Jackie Stewart ( a former mentor of

Coulthard) recorded 27, and another former Kirkcudbright pupil, Innes

Ireland, who died last year, was the first Scot to win an F1 world title

race in 1961.

A stroll through the Academy's corridors led to a conversation with PE

teacher Neil Christie and the admission from superfit Coulthard, that,

at 23, it is markedly more difficult to sustain high levels of race

fitness than it was at 16.

Coulthard retains fond memories of another PE instructor, John Boyd,

describing him as ''strong and hard, someone who laid down a line you

had to toe. You knew where you stood''.

David's weekend racing adventures precluded involvement in school team

games, but Mr Boyd's report praised the future high-profile sporting

figure as ''friendly and communicative, displaying previously unrealised

goalkeeping skills''.

Physics teacher John McQuistan is in the middle of a class on hearing

-- ''pretty boring stuff'' -- and the types of noise which can inflict

damage. For F1 drivers, ringing in the ears is a familiar post-race

experience after two hours spent driving with a high-performance,

high-decibel engine screaming one foot behind the cockpit.

The next classroom is under the supervision of the Academy's cheery

chemistry double act, John Lawson and Graham Mann, the latter admitting

to having been frustrated by Coulthard's frequent absences. Extra

lunchtime classes included several bouts of sleeping in the library.

Coulthard says he is surprised to find the school smaller than he

remembered it, which is hardly surprising as he is now a well-built

six-footer towering above most of the current crop of pupils, eagerly

seeking his autograph.

His handling of a question-and-answer routine with sixth-year pupils

in the sun-streaked classroom is handled with the same ease and aplomb

which marked the self-possessed Coulthard's arrival in the grand prix


Mary Cruickshanks: Have other racing drivers influenced your career?

''Yes -- Jackie Stewart, because I drove for his team for three years

in three different formulae before F1. He is the biggest influence in

terms of guidance and awareness. My favourite driver was Alain Prost,

the Frenchman. I liked his smooth style in the car, while out of it he

was, and is, a gentleman.

''Ayrton Senna (the former Brazilian world champion killed at Imola

earlier this year) was a great inspiration, and for an all-too-brief

period, within the Williams team, I could watch him and learn. It was

something pretty special.''

Coulthard did not tell his audience that, on the day before Senna

died, the Brazilian sent the Scot a fax wishing him ''all the best'' for

the Silverstone Formula 3000 race in which his would-be apprentice raced

and finished a fighting second, 24 hours after the Senna's fatal crash.

Terri Hair: Do you need to be fit?

''Stamina is the most important thing in my sport. I am not a muscular

guy. It is not just brute strength. Neck and shoulder muscles take a

tremendous hammering. I am now one shirt size bigger than before. You

pull 4[1/2] times gravity which in corners adds 24lb of weight in the

context of head and helmet under pressure.

''In a race, once your neck goes, your head comes down and you can't

see. I don't follow the life of a monk. I relax and go out dancing, have

a few beers. But not during a race week, perhaps four or five times a

year. So when it happens I am apt to do it properly, make it count.''

Gilbert McMillan (head boy): What were you like at school?

''Not particularly impressive. I would have done slightly better if I

had not been racing. But I am quite happy with what I have got in life.

I got away with the minimum of work but I was not wild or disruptive.''

Lynsey Coulthard (David's sister and a handy kart racer): What do you

think of my haircut?

''Very nice. What's your name again? This is probably only the fourth

time I have seen you this year.''

Lindsay McQuistan (daughter of teacher John): Does F1 affect your

driving on normal roads?

''I am obviously more reserved, even if at 17 I probably skidded

around all over the place, driving too fast for the conditions. I hope I

drive quickly enough but considerately. I am happy to be involved in

police safety campaigns. The driving test is not strict enough.''

Michelle Doherty: As an idol for health and everything, how do you

deal with having cigarette advertising all over your racing car?

''It is not something I am proud of. It is the only avenue for

cigarette advertising. The industry says it does not influence young

people starting to smoke, but aims at changing brands of established

smokers. Everyone makes choices. I do not feel guilty because I am not

encouraging people to smoke. Ideally, everything which is harmful should

not be around. I don't smoke and never will.''

Flavia Chierici: Do you have any respect for Damon Hill, your


''I am going to call the journalists who are building up a hate

campaign. It is not true. We are not best friends. Team-mates are very

competitive and under pressure within a team. What Hill has achieved has

been done with incredible determination.''

Corinne Dewar: Do you shy away from the media?

''I am becoming more selective about who I will talk to. But if you

don't speak to them you have absolutely no influence over what they


Laura White: How involved are you with the car?

''You are totally involved with setting up the machine. You tell your

engineer what you experience on the track, whether it is too soft or too

hard, how it handles on corners. How to adjust the wings, the

aerodynamics. There are 200 people who build two or three cars for the

races with a budget of #22m a year. So getting it right is important.''

Amanda Smith: How did Senna's death hit you?

''It is difficult to comprehend. It is strange not to see his helmet

in the car, the bright green and yellow one. Then you realise you are

driving his car. But you are different in a car to out of it.

Opportunities come in strange ways and driving 100% is the only way to

reflect his greatness. People die around us in so many ways but his

death was so public, so unexpected''.

Chris Tingley: Are you apprehensive about the dangers of racing?

''I have always been aware of the danger. What is for you won't go by

you. If your number is on it, it will come up. But I do love life and

I'm not oblivious to the risks. That would be ignorant folly.''