It must be tough to be Anthony Davidson. Spending years of his career at Honda as a test driver, when he could have secured drives elsewhere is testament to this man’s loyalty – but when a seat vacancy arose, Davidson did not mean as much to Honda, as Honda did to Davidson.
Over his years of testing for Honda, Davidson picked up a reputation. He was not good at his job, he was one of the best. It could be argued that only McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa and former Ferrari’s former World Champion-cum-occasional tester Michael Schumacher are better at getting the technical aspects of the car just right.
Looking on as his twice former teammate Takuma Sato is helped by what seems to be half of Japan (the Honda half, not the Toyota half) to secure the second seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2009, Davidson must be wondering what happens next. Maybe there would be more of an outcry if it was not for Lewis Hamilton’s gleaming star.
This week it was announced that Sato would be testing for STR in Jerez later this month, but for Davidson, the Formula One options look bleak. Although the Brit insists he would be happy returning to a developmental role, providing it meant his profile remained high, he is a racer, pure and simple.
It was his testing, first with BAR and then when they became Honda, that brought Davidson into the spotlight. Barring a few lowly outings with minnows Minardi, he completed a total of six laps when he was the substitute for Sato in 2005. Following the creation of satelite team Super Aguri, again in order to keep Takuma Sato in Formula One, Davidson was given the second seat. In 2007 Davidson completed his first full season as a race driver this decade, in a car he knew like the back of his hand from testing at Honda in 2006. It is at this point that Honda’s cars started to nosedive in performance, and, although a wrongly calibrated wind tunnel has been blamed, you cannot help but think they would have done better had Davidson been around.
Super Aguri survived until the Spanish Grand Prix of 2008, when financial problems – caused by defaulted payments by title sponsor S.S. United – caused their downfall. Davidson had performed impressively, bearing in mind he was driving the slowest car on the grid, he was running in third at the Australian GP of 2008 before a warthog put him out of the race. Although Sato grabbed the headlines for overtaking then-World Champion Fernando Alonso at Montreal, Davidson’s performances went by almost unnoticed. Honda have said they are helping their dynamic duo to gain employment, but it is clear that the Japanese marque favour the Japanese driver, and it seems Davidson is going to have to migrate east, to the Honda-powered IndyCar Series.
The Briton was a guest of IndyCar Series frontrunner Panther Racing at last weekend’s Detroit round and, according to the official series website, should have tested with the team a couple of weeks ago, only for a shoulder injury, sustained while training on a mountain bike, derailed the plans.
The Briton is not entirely alien to the US open-wheel scene, having been offered the chance to quit his test driver role at Honda to join leading the Champ Car World Series outfit Newman/Haas Racing as long ago as 2005, (the same year a full-time drive at Williams F1 fell through because BAR wanted Davidson to return in 2006) but eventually opted to pursue his goal of racing in F1 instead of replacing Bruno Junqueira, who had broken his back, ironically, in a one-off IndyCar outing at Indianapolis. The rid eventually went to Oriol Servia who, like Junqueira, has been a full-time member of the now unified IndyCar Series this season..
Since Davidson’s visit to Detroit, Panther has signed fellow Briton, and former karting rival, Dan Wheldon to race the number 4 Dallara next season, but is reportedly trying to find the finance for a second entry as the IRL-sanctioned series regains some of its former lustre. While current Panther driver Vitor Meira would be high on team boss John Barnes’ shopping, list, Davidson is tipped as a serious contender, along with GP2 race-winner Mike Conway, who wowed onlookers, including several other IndyCar teams, with an impressive testing debut at Infineon Raceway last month.
Neal’s View: It is sad to see a grid without Anthony Davidson on it. He has more talent than some drivers lining up there and his testing ability makes him a valuable asset for any Formula One team.