Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson says the sport is a “closed book” for him now and he’s focussed on winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.
I spoke to the ex-Super Aguri driver today who said he was keen to see the proposed world sports car championship go ahead – and feels it’s just as good as F1 in many ways.
I also had a rare opportunity to race karts with him and examine the driving style of a world-class racer at close quarters.
A different world championship
Since contesting his final F1 race at the Circuit de Catalunya two years ago, Anthony Davidson has branched out into sports car racing. He feels it has a lot in common with Formula 1:
For some reason it doesn’t have the same following that Formula 1 does. Now I’m involved in it and I’ve seen how competitive it is I don’t see why because we have manufacturers involved and we have professional drivers that have been in Formula 1. And, arguably, who still deserve a place in Formula 1.
It’s strange. It’s something that I think about a lot that in so many ways it’s just as good as Formula 1 and the show is just as good as well. It’s a really great category to be involved in.
Wind back the clock 20 years or more and sports car racing had its own world championship and several top drivers competed in both.
Now plans are afoot to revive the world championship for sports car racing and Davidson is firmly in favour of the move:
I really hope it happens. For me, anything that has the title “world championship” is appealing. Everyone wants to be world champion in their chosen category. It’s something I’m all for and would love the chance to compete in a world championship.
“Formula 1 is a closed book”
When I ask the inevitable question about whether he might make a return to F1 he exhales and says:
You can never say no – and you can never say never – to that opportunity. But I think it’s quite slim these days.
And, like I say, I am fully focussed on sports cars now and I’ve got a great drive with Peugeot. Particularly after the defeat at Le Mans this year, when it was looking so good, it makes me even more eager to come back and get that victory under my belt. It would be without doubt the biggest thing I’d ever won and I’d consider it my biggest achievement ever, even more so than being in Formula 1.
In my mind, Formula 1 is a closed book. But, if the opportunity ever came up again I would definitely consider it. For now, I’ve always been 100% focussed on the task in hand, and the task in hand now is winning Le Mans.
It’s clear his new found enthusiasm for sports car racing is sincere. He explains how since leaving Super Aguri he’s set himself the goal of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours:
Since Formula 1 ended [for me] I was in contact with Peugeot. I’d already done a few GT races with Prodrive and I knew there was more to life than Formula 1.
After F1 came to an end Serge Saulnier invited me to a test at Paul Ricard. I had no idea what an LMP1 car would feel like to drive, especially a diesel.
I went along and it was a very professional outfit, very impressive, the speed of the car was very good and I really enjoyed myself around a circuit I knew. I was pleasantly surprised with how close an LMP1 car felt – not just in speed, but all the controls, all the technological advancements that go along with a car like that – it felt very much like home to me.
So it was something I stored in my mind which I definitely wanted to do in the future. At the time it didn’t come to anything because of the circumstances, and I was still chasing Formula 1 at the time.
I ended up doing Le Mans with Prodrive again but this time in the Aston and it was a great experience. From that moment I knew I had to get into the best car to give me a chance of winning the race outright.
I set myself the goal for at least the next ten years of trying to win Le Mans. And I’ve now turned all my attention to that and happily stepped away from Formula 1 to achieve that.
I’m not missing it at all. I’m enjoying doing the radio work [for BBC Radio 5] and talking about Formula 1. It’s fascinating to see the rate of progress and the technology involved with F1.
But the LMP cars are on a par with what we had in Formula 1 just a couple of years ago with traction control and all the other electronic advancements that we have to play with. It’s a fascinating world and something I can really fall back on my previous experience of years as a test driver and the races that I did in 2007 and 2008.
So it’s very familiar and something I’m absolutely enjoying. They’re proper cars with proper teams. If Peugeot wanted to do Formula 1 they could easily do that. It’s just that they choose to do Le Mans.
Turbodiesels and closed cockpits
Davidson races Peugeot’s turbodiesel-powered 908 while several other LMP1 cars use petrol engines.
This is just one example of technical diversity in sports car racing, which seems to offer more opportunities for teams to do something different than the ever more tightly-regulated world of F1:
I think you do see [technical diversity] in Formula 1 still, it’s just in a very clever way and a secretive way. It’s not as apparent as in sports cars – F1 cars all look similar and sound similar, because they’re all governed by the rules very heavily.
And it’s the same rules for everyone. Whereas the thing that makes sports cars great is that there’s diversity in the regulations for different types of engine and chassis and aero configurations. For example, open car or closed car – those things really open up diversity and the fans can actually see differences between the cars.
Driving a diesel is a great experience in its own right and I’m really glad that I’ve done that in my career. It’s very hard to explain to the general public – and other drivers, even – that there’s a definite skill in driving a turbo engine and it’s a bit of an animal you have to fight with. Which makes it even harder in tricky conditions like a street circuit or rain. It gives a good test of your ability.
I meet him at a media event to promote the upcoming Silverstone 1,000km LMS race. He’s positive about the new-look track which F1 raced on for the first time this year:
I’ve driven the new Silverstone on a simulator and in a road car a couple of times. But it’s going to be a completely different experience with the LMP car.
I’ve been talking to the guys at Populous and I think they’ve done a really good job with the circuit. I think there could be more to come in the future as well, which is exciting.
Circuit design is something I’ve always been fascinated by. Even as a kid I would draw circuits in my school book – and racing cars, of course!
Shortly before the interview I went up against Davidson on the Daytona Sandown Park kart track. Drivers and journalists were paired together for a one-hour race – me sharing a kart with Nigel Mansell’s son Leo.
I took the start from the middle of the pack while Davidson streaked away from pole position. Towards the end of my half-hour stint he lapped me with little difficulty. But that gave me the chance to watch his driving style closely.
He was fabulously smooth around Sandown’s many hairpins, carrying speeds I couldn’t dream of into the corners without allowing the kart to slide.
He chalked up the fastest lap of the day on his 14th tour. And he was incredibly consistent too – look at this sequence of laps beginning with his best of the day:
How does he do it? Here’s a tip from the mouth of the 1994 British Junior 100B and ICA kart champion:
It’s all about keeping momentum. It’s the same as driving any racing car, but even more so with karts because they’re very snappy.
As soon as you make a mistake they’ll snap on you and you lose all momentum. At least in a racing car you’ve got a lot more power to get you out of a situation.
But I’ve always loved karts. It feels like coming back home when I get into a kart.
His real home race this year takes place on the same weekend as the Italian Grand Prix (11-12th September). Davidson will be joined by several other ex-F1 drivers including Nigel Mansell, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jean Alesi.
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