“Formula 1 is a closed book in my mind” – Anthony Davidson

Interview

Anthony Davidson, Keith Collantine, 2010

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.
Anthony Davidson

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.
Anthony Davidson

“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.
Anthony Davidson

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.
Anthony Davidson

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.
Anthony Davidson

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!
Anthony Davidson

See (here and here for F1 Fanatic’s earlier interviews with Populous.)

Wheel-to-wheel

Anthony Davidson, 2010

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:

14. 49.979s
15. 49.999s
16. 50.018s
17. 50.081s
18. 50.090s

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.
Anthony Davidson

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.

Images (C) F1Fanatic.co.uk

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62 comments on “Formula 1 is a closed book in my mind” – Anthony Davidson

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  1. Great post Keith, it’s great that Ant is committed to perusing Le Mans.

  2. Great interview. Very jealous that you got to play on track with those guys. :)

  3. Just wanted to add that Ant (apart from being a stellar driver) is by far the best F1 commentator we’ve seen in the sport in a long time…. Practise sessions are probably as interesting as the races when he’s in the commentary booth.

  4. Hairs (@hairs) said on 25th August 2010, 19:01

    It’s even greater that he’s enjoying doing BBC commentary, because they need a good commentator.

  5. thestig84 said on 25th August 2010, 19:02

    Thanks for that, really good read. What times did you get Keith? I have been a couple times 51.6 being my best so far.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th August 2010, 21:00

      I did a 51.078, and my consistency was pretty hopeless too! If I may open the racing drivers’ book of excuses, my flight was delayed last night and I was utterly shattered.

      • Keith, off topic I know but I’d just like to say welcome back and I hope you and you’re wife had a lovely time.

        Best wishes to the both of you! :D

      • sato113 said on 25th August 2010, 22:25

        which position did you finish? and out of how many drivers?

        • Cari Jones (@cari-jones) said on 25th August 2010, 22:27

          He came fourth out of 12 :-)

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th August 2010, 22:51

          Yeah Darren Turner won with Autosport’s Glenn Freeman who was very quick – he’s got quite a bit of experience, I believe. Davidson’s team were second, not sure who he was with. Leo and me were fourth, his brother Greg was further back after a couple of penalties.

  6. PeriSoft said on 25th August 2010, 19:04

    I was pleasantly surprised with how close an LMP1 car felt…

    Well, in fairness, he was used to the Super Aguri. The LMP1 might have been quicker.

    • Sush Meerkat said on 25th August 2010, 19:22

      Thats an insult to LMP1’s everywhere, I will fight for the honour.

      Handbags at dawn, ten paces.

  7. Sparkyj23 said on 25th August 2010, 19:21

    Another vote for Ant to form the dream team with Brundle. If i win big on the Eurmillions my first task will be to get Ant back in F1.

    • wont happen. you need a race commentator and an expert as a pairing (not two experts)

      the commentator part is very difficult, which is why there is perennial talk about how bad walker/allen/legard are or were.

  8. Sush Meerkat said on 25th August 2010, 19:26

    While I’m sad that Mr Davidson isn’t in F1 racing I’m happy that he’s there in there in the capacity of Radio work and the dreaded Pratice sessions, he has an excellent rapport with Crofty and both are happy cheeky chappies which is an almost unknown quantity in todays F1.

    He’s like James Hunt except he’s not stupidly drunk or aggressive… OK fine, he’s nothing like James Hunt.

    • rampante (@rampante) said on 25th August 2010, 19:43

      You may not remember James Hunt but I do well. When I was in the UK he was the only one to tell it as it was. He may have been totally crazy in his racing days ( on and off track) but he knew what was going on at the track. I would love to have a voice like his back in F1.
      I’ve only heard Davidson on a few occasions when I’ve been in the UK during a race weekend and he does sound good but don’t rubbish Hunt. Murray Walker who has gained the position of sainthood in the UK was a nightmare and only with hindsight and passing time is he regarded the way he is. It’s easy to look back at some of his comments but having to listen to them during a full race was more than painful.

      • Sush Meerkat said on 25th August 2010, 23:34

        Yeah I know about Hunt, I never liked Murray Walker too, I can’t understand the adulation the guy gets…

        “and here’s prost, going round a corner”

        Yeah thanks Murray, I gathered that, he’s like Legard.

        • adam mason said on 26th August 2010, 4:23

          The thing with Murray is that he seems to make This Driver and That corner sound like the only thing that exists

  9. DaveW said on 25th August 2010, 19:36

    Great interview. And printing a large amoount of the discussion is much appreciated and a very rare trear.

    Don’t mock LMPs. Time was, sportscars were about as quick as F1 cars and were more advanced. Malicious FIA formula tinkering and the 91-93 recession put an end to that. Remeber V-12s vs. flat-6 turbos vs. 4cyl turbos vs. big block V-8s with many thousands of pounds of downforce? Maybe one day we’ll see again a series with extraordinarily quick cars with true technical diversity. If F1 remains frozen in amber technically sports cars may well creep up and again become comparably fast and more advanced. If 2-3 proper manufacturers got back in we could see that.

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 25th August 2010, 20:48

      Yes, that was a super interview that really painted a portrait of Anthony. But I wish he had enjoyed more racing in the F1 world before moving on to sports cars. He should really have had a better ending than Super Aguri.
      He’s now joined the ‘lesser’ world of sports cars, and raced in one of the world’s most historic and under-reported races: Le Mans. It’s not that sports car racing isn’t sexy, but the principal reason that LMS/ALMS does not have anything like the public profile that F1 does has got to be . . . . . Bernie.
      Like him or loathe him (the latter, personally) you have to accept that he has achieved an enormous amount for the Formula 1. There cannot be many males in the developped world who could not name at least four Formula 1 drivers. The same is not true for sports car drivers.
      Personally, I still think I prefer sports cars because of their complexity and diversity. As Anthony said there’s diversity in almost everything: engines, bodywork style, tyres, team composition, and skill levels!

      • PeriSoft said on 26th August 2010, 16:25

        You must not include the USA in ‘developed world’. I’d be surprised if more than 1% of Americans could name -any- F1 drivers, past or present. I wouldn’t be shocked if less than 5% even know what Formula One -is-.

  10. Fantastic interview

  11. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 25th August 2010, 19:54

    That must have been a blast karting against him!

  12. Still getting used to your wedding ring Keith? :)

  13. Moarpheus said on 25th August 2010, 21:17

    I believe this guy is The Stig.

    • rmac923 said on 25th August 2010, 21:56

      Nah, Stig is taller than Ant. Besides, we all know who The Stig is anyway.

      • Adrian said on 26th August 2010, 12:06

        Do we??

        Someone I speak to often at work is friends with [the person named in the Sunday Times]‘s girlfriend and says that he does do work for Top Gear, but that he isn’t The Stig…moreover she says that there is in fact more than one person who plays The Stig depending on the situation (for example the rumour is that when they did the race across London and The Stig was on public transport – it was just a member of the production team in the suit and helmet…).

        As always with heresay, I don’t know how true it is or not, but she was pretty convinced.

  14. It’s sad that sports car racing has essentially been missing a World Championship as the top level for this number of years now. I would very much enjoy an international event above LMS or ALMS in the future.

    I would be pleased to see Davidson able to develop his career in sportscar racing, because I consider it good for racing drivers to be able to look at other interesting series, unlike many other drivers who at least give all impression of considering everything besides Grand Prixs no motor racing to be taken seriously. Drivers such as Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, for example, have shown quite impressively what successes a driver can have once he is willing to move past chasing chances in Formula 1.

  15. The sri lankan said on 25th August 2010, 23:22

    hopefully Toyota will Join the Lemans Championship and employ some ex F1 drivers

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