Anthony Davidson

History

Anthony’s driving career began at the age of eight when he tried karting for the first time, a birthday present from his father Denis. What began as a family hobby quickly turned into a competitive sport.

KARTING

Anthony competed in his first race in 1987, and over the next 12 years went on to compete in various British, European, and World Championships with considerable success. Anthony won numerous karting Club and National championships, including two British MSA Championships, and finished second – by one point – in the 1996 European Championship in his first year of International racing.

“It all started out pretty low key: we went to a few kart events, got our own kart from Martin Hines at ZipKart, and did a few races. It was nothing more than a hobby, with the kart on the roof rack and it was actually my brother who started out racing first, because he’s older than me – so I was the younger kid following in his footsteps. Andy had got to British championship level, with me competing at club level, when he had quite a bad shunt and broke his ankle – and that was a critical turning point. Suddenly Andy became my mechanic and the focus turned to me.

That set the pattern for the first few years of my career: me driving, Andy as my mechanic and Dad doing all the rest. At Cadet level, I was doing battle week in, week out with guys like Jenson Button and Dan Wheldon. Jenson was from Somerset, and he raced down there – where he also met Gary Paffett; and Dan and myself would be racing in the Rye House area. But the funny thing was how intense the Dads all got – it was completely their sport and they were massively competitive, in fact they still are today! The kids didn’t really know what was going on, only that we were bloody good at driving these things, but it was the Dads doing the hard work driving up and down the country and taking us to all the race meetings. I think that, at one point, we did 42 race meetings in a year… and that didn’t include testing!

I won the 1994 championship against a works Fullerton driver, Robert Bell, and that caught Terry Fullerton’s eye. By the end of the following year, Terry had phoned my Dad to offer us a works deal for ’96 – and in karting, that’s the equivalent of getting a call from Ferrari. We got the right equipment, we had brilliant engines all year, we were on the right tyres and the kart was incredibly quick.

That 1996 season put me on my way. I turned pro in 1998, with Biesse kart, and lived in Milan. When I drove for them, I lived in a tiny flat above the factory. I didn’t understand the language and I was like a fish out of water in Italy, but they were fun times too; I was a professional kart driver now, and I really thought I was set forever because I had no money coming in from anywhere else.”

FORMULA FORD

At the end of 1999 Anthony made the move from professional kart racing to single seater car racing, driving a Formula Ford with Ray Cars and winning his first six races – all from pole position. Anthony joined Haywood Racing, and went on to become Winter Series Champion in Formula Ford Zetec.

The following year, Anthony won the prestigious Formula Ford Festival World Cup. Anthony’s achievements in Formula Ford led to his nomination for the McLaren/Autosport Young Driver Of The Year Award, which he won and was awarded in December 2000.

“In 1999 I also met my future manager Didier, he had spotted me during my karting career and got in touch to offer me a long-term contract. He was an investor helping a kid with no money, and we got on really well – no arguments, no problems; it was the dream kind of management deal. He invested in me and, if I ever made it, the deal was that I’d pay him back. It was daunting to look that far ahead when I just 19 but this was the moment for me – and I had to go for it.

After winning the Winter Series with Jim Warren’s Haywood Racing Team, we then had to decide which team we wanted to race for in the 2000 championship and we decided to stay with Jim; we felt that I could maybe assert myself there as a team leader, and that would give me a fair chance of going for the championship.

In the end, I finished third in the championship but my big win was the Festival – to this day, I still think of it as one of the best races of my life. It was a really chaotic race, a big scrap, and this was still in the days when it was all the best young drivers in the world coming over. It was just magic: I got pole, won all the heats, and won the final from pole.”

It sounds out of place but, by then, we were already thinking about F1. In our planning, we’d only given ourselves one year in each class; the traditional way of doing things was to do a learning year first, then a year to win the championship. But we’d already made contact with B.A.R, and my manager Didier had been really bending their ear for a potential young driver programme.

One of the Team’s management came to the Festival on an invite from Didier, but I didn’t know he was there – I remember speaking to him as he was heading home. That was my very first connection with B.A.R, and the deal was signed a couple of days before the Autosport Awards – an F1 young driver contract, promising me time in the car. Now I look back, I just think how lucky I was that all the timings came together. But that was also the reason why, after winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, I was never able to drive the McLaren car which was part of the prize!”

FORMULA 3

In 2001 Anthony joined the Carlin Motorsport Team, to compete in the British Formula 3 Championship. After a successful rookie season, Anthony finished second in the British Championship to his team – mate Takuma Sato, who completed his second year with the team.

During the same year Anthony competed in and won the Pau Street Grand Prix and the Spa Elf Masters, winning the F3 Euro Cup Series.
“The next stage on the ladder was Formula 3. We knew that Carlin was the team to be with if you wanted to be competitive, and I wanted to go up against the best driver in that category – maybe that was brave, maybe it was a bit foolish.

I got into the second car at Carlin, alongside Takuma Sato, and he was the hot property that year; he’d been quick the previous year, winning a lot of races, and it was his second full season. We didn’t start off as the quickest team, but we worked really hard, pushed each other along and by mid-season, we were right on the pace.

For me, the learning curve was huge. It was a massive jump in professionalism, understanding how to drive with downforce, focusing on one team-mate instead of three or four, and the category was really about set-up, too. It was just a minefield and it probably took me the first few races of the year to get up to speed. I got my first pole position at Oulton Park and from there, things started to roll. My first win came at Croft – that felt like a really big step, and the momentum was really going by then.

After that first win, we headed to Pau for the famous street race. The expectations were low, as it was my first visit there, and we were up against the best from Europe for the first time that year. After claiming pole position, it was a lights to flag victory, and I took the fastest lap as well. Suddenly I was a new name on the European scene; it was as good a feeling as winning the Festival the year before. And after that, the results just came flooding in – I won five more races and finished second in the championship to Taku.

It was a busy season in F3 but I’d already got my first taste of F1 by doing straightline testing for BAR – and it was awesome. I’ll never forget the first time I got behind the wheel of an F1 car, at Vairano in Italy. In those days, the V10 had close to 1,000 bhp, revving to 20,000 rpm, and I can still recall that incredible surge of acceleration.

Straightline testing doesn’t sound like much, but it came with huge pressure: for the first time in my career, I felt like I was the only piece of the machine that didn’t know what it was doing. In F3, we had two mechanics and an engine guy popping over now and again; in F1, even just testing, there were 20 people around the car and everything ran like clockwork. As a rookie, you don’t want to make even the smallest mistake.

The night before, I couldn’t sleep: the team had given me a steering wheel to learn all the controls, and I was playing with it all night because I was so nervous about getting stuff wrong. But it all went well. We did three days of testing, they got all the data they needed and I just didn’t want to stop. Any information they gave me, any mode they wanted to change, I made sure I knew every switch on the wheel and the terminology for it, as well. The team were pleased with my feedback, so it was a really encouraging start.”

FORMULA ONE

Anthony’s Formula One debut came in 2001 as test driver for B·A·R Honda whilst also competing in the British F3 Championship. A long career as test and reserve driver with team followed. Anthony also competed in two Grands Prix for the Minardi F1 Team in 2002, and in the 12 hours of Sebring, Le Mans 24 hours and Petit Le Mans with the Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari GT team in 2003 – all whilst undertaking his testing duties at B·A·R Honda.

In his position as reserve driver for the B.A.R Honda F1 Team, Anthony drove at the Malaysian Grand Prix for the team in 2005, as substitute for Takuma Sato. Continuing in his role of third and reserve driver for Honda Racing F1 in 2006, Anthony was again able to showcase his ability driving on Fridays at race weekends, and in November 2006 signed with the Super Aguri F1 Team as race driver for the 2007 season.

Following a strong 2007 season, Anthony was confirmed by the Super Aguri F1 Team as race driver for the 2008 F1 Championship. Sadly, due to financial issues, the Super Aguri F1 Team was forced to withdraw from the 2008 FIA Formula 1 Championship after the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

Anthony returned to action testing for the Honda F1 Racing Team, and continued to work on various testing and development projects in Formula 1 with the Brawn G.P. F1 Team. Since then, Anthony has remained involved with the simulator development and testing with the Mercedes GP F1 Team.

“At the end of 2003 I signed a three year deal as test driver with B.A.R, and in 2004 the team was allowed to run a third car during Friday practice at Grand Prix weekends.

We had a good car that year, a good engine and the right tyres, and quite often I was setting the fastest time overall on Fridays. Monaco was the big one for me: I was topping the timesheets and trading fastest times with Schumacher, and that was an eye-opener for a lot of people.

It was a great showcase for me and, that summer, Didier started doing the rounds talking to other teams. I was also making a lot of calls myself: one minute I was on the phone to Frank Williams’ PA, the next I was sitting in an interview with him.

There were good opportunities with Jaguar and Williams – the Jaguar connection came through Tony Purnell, who I met earlier in my karting career – and I had a test lined up with Williams at one point. Due to contractual issues it never came to anything sadly, teams didn’t want to a sign up a driver who was already on a multi -year deal with a rival, and B.A.R didn’t want to let me go! It was a stalemate situation and although I got close on a number of occasions, the momentum never got converted into something concrete. It was just a case of bad timing, that’s all.

When the Super Aguri drive came together, Honda basically brokered the deal on my behalf. As usual, I thought sponsorship would be the stumbling block, but this time it wasn’t. I was at a friend’s house when the phone rang and, although I sort of knew it was coming, it was still a great moment to have the seal of confirmation. It was a full season in F1, and it was everything I’d worked for.

There’s a world of difference between being a test driver and a race driver. I knew the circuits, I was confident in the times I could do and I knew my technical feedback was good, but when it came to racing wheel to wheel, things didn’t gel for me until I’d got a few races under my belt – I hadn’t raced in single-seaters since 2001!

I look back on it as a really good year and there were some outstanding moments, like Turkey: I qualified 11th, barely a tenth outside the top ten. The works team knew the numbers from our car and theirs, and they knew my car was inferior, but I’d still outqualified the other Honda-powered drivers.

The winter of 2007/08 was probably the lowest point of my career, a horrible time: we were on this rollercoaster of the team being on, then off due to finances , and right up until just a few days before Melbourne it looked certain that it wouldn’t happen.

Eventually, we got the green light to go to Australia, but it was really mixed feelings out there: we were so delighted to be there, but on the other hand we knew that we were only there making up the numbers. We hadn’t even turned a wheel and the car was a real ‘bitsa’ – we had absolutely nothing in terms of resources.

Mentally, it’s hard for a driver to know that and still perform at 100%. It wasn’t meant to be, and in those few months, we slowly watched the team die.”

SPORTS CARS

During 2009, Anthony returned to sports cars to contest the Le Mans 24hrs race in a Prodrive Aston Martin LMP1. Having raced as high as third position during the race, mechanical issues hampered the car and Anthony along with team-mates Darren Turner and Jos Verstappen brought the car home in 14th position. Anthony also contested the Spa 24 Hours in a Nissan GTR, finishing third in the GT1 class.

In 2010 Anthony made the step to racing sports cars full-time, joining Team Peugeot Total for its 2010 Le Mans campaign.

In his debut race for Peugeot at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Anthony and team-mates Alexander Wurz and Marc Gene finished first in the No. 07 Peugeot 908 Hdi FAP, having started from pole position. The historic win was the first time a French car had won the race since it began in 1952.

Following the Sebring victory, Anthony went on to win the Autosport 1000km of Silverstone, helping Peugeot to win the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC).

2011 continued in the same vein. Anthony claimed three pole positions and enjoyed victory at the 6 Hours of Spa, Imola and Zhuhai – and again Peugeot took victory in the ILMC.

After a winter preparing for a full campaign in the new World Endurance Championship in 2012, Peugeot unexpectedly decided to end its endurance racing programme due to the economic downturn.

In February 2012, Anthony joined Toyota Racing to race its TS030 HYBRID car at the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was the first year for Toyota Racing’s Hybrid campaign, and the team took part in selected rounds of the new World Endurance Championship (WEC). Unfortunately Anthony was involved in an accident at Le Mans that year, hit by a back marker his car became airborne and he suffered a broken back as a result.

Returning to action in 2013, Anthony and the number 8 car crew finished second in the WEC for Toyota Racing and claimed victory in the final race of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit.

In 2014 Anthony – along with teammate Sebastian Buemi – claimed victory at four out of eight rounds of the WEC, securing the Drivers World Championship title with one race of the series remaining. At the final round of the Championship Anthony and his teammates also secured the WEC manufacturers title for Toyota Racing.

The following year was a difficult season for the team, and Anthony along with teammate Sebastian Buemi finished the championship in 5th place for Toyota Racing, the highest placed Toyota car crew.

In 2016, Anthony and the team will return to the track hoping to challenge for victory for Toyota Racing in the new TS050.

COMMENTARY

Anthony began commentating in 2004 with the BBC as part of the Radio 5 Live F1 Team as a guest commentator whilst he was attending races as a reserve driver for the B.A.R F1 team.

After the demise of the Super Aguri F1 Team, Anthony joined the 5 Live F1 Team as a co-commentator alongside David Croft, a role he performed in addition to his own racing activities outside of Formula 1.

In 2012 Anthony joined SKY for the launch of it’s dedicated F1 channel, and remains with the team still, attending the Grands Prix which don’t clash with his own racing and testing commitments.