Analysis: Davidson boosts British presence
|By Alan Baldwin||Thursday, November 16th 2006, 12:34 GMT|
Britain, starved of success on the racetrack in recent years, could start next season with more Formula One drivers than any other country.
Anthony Davidson's long overdue appointment on Wednesday as a Super Aguri race driver for 2007 took the tally to three confirmed slots.
If McLaren, who have the biggest remaining piece of the jigsaw to put in place, choose 21-year-old Lewis Hamilton as teammate to Spain's world champion Fernando Alonso then there will be four.
Only Germany, with three confirmed drivers but Michael Schumacher now in retirement after seven world championships and a record haul of 91 race wins, and Italy with the same number come close to matching that.
More important than the quantity is the potential however and there Britain, a country that has provided more drivers and more champions over the years than any other, can also start to dream again.
David Coulthard, in what could be his final season, should line up in Melbourne with a far more competitive Red Bull than before, now that it has been designed by Adrian Newey and has a Renault engine.
It might not be too fanciful, if the circumstances play into his hands as they did for Jenson Button in Hungary this year, for the Scot to think about adding to his tally of 13 wins.
Button will also go into the New Year with far more confidence after landing his first win in Budapest, and the first by a British driver in more than three years, at the wheel of his Honda.
The talk, before the start of the season at least, will be of more wins to come and a challenge to become Britain's first champion since Damon Hill in 1996.
The last time four Britons started a season was in 2002, with Coulthard (McLaren), Button (Renault), Eddie Irvine (Jaguar) and Allan McNish (Toyota). Ralph Firman, with Jordan in 2003, raced under an Irish licence.
You would have to go back to the 1990s, with Hill and Johnny Herbert, to find two Englishmen appearing in every race.
Davidson's graduation from indefatigable Honda test driver to racer, even if it is with a team that was slower than anyone else this year, leaves just a handful of slots to fill on the 2007 starting grid.
Spyker have one, with Portugal's Tiago Monteiro hoping to return to partner confirmed Dutch driver Christijan Albers.
Toro Rosso, while hinting at an unchanged line-up, have yet to confirm Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi and American Scott Speed. And then there is McLaren, with double champion Alonso arriving from Renault but still no word on his teammate.
Most bets are on Hamilton, this year's outstanding winner of the GP2 support series whose West Indian ancestry could spark a media frenzy of the sort that greeted Tiger Woods's arrival in golf.
He has been a McLaren protege since he was 10 years old and the team's choice appears to be between a rookie with immense promise and the safe but less exciting hands of 35-year-old Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa.
McLaren are in no hurry to make the decision, because both options are under contract anyway and also because the Briton has had barely any time in a Formula One car.
The odds would appear to be against an all-Spanish starting line-up, but McLaren may well be wary of throwing Hamilton in alongside Alonso.
The continuing uncertainty was highlighted this week when McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh had to deny that the team's retired double champion Mika Hakkinen was being considered - currently.
As Autosport magazine reported, the 38-year-old Finn had twice tested in the McLaren simulator in the last month and had discussed a possible return.
Whatever the reality, Hamilton is confident and de la Rosa not giving up hope.
"I think the pre-season testing will be fundamental for McLaren to decide their drivers for next year," the Marca website quoted de la Rosa as saying this week.
"I think I can complement Fernando Alonso," he added. "We want to be world champions. We want to win. I think I can help Fernando."