Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson opened the central stage of the Autosport International Show on Saturday with a lengthy interview, providing insight into his plans for 2007, his relationship with Button, Sato, and Honda, and more...
Q: The first and obvious question is, thank the Lord you are in Formula One. About time?
Anthony Davidson: "Most definitely, it's what I've been working for the last five or so years at BAR and at Honda. Finally ended up where I've been working to be."
Q: Was it frustrating not to get a permanent race drive with BAR and with Honda?
Davidson: "In a way, yes, but then again they are a very, very top team now, they need a lot of experience so they can win races. So I totally understand from their point of view why they needed to hire the likes of Rubens [Barrichello] and why they've signed Jenson [Button] for a longer time.
"And they have been very helpful in getting me secure in the Aguri team. So I can't be bitter against that, because they've absolutely helped me a hundred per cent to land a drive in F1. With the support that they give Aguri, this has ensured me a drive."
Q: Will Honda continue to help Aguri and help you?
Davidson: "Yes, absolutely. I'm still actually contracted, on a longer-term contract, with Honda. So that's really good. I mean, it is like a big family, really, and it's a great opportunity to be a part of that."
Q: Was there any point during the four years that you pounded around the Grand Prix tracks, setting faster times than most, that you thought it wouldn't happen for you?
Davidson: "There were times when it gets a bit frustrating, but I didn't think that it's never going to happen. You never let that into your mind, I suppose. I think most drivers, most people, are more positive-minded than that, to let that sort of negativity come into your mind.
"I never really thought, for a minute, 'oh what am I doing pounding round and round on these test days for nothing, I am never going to get a chance, it seems that way' - I never really thought like that at all. But yeah, it did become frustrating at some points. And finally it did happen. I kinda knew it was going to somewhere along the line, but I just wasn't sure when. And it was today, now."
Q: Do you think there's a perception that the three races you've done - the two for Minardi in 2002, and the race in Malaysia, which was a disaster - do you that damaged your chance of getting a permanent drive through no fault of your own?
Davidson: "Well I've always thought, even when I was doing it at the time almost, that the Minardi thing was too early. I jumped into that car - a very difficult car to drive at the time - midway through the season as well, probably one of the difficult, technical circuits of them all, at Hungary.
"And it was really bizarre circumstances with Alex Yoong not qualifying for the last couple GPs and they were looking for someone else to replace him because it was in his contract that they could do that. So me and management paid to do it - I think it's something like 250,000 GBP for two races - nice! - and I seem to think it was a mistake, now when I look back at it.
"But you're young, you're naive then and you think it's going to be easy, and learn the hard way that Formula One isn't easy, and it's not easy to beat someone at their own game. I think at the time as well Mark Webber was seriously underestimated, by myself included. He was my teammate, and you're never going to just jump mid-way through the season in the most difficult car to drive, in one of the most difficult circuits, and do very well.
"So to only be four and a half tenths off him in qualifying, I thought it was pretty good, now that I look back at it. And you're judged after two races, and that was very unfortunate. And yes, it still seems to be in people's mind, that that was quite damaging. So I'm really glad that I'll get a full season to really show now what I can do in a car that's a lot easier to drive and one that I do know, and I'm now more experienced so it will be less of a problem."
Q: We're seeing quite a number of test drivers making the move up. Alex Wurz has got the race seat at Williams, and Robert Kubica was promoted to the race seat [at BMW]. What is it about the concept of the third driver that proved to be so successful?
Davidson: "Well, I think it gets into the media attention just purely because you are setting fast times out there. People seem to focus more on the Fridays - it's quite bizarre that they focus more on Fridays than general test days that we do.
"I've had some mega, mega days alongside Jenson and genuinely going faster than him on a general test day, say at Jerez in Spain, where no one would really bother to look how the day went and no one really seems to know that the testing's about to start next week and I'll be there again.
"The highlight really seems to be the Fridays, and that's where it really is important for the Friday drivers to do well. Unfortunately, you are still at the beck and (call) of the team's programme, what they want to do with the car, knowing as well - when you take into account that the teams can make these cars two seconds faster or slower at their will with fuel loads or tyres or engine revs, you're really in their hands of how well you appear to be on the Friday.
"But being able to get out there and set good times, that's really what it's all about and it gets that attention, and that's where guys like Kubica really highlighted themselves and got the driver's role. But the team put him in purely because of what he did in general testing as well, not because of the media hype that he gathered through the year.
"It's basically that they get to see first hand what this guy is capable of, and I suppose that's what Honda has seen in me over the general tests as well."
Q: In your role as a third driver, were you able to sit down with Jenson and Rubens and make a difference? Could you make changes to the race car, that have cropped up for you on Friday, and make a difference? Or do the two programmes run separately?
Davidson: "No, you're a team, so it did absolutely run just like that, where I'd go out there and be unlimited on engine mileage, unlike them, and I could get out there and learn the tyres, learn the track conditions, and learn how the car was.
"It's not really telling them what springs, what damper settings to be running or stuff like that. Those are the details that are preferable more to different drivers. So Rubens and Jenson would always have a different set-up as I would too. The detailed side of the car.
"But I was just really doing more general work, like the ride heights settings - you don't want to go out there with limited engine mileage for those guys and go out there and wear your plank away and waste five laps, because you just cannot afford to waste any laps at all when you're limited on those miles.
"So I'd get out there first, the car would normally be touching, so you'd come in and you'd raise the car a bit, that would get noted down, the other guys would then go out - but already with that higher ride height setting, and they wouldn't waste time in having a car that was unbalanced or wearing the plank too much. It's simple things like that, it's not rocket science."
Q: Testing has obviously put you into the spotlight, but looking at it objectively, do you think there's too much testing? Too expensive? Wouldn't it be better if you just all turned up and raced?
Davidson: "I think how it's going to be this year will be a lot better. Yeah, last year we did a lot of testing and the year before was even more so, and it does take it out of you. Especially for the Friday driver, where you're doing all the general tests in between.
"So I would have done the equivalent of two years ago going out next week, and then flying out to Melbourne, and then flying back and doing a test at Jerez again, and then flying back out the week after to be in Bahrain or something like that, and then come back again and do another test... You're just wearing yourself out.
"It's really a lot of work. January, February, March time is really where everyone worked their hardest. So I'm in agreement with holding it back, limiting testing a bit more generally, and then doing more out at the circuits, so the fans have got something more to watch as well.
"They got more interest. The cars will be out there. Get rid of this rule of limiting the engine mileage on the Friday, which they've done, and the cars are going to actually get out there and run around and put on a show for the fans - at the end of the day, that's why we're there."
Q: Now something else you've got up to in 2006, which was very funny, was sitting alongside Mr Allen in the ITV commentary booth
Davidson: "I thought you were going to say 'getting married' there for a minute!"
Q: We can talk about that if you want, your wife is right there. But you made your commentary debut, and you couldn't have chosen a funnier event to do that. Just talk us through the build up to that, and how funny that all was in the end.
Davidson: "It's amazing twist of circumstances, really. Obviously you hang in around after the Friday driver, you have to hang around Saturday just in case like that year in Malaysia where Takuma [Sato] couldn't drive [and I replaced him for the race].
"So I'm hanging around on the Saturdays, and then I got approached by BBC Radio Five Live first, saying, do you want to come up and do a bit of commentary with us, just, you know, give you something to do as well. So I thought that would be good, good fun. And I think I made a name for myself in the commentary world.
"Then I think Martin Brundle had to miss the Hungarian GP, and ITV phone up - I think James Allen himself phoned up the PR team at Honda and said, would Anthony be interested in doing the commentary for us in Hungary?
"I thought, yeah, ok, I'll give it a go, it will be hard - and it was - so I thought I'll go and do that, and that was the one race that Jenson wins! It was completely unbelievable to be there, commentating on a guy that I used to race against from eight years old onwards. To see him win and commentate on his first GP win was an amazing circumstance come together."
Q: A very proud moment for you, because Jenson's a mate and because of all the world that you've put in behind the scenes that ultimately led to Honda and Jenson's first win.
Davidson: "Yeah, absolutely, it was a great weekend for everyone. That's the reason why Honda are in Formula One - it's not just to make up the numbers and for a bit of marketing; they're really serious about winning, and hopefully this year will be really good for them too. And, yeah, it was just fantastic, really. It all came together. And you need that.
"When haven't got THE quickest car, you need to make everything else work. And absolutely, it all came together to the head at that race. The teamwork was fantastic, the car was really quick in the wet conditions, Jenson drove amazingly well, and between all of us, we all did such a good job for that weekend. We always do, but that weekend you can just pinpoint and say, we didn't do anything wrong.
"Nothing went wrong apart from Jenson's engine blow-up on the Friday, where we all thought that was it, all doom and gloom, but the team really did absolutely everything they could have done, and it came good."
Q: I think ironically without that ten-place engine penalty, if he had started at the front of the grid, the race could have panned out completely differently for him, and he may not have won...
Davidson: "Well the thing is, you know, in those conditions, we had opted for the softer tyre anyway in the dry conditions. That's part of my job on Friday - I thought that we were basically graining both sets of tyres, so I thought we might as well go with the softer option to at least get the car out there in qualifying. But as it turned out, it rained anyway.
"So you never know. Maybe being higher up on the grid, because of not having the engine penalty, you would have opted for a different tyre to start the race on, so you would have started on the full wet instead of the intermediate tyre - and that would have definitely been the wrong tyre to choose, as Rubens was on that tyre and he was higher up on the grid, and he slipped back and lost a lot of positions from that.
"So you never know, maybe they did benefit in the long run."
Q: Don't get any funny ideas of doing a James Hunt or a Martin Brundle, will you, and taking up commentary. You've got a few GPs to win yet.
Davidson: "When people said, you should seriously consider that - that is so far down the line, it's not true. So yeah, trust me on that one, that's not going to happen for a while."
Q: Let's talk about your immediate priorities in 2007. Paired again with Takuma Sato - you raced against him in F3, you were teammates in 2001, and the pair of you dominated. Good to be back with Taku?
Davidson: "It is good to be back with Taku. I mean, obviously we worked well together as well at BAR doing all the testing, as we were both test drivers in 2003. And, yes, we know we can work well together and we know we race well together from F3. It's going to be interesting to continue the fight that we shared in F3. Even though he was in his second season, he was the one I really looked up to then, and he was definitely the man to beat in 2001.
"Now I feel that I've got much more experience just as a general driver; in 2001 I've only done one full season of car racing and that was in Formula Ford. So I was still learning massively. I still am, but then your rate of progress is almost vertical on a graph - you're learning so much, so quickly, when you start. So now it's going to be very interesting."
Q: The first rule of Formula One is to beat your teammate and of course that is probably more significant to you, because you've got history with Taku, and you have that rivalry that started in F3 and progress in F1. You've probably done as many laps as him in a GP car, haven't you, despite not having raced very often?
Davidson: "Probably not, but it's close I'd say - because he's done the testing role at BAR as well, and you do rack up the miles at testing. But the race drivers test as well, it's just not very well known that they are out there doing the hard work as well - although they don't go out there and work quite as hard as the test drivers normally do or have to do, because that's all the test drivers have.
"You naturally just want to be going quicker and making the car work better for you - instead of setting it up for someone else, you're setting it up for yourself; you're not going, at the end of the day, hand the car to someone else. It's going to be your car, and I am noticing a difference in myself in the approach to testing. I'm now using all those skills I had but for me instead of someone else."
Q: A quick chat about 2007 and the expectations from the car. What can you do in a Super Aguri in 2007?
Davidson: "Well. the realistic aim is to be in the top ten, and even though it will be really hard and incredibly tough to score points in F1, that's got to be the ultimate goal for the team's second year in existence, and my first year as a full-time race driver in F1. I think it's doable, though, I really do. What the team showed, how they came on through last year and ended up finishing 10th fair and square in the last race in that car was unbelievable.
"They really work well as a team, I'm seeing that already. It's a small team, but they're very close-knit and there are a lot of good guys there, and they all pull their weight. I'm really, really happy with the team that I'm in, and I really believe we can go forward."
Q: You've tested the car already. How did it feel?
Davidson: "It felt really good. The main dominating factor was the tyres, though. They are the thing that slowed us down by about two seconds a lap. So that was very, very different. I was getting in the car expecting that to be the case anyway, but that really was the dominating factor.
"A Formula One car is a Formula One car, give or take a second or two, but you really feel at the end of the day those four contact patches that is where you're feeling the grip. And if you haven't got the grip, it's like driving in the rain: it might be a nice balance, but you've just generally got less grip. And that's pretty much what we're feeling now, as drivers."
Q: Much of your testing knowledge was focused on tyres, of course. But there's no tyre war in 2007. Is that a good thing?
Davidson: "I don't think so, I really enjoyed the tyre war. Even though maybe it became too much of a focus in testing, it was a very good thing to focus on. And tyres are fascinating - even with all this technology, they still don't understand them 100%, why sometimes they work, sometimes they grain, sometimes they go off midway through the race or one of them might come on through the race, or even different from set to set.
"Excuse the pun, but it is a black art. It's really hard to get right, and it was fascinating stuff going testing and just feeling obvious changes from different compounds and constructions that were thrown at you.
"It's a lot easier now physically without having to do tyre work, because you're not out there doing long runs anymore, seeing when they're going to go off, because it's the same for everybody. So it's more about making your car work on the tyres rather than finding the tyres that work on your car."
Q: Who would you say is your favourite all-time legend?
Davidson: "Everyone says that, but it's got to be Senna. It's just purely because the speed of the guy... I think Kimi Raikkonen is probably the closest driver these days that comes close to Senna in just pure terms of speed in the car.
"He was just a natural driver with a very distinctive style. And just ruthless with it. And had this kind of mystique as well about him that no one really figured out. He was an awesome driver, and one that every other driver in the world would aspire to be.
"He was and he always will be up there. He was what everyone would want to be. And for the people that raced against him, he was the one that everyone needed to beat. And if you could get even close to the guy on one lap, that would make you happy for the whole year."