Adam Cooper on Anthony Davidson

Anthony Davidson's elevation to BAR race driver after years of playing the bridesmaid role is one of the great stories of the Malaysian GP weekend so far, and a lot of people in the paddock are hoping that he has a good run on Sunday

Adam Cooper on Anthony Davidson

Davidson's F1 CV includes just those two inconclusive starts with Minardi back in 2002, when he was loaned by BAR as a sub for Alex Yoong. He went fast enough to give Mark Webber a scare, but at both Hungary and Spa he ended his day in the gravel trap. His last race was an ALMS event at Road Atlanta in 2003, in which he finished second in his class in a Prodrive Ferrari.

Davidson knew on Friday night that Sato had a little fever, but at that time no one knew how serious it would become. Indeed in the evening he was sitting on the grass outside the BAR office, trying to kill time. He was scheduled to fly back on Saturday night - the usual schedule for reserve drivers - until his life suddenly turned upside down.

"I woke up at 6.30am and packed all my bags to go home tonight," he said after first qualifying. "I got a phone call from the team manager Ron Meadows saying, 'Where are you?' He sounded a bit concerned, and I said I'm at the hotel, I'm waiting to get my lift to the circuit.

"He said, 'Don't get excited yet, but there's a chance you might be racing.' I took my bags with me anyway, and then I finally got the call at around 8am, and then I was in the car at 9am. So there was not much time!

"I was prepared for it, that's why I'm here, that's why you always come along. You have to be prepared in every angle. The team are, I am, there's lots of testing mileage, and I'm mentally and physically prepared. I'm a little bit tired still from the jet lag, only arriving on Thursday night. In an ideal situation I would have got out here much earlier, and acclimatise to the heat and the time zone.

"In an ideal world, that would have been the scenario. I was pretty chilled out in the car on the way here, because still it was unknown on Taku's complete condition. It was all so rushed that there wasn't time to get nervous or excited or anything. It was like turning up to a test late or something, just quickly get your seat on and in the car that I know, so it's been quite easy."

Apart from Ralf Schumacher, who went back to test, and Giancarlo Fisichella, who returned because his son was ill, most other drivers stayed in the Asia-Pacific region in the break between races. Indeed, many quite deliberately headed to Malaysia or its neighbours to train in the heat and humidity.

Davidson says that he is not worried about not being as prepared as some.

"I think I can cope with it. I'm very confident that I can, I've been working very hard on my fitness, and as I said I've had lots of mileage in the car. We had a good test in Jerez last week. On average I did more than 100 laps a day over three days, which is good.

"My record there is the highest amount of laps for the team in one day, at 157! So I'm up for it physically. Us Brits always suffer a little bit more than the locals here in the humidity, but I don't think that will be a problem. The biggest concern is just making sure I get the best out of myself, and for the team tomorrow."

At least Davidson didn't have to learn the circuit. The third driver mileage he did last year proved invaluable, although he didn't do as many laps as he should have done in 2004.

"It was a big help to have done the mileage here last year. Unfortunately in practice session two I had an engine failure, and it cost me a lot of laps, because it happened quite early in the second session. I think my total number of laps round here at the moment lies at 55 or 56 laps, which isn't many. We'd typically cover that in a test before afternoon comes, just to give you an idea of how little mileage that really is."

Davidson insists that even in testing, he's used to being under pressure to go quickly from the off. The spotlight in pukka qualifying might be brighter, but it's still the same sort of thing.

"I'm fairly used to that. When you get a new tyre run and you go straight out you always want the best out of the new tyres. You always put a bit of pressure on yourself, and yesterday was really no different. The only thing that was different was being the only car out on the circuit, and the first on the circuit, whereas in testing you get a few times with new tyres and there's always other cars out on the circuit keeping it clean. Here it was very difficult to be the first one out."

In the end in first qualifying Anthony beat only the Jordans, the Minardis, and Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber - a little ironic considering the recent rumours. He was 1.2s shy of his teammate, who had lost most of practice with an oil pressure leak, but nevertheless it was not a bad effort.

"I'm fairly happy with my performance. As I said, the track was really dusty when I went out. I was surprised how much off it was from the previous session. There's no real reason for it, apart from the circuit. I didn't make a big mistake, just in Turn Four I was a little bit wide on the entry, and that probably cost a tenth. It wasn't the second that we were away from this morning. So it was purely circuit conditions.

"It was a major, major thing. It was just completely different when I went out there, and it was disappointing to see the time fall away from my previous time in the day. If I had that time it would have put me just near Jenson. I think that showed how much it had changed.

"That was my first ever time driving a BAR on low fuel, or qualy fuel. It felt good. I just wish I could have been out there later. It's a shame that you have to take on the added deficit of being the first car out after you've already taken Taku's tyres and engine. I feel you should then take on the driver's position, where he finished at Melbourne."

Overnight Anthony is 0.7s shy of the next car, which happens to be the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello. He's not going to make that up on Sunday, so unless one or two drivers mess up their laps, he will be starting 15th. What can he do from there?

"I'd be happy with a top 10 finish - that would be pretty good. A bonus would be the best case scenario, bringing some points home to the team. That would be fantastic. I'm going to give it all I've got really. You never know when you're going to get the chance again.

"I'm mega keen to get back into a race. As a racer one of my strongest points is actually racing, which hopefully will be right in the middle of the pack tomorrow going into Turn One. I'm really, really looking forward to that."

Unless Sato eats some dodgy sushi in the next 10 days, another chance is unlikely to be any time soon. BAR boss Nick Fry is pretty clear about that: "Assuming that Takuma's fit and well, he'll be back in the car. Takuma's contracted to drive this year, and that is our intention. Sorry to say to Anthony, but tomorrow's performance won't have any bearing on that. I hope he'll do well and it'll just confirm how good Anthony is."

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