The Formula 1 World Championship has created plenty of motorsporting icons, men whose skills and bravery have helped them become household names and ensure they’ve become revered in the wider sporting world. Some lived to tell the tale, enjoying their adulation and, in many cases, putting their fame and fortune to good use, whether it be in different arenas or helping those trying to follow the same path, while others paid the ultimate price for their passion and endeavour, leaving a legacy of greatness while still at a young age.
But among the 600-plus drivers who’ve made it to the sport’s highest echelon, by competing at least once in F1, the stories of wing-and-a-prayer hardship and skin-of-the-teeth sweat and toil with little reward comfortably outweigh the tales of world-beating glory and the trappings of success that come with it.
This whole concept of who makes it in F1 and why – and who doesn’t and why – has long been fascinating to many and was on my mind at the recent 73rd Members’ Meeting at Goodwood, after a very enjoyable few minutes watching a British driver who, frustratingly and foolishly, falls in the latter category.
Anthony Davidson has a racing CV that makes all the right noises: years of karting success, Formula Ford and F3 wins and a manufacturer-team F1 testing contract that allowed him to rack up the miles and routinely impress with his pace, technical feedback and smiling, friendly demeanour. The perfect racing-driver role model, right?
You’d have thought so, yes, but the financial and political complications of F1 conspire against scores of young drivers who deserve a chance.
Davidson did get a little toe in the door, soon after ‘graduating’ from the competitive feeder formula that is F3, in the shape of two grands prix with back-of-the-grid minnows Minardi in 2002. A one-off with the Honda-blessed BAR team in 2005 followed before another year of testing followed. His final leg-up came in 2007 with a season and a half with Honda B-team Super Aguri, which was only set-up to keep his former F3 team-mate, Japanese racer Takuma Sato, in F1. It yielded very little.
And that was that: the F1 dream was over.
In true Davidson style, he kept smiling and promptly made the move to sportscar racing and slotted in perfectly with big-brand programmes at Nissan, Aston Martin and Ferrari.
Using his default blend of speed, team-work and corporate game-playing perfectly he soon found himself a vital part of first Peugeot’s and then Toyota’s top-class prototype efforts. His reward for diligence and perseverance came in the shape of long-distance racing’s biggest prize, the World Endurance Championship, with the Japanese marque last season.
As a crowd gathered round Davidson and a Mercedes F1 W04 2013 challenger – one of the last of the 2.4-litre V8 grand prix winners that his skills on the simulator helped turn into a winner – that he was about to demonstrate in spectacular fashion at Goodwood, I couldn’t help conclude that one of F1’s oversights is now one of the WEC’s leading lights.
Photography: Adam Beresford