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Surviving F1’s roulette wheel and thriving

india Updated: Nov 18, 2011 18:56 IST
Vinayak Pande

Statistically speaking, Britain's Anthony Davidson has every reason to be bitter. "The Ant", as the diminutive 32-year-old is known in motorsports circles, has to his name 24 F1 starts, no wins, points or podiums. But statistics, as always, tell only half the story.

Davidson made his F1 debut with Minardi in 2002 and took the next year off from F1 before returning as test driver with BAR-Honda, which was bought out and became the factory Honda team in 2006. Davidson got the chance to race a full season in F1 for the first time in his career with Super Aguri in 2007, Honda’s satellite team, where he partnered Takuma Sato. Three 11th place finishes in a car that was anything but the class of the field were the highlights of a season many believed would convince a top team to hire Davidson and move his career into the big leagues.

A row over Honda supplying pretty much readymade cars to Super Aguri and Honda's withdrawal from F1 following the global recession in 2008, however, meant Davidson was out of a job with little realistic future in F1.

The saving grace for Davidson was that four years of testing for BAR and Honda and one-and-a-half years of racing for Super Aguri allowed him to recover the significant investment he made to get into F1. "From my years in karting to get into F1 cost me personally about R 5 crore," Davidson told HT.

Racing prototype sportscars beckoned, and Davidson couldn't be happier with his current position as a driver for Peugeot. "I love it," he said. "These cars are very close to F1 cars and are really fun to drive." The pay is pretty decent as well. "You get paid about as much as an F1 driver. It's not as high profile, but it's still a good experience."

While Davidson's story has a happy-ending — he finished fourth overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year driving for Peugeot with former F1 drivers Alexander Wurz and Marc Gene — aspiring F1 drivers now need to be wary of the selection criteria of the majority of F1 bosses according to the Brit.

"It's much harder to get in nowadays," said Davidson, who, apart from racing in sports cars, is Mercedes GP's official simulator driver. "Talent is not the only thing they look at, it's also marketability and nationality."

The two regions scouts have their eyes trained on at the moment are the U.S. and China, according to Davidson. "It's for a good reason. These two countries have the most number of vehicles in the world as well as the longest network of roads," he said. The global automotive industry has been supporting motorsports ever since the world's first official motor race was held in 1894, from Paris to Rouen in France. The industry reportedly accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the total sponsorship in motorsports today.