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Anthony Davidson - escaping Sato’s shadow 15 Mar 2007

BAR Test drivers (L to R): Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 005 and Anthony Davidson (GBR) BAR Honda 005. Formula One Testing. 13-17 January 2003, Barcelona, Spain. World ©  Moy/Sutton Anthony Davidson (GBR) BAR Honda 006. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 28-30 September 2004. Anthony Davidson (GBR) Minardi Asiatech PS02 takes to the gravel during his debut Grand Prix. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, Hungary, 18 August 2002. World © Moy/Sutton The podium (L to R) Takuma Sato (JPN) Carlin Motorsport second; Anthony Davidson (GBR) Carlin Motorsport winner; James Courtney (GBR) Jaguar third. British Formula Three Championship Rd 7 Castle Combe, England, 24 June 2001. World © Moy/Sutton Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri Interim Car Formula One Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain, 17 January 2007. World ©  Bumstead/Sutton

The last time Super Aguri’s Anthony Davidson started a full season of competitive motorsport was back in 2001. Then, as in 2007, his team mate was Takuma Sato. Davidson did well - he finished runner-up in the highly-regarded British Formula 3 championship. The only trouble was that Sato did even better - he became champion.

Since then, while Sato has racked up 69 Grand Prix starts with the likes of Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri, Davidson has managed just three. Five seasons as official BAR and Honda tester put plenty of Formula One mileage under his belt, but never brought the race seat he craved. Only now, after signing with Aguri Suzuki’s Honda-powered squad, will he begin a season as a fully-fledged Formula One driver.

From Super Aguri’s perspective, there is no doubt Davidson is a safe pair of hands - there will be no repeat of last year’s opening races, which saw out-of-his-depth rookie Yuji Ide last just four Grands Prix before the FIA decided enough was enough. However, Davidson’s fans will be asking whether the fledgling Japanese team really is the place for the 27-year-old to finally kick start his Formula One career. His doubters will question whether Davidson will simply be too race rusty to stay in touch with the feisty Sato.

Davidson certainly knows how to win - and how to beat Sato. When they came together as Carlin Motorsport team mates for 2001, both already had Honda connections. Davidson had just been signed up to BAR-Honda’s young driver programme, while Sato was already a tester with the team. Between them they dominated that season’s British F3 campaign. Davidson took a healthy six victories, while Sato managed an even healthier 12. The former also added the prestigious European Cup title to his credentials, with wins at the famous Spa and Pau rounds.

Both men were rewarded with Formula One prizes. Sato earned a race drive for 2002 with the Honda-engined Jordan team, while Davidson landed a full-time test seat with the similarly-powered BAR squad, following a successful maiden run at Mugello in Italy. Since then Sato has gained a reputation as one of Formula One’s more erratic racers, but in the process become the most successful Japanese driver in history. Davidson, on the other hand, has won renown for his reliability and consistency in testing, regularly putting Honda top of the Friday timesheets in 2004 and 2006.

Not that Davidson has not had his race chances. In 2002 BAR gave him special dispensation to deputise for the struggling Alex Yoong at Minardi. A mid-season Formula One debut with the slowest team on the grid was never going to be easy, and so it proved. In both of his two outings - at the Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix - Davidson qualified last and then spun into retirement after just 20 laps. It would be another two and a half years before he again graced the grid, standing in at BAR for a sick Sato at the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix. He qualified a solid 15th, before retiring from the race with engine trouble.

At the end of that season, Sato was dropped by BAR, despite news that they were to become the Honda works team for 2006. But rather than getting the race call-up he had hoped for, Davidson was passed over for the seat in favour of the more experienced Rubens Barrichello. While Sato had the consolation of a drive with the newly-formed Super Aguri squad, Davidson was left to face another year on the sidelines.

Now, just as many had written off his hopes of ever starting another Grand Prix, things have come full circle for Davidson. When he joined Carlin in 2001, Sato had already been there a year and was firmly established within the team. Now history repeats itself at Super Aguri. The difference this time is that both men should start the season on a pretty equal footing. Both have spent the winter testing with an interim car believed to closely based on Honda’s 2006 machine - one that Davidson is obviously highly familiar with - and both will contest the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with the new SA07. As that will not be launched until the Wednesday prior to the Melbourne race, the first taste either driver will get of it is likely to be in Friday’s opening practice session.

That will be quite a leveller - and one that will force Davidson to draw on all his reserves of testing experience if he is to make a positive first impression. If he does then it could be the start of something big for the diminutive Englishman. If he doesn’t then he risks the prospect of spending yet another stage of his career in the shadow of Takuma Sato…