“Justin Wilson was lined up, but he couldn’t fit in the car, so I guess they looked at the other extreme and went for the shortest driver they could!” he says laughing. “My manager and I paid them £250,000 for two races.
“I was so underprepared: different car, different tyres, I didn’t realise that it had some very limited power steering – I just wasn’t physically prepared for it.”
“I felt like I had the speed,” he says. “Jumping in the car and only being 0.4sec off Mark Webber in Budapest, at one of the hardest circuits, halfway through the season, with an additional 10 kilos of fuel in the car because there was a fuel pickup problem. With experienced eyes you think: ‘You know what you did? I actually did a bloody good job!’”
Apart from a solo appearance to stand-in for the unwell Takuma Sato at Sepang ‘05, which ended when his Honda engine expired after two laps, Davidson would spend the next five years testing, racking up 15,000km per year pounding round tracks – not that he seemed to mind at the time.
“I absolutely loved it,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get in car. Every time I drove it, I saw it as an audition – and I was good at it. The engineers loved my feedback and the test team was more relaxed than the race one. You knew the car like the back of your hand.”
Many felt that Davidson’s considerable talents were wasted in a test team though, and his career course almost changed with a visit to Williams’s Grove base in late 2004 – with the team intent on signing him for 2005.
“I even went to the factory and they made a seat,” he says. “But BAR suddenly got cold feet and thought ‘We don’t want to lose him.’ So they offered me a longer-term deal on better money. I took that decision to stay with the hope one day I’d get a drive there. It’s hard to know when you’re young trying to know where to place yourself. Nobody’s got a crystal ball.”
That race seat did finally come about, in a manner of speaking…