Ask an ex-Formula 1 driver to offer their impressions of the first car they drove after leaving F1, and be prepared to hear disappointment expressed in numerous ways. Nothing comes close to the performance of an F1 machine — even the worst cars on the Grand Prix grid are more dynamic than anything IndyCar or Le Mans has to offer — and it’s here where Anthony Davidson takes an unexpected turn.
The Briton, fresh from F1 with the Honda-powered Super Aguri team, didn’t know what to expect when he received an invitation to test with the Peugeot Sport LMP1 team. After sampling the warp-speed 908 HDI FAP, whatever post-F1 disappointment he anticipated was missing, as described in an excerpt from the Peugeot 908 LMP1 Memories podcast with Sebastien Bourdais, Anthony Davidson, and Pedro Lamy.
Davidson: “I came to Peugeot after the F1 dream was over with the Super Aguri team, and I remember the first time I’d driven the car was in the November of the 2008 season, and what a beast. I remember just thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really pleased to find out that there’s a whole other world of a category of motorsport, which is so, so close to F1.’ Because on your way up to F1 you’re so blinkered, that’s all you can see, it’s all you want to do. Single-seater, single-seater, it’s all you’ve got your mind set on. So when I first got the chance to drive the Peugeot, I was so, relieved and pleased and I just thought, ‘This is mega. This is exactly what I want to be doing’ and I loved every lap I did at Paul Ricard.”
Bourdais: “And 2008 was still the big (V12 turbodiesel) engine.”
Davidson: “(In the Super Aguri F1 car with the Honda V8 engine), I think peak power is at 17,000 (rpm) or something. We were back in the days when you were revving up to 19,000. (And with the Peugeot it was) 4,000. It didn’t really have a rev limiter as such. So we were changing (gear) around about the 4,000 mark, three and a half to 4,000 mark. And the coolest thing about the Peugeot, that car had 1,250 newton meters of torque (922 ft-lb) at 3000rpm, which really made an F1 car (by comparison) a bit sucky back then.
“Because they had something crazy like 400 newton meters of torque at 17,000rpm. But yeah, it was a real beast to drive, very quick, lots of downforce and I loved it — that’s all I wanted to do. And it didn’t work out going into the 2009 season, because (team manager) Serge Saulnier was just sorting out my contract, and he got replaced by Olivier Quesnel, and Olivier Quesnel wanted David Brabham, and not me in the team back then. He thought the team needed the experience, and in a way he was right. (Brabham) went on to win Le Mans in the 2009 season. So I had to wait my turn until 2010.
“But I had thought that the chance was over after that test and that period where, I mean, it’s so frustrating for a driver — I had the draft contract there, sent from Serge Saulnier, I had it in my hands. Yeah, I agreed (to) it, and then it all went cold. Serge wouldn’t answer my calls and I was thinking what the hell is going on? What have I done wrong? But I didn’t realize that at a political level he was getting booted out, getting replaced. Really brutal.”
Catch the full conversation below: