The Hamilton clashes that stick with Davison

15 Mar
Will Davison recounts the battles with Lewis Hamilton that formed part of the two-time Bathurst winner’s journey to F1’s doorstep
7 mins by James Pavey, Pics courtesy of Motorsport Images/Will Davison
  • Will Davison took on the best in Europe before chasing Supercars

  • Davison raced against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet Jr.

  • Two-time Bathurst winner to record 550th Supercars start in Melbourne

Few drivers on the Supercars grid have battled with as many international stars as Shell V-Power Racing Team star Will Davison — and that includes Formula 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton.

Before he carved out a long and decorated Supercars career, Davison was once on the doorstep of F1, racing toe-to-toe — and often beating — highly-touted rising stars.

A young Davison shifted to Europe after consecutive Formula Ford titles, and immediately made waves, finishing fourth in the 2002 Formula Renault 2.0 UK Championship.

There, Davison scored three podiums and finished behind champion Danny Watts, Jamie Green and Hamilton — but there was a battle that ended up going the Aussie’s way, and Hamilton’s response, that sticks in the mind.

Head-to-head with a future F1 great

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Early in the 2002 season, Davison had Hamilton breathing down his neck at Croft, where the Aussie would win in British Formula 3 a year later. On this occasion, the fight went Davison’s way.

“Lewis and I raced really tight all year,” Davison told Supercars.com.

“We had a huge battle at Croft for the podium, he was chasing me, but all of a sudden, he went around in my mirror. He tried to lunge me and clipped me, but he spun.

“After the race, I remember I was getting changed in the front of the truck, and I heard someone say, ‘Is Will in there?’ To myself, I was like, ‘Oh man, here we go. Just typical, we're gonna have an argument or something. What's his problem?’

"But he just came into the truck and said, ‘Just want to say what an awesome battle that was, you drove really well, that was really cool.’

“I was completely caught off guard. Like, it's just a race, he'd spun and messed up, but I hadn't been dirty or anything — we just had a really good, hard, fair race.

"And I just that's always stuck in my mind that, although he'd spun out and had a shocker, he'd actually come to just sort of say, ‘Cool race.’ I’ll never forget that.”

Amid the fierce on-track rivalries up and down the pit lane, along with homegrown pressures for Hamilton, the two remained mates, “Davison added: “I knew a lot of Lewis from karts, he already had a lot of pressure around him and a lot of media attention.

"Like, you used to see a lot of the other British kids, and they were quite jealous of him.

“But, we actually became pretty matey. We would often have meals and with him and his manager. Lewis was a really good kid to me.”

Moving to F3

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As Davison shifted to British F3 in 2003, Hamilton — who was already aligned with McLaren — went around again in Formula Renault 2.0, and won the title with a round to spare. The Briton missed the last two races to debut in F3, where he reunited on track with Davison — but not in a way either driver expected (pictured main).

“Before I got pole at Brands Hatch, when he made his British F3 debut, I remember him steaming up behind me in qualifying,” Davison recounts.

"I was on a cool down lap, trying to get a gap to the cars in front of me to go for one more time lap. Remember, Brands Hatch is pretty blind and hilly.

"I remember seeing Lewis coming and I was still going slow, because I was trying to get a gap to the car in front. And then, just as he just got near me, I just gassed it.

"And then I did my lap, but afterwards — there's actually a photo of us two talking — he had some words for me. He didn't yell, but he was pissed off. He wasn’t happy, but it was nothing major. We knew each other well enough to handle it.”

By then, Davison had turned heads, winning at Croft and being a front-runner despite a mid-season team change. The weekend didn’t end well for Hamilton, however, who was forced out of Race 1 with a puncture, before being hospitalised after a heavy crash in Race 2.

The two would cross paths in later years, Davison noting nights out with Hamilton following the 2008 and 2009 Australian Grands Prix in Melbourne, just as the Aussie’s Supercars career truly began to take off.

Davison would finish eighth in the 2003 British F3 standings, and returned in 2004 with Menu F3. He scored podiums at Donington and Croft, but his campaign was cut short, and he returned to Australia. However, after several months out of the saddle, a F1 chance came calling.


The Minardi test

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Aged just 22, Davison tested a Minardi F1 car with fellow rising Aussie star Will Power — now a two-time IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner — at the Misano World Circuit in Italy.

The test — organised by Minardi’s Aussie team owner, Paul Stoddart — wasn’t all smooth sailing for Davison either, given run plans changed, meaning he was thrown into the car with little chance to prepare.

“Leading up to the test, given I’d been out of a car for a few months, I borrowed a Formula Holden for a few days at Winton to prepare,” Davison said.

“I didn’t know Misano, and there were a few games going on. I was meant to drive in the afternoon, and next thing you know, I arrive in the morning, and they pulled me into the engineering room.

“They said, ‘Will, you’ve got 30 minutes. Get changed, you're in the car.’ It's so intimidating when you're watching one of those cars on the track… the V10, the sheer speed. I had so much less time to think about it.”

However, the youngster was up to the task, and was on track to be on par with the team’s F1 stars before he made an error on his final flying lap.

“I picked up the braking really quick, some of the engineers said,” Davison recounts.

“Second lap, I was quicker than the datum lap that they'd given us from Tiago Monteiro, their test driver. I made quite a big mistake on my last new tyre lap, which I'll never forget. But, I was very competitive.

“Without the mistake, I would have done a 1:11.2s lap. A few days later, the team’s drivers did hundreds of laps, and the best time was a 1:11.2.s. Will and I were super fast compared to everyone else.”

No regrets

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Davison would ultimately cast his focus to Australia and Supercars, and debuted in the 2004 enduros for Team Dynamik. He signed for the powerhouse Holden Racing Team in 2009 after an impressive first stint at Dick Johnson Racing, which included a Bathurst podium (2007) and wins at Eastern Creek and Winton (2008).

Critically, the HRT stint helped Davison clear a debt from his time in Europe. An investment program had been devised to have benefactors fund his racing with the promise of repayment through future income.

In a matter of years, Davison was a household name, a two-time Bathurst winner, and a championship front-runner. At the upcoming MSS Security Melbourne SuperSprint, the DJR veteran will record his 550th Supercars race start.

However, in the early years, each time the Grand Prix rolled around in Melbourne, Davison caught the F1 bug, even if it felt like a distraction from his Supercars commitments.

Later, Stoddart got him into Minardi’s V10 two-seater, taking fans for laps around Albert Park — something Davison relished.

“Stoddy [Stoddart] would’ve loved to have had an Aussie in there [at Minardi]. I spoke to a lot of Aussie companies and stuff, but it wasn't to be,” Davison said.

“I think we could have driven there for six million bucks. Zsolt [Baumgartner] ended up driving there for 13, 14 million. It was heavily subsidised to get an Aussie in there, but that was just the reality of Minardi. Even when Mark [Webber] was there, he had Foster’s, Telstra, Yellow Pages… a lot of Aussie companies jumped on board to make that happen.

“I will never forget the sheer buzz of driving that V10. The first few years of racing Supercars in Melbourne, it was bittersweet. But, getting in the two-seater again at the Grand Prix was cool for me. The smell, the noise, the acceleration, the braking. I was like a little kid, I froth on it, like, I just love it

"I look back now and it seems another world, to be honest. But, on the other hand, it was literally my world then. I lived in Silverstone for three years.

“Spending a lot of time around the F1 paddocks, going to the teams and meetings, and just being in that pressure-cooker world. It’s so cutthroat. Every opportunity, I'd be out there when F1 teams tested. Mark would ring me, then I'd be in the garage with him.

“Just all these things as a kid, you're just so starry-eyed. But, it just became normal. It was a very special time, and a I time I look back on fondly, that’s for sure.”

Davison will resume his 2024 Repco Supercars Championship campaign at the MSS Security Melbourne SuperSprint on March 21-24.

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