As the 2023 FIA Formula 2 season approaches its halfway point, the Brazilian flag has twice flown above the podium for Enzo Fittipaldi’s top-three triumphs.
The 21-year-old Carlin racer has repeatedly shown his speed over a season that could be drastically different had even the slightest things gone another way, but he instead sits P7 in the standings.
That’s not a representative reflection of the performance from the Miami-born Brazilian when you drill into the details of a year where external factors have hindered the possible points in his pocket.
Fittipaldi took the time to speak with insideF2 outside of Carlin’s F2 motorhome at F2’s Barcelona round under a sunny Spanish sky.
“It hasn’t been the ideal start of the season for me,” he begins. “We’ve had the speed. We’ve had the pace. And I’ve been able to show it here and there, but it hasn’t been consistent enough.
“I feel like we kind of have everything together… The season is… we’ve had very good results [and] some race weekends where we didn’t score any points.
“It hasn’t been the start I wanted. There’s still a long way in the championship, and I’m sure we are going to bounce back.”
Bouncing back is precisely what Fittipaldi did at the Catalan track just hours later. After a P2 qualification, he went toe-to-toe with polesitter Ollie Bearman on the Feature Race’s frantic opening lap to clinch his second 2023 podium.
Baku was the previous venue where Enzo collected silverware, overtaking Theo Pourchaire late in the race from better tyre conservation.
However, keeping the Pirelli rubber in the window is not where Fittipaldi attributes his performance at the Azerbaijani circuit. He instead points to the circumstances around poorer results, highlighting those as the deviations from the norm, not the podiums.
“I think in Baku we were just very quick on soft and the harder compound. I just feel like we’ve been unlucky in some situations with red flags in qualifying this year in Monaco and in Melbourne.
“In Melbourne, we were on for a top-three lap, and I missed the line by less than half a second when Martins crashed (and caused a red flag). That was very unfortunate because it ruined my race weekend.
“And the same in Monaco, we were caught out by the red flags. We were on for a really strong lap as well. It’s difficult.
“I think in the first two race weekends we didn’t have the pace to fight for podiums in Bahrain and Jeddah. After that, we’ve been rapid.
“It’s a matter of putting it together like we have in Barcelona and Baku where we have clean sessions in qualifying, and we’re able to show our true speed and to qualify and fight for poles.”
Qualifying is key
One look at the results in Australia with a DNS and a DNF suggests that it would be a disastrous weekend to look back on, but that’s the danger of only checking the results and not digging deeper.
“I was confident in Melbourne,” explains Fittipaldi. “Like I said, we crossed the line… we should’ve been in at least the top four with the lap I did, but they deleted my lap because the red flag came out.
“I just ended up having to start both races in 16th. I DNF’d in both races. It was not a good race weekend.
“The path at that time [was to] just focus on Baku. We arrived there; we were super quick. We got good points. We already knew we had the pace. We just needed a clean session.”
It’s qualifying that the Brazilian is referencing, and when he gets a clean session, it seems to be front rows judging by Baku and Barcelona.
Is there a secret behind the lap times Fittipaldi can find on those Friday sessions? Not according to him.
“There’s not really a secret in qualifying,” he laughs. “It’s just who drives the fastest!
“I think I’ve improved in qualifying. I think we’re really very competitive in a one-lap [run], which at the beginning of last year, was different.
“I’ve definitely made a step forward. At the end of the day, F2 is extremely competitive.
“Everyone’s at their best when they arrive at qualifying, so you have to be driving perfectly to be fighting for poles.
“It’s extremely competitive in this championship. When you do a lap that potentially puts you on pole, it’s normally perfect…
“You can say, ‘Okay, maybe there was a slight mistake here,’ but, in general, a lap has to be very, very good.
“That’s how it has to be in F2 if you want to fight for poles. You’ve got to be on it right away.”
New Season. New Team. New Admirers…
The results that Fittipaldi found last year in a Charouz, a team known for their perennial struggles, caught the attention of fans — and a Formula 1 team.
Was there a different person in the cockpit then and now after some underwhelming results (albeit in lower-in-the-order teams) in FIA F3?
“I think I’m the same. It’s just, sometimes, in previous years… things didn’t attach perfectly. It was difficult to get a decent result in.
“Last year, we had… [different] expectations going in with Charouz for my rookie season in F2, and at the end of the season, we were fighting for the top three in the championship.
“It was a great rookie season. I learned a lot.”
Now a member of the Red Bull Junior Team, Red Bull Racing’s academy, Fittipaldi sits with Carlin, one of the powerhouses of feeder series racing, something he relishes.
“It’s been very good to work with Carlin. They’re a very strong team. Everyone is extremely motivated to win. I like that. It’s been great.
“Being with Red Bull is a huge opportunity for me. I’ve been really enjoying that, and it’s been a lot of fun.
“I personally really like Dr. [Helmut] Marko. He gave me this opportunity to be in the Red Bull programme, so I’m very grateful for that.
“What I like about him is he’s very straightforward and honest. That, as a driver, is the best thing because he tells you exactly what you need to do to improve if you’ve done a bad job.
“I prefer that. I like how straightforward he is. I’ve been enjoying it so far.”
Fittipaldi’s Formula Future
Dr Marko is, of course, the man to impress should Fittipaldi want to join the F1 paddock, with the Austrian being the head of Red Bull’s driver development programme.
Naturally, the topic of 2024 comes up, especially with the rumours surrounding Nyck de Vries’ F1 future. Have Fittipaldi and Marko discussed that much-coveted AlphaTauri seat?
“No! For sure, we’ve spoken about how race weekends have gone. I’m focused on my Formula 2 championship. I’m not focused on anything else right now.
“So I’m focused on doing my job – getting podiums, getting wins. Hopefully, getting my first win… very soon. I’m not focused on future plans right now.”
It’s an expected answer, of course, but we can’t help but note how many drivers in F1 boast the Carlin name on their path to the pinnacle of motorsport, so we instead switch focus to whether Fittipaldi feels he’s in the right place to join the team’s F1 alumni.
“Yeah. 100%. I think there’s still a lot of rounds left in the championship. We have the speed, and now it’s a matter of just consistency and keeping the performance there.
“Obviously, my ultimate goal is to make it to Formula 1. I believe I will if I work hard and give it my best. And I have been.
“Behind the scenes, it’s a lot of hard work — a lot of dedication to be racing in such a high-level championship like this. You have to be at your best the whole time.
“If you want to make it to Formula 1, you have to be fighting for the championship. Right now, it doesn’t look like that’s the case.
But I’m sure in a few rounds from now, we’ll be up there. In F2, it’s so up and down. I think the top two guys in the championship now (Frederik Vesti and Theo Pourchaire) have just been the most consistent ones.
“There’s still a lot of rounds left. I’m confident we have the speed, which is, obviously, the most important [thing].
“Now it’s time to get the results in.”
Image: Redbull Content Pool