The ‘Ups and Downs’ Driving Jack Doohan’s Début F2 Season

The ‘Ups and Downs’ Driving Jack Doohan’s Début F2 Season

The FIA Formula 2 Championship had its final round in July at the Hungaroring before teams and drivers scattered around the world for the series’ summer break. InsideF2 spoke to a few figures in the paddock that weekend about how their 2022 seasons have unfolded.

Perhaps Jack Doohan’s most recent race weekend at the Hungaroring best exemplifies the roller-coaster 2022 season he’s endured: A commanding win from reverse-grid pole in the Sprint Race was cause for jubilation, but a gearbox issue in the Feature Race consigned him to retirement just two laps into the race.

Doohan’s 88-point tally this season is nothing to scoffed at, especially for a rookie driver. For comparison, Marino Sato, Doohan’s experienced team-mate at Virtuosi Racing, has only taken six points. But go back to the fifth round of the championship at Monaco and there’s a clear, and worrying, trend: Despite qualifying in the top three in all but one race – Jeddah, where he set a lap good enough for third before being excluded from Qualifying for a fuel load infringement – the Australian driver had taken just one podium.

That misfortune and missed opportunity, Doohan tells InsideF2 on a sweltering Friday in Budapest, meant he lost the chance to fight for the podiums and wins that his pace might have merited.

That narrative began with the first round of the season at Bahrain, where Doohan had taken a shock pole position and looked set to fight for the win in the Feature Race. But he clashed with eventual winner Théo Pourchaire exiting pit lane and damaged his front wing, necessitating another pit stop.

He crossed the line tenth, earning himself one point. It was a total of three for the weekend – the other two came as a result of his pole position – but it could have been so much more.

“I think we would have won the Feature Race there with our pace,” he says.

The disqualification in Jeddah, where he made his F2 début with MP Motorsport last season, forced him to start at the back for both races. He and Logan Sargeant got in an accident at a Safety Car restart in the Sprint Race, but he salvaged three points from the weekend by recovering to ninth in the Feature Race and setting the fastest lap on his way through.

Imola was perhaps the nadir for him and Virtuosi, as contact with 2021 F3 title rival Dennis Hauger and then Hitech’s Jüri Vips put him out of the race almost instantly. Doohan bluntly calls it a “freak accident”, his disappointment evident in his conversation with InsideF2. Race winner Pourchaire, on the same strategy as Doohan, rose from seventh on the grid to first that afternoon.

Things slowly started to turn around at Barcelona, where from his second pole position of the season, Doohan took his maiden podium in the Feature Race with second. Another would have been possible in Monaco, where he was running third in the Feature Race until he dropped behind Vips in the mid-race pit-stop cycle.

“We unfortunately lost the podium in the pit stop, with just slightly a slow stop, and Hitech got us,” he surmises. “There’s been ups and downs.”

Even without the podium finish, Doohan was on the up in May. Indeed, in just two weekends, he vaulted from 17th in the standings to sixth, making him the series’ top rookie. Moreover, third-placed Jehan Daruvala was just eight points ahead of him. If he had until that point been the season’s strongest performer in Qualifying, he was perhaps its biggest mystery in race trim, his true points-scoring ability obscured by broken front wings and lacklustre pit stops.

“[Championship leader] Felipe [Drugovich] has done an extraordinary job of consistency, but I think we could definitely have been at worst P3, P2. I think we could solidly be P2,” Doohan says about the championship before listing out his moments of misfortune.

Few in the field could expect to match Drugovich’s feat of taking points in all but two races, but Doohan started to achieve that more regularly. After qualifying 11th at Baku and failing to add to his tally, Doohan scored in five of the six next races.

Among the highlights were a commanding wet-weather drive in the Sprint Race at Silverstone that brought him his maiden victory and a third-place finish in the Sprint Race at Austria. On the podium, Doohan received the trophy from his father, five-time motorcycling champion Mick Doohan, in a heart-warming exchange.

But there were also moments of great disappointment, like the next day’s wet-dry Feature Race. Starting on the wet tyre gave Doohan and most of the other front-runners an early advantage, but that quickly ebbed away as the track dried.

“There was just a little bit of different information on what tyre to go on, let’s say. It was clearly slicks,” Doohan says.

After coming in for dry tyres, Doohan got hit by Drugovich at Turn 3. The contact cracked both sides of the rear diffuser and resulted in what he estimates was a loss of “around 30 to 40 percent of downforce” for the rest of the race. He finished 19th and last, one lap down.

“Regardless of if I was on the right strategy, it was always going to be a really trim and difficult day,” he explains. “When we moved onto the slick tyre with the guys in front of us, we had no pace at all. I was doing track limits left, right and centre. So it was just a day to really forget.”

Two track-limits penalties made a bad day for Doohan worse, bringing his total number of penalty points on the season to five. In races like that, one sees a Jack Doohan who lacks just a bit of polish to match his passion behind the wheel – a rough diamond, perhaps, or a driver desperate to score the results that he knows he’s been capable of achieving all season.

For a few moments on Sunday at Le Castellet two weeks later, it looked like that much-awaited Feature Race win might come. Having missed the podium by one place on Saturday, Doohan vaulted from fourth to first with a brilliant start, but he was overtaken by eventual winner Ayumu Iwasa later that lap.

“[Iwasa] was running less downforce or something because he had mega pace on the Mistral Straight and was able to get all the way around the outside of me with no DRS. I was quite shocked, but fair play to them for that. And then our pace was all right, not amazing. DAMS did a better job on the day,” Doohan concedes.

On reflection, he knows the win was unlikely, but a podium would have been on the cards despite a slow pit stop that dropped him down to a net fourth, behind the ART pair.

“I had to get past Fred [Vesti], and then I came onto Théo around three-tenths back onto the Mistral Straight with DRS. I thought I would have easily been able to go around him, but for one reason or another I couldn’t even get alongside him.

“I went for a move down the inside and [he] slightly squeezed me on the braking. … I went on the inside kerb and I spun like a billy, so not much more to say there. I should have waited a couple more laps in hindsight or stuck with third,” Doohan concludes. Any attempt to pry a position away from Pourchaire at his home race would have required “120 percent” effort.

Having finished the race fifth, Doohan left France sixth in the championship, just one point behind Liam Lawson. Perhaps it makes sense that his realistic aim for the championship, he tells InsideF2 the Friday after, is to “finish in the top five, give or take”.

“A lot of consistent results for the rest of the year would be good.”

If this season’s title battle has been shaped by Drugovich’s metronomic consistency, the story of the championship as a whole has been the tight margins in the standings behind him. With four rounds to go, fifth-placed Jehan Daruvala is just nine points ahead of tenth-placed Vips, with Doohan and Lawson level on points in eighth.

That scenario means that mere thousandths on track could mean a difference of several positions in the championship. Doohan got a taste of this at Barcelona, where he took pole over Vips by just 0.023 seconds. That was enough for two crucial extra points and a prime starting position on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously challenging.

In France, the gap between Sargeant in first and Iwasa in second was even slimmer at just six thousandths. Doohan, who ultimately qualified fourth, believes that a third pole position could have been his were it not for a technical issue on his Dallara F2 2018.

“We should have been on pole by a big margin, but I had a manifold sensor failure, so the information that the ECU [electronics control unit] was getting to give to the turbos wasn’t working.

“My turbo was not kicking in on throttle application, and it would kick in at random points, drop out, so I was losing quite a lot there. It was disappointing, then, to only miss pole by a tenth and a half with an issue like that,” he says. “I guess those things just make you stronger.”

Image: Formula Motorsport Limited

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