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Formula 1 Brazilian GP

Why Drugovich is still committed to F1 future

Felipe Drugovich heads into a second season in 2024 as reserve driver for the Aston Martin Formula 1 team, and once again the Brazilian has no racing on his schedule.

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin F1 Team in the garage

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Instead the 2022 F2 champion will keep himself busy with sim running and a programme of private testing with a two-year-old car, upgraded from the AMR21 he used this season to the 2022 model.

As such, he’s better off than some reserves whose only opportunities to run on track come on those rare occasions that the current car is available - essentially the odd rookie FP1 session.

However it’s a different approach to that taken by Sauber, who are hoping to place Theo Pourchaire in Super Formula, and Alpine, who are looking at a WEC programme for Jack Doohan.

Read more: The F2 star rebuilding his future after a "nightmare" start to 2023

And in both cases the drivers will be coming out of an F2 season and thus haven’t already had a year without racing, as is the case with Drugovich.

The challenge he faces is that opportunities to move up to an F1 race seat are few and far between, even when you have a decent sponsorship package, as he does. Remarkably it looks like there will be no changes to the 2024 driver line-up, assuming that Logan Sargeant is staying at Williams.

Indeed Drugovich was one of several drivers eyeing the American’s seat, and the fact that his confirmation at Aston came relatively early indicates that his management accepted that a move to Grove wasn’t an option.

Meanwhile at Aston he faces an unusual situation in that one seat will inevitably be filled by Lance Stroll for the foreseeable future, while the other will always be earmarked for an established top driver, be that Fernando Alonso or whoever might one day follow the Spaniard.

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin AMR23

From the outside it’s hard to see a natural progression for him at the Silverstone outfit. Nevertheless he’s happy to stay where he is.

"I think I've been really comfortable with the team, they've been really helpful for me and trying to prepare me as much as much as they can,” he says. “Obviously, we were waiting to see other opportunities in F1.

“But I think at the moment, it's the best option for me just to stay here. And they are really taking care of me. And one of the things that I really like is just so I can develop myself here and just try to improve on track and off track all the time, also in private tests and this kind of stuff. So I really feel ready."

Drugovich admits it's "hard to say" how close he was to landing a drive at Williams, but decided that "the best I could get at the moment was here. And that is the main goal right now, to do well."

There’s also the question of whether he will be released to take up another drive, should one become available within 2024.

Though he says it "all depends on the team" and believes "no team would hold you if an opportunity comes and allow an exit somewhere else," the Brazilian says he is "very comfortable" at Aston.

“I think it's a good place for me, I enjoy doing these things," he says. "Which at the beginning of the year, I would say it was a bit hard to enjoy, not racing, but you learn how to do it.”

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport

Despite his obvious commitment to an F1 future, Drugovich admits that a racing programme alongside his private testing would have its appeal.

"I mean, I wish I was racing in something,” he says. “Obviously doing it for 15 years and suddenly one year you don't have anything to do, it's quite tough.

“Even though I'm not racing I feel ready to race whenever I can, thanks to these tests and all the developing things I'm doing with the team. So yeah, I feel ready.

“I've worked my whole life to be here, and to be driving F1. So even this year I've had other opportunities to drive in other categories, good opportunities, good contacts, and whatever.

“I wouldn't say I refused them, I just said F1, that's my main goal, I need to wait about it. And I want to be there. Probably not the best for the career outside of F1. But I'm keen on doing even more than this just to have a seat one day."

Nevertheless, longer term he concedes that Aston’s own hypercar project could be an interesting opportunity to get some racing miles - if an F1 opportunity is not available.

Drugovich drove the current AMR23 in Bahrain testing after Stroll was injured and again in FP1 at Monza, and he’ll have another run in Abu Dhabi.

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin F1 Team

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin F1 Team

But his main homework has been done with the old spec car, sometimes running on his own, sometimes sharing a track with an Alpine, usually driven by Doohan. He concedes that it’s not always easy to benchmark his progress.

"It's difficult to compare sometimes, the demo tyres are quite different,” he says. “Obviously, the track is normally not at the same stage. And the engine is not the same, and all this kind of thing.

“But actually, this year, I was impressed, by the second or third test we did, we were already like, on quali lap times from two years ago, which was really impressive.

“And even though I got to drive this [current] car, the '21 car or the previous generation cars are really impressive. So it's always a great pleasure to drive them and be on the limit."

The private running is a useful part of his education, but Drugovich admits that it’s frustrating that chances to drive the current car are so rare compared with the days when testing was unrestricted.

"Yes, because when do we get the opportunities, it's normally quite short,” he says. “So, it kind of goes the way of you need to be fast, but you cannot crash the car. So obviously drivers feel a bit restricted.

“Nowadays, we get an FP1, and they expect you to show everything, so it's quite tough. But at the same time, I think the focus on F1 teams changed a little bit as well, if you won anything back then, they'd normally know that you're fast.

“But when you get these opportunities it's normally more important for you to show that you're a very consistent driver, you know how to work with a team, and you're mature enough to be there."

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin F1 Team

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin F1 Team

The biggest problem for Drugovich is that it’s so easy to lose momentum. There’s always another young guy on the way up, and at 23 he now faces potential competition from the likes of 18-year-olds Oliver Bearman and Zak O’Sullivan.

FP1 in Mexico gave a taster of how much talent is out there, and even more rookies will be on track in Abu Dhabi. At the moment there’s nowhere for any of them to go.

"Obviously it's frustrating for a driver coming up that there is no place,” says Drugovich. “Many drivers have either done the same or even less than you get the chance, or got the chance in the past, and you don't. But it is what it is, we can't change it.

“And I think I just need to work as much as I can to show off that I am able to be there. And maybe one day be a proper F1 driver for the whole year."

For the last few years, Drugovich has been seen as Brazil’s main hope of getting a driver back on the F1 grid.

Even that status could now be questioned, with F3 champion Gabriel Bortoleto joining McLaren’s young driver programme.

However, he still feels that there’s plenty of support from his countrymen.

"There is a pressure, but I think it's a good pressure,” he says. “It's not something that is disturbing. It's just they want someone there. And they see that on me. And I think that's a good thing. It was just a good pressure, so I see that as a as a positive."

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