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FIA F2 Abu Dhabi

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

Jack Doohan was on the crest of a wave midway through the 2022 season as a potential spot in F1 with Alpine beckoned. But a poor end to that season and a dismal start to this year's Formula 2 campaign has forced the Australian to refocus and reset

Jack Doohan, Invicta Virtuosi Racing

Jack Doohan’s career was on a meteoric rise during the summer of 2022 – and it was well timed, too. With the Alpine Formula 1 team embroiled in contractual wrangles with Oscar Piastri, and with Fernando Alonso having announced his departure to Aston Martin, the French team had a spare seat.

The Australian looked in prime position to take it. The 2021 F3 runner-up stunned in his rookie F2 season with Virtuosi, taking three wins and a further three podiums, as Doohan appeared to be in exactly the right place at the right time, putting in stellar performances while also continuing his work behind the scenes with Alpine.

Though Pierre Gasly eventually took that vacant seat, Doohan had looked like a star in the making. That was, until, his fortunes began to turn. A poor run of form meant he fell from fourth in the F2 standings to sixth come the end of the season, a result which betrayed his strong form for much of the year. The start of 2023 only continued that bad run, suffering a “fundamental issue” with his Virtuosi-run car which created his “worst nightmare.”

Speaking to Autosport at Monza, Doohan believes his driving has been better in 2023 than last year, having made “steps forward in my maturity, my outlook, and preparation in all areas". But, he adds: “I'd say still starting the season, and for the next four rounds, I had something that was outside of my control, a fundamental issue, and that wasn't helping me move on from the dramas that I had at the end of last season.

“So that was quite tough. And we were able to solve the issue in Barcelona, but I still hadn't processed and been able to move forward from that eight rounds of things not going necessarily my way. I'd say the end of 2022 was unfortunate, just technical failures, but the start of this year was something fundamentally wrong with the car and I just had no speed.”

He says the difference in the car was “massive – a completely different world,” adding: “I wasn't getting any feeling of the car. When I was braking, deceleration, it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do. So then it wasn't loaded properly for any turns, for any high speed, medium speed, slow speed.”

Though the team is still trying to understand the issue, a huge breakthrough came at the Barcelona in-season test in May, allowing Doohan to return to his previous set-up and driving style – “I was able to completely reset.”

Doohan had a shot of Alpine F1 seat for 2023 before Gasly was signed

Photo by: Alpine

Doohan had a shot of Alpine F1 seat for 2023 before Gasly was signed

Doohan pushed on, refocused his mind, and turned his attentions to the rest of the season. Having previously worked with a sports psychologist, he “really tried to do it myself with what I've learned, and really applied it and not just as if it was like a pain relief that just did it for a certain amount of time, which is kind of what I was doing, just bearing it, refocusing trying to deal with it.

“But I wasn't dealing with it properly, I was dealing with it for the short amount of time that I could to make sure that I was then fresh, but that underlying problem or stuff that was on top of that was still there that I needed to fully clear out.”

Not fully clearing out those emotions and “not really processing everything” is what he says led to his huge crash in Monaco – not the start to his new chapter he had hoped for. He was running fourth when he clipped the wall at the swimming pool section, continuing up the road before spinning out at Massenet. Upon his rear impact with the wall, his car burst into flames and prompted a red flag with half the road blocked.

"I just put myself in the wall from nothing else but myself. It was the first sort of mistake or anything that I've had in a very long time" Jack Doohan

It was a scary crash, especially given the incoming traffic, and Doohan said at the time how he was "very fortunate" to escape in time as he struggled to get his belt buckles loose.

“To be honest, it was a huge, big moment, where I'm like, okay, I've done five rounds this year, I did four rounds at the end of last year, and those are like the eight out of nine rounds, I had stuff that was out of my control that was fundamentally causing me to not be where I should be,” he says.

“And then in that moment, that was me, I just put myself in the wall from nothing else but myself. It was the first mistake or anything that I've had in a very long time. So, yeah, I took it on and then worked hard to quickly reset, to make sure that I cleared my mind of everything that had happened and processed and understood it. And yeah, tried to think that it was all part of a process.”

After that crash came the rebuild, and it marked a turning point in his season. Since May, he has finished inside the top 10 in every race he has completed, with his sole retirement in the Zandvoort feature race after spinning out on a safety car restart in damp conditions. A podium in the sprint race at Silverstone preceded back-to-back feature race wins in Hungary and Belgium – the first of which was a dominant display from pole, while the following weekend saw him fight through the field from 11th.

Crash at Monaco forced a reset from Doohan in Formula 2

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Crash at Monaco forced a reset from Doohan in Formula 2

Doohan was just 13th in the standings after Monaco, but with his strong progress throughout the second half of the season, now sits fourth, just 14 points behind third-placed DAMS driver Ayumu Iwasa.

“There’s things to be positive about for sure,” he says. “But I think with the steps forward that I've taken from last year, and with what I've seen with what I'm able to do in other areas outside of Formula 2.

“I think comparing to what I've done as well that I don't want to be happy to be in the top 10 or even in the top five, because I feel I have the potential to be on pole and to be winning races like I was able to do at the end of last year.

“But unfortunately, it's just not that easy this year with things being a little bit more outside of my control, not being technical failures, or a poor pitstop with the wheel coming off or anything like that, more just a gremlin.”

Having been dealt that difficult hand for this season, Doohan watched his early hopes of winning the championship gradually slip away, but he is now aiming for third come the end of the Abu Dhabi finale on 26 November. Given the circumstances, Doohan is incredibly grateful for Alpine’s continued support, and says the team has “full confidence” in his abilities, even when he was struggling at the start of the year.

He adds: “I would be testing somewhere in the F1 car, with everything going very well, and then I would come to Formula 2, and I would be just completely off the pace, miles away. And they just couldn't physically understand how that's possible. So yeah, it's good that they've got full faith in me.”

In September, Doohan “hadn’t even thought about” next year, though he seemed reluctant to do a third season on F2. But speaking after his FP1 outing in Mexico City last weekend, things seemed to have changed.

Most recent Formula 1 outing came with Alpine in FP1 in Mexico

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Most recent Formula 1 outing came with Alpine in FP1 in Mexico

"Currently I won't be competing in F2 next year," he said. "It doesn't seem realistic, with the situation and everything that's gone on. I've made the most of it, I think we've done a great job with what's been in my control. So doing so wouldn't be much of a gain.”

He continued: "Currently I've got no direction of the World Endurance Championship or anything confirmed. So I'm still very much in line of F1, the team is still pushing for that and staying within the team, and still pushing for an F1 seat. So this is my route, and I'm sure I'll get there.

“What we're really targeting, even if I was to venture out to WEC, the plan would be to come back to F1 in 2025. So that wouldn't be a plan to stay. The team are happy with the work that we're doing, and the trajectory that we're going for.

“If a possibility comes to drive in that direction [in WEC], to further my foundation and broaden my knowledge on different areas, but the goal and the trajectory is still Formula 1."

“My two years in Formula 2 haven't necessarily gone exactly to plan. I'm sure everyone can say that, it never really does“ Jack Doohan

Doohan agreed it was a healthy to step away from F2 to avoid getting stuck there, and added: “My two years in Formula 2 haven't necessarily gone exactly to plan. I'm sure everyone can say that, it never really does. But through that and through the bad moments, the highs with what's been in my control, I think I've done well and being able to show my capabilities.

“Doing another year in F2, if you win it, you’re expected [to], if you don't, you may as well... There's not much to gain. So there's all to lose and not much to gain. I think we're doing the right thing with the team. So I look forward to the future.“

As Doohan says, his F2 tenure hasn’t worked out how many had expected, but one thing has always been clear is his talent. Matched with his steely determination and drive to succeed, it still seems inevitable that one day, he will end up in F1.

Can Doohan reach F1 in the years to come?

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Can Doohan reach F1 in the years to come?

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