Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature

The underdog fighting for F2 championship success

Having reunited with Prema, Frederik Vesti has put together a stunning Formula 2 title fight in 2023 and sits 25 points behind pre-season favourite Theo Pourchaire heading into the final round in Abu Dhabi. Can the underdog snatch the prize?

Frederik Vesti, Prema Racing

Frederik Vesti’s 2023 Formula 2 campaign has had some brilliant highs. Having scored five wins and eight podiums across the year, the 21-year-old Mercedes junior has taken more victories than any other driver, including title rival Theo Pourchaire.

Following a first round in Bahrain he described as “horrible” that yielded no points, Vesti went on to win the second feature race of the season in Jeddah, a weekend that kickstarted a 12-race run of top-10 finishes. That ran until his involvement in a multiple car incident at Silverstone resulted in retirement, with three more wins including converting pole in the Monaco feature race – his highlight of the season.

But there have also been some torrid lows. Though the Dane remained in the championship lead following a second place in Hungary, it was Spa where things started to turn for Vesti. Difficult conditions saw the Prema driver crash out on the way to the grid, and what had been a six-point advantage in the championship standings ultimately led to ART Grand Prix rival Pourchaire departing the Ardennes with a 12-point cushion.

“Spa was just one of those things,” Vesti tells Autosport at Monza, the penultimate round of a 14-round calendar that was reduced to 13 by the cancellation of the Imola weekend. “If I went on a drag strip with a race car and tried to do it again, it wouldn't happen, you know, 1000 times. It was such a technical low-grip situation that was just very unfortunate.

“I was very frustrated, especially because Theo was scoring very well that race and Ollie [Bearman] was doing the best he could to win the race. Finally, it was Jack [Doohan] who won the race. But of course, I was watching everything and just feeling the missed opportunity that was. I think at that point, I was still in the championship lead by some points, but then lost it, which is extremely frustrating.”

It didn’t get better after the summer break. At Zandvoort, an abandoned sprint race was followed by a chaotic feature race in which all six title contenders hit trouble. Spinning upon the first safety car restart but recovering his race, Vesti was running in fifth when Pourchaire crashed out to prompt another safety car.

Seizing his chance for a cheap pitstop, Vesti dived into the garage behind team-mate Oliver Bearman for fresh tyres. But he soon encountered trouble as both his rear tyres parted company with his car, putting the Dane out too in a bizarre incident. The eventful race was ultimately won by Clement Novalak from 13th on the grid.

After a

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

After a "horrible" start to the season in Bahrain, Vesti bounced back with victory in the Saudi Arabian feature race

“It was a mess,” Vesti recalls. “I knew that the tyres were really cold when we started racing, probably a bit too cold. But it's like that, everyone was in the same situation. Into Turn 1, I was on wet patches, shift down to first gear and the car just… I wouldn't say it was exactly the same as Spa, because it was not, but it was still one of those things where it's like a choice you make and I didn't know what to expect, so it just happened.

“But after that, it was a really strong race. I think we were on a very good strategy when Theo crashed, we were able to box. I wouldn't have won that race and I wouldn't have been on the podium, but I think we could have scored some decent points. But we spun in a very spectacular way losing both rear tyres.

“That one minute where Theo crashes and I lose the wheels, it's crazy. It's a crazy story and it's a part of the championship. It's a part of my journey, hopefully to the F2 title as well. It's something that also sets me up and gets me ready for this weekend, because I know it's now or never.”

"In a championship like this, it's impossible to avoid mistakes, you have to deal with it" - Frederik Vesti

Heading into the final round of the season, it really is “now or never” for Vesti in his fight against the more experienced Pourchaire. The Frenchman, now a third-year driver, finished second last year in a season where he was expected to win, losing out to surprise champion Felipe Drugovich.

Though he only has one victory to his name this year, coming in the opening feature race of the season, Pourchaire has racked up 10 podiums, putting him on 191 points entering the Abu Dhabi finale - 25 points clear of Vesti on 166. It is a big margin, and one which was inevitably damaged by the events of Spa, Zandvoort and Monza - where Vesti was forced off approaching the Lesmos by Roman Stanek.

Another DNF for Vesti, as Pourchaire collected a healthy points haul for third, meant the Frenchman's pre-race margin of seven points had ballooned by the time he joined Bearman and Ayumu Iwasa on the podium. But Vesti prefers not to consider how damaging an individual weekend could have been to his tally.

“You can always say that,” he says, prior to the Stanek crash providing the latest blow to his hopes. “You can also say Bahrain, Spa, Zandvoort. But honestly, Theo will say the same thing, and all the other guys will say the same thing. In a championship like this, it's impossible to avoid mistakes, you have to deal with it.

Pourchaire (left) leads the standings with one weekend left, despite winning just once to the five of Vesti (middle)

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Pourchaire (left) leads the standings with one weekend left, despite winning just once to the five of Vesti (middle)

“Honestly, there are two ways to win a championship. You can either dominate completely, or you can play it safe and try to finish third every weekend. And I'm here to win every single weekend. When you take risks, sometimes it goes wrong. I will keep the same mindset to go all in for Abu Dhabi and see where we end up.”

Though Vesti’s 2023 has been hugely successful, it was a different story last year. His rookie season in F2, driving for ART alongside Pourchaire, saw him score just one win and finish ninth in the standings.

Prema meanwhile also had a difficult 2022 by its usual high standards. Finishing fourth in the teams’ standings, 64 points off winners MP Motorsport, marked a departure from the previous two years where it had done the double with Mick Schumacher and Piastri respectively claiming the drivers' title. For 2023 it replaced Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala with Vesti, who had driven for the team in F3 and won his Formula Regional European Championship with the outfit in 2019, and Bearman - another driver well known to the team, having graduated from its F3 operation.

One of the main draws of Vesti returning to the team was a reunion with his F3 engineer Pedro Matos, which he says “just meant I could start the season running and not having to learn a new relationship and so on. It was like coming back to the family already knew”.

Reflecting on his and the team's changing fortunes, Vesti continues: “It's like two challenging parts coming together to be actually very good. I knew Prema, and I knew that their issues they had last year had nothing to do with the team and how the car was set-up.

“It was the same for me and ART. The car was strong, me and Theo were fighting for wins, pole positions and so on throughout the year, some weekends was just low, some was high. But I think it's all the connection with the team, how the driver and team works together and how you use the test days.

“Also the race weekends, how you review and come back stronger, because it's clear that in Formula 2, if you can just improve a little bit to the next race weekend, then you're already ahead of the competition. So Prema, especially also with Ollie, I think we've been able to us two drivers and the team really come just together and work in the right direction.”

There is the question of what happens next, should Vesti win the title, though the dilemma really applies to any of the frontrunners. With F2 champions unable to return to the series the following season, there has been an unfortunate pattern in recent seasons of the winner spending the next year on the sidelines – see Piastri in 2022, or Drugovich this year.

Vesti made his official F1 weekend debut with Mercedes during FP1 in Mexico, but he may face a difficult wait for a race seat to become available

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Vesti made his official F1 weekend debut with Mercedes during FP1 in Mexico, but he may face a difficult wait for a race seat to become available

With spots on the F1 grid scarce, even opportunities for free practice runs are few and far between. Vesti waited a whole year between his first and second outings, having taken part in last year’s Abu Dhabi rookie test - something he admitted to Autosport after the session in Mexico is “tough”.

But, he adds: “I'm just grateful, to be honest, to have this opportunity. Obviously, we have raced in Formula 2 and I've been so focused this year on just delivering the best results possible. So, I think it's worked out pretty well how it's been scheduled.”

Unlike Piastri and Drugovich ended up doing, however, Vesti says his goal is to continue racing – wherever that may be.

“If I don't reach F1 next year, I still want to be racing for sure something,” he asserts. “I think that's really important. But also you want to stay as close to Formula 1, because we've seen many years almost in a row that something can happen and they need a new driver or something. So yeah, I want to stay ready and stay positive.”

"I trust those people a lot and I hope that they're putting in their work to secure my future and I can focus 100% on Formula 2" - Frederik Vesti

While Pourchaire looks set for a move to Japan for Super Formula, Vesti is unsure what his plans will involve.

“I honestly don't know,” he admits. “I am pushing very much in Formula 2 this year, and I'm very privileged to have a very good manager in Dorte Riis Madsen. But also, Mercedes is very powerful, and Gwen Lagrue especially who is the head of the junior programme. I trust those people a lot and I hope that they're putting in their work to secure my future and I can focus 100% on Formula 2. So for now, I don't know anything, I don't even think about it.”

Though he might not have been thinking about it that weekend in Italy, he will be next weekend, when it all comes down to the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Whether he can clinch the title or not, Vesti’s stellar performances, his superb win tally and his determination to succeed are sure to endure. Whether that results in a coveted F1 seat, only time will tell.

Vesti has the most wins of any driver this season but trails in Pourchaire by 25 points. Can he overturn the margin in Abu Dhabi?

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Vesti has the most wins of any driver this season but trails in Pourchaire by 25 points. Can he overturn the margin in Abu Dhabi?

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article The F2 star rebuilding his future after a "nightmare" start to 2023
Next article Toyota star Miyata gets dual F2, ELMS programme in 2024

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe