Portugal has produced a fair number of talents in motorsport, be it F1 podium finisher Tiago Monteiro or 2020 Formula E Champion António Félix da Costa, and it has held Grand Prix at three different venues. However, the country hasn’t produced any F1 drivers for nearly two decades and the amount of feeder series talent has been sparse. F1 Feeder Series talked to F4 rookie Ivan Domingues about his aim to change that – whilst also looking at issues with his nation’s motorsport scene.
By Alexander Studenkov
Ivan Domingues’ first foray into racing came at a local rental kart place at the age of eight. His father, who runs an auto spare parts business, took him and his brother to the racetrack, where Domingues immediately found a love for the sport.
“I didn’t have a helmet, a suit, nothing. Then every time I went to the track, I had to beat my time from last time, so if I’d get under one minute my dad would get me boots, then under 55 seconds I’d get a helmet, then gloves. We continued like this until I had all my gear and I started doing little championships.”
He continued to race in national competitions, becoming runner-up in 2019 and also winning the Portuguese Cup in three successive seasons. Having scored podiums in the Spanish Championship, Domingues decided to take the step into European karting. There however, his streak of wins and titles came to an end, as he struggled to stay competitive in the WSK and CIK championships.
“Compared to other drivers who were driving every day, I didn’t have the track time”, he says. “We were just arriving the day before and we never tested. Every race was a new track, and I never even drove in the rain in Portugal, so when it rained, I was very bad as well. I moved to Italy for 2021 to get more track time, but it didn’t help because I raced the same number of times as I did before.”
Climbing the ladder
Nevertheless, Domingues tested Formula 4 machinery in 2021, gradually building up his understanding of the car before signing up for this year’s F4 UAE Championship with Xcel Motorsport in preparation for his European campaign.
The step-up into cars proved itself to be difficult, and Domingues struggled to get to the front in the first half of the season.
“I was racing people that have much more experience fighting and racing in F4, so I had no clue what I was doing. My starts were horrific, and I was very cautious battling, leaving a lot of space.”
At the second round Domingues “didn’t put a lap together in qualifying” and was forced to start near the back. But instead of being disappointed Domingues used his low grid position as an opportunity to hone his racecraft, building his confidence going into the following rounds.
I was racing people that have much more experience fighting and racing in F4, so I had no clue what I was doingIvan Domingues
“For me looking back, it’s good that I had this s**t quali because I learned how to overtake; starting from P12 like I did in round one I would go backwards and starting from the back I would do the opposite. After the third weekend I knew how to race.”
Following a successful mid-season test, Domingues felt that he had the pace to fight for the podium, although miscommunication with the team during qualifying led to him setting no valid lap time for race two. Describing himself as having been “so pissed”, Domingues scored pole position in the subsequent session.
He went on to gain ten positions in race one to score points in the first race and finished on the podium after battling Prema’s Aiden Neate in race three. The Portuguese driver got another third
place in the final round at Yas Marina, ending up 16th in the standings, only nine points behind his more experienced teammate Jamie Day.
Proving ground Italy
For his main campaign in Italian F4 Domingues will move to Iron Lynx, sister team of the dominant Prema Powerteam. Being asked by F1 Feeder Series about his goals for this season, Domingues looks hopeful.
“I want to be there at the front. I don’t have any specific position in the championship that I’m targeting, but I’ll try to drive as well as possible and take the maximum out of the car, with regular podiums and hopefully some wins as well.”
When I go out on track, I don’t think about beating my teammate, I think about beating everyoneIvan Domingues
One of his teammates will be Ferrari Driver Academy member Maya Weug, who is going into her second year in F4. Domingues marks her out as one of his main rivals.
“Her being with Ferrari makes me want to beat her even more. If you don’t beat your teammate, it means that you’re not getting the most out of the car. But when I go out on track, I don’t think about beating my teammate, I think about beating everyone.”
The sport at home
Despite Portugal’s history in motorsport being fairly prestigious, in particular with António Félix da Costa’s success in recent years, the sport has had a tough time breaking through to become mainstream.
“Motorsport is not the biggest sport in Portugal. That’s football, because of Ronaldo and all these players. But people don’t value racing as much as in Italy or even Spain.”
According to the 15-year-old a major problem is the lack of suitable racing facilities, with only a handful of outdoor karting tracks being used regularly. Adding to that, motorsport competitions aren’t approached with the needed level of seriousness by people within the sport itself.
“Compared to Europe, people are not professional enough in karting. They take it more as a hobby”, Domingues says.
Because of Drive to Survive, everyone is talking about F1 nowIvan Domingues
Things are beginning to gradually change for the better with regard to the popularity of Formula One, as Domingues highlights not only the recent Grand Prix held at Portimão but the success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive as an important building block to bring F1 closer to the public eye.
“Because of Drive to Survive, everyone is talking about F1 now. When they see me at school, they say they started watching the series and have now become fans of the sport.”
In the end, Domingues dismisses the suggestion that any investment into motorsport or a place on the F1 calendar would help the country gain a passion for the sport. For him, there is only one solution.
“I believe that the sport will only become popular if we have someone in F1, a driver who’ll be winning things.”
Domingues’ season will start on the 6-8 May when Italian F4 heads to Imola for its opening round.
Header photo credit: F4 UAE
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