A navy and teal F2 car makes a right turn under fading light

Could 2023 be DAMS’ year of redemption?

Over the past few years in Formula 2, DAMS have often struggled to match the performance of their competitors. The French team are one of the most decorated in feeder series, with 15 drivers’ titles, 16 teams’ championships and more than 30 drivers who have gone on to compete in Formula 1. After a promising 2022 season with sparks of success, DAMS could be the surprise package of 2023.

By Grégoire Devaux

The 2022 year was rocky for DAMS. On 17 February, two weeks before the start of the Formula 2 season, the French team officially announced their takeover by former Formula 1 driver Charles Pic.

Founded by Jean-Paul Driot and René Arnoux in 1988, DAMS has been in the Driot family ever since, with Jean-Paul’s sons Olivier and Gregory Driot taking charge of the team after Jean-Paul’s death in August 2019. Unfortunately, this tragic event plunged the team into the abyss of the Formula 2 championship.

A brutal downfall

DAMS are one of the most prestigious teams in feeder series, with one quarter of the 2023 Formula 1 grid having competed with them in their junior career. Carlos Sainz Jr., Kevin Magnussen and Nyck De Vries raced for DAMS in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, whilst Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon have competed for the French team in GP2 and Formula 2 respectively.

It is undoubtedly in these latter championships that DAMS have been the most successful. Between 2011 and 2019, the French team never finished lower than fourth in the teams’ championship. Furthermore, at least one of the drivers from each of these seasons’ line-ups ended up in Formula 1, earning the team their highly regarded reputation.

2019 proved to be one of DAMS’ most successful seasons in Formula 2 after it secured the teams’ championship. However, the death of Jean-Paul Driot in the middle of season left the team without its most important figure.

The offseason was highlighted by a huge turnover in the lineup as Sérgio Sette Câmara left for new horizons in Formula E, whilst Nicholas Latifi earned a seat in F1 with Williams after four seasons with the French team.

After winning the Formula 2 teams’ championship in 2019, DAMS have gone through turbulent times | Credit: DAMS

Despite being one of the most attractive teams on the grid and the reigning constructors’ champions, DAMS’ new owners – Olivier and Gregory Driot – opted to sign Sean Gelael, arguably to improve the teams’ finances. The Indonesian driver had already competed in three F2 seasons with Arden and Prema but had never finished higher than 15th in the drivers’ championship.

DAMS also hired Dan Ticktum, who had previously competed for the French team for five races during the 2017 GP3 season. The British driver then went on to win the Macau Grand Prix twice and finish second in the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European Championship.

As expected, Dan Ticktum adapted well to Formula 2. In his rookie season, he finished 11th in the drivers’ championship after achieving a win and four podiums. However, Sean Gelael only managed to score three points in the whole season, which severely compromised DAMS in the teams’ championship.

Whilst Jüri Vips achieved several points finishes and one podium when he stood in for an injured Gelael, the French team ultimately ended the championship in eighth place its worst finish since 2006.

The 2021 season was by no means better. Another total turnover in the lineup saw Sean Gelael and Dan Ticktum replaced by Roy Nissany and Marcus Armstrong. While the New Zealander had shown some promise after finishing 13th in his rookie season, Roy Nissany was another driver who was seemingly appointed for financial reasons.

With two Formula 2 seasons under his belt and a best finish of 19th, DAMS showed that money and sponsorship was still a concern within the team. Unfortunately, money did not buy success, and DAMS finished the season in eighth place for the second time in a row.

2022: A new hope

After two disappointing years, 2022 was crucial for DAMS. At the dawn of the new season, Olivier and Gregory Driot announced the takeover of the team by former Formula 1 driver Charles Pic.

A statement issued by the brothers seemed to recognise the necessity of this move. It read, “Although it is with a heavy heart that we are handing over the team, this is the best way to ensure the DAMS legacy remains and expands”.

With both drivers – Nissany and Red Bull Junior Team driver Ayumu Iwasa – already announced before the takeover, the 2022 season was one of restructuring and learning for Charles Pic. “There was an initial period of adaptation as I got to know the team members I was not already familiar with,” Pic said in an interview with DAMS.

Iwasa’s performances throughout the 2022 Formula 2 season proved to be promising for DAMS | Credit: DAMS

The 2022 season was very promising for DAMS, particularly after Iwasa’s strong performances throughout the year. The Japanese driver finished fifth in the drivers’ championship and was the second-best rookie behind Formula 1–bound Logan Sargeant. Additionally, DAMS improved on their performances and 2021 to finish in sixth place in the 2022 Formula 2 teams’ championship.

With Iwasa staying with DAMS for his second season in Formula 2, there is hope that he could be the next driver coming from the French team’s ranks to make the step up to Formula 1. In this respect, 2023 could very well be DAMS’ year of redemption.

Rising from the ashes

Iwasa will be partnered by Ferrari Driver Academy member Arthur Leclerc for the upcoming Formula 2 season, as the Monégasque driver makes the step up from Formula 3 after two full seasons with Prema. While the objective set for Leclerc is to progress and adapt to the F2 car as quickly as possible, there is a huge belief within the team that Iwasa can join the battle for the title.

In an interview with DAMS, Charles Pic said, “Ayumu has the talent to do it, and he proved it in 2022. But there are also four or five drivers who can fight for the championship this season. All the top teams in 2023 have someone who has the potential to compete for the title.”

Pre-season testing has proven to be encouraging for DAMS. Both Leclerc and Iwasa showed great pace as they set the sixth and eighth fastest times respectively over the three days of running in Bahrain.

What does the future hold for DAMS?

With one of the biggest legacies in the feeder series history, DAMS is ready to shine again in the FIA Formula 2 grid and fight for the teams’ championship. However, it remains to be seen what Charles Pic’s long-term vision is for the team.

Back in 1996, DAMS saw its bid to join Formula 1 rejected but still expanded its activities in a lot of different championships throughout the years. Aside from the GP2 and FIA Formula 2 championships, the Le Mans–based team has also briefly competed in the GP3 Series for the 2016 and 2017 seasons before it became the FIA Formula 3 championship, as well as the Formula Renault 3.5 Series – a rival series to GP2.

Charles Pic could try to expand DAMS’ activities beyond Formula 2, as he tried with his own team only a few months before the takeover of the French side. In late 2021, CAP Racing – which he co-founded with his brother Arthur – was close to taking part in the 2022 FRECA Championship.

The two brothers were in advanced negotiations with DR Formula to take their spot for the 2022 season, as the Portuguese side was for sale. CAP Racing even took part in the post-season testing in Barcelona with Alex Garcia and Michael Belov before the negotiations suddenly fell apart.

Five days after DAMS’ official announcement of Charles Pic’s takeover, FRECA announced that the DR Formula spot would be taken by Irish–Italian side RPM.

The 2023 season will be full of hope for DAMS, as the team will try to keep the positive momentum from the second half of the 2022 season going. The team aims to gain consistency to be able to fight at the front throughout the year. Perhaps they might prove to be the surprise package of this highly competitive Formula 2 season.

Header photo credit: DAMS


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