Another edition of the strongest junior single-seater series in the world begins in Bahrain this weekend, with the excitement of fresh driver line-ups and a new team present. Feeder Series reviews the 22-driver grid for the much-anticipated 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship.
By Tyler Foster
This year’s Formula 2 calendar remains 14 rounds long, with the action starting and finishing in the Middle East. Along the way we will visit three continents, including the newest addition to F2: Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The ten-month championship will finish in Abu Dhabi on 26th November.
Our new field consists of nine rookies, all of whom have graduated from Formula 3. 12 drivers from Formula 1 driver academies make up the grid, the most of any Formula 2 championship so far.
With six Red Bull Junior Team drivers, two Ferrari Driver Academy members, two Alpine Academy members, one Mercedes Junior Team driver and one Sauber Academy member, this year’s grid is sure to be one of the most competitive yet.
Whilst MP Motorsport’s success in 2022 may have come as a shock to many fans of Formula 2, those with a watchful eye over the championship would have been aware of the team’s rise to success . The Dutch outfit recruited key behind-the-scenes staff to help propel them into last year’s season, which saw the return of Felipe Drugovich to the team.
The Brazilian has since gone on to make himself a household name. His dominant championship-winning season saw a 101-point gap over second-place Théo Pourchaire. MP Motorsport and Drugovich led a campaign of pure excellence which led to them winning the Teams’ and Drivers’ Championship.
Things are now interestingly different for 2023. The arrival of Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala after a disappointing season with Prema has certainly raised eyebrows within the paddock. The big question will be whether the team can repeat their 2022 glory with two new drivers.
Hauger arrived off the back of an F3 title with a dominant Prema team. However, his rookie year in F2 was surprisingly underwhelming, especially for a Red Bull junior. Hauger and his Prema teammate Daruvala admitted that they were surprised by their lack of competitiveness throughout 2022.
Hauger’s rookie season was not entirely without success. The Norwegian driver followed up on a maiden F2 race win in the Monaco sprint with a Feature Race victory on the challenging streets of Baku. Despite this, his mid-season success did not continue, and Hauger ultimately finished tenth in the Drivers’ Championship.
The 19-year-old arrives at another dominant team for 2023 with MP Motorsport, where he can finally take the reins with the expectation of fighting for the title.
While his performances were somewhat forgettable, Daruvala mirrored his previous season with Carlin by finishing 7th in the standings. He also outscored his rookie teammate by 11 points. A succession of podiums was finally broken at Monza, where the Indian achieved his first Feature Race win after three seasons in F2.
Daruvala’s added role as the test and reserve driver for Mahindra in Formula E, could shorten his season. Ultimately, there is no longer much expectation on the shoulders of Daruvala, as the 24-year-old is no longer a part of the Red Bull Junior Team.
Rodin Carlin quietly achieved one of their best Formula 2 seasons last year as they snatched second in the standings ahead of ART to finish just eight points behind Teams’ Champions MP Motorsport. A lack of consistency in qualifying was the British team’s biggest issue; despite this, they were able to achieve multiple race wins due to the effective combination of Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant.
Sargeant’s graduation to a Williams Formula 1 seat and Lawson’s departure to Super Formula left Rodin Carlin with two vacant seats. These will be filled by Red Bull Junior Team drivers Enzo Fittipaldi, who enters his second season in Formula 2 after previously racing for Charouz, and Zane Maloney, who steps up from Formula 3 after finishing second in the Drivers’ Championship. They enter the 2023 season as one of the great unknowns.
In 2022, the ‘Boy from Barbados’ improved dramatically after a challenging start to his rookie season in Formula 3, as he recovered to finish P2 in the standings behind champion Victor Martins. Three consecutive Feature Race wins to finish the season highlight the Barbadian’s success.
The 19-year-old went on to make his Formula 2 debut in Abu Dhabi for Trident. However, he has moved to Rodin Carlin — the team with which he won British F4 — for his rookie season in the championship.
Whilst a slow start may be expected, Maloney’s impressive ability to rapidly make progress throughout a season will make him a driver to watch in 2023. His recent signing to the Red Bull Junior Team is an indicator of his great potential.
Fittipaldi joins Rodin Carlin after an impressive Formula 2 season with Charouz, which saw the Brazilian driver finish eighth in the Drivers’ Championship. A lot has changed for the recently-signed Red Bull Junior Team driver since the end of 2021, which saw him part ways with Ferrari and suffer a horrendous accident during the Jeddah Formula 2 round that led to a fractured right heel and brain surgery.
Despite Fittipaldi’s turnaround in performances, his expectations remain below that of the other five Red Bull Junior Team drivers in this year’s Formula 2 championship. Fittipaldi has yet to achieve a victory in the series and he will need to change this if he wants to improve on his results from last campaign.
ART Grand Prix
In 2022, ART achieved what was expected of them in Formula 2. Vesti was able to vanquish the ‘ART second-seat curse’ whilst Pourchaire finished second in the championship. Despite this, neither driver was able to consistently deliver good results.
With Vesti’s departure to Prema for 2023, the arrival of reigning Formula 3 champion Victor Martins to ART should propel the French outfit even further. A third year in Formula 2 for Pourchaire could finally lead to a title, but the 19-year-old will be under pressure to perform — with doubts potentially arising if early season performances do not meet the lofty ambitions set.
Nevertheless, the all-French line-up of Martins and Pourchaire could prove a championship-winning one for ART.
Pourchaire’s decision to stay in Formula 2 for a third year emanates from Sauber wanting their premier academy driver to gain more experience and maturity. The 19-year-old arrives at a crossroads, knowing that if he claims the Formula 2 title it would increase his chances of securing a future seat in F1 with Alfa Romeo.
The luck suffered by the teenager during last year’s campaign was truly ghastly, but he will need to rapidly improve his qualifying performances to have any prospect of fighting for the title. The 101-point gap between himself and Drugovich showed that Pourchaire still has a lot to learn. He will certainly need to deliver in 2023.
The reigning FIA Formula 3 champion graduated with a €200,000 reward from Pirelli which helped him to remain with ART once more. Martins highlighted his consistency throughout his run to the title, as well as his steely ability to perform under pressure.
Regardless of his rookie status, Martins is two years older than his new teammate Pourchaire. The Alpine Academy driver should fare better than most rookies due to his greater experience and maturity. Stepping straight into a top three team allows Martins to have every chance of scoring points in all 14 rounds.
It might take the Frenchman time to adapt, but once he gets his eye in, he will likely be able to compete at the front of the grid.
The Italian giants fell off completely in comparison to their two previous years of dominance. It appeared as though they had the talent to continue from where they left off under Piastri and Shwartzman, but Hauger and Daruvala were only able to threaten on occasion.
Prema finished a disappointing P4 in the standings. There is some expectation that they will return to form in 2023 with an all-new driver pairing in the form of Vesti, who moves from ART for his second season in Formula 2, and Ferrari Driver Academy member Ollie Bearman, who finished third in Formula 3.
Denmark’s only current representative in F2 is also the series’ only Mercedes junior. A worrying start to his rookie campaign was quelled by a mid-season peak that saw two feature race podiums, a maiden sprint victory in Baku and a pole in Spielberg.
After his time at ART, Vesti reunites with Prema for a second time as the 21-year-old aims for the title. Perhaps an outsider to many, Vesti will be expected to lead the Prema squad as one half of a talented line-up. He will also continue his simulator duties with Mercedes throughout the year.
Every so often, a driver of generational talent graduates to a series that truly challenges them for the first time in their career. Britain’s next best F1 hopeful is still aged just 17 and is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Certainly not your average driver, Bearman dominated the Italian and ADAC Formula 4 titles at the same time. As a rookie in F3 with Prema last year, he achieved eight podiums in 18 races, including a maiden sprint victory at Spa. This led to him finishing P3 in the championship behind Victor Martins and Zane Maloney. Bearman’s résumé suggests that he is more than capable of fighting at the front, despite his lack of experience.
Twelve months ago, this British team had one of the most exciting driver line-ups – Jüri Vips and Marcus Armstrong. However, Hitech’s 2022 season was about as underwhelming as it gets.
The British outfit will attempt to make a fresh start for 2023 with the addition of two new Red Bull Junior Team drivers. Isack Hadjar shone as a rookie in F3, while Jak Crawford illustrated flashes of pace. It may take some time for either to settle amongst a talented grid, but the pair could provide some shock results.
Hitech’s shining star from the 2022 FIA Formula 3 season was Isack Hadjar. Joining from fifth in FRECA, he was on course to take the title entering the final round. This was highlighted by five podiums, three wins and a pole at the home of Red Bull. An error in qualifying at Monza saw him ruin those chances and finish fourth in the standings.
Helmut Marko believes in Hadjar, and refers to him as ‘little Prost’. He considers the French-Algerian driver as an asset and future centrepiece of the Red Bull F1 program, having stated that, “if he performs well in F2, there is a good chance that Hadjar could be seen in F1 in 2024”.
This is enough praise to last a lifetime, but Hadjar will need to avoid making mistakes in order to maintain this encouragement. The 18-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.
One of three Americans competing in F2 this season, Crawford is the second-youngest driver on the grid. Having raced in Formula 3 for two years — first for Hitech and then for Prema — he has risen from thirteenth to seventh in the championship standings.
The competitiveness of the Prema allowed the Red Bull junior to truly demonstrate his talent in Formula 3. A maiden sprint victory in Austria was complemented with a further four podiums. Although Crawford scored the least of the seven main title contenders, he will have time on his side to develop as he enters Formula 2.
The tale of DAMS’ 2022 season came down to the contrast in talent behind the wheel. Ayumu Iwasa became a pole-sitter and feature race winner, whilst his significantly more experienced teammate, Roy Nissany, finished P19 in the Drivers’ Championship.
The French team extracted a lot of performance from the car in the second half of the year, surprising many in the process. Their change in trajectory since the installation of new management under ex-F1 driver Charles Pic has certainly been a success.
The next step is making their return to the top on a more consistent basis, which will be helped by the addition of experienced Ferrari Academy driver Arthur Leclerc.
Iwasa’s strong performances throughout 2022 helped DAMS make strides towards the top. The Honda Formula Dream Project driver graduated from a reasonably strong rookie campaign in F3 with Hitech.
A couple of podiums before the halfway stage of the 2022 Formula 2 season preceded his outstanding final six rounds, in which he scored 97 points. This saw him rise from outside of the top ten, to fifth in the standings come Abu Dhabi – the second-best rookie behind Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
Iwasa may be a dark horse for the title this year, but he will experience greater external pressure as he enters his second year in Formula 2. The Japanese driver will be the spearhead of a growing DAMS squad and he will be key to unlocking their potential this year.
Leclerc graduates to Formula 2 at the age of 22 after two seasons with Prema in Formula 3. Despite being considered an erratic driver, the Monegasque carries a strong following.
Whilst 2023 will be his first year away from Prema since 2019, DAMS seems to be a strong fit for Leclerc. The Monégasque driver will need to improve on his consistency, as this has been his biggest barrier to sustaining a title fight in Formula 3.
The Ferrari Driver Academy member’s next chapter will be a difficult one to predict, but should be fascinating to watch unfold.
Invicta Virtuosi Racing
This British team provided their young Australian prospect, Jack Doohan, with a car capable of fighting for victories; however, they were only able to achieve seventh in the teams’ standings. Since entering the series in 2019, they had been runners-up for three years running prior to 2022.
The contrasting pairing of Doohan and Marino Sato didn’t do them any favours, with the Australian scoring 128 of the team’s 134 total points. Now that Sato has left, it will be Amaury Cordeel who is tasked with supporting Doohan at Invicta Virtuosi. This should be an improvement on last year’s line-up.
Alpine’s current F1 reserve driver has gone from being one Australian — Oscar Piastri — to another in Jack Doohan. Just like Piastri, Doohan has the opportunity to win the Formula 2 title at the age of 20. An impressive last two seasons; runner-up in F3 followed by sixth-place as a rookie in F2, have opened up the possibilities for a growing F1 development role.
An integral part of the Alpine program, Doohan is one of the major favourites going into 2023’s title fight. His rapid one-lap pace throughout the season led to three poles, and a show-stopping feature race win at Spa was the rookie’s climax. Unfortunately, an inability to avoid on-track drama makes his maturity a crucial aspect to a possible championship-winning campaign.
After 11 rounds of the 2022 Formula 2 championship, VAR’s Amaury Cordeel had yet to open his point-scoring account. In the final three rounds, the Belgian changed this by scoring 26 points. This respectable ending to his rookie year in F2 leaves some hope for a driver that had otherwise not shown much promise.
The 20-year-old can develop further under the management of Virtuosi and has a role to play in supporting his teammates’ title hopes. If his recent form continues, Cordeel could be a considerable underdog this season.
PHM Racing by Charouz
The introduction of a new team to Formula 2 is always noteworthy, but PHM’s entry is unique. PHM was founded less than two years ago, but has made an immediate impression through competitive Formula 4 campaigns.
The purchase of Charouz’s assets gives the German team considerable stock. The Czech outfit was able to compete way above station since their entry to the series in 2018. An outstanding campaign from Enzo Fittipaldi helped Charouz realise their potential.
However, the driver choice for 2023 came prior to the sale of the team, leaving PHM with two somewhat unremarkable drivers. Perhaps the weakest line-up in terms of results, F2 veteran Roy Nissany returns alongside rookie Brad Benavides.
After two years with DAMS, the ex-Williams Driver Academy member remains in Formula 2 for a fifth season as he joins PHM. Just one podium and a total of 22 points from three seasons gave fans little to be excited about.
Despite this, Nissany fashioned a once-in-a-career chance to take his maiden feature race victory amid chaos in Imola, however a critical mistake under pressure saw him crash out from the lead. This result sums up his time in Formula 2. The Israeli achieved his best points finish last time out – 20 points – but still ended up nineteenth in the standings.
Now 28 years of age, Nissany offers PHM his four seasons of Formula 2 experience in their first year of the series.
Even though this American had a forgettable rookie year in F3, Brad Benavides graduated straight into F2 as the younger option of PHM’s new line-up.
Competing for Carlin last season, he achieved a solitary point-scoring finish: P8 in the sprint race at Spa. His tally of three points left him languishing down in P23 in the standings. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old enters F2 off the back of a disappointing FRMEC series.
This Italian team has been unable to reproduce their Formula 3 success into Formula 2. It was still an all-time best finish for Trident last year, with Richard Verschoor carrying them to 108 points. A change in both seats leaves them with a more balanced driver pairing.
The return of Clément Novalak to Trident should lead to improvements for the Frenchman. His teammate, Roman Staněk will remain with the team as he graduates to Formula 2 after three seasons in Formula 3.
Any improvements in performance will be a positive outcome, as they will need to close the gap in performance between their Formula 3 and Formula 2 operations.
The biggest disappointment of all the rookies in Formula 2 last season was almost definitely Clément Novalak. Stepping up after an ultra-consistent F3 campaign with Trident, the Frenchman was unable to adapt well during his brief stint with MP Motorsport.
Novalak finished in P13 in a frustrating rookie year, which was made to look much worse by the outstanding performances of his champion teammate Felipe Drugovich.
Underperforming in a title-winning car does nothing to help progress your career, but Novalak has been able to learn from the best while reuniting with Trident for 2023. There is clearly talent in there somewhere, but this may be the 22-year-old’s last chance to show it at this level.
It only felt fair that Trident would graduate Staněk after three seasons in Formula 3. The Czech driver becomes the first from his nation to compete in Formula 2.
It has been some journey for Staněk, who made the necessary progress in 2022 to be deemed worthy of moving up the ladder. A feature race win in Imola, a pole and three further podiums led the 19-year-old to an excellent fifth-place in F3. The main worry for Staněk revolves around the time it took him to adapt and develop during his time in F3.
This cannot be the case in Formula 2, as most drivers don’t get to see out three years, resulting in a shorter learning curve. This will have to be the case if he wants to have a second season in the series.
Van Amersfoort Racing
Having joined the series along with Formula 3 for the first time twelve months ago, VAR have gone on to prove their motorsport credentials once again with a respectable debut season.
They may have been the only team to not score a podium last year due to a technical infringement in Jeddah, but they have delivered strong performances throughout the year. Through their various line-ups — including now-McLaren Formula E driver Jake Hughes and David Beckmann — VAR have certainly illustrated their class at this level.
Only time will tell what their performances will be like in 2023, but the Dutch team seem raring to go. Their new pairing of Richard Verschoor and Juan Manuel Correa has already made a strong impression from testing.
This Dutch driver has joined a team where he has the capabilities to show exactly the extent of his ability. It was Verschoor who took the opening victory of the 2022 season in Bahrain, and history could very well repeat itself this weekend.
Beyond that, his second year in F2 provided a somewhat similar result to that of his rookie campaign. He pushed on from his victory at the start to score three more podiums and finish the year with nine consecutive point-finishes.The hope exists that the Dutch combination of VAR and Verschoor will create a team and driver combination capable of competing for race wins.
If testing is at all relevant, it showed just how quick the black-and-orange machine could be in the hands of this 22-year-old mercurial talent.
Juan Manuel Correa
There may not be fireworks for Correa in Formula 2 this year in terms of his performance, but just having him back on the grid is a blessing to all who viewed his suffering following the tragic events at Spa three years ago. Since the loss of Anthoine Hubert, no one has championed his spirit quite like Correa, and through the American-Colombian driver’s return, the late Frenchman lives on.
It seemed almost inconceivable that following the accident, Correa would be able to race again, let alone make a recovery through the ladder back to Formula 2. In terms of his ability, he still has a lot to offer, and his added experience will allow Van Amersfoort to benefit just as they did under the tutelage of Jake Hughes last year. We all wish Correa the best for his season.
This Spanish team took a step backwards last year, eventually finishing the season as the worst performing team in eleventh with a total of just 67 points.
However, there is an explanation for this dip in results. Firstly, their veteran leader Ralph Boschung suffered from facet syndrome for the majority of the campaign, eventually missing six rounds altogether. Secondly, his teammate Olli Caldwell struggled to transition as a rookie and only scored 12 points.
The young Brit was outscored by former Formula 1 driver Roberto Merhi, who had the cameo of the season, scoring a podium on his first return to the series since 2018.
For 2023, Boschung — a vital component of Campos’ operations — will be partnered by Indian hotshot Kush Maini.
2022 saw a mix of pain and joy for the series’ resident Swiss driver. A couple of podiums were separated by a giant period away from racing, where Boschung was recovering from the onset of arthritis-like condition of the spine that caused immense problems for his neck.
As often with drivers, they will battle through the pain barrier, and his reward was a sprint race podium in Spa on his first race back from being sidelined for four consecutive rounds. This achievement itself merits respect, and Boschung will return for a fourth season with Campos and a sixth in Formula 2.
Now the second Indian on the grid, Maini is somewhat of an unknown quantity. Aged 22, he is not a long-term prospect at this level, but he did enough as a rookie in F3 last year to step up to a seat in Formula 2 with Campos.
With MP Motorsport, Maini finished fourteenth and surprised many with his electric pace at times. His racecraft leaves something to be desired, but Campos’ decision isn’t baseless. It will be a tough step up for such an inexperienced driver, but alongside one of the veterans of the industry, Maini can learn all he needs to surprise fans all over again.
With the sheer level of talent on the grid, the 2023 Formula 2 championship will certainly be an electrifying one. The season will get underway in Bahrain on Friday 3rd March 2022.
Header photo credit: Joe Portlock – Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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