Iwasa critical despite Jeddah Sprint victory: ‘I didn’t have great speed’

A spectacular sprint race on Saturday saw DAMS’ Ayumu Iwasa take the third victory of his Formula 2 career under the lights in Jeddah. An excellent defensive display saw him hold off both Victor Martins and Jehan Daruvala for the win, but speaking after the race, the Japanese driver was blunt about his struggles with pace so far this season.

By Tyler Foster

Perhaps no driver entered the 2023 Formula 2 season with as much momentum as Iwasa. The Honda Formula Dream Project driver scored 97 points from the final five rounds of last year’s F2 campaign. This included a pole and two feature race victories, with the second coming in the final race of the season in the Feature Race at Abu Dhabi.

Unfortunately, the DAMS driver has not been able to fully realise this potential from the start of this new season. Iwasa spoke with Feeder Series to give some perspective on the highs and lows that he experienced in his twelve months within the series.

“I was working with the team quite a lot last year through the season, and that’s why I could have a really good consistent result at the end of the season. But, as you saw at the beginning of the last season, it was really difficult. That’s why I was trying to improve myself and the team as well,” Iwasa said.

“Honestly, Bahrain didn’t go well for me. I was struggling a lot with the speed and also tyre management. Actually, I’m quite happy with this result because I came back, but still we need to work on everything because the speed wasn’t great. I think we have the potential but we need to improve it as much as I can.”

The Red Bull Junior might be being harsh on himself, considering that he enters Sunday’s feature race third in the championship after having scored points in all three races so far. However, it is clear that in order for his form to return, he will need to score more consistently in the feature races.

Performing under pressure in the Sprint

Ayumu Iwasa sits in the cockpit of his Red Bull-branded DAMS FIA Formula 2 car with his helmet on
Ayumu Iwasa delivered an excellent defensive performance to win the Jeddah Sprint | Credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

In Saturday’s Sprint Race, Iwasa started from fourth, after Prema’s Frederik Vesti lost positions as a result of a five-place grid penalty awarded for his collision with Richard Verschoor in Bahrain’s feature. An electric start saw him rise to second, where he was able to swiftly dispatch of reverse-grid polesitter, Hitech’s Jak Crawford.

From this point forwards, Iwasa spent the majority of the sprint defending the lead of the race from a rampant Martins and Daruvala, in a reminiscent showing of his epic defence under pressure from Drugovich in Abu Dhabi last November.

“It was massive pressure,” Iwasa said after his latest victory. “The situation was really similar to Abu Dhabi last year. I was trying to remember that situation and manage [the lead] well.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have great speed through the race, so I had to manage the pace for each sector. The chicane on the sector two and the last corner was quite okay, so that’s why I could defend well but still it was on the edge. Abu Dhabi was really good training for this.”

Iwasa’s defensive efforts were not just limited to green flag racing, as the 21-year-old from Osaka had to deal with the trouble of leading two Safety Car restarts. At the first restart, the DAMS driver patiently chose to wait before getting fully on the throttle late after the final corner.

However, he switched his plan at the restart to go early before the final corner instead of waiting. Both restarts were successfully done, allowing Iwasa to hold his lead and helping him take victory.

“I was not expecting two Safety Cars,” Iwasa admitted, “but I was trying to do my best as much as I can. When there was a second Safety Car, I was thinking about strategy. I wanted to do different starts, that’s why I started a bit earlier.”

Despite qualifying in sixth, the Japanese driver will start the feature race from fifth on the grid. This comes as a result of Théo Pourchaire’s dangerous lunge in the sprint that saw him eliminate both himself and Ollie Bearman from the contest, handing the ART driver a five-place grid penalty for Sunday.

Header photo credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

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