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Formula 1

'I don't give a s**t' - Don't tell Drugovich to give up on F1

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
9 min read

It was only two years ago that Felipe Drugovich was romping to the title in Formula 1's main feeder series. It was only a month ago that he turned 24. Only. The thing is, F1 realities do not permit the word 'only' in either of those sentences.

After unparalleled driver roster stability between 2023 and 2024, F1 is on course to have, at the very least, two rookies on the grid next year. It may well have more.

But it would take something extraordinary for Drugovich to find room at the inn - even if his name still comes up here and there in silly season rumours, as if by inertia, like it was echoes of silly seasons past.

An assured Formula 2 champion - and, though it was his third year, a fairly young F2 champion at that - Drugovich has not yet got the F1 look-in he'd been waiting for. When I sit down with him at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport, the site of a Formula E round and the accompanying rookie test Drugovich is running in, and ask whether he feels hard done by, he insists: "I mean, pfff... I'm not here to complain.

"Obviously it sucks, but I can't complain. There's opportunities - but you need to be in the right place at the right time. So... it's not finished. So we'll see!"

DON'T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME)

Felipe Drugovich 2022 Formula 2 champion

You do not have to go very far to find support for Drugovich's claim that it's "not finished". The same weekend that he wrapped up the 2022 F2 title, Nyck de Vries - three years on from his own F2 crown - found himself in position to finally make his F1 debut, which was impactful enough to make him a hot property on the F1 driver market.

The rest of the F1 story didn't really work out for De Vries in any meaningful way, and in terms of getting there he didn't really offer a clear blueprint - with his circumstances being a not-fully-forgotten reputation as a world-beater in karting and a link with a major manufacturer that meant he was being loaned out here and there for FP1 opportunities and, eventually, a stand-in drive.

You can't really emulate that. But it shows someone like Drugovich that it's theoretically possible - and the Brazilian has felt he has done his part to keep it as possible as it can be by remaining on the F1 periphery, through his reserve and simulator driver role with Aston Martin.

Felipe Drugovich

"I go to most of the races, I would say out of 24-25 I'm going to 14-15," says Drugovich.

"Then simulator work as well before every race I go to, in a race I stay with the engineers just listening to every debrief and stuff like that.”

Positioning himself like that has meant plenty of FP1s and last year he was very close to an F1 debut - only for a broken-wristed Lance Stroll, the same Lance Stroll people always say 'isn't really bothered' about this whole F1 thing, to definitively prove otherwise, gritting his teeth through a gutsy Bahrain Grand Prix weekend in an Aston Martin that turned out to be very, very competitive at that point.

Felipe Drugovich Aston Martin F1 test Bahrain 2023

The start that Drugovich would've otherwise got, though it guarantees nothing, could've been a game-changer. F1 memories are short but collective F1 infatuations are potent.

But, over a year later, no grand prix start is forthcoming for the Brazilian, and any route into an Aston Martin race drive appears extinguished with Fernando Alonso's multi-year extension and the total absence of any signs Stroll may leave.

"I think it's OK, that's what I was expecting to be fair,” says Drugovich.

"To be fair, nowadays it's so hard to commit to a team and know what's going to happen. Even if you win F2, you're not sure if you're going to be there or not. 

"I think you need to look at the team that's going to do you best, and for sure Aston has given me until now all I could ask for, to be fair. There's a lot of testing involved, last year I did a lot of testing, FP1 sessions, just taking me around the races just to learn..."

THE GAME HAS CHANGED

Imola Formula 2 2024

Theo Pourchaire succeeded Drugovich as F2 champion, and has had no F1 doors open to him. And there's probably a 50/50 chance, or maybe even more than that, that whoever succeeds Pourchaire this year will not find a grand prix seat for 2025.

I put it to Drugovich that, with F1 drivers hanging on much further into their 30s with minimal performance drop-off and a shortage of testing opportunities compared to the past, teams are now uniquely disincentivised from choosing youth over experience.

And he agrees - partly.

"I think before was another era, so they [established F1 drivers] were stopping much earlier. 

"And then it got to another era, that people were struggling with money, and normally young drivers had the budget. And now, it's none of those.

"The teams have the money, and drivers are hanging on forever. So... it's difficult, for whoever is coming in. The last two F2 [title] winners, they're not in F1, and I don't know if this year's champion will be there as well.

"It's something that they have to fix. But... I mean... it is what it is. Not enough places, not enough people coming out of F1. You can't really blame too much the teams as well, because, as you said, it is a risk that they don't need to take now."

Testing, he believes, is not that big a factor, because it's not something teams will use as a sole consideration.

"Obviously it's always good when it's more, it's better for the driver, it's better for the team. Especially for the team, they are spending so much on the simulations that they could spend on testing and also tick the box of also training a driver or whatever.

"But it's not that the drivers that are leaving F2 are not performing. Maybe Logan [Sargeant] has had a difficult year or whatever, but if you just look at [Oscar] Piastri - straight up there.

"Obviously it is better if we have more testing, it'd make many things more simple. But it's not the main problem.

"The teams now have the budget, the drivers are hanging on more, there are very few cars in F1 compared to what there has been in the past - 24-26 a long time ago, now it's only 20. So, all these factors together."

THROW IN THE TOWEL?

There is both a contrast and a parallel between Drugovich and Pourchaire. The latter's switch to what is now effectively a full-time McLaren IndyCar drive has signalled a clear shift in priorities (even if he'd still surely take up an F1 offer if it came), whereas Drugovich is still clear F1 remains "the main goal" and that he needs to "keep the faith".

But he is also at least back racing, after a full year on the sidelines.

"Since I was eight years old or something, you get to February or March and you have those butterflies in your stomach, just like, because it [racing] is going to start, you don't know what will happen. And then getting to 2023 and then getting to that part of the year, there's not a race or something to look forward to, it was quite hard."

This year, that's been corrected with a European Le Mans Series gig and Cadillac LMDh drive at the Le Mans 24 Hours. It is, unmistakably, a tentative career contingency plan - as is the fact Drugovich is now a regular fixture in those aforementioned Formula E rookie tests.

He could have pivoted fully away from F1.

"It is true. There were quite a few opportunities to drive for very good teams in other categories,” he admits.

"But I just didn't feel like [the time was right]. I could do that in a year's time, but I wouldn't have another opportunity to wait for F1, if I wanted to.

"In the moment, I think it was the right thing. Just to focus a bit more on F1. And truly be 100% focused there. Because I can do other stuff and still have a foot there, but if you're not there like at least 10-15 [rounds], showing yourself, it's not enough."

Is this naive? This is a driver, after all, who was being linked to a championship-calibre Formula E drive and some really tip-top IndyCar seats, too (even if on that front there's also an admission that "I have no idea how I would feel about ovals").

Is he wasting the peak of his 'market value' for wider motorsport by trying to keep a foot in an F1 door that has never felt anywhere near fully ajar?

Drugovich says that, when it comes to an F1 drive, "we were close", but there's an important caveat.

"It's hard to say how close you were, because normally you're close but there's another one that is closer to that seat than you are! So... yeah. We were close, but probably not close enough."

But you can tell that the idea he should've just waved the white flag when F1 in 2023 and 2024 proved a no-go is a sore subject.

I put it to him that it's easy for those on the outside to say he should give up on F1. And that, for him, having pushed towards this and only this goal from as far back as he can remember himself, it's not simple to just say 'ah, whatever, I'll just go do something else'. He agrees: "Yeah. I won't."

"I read Twitter," he continues. "I know what people say. 

"And I deeply don't give a s**t about it. Because... you know, people don't know how much commitment there is to get to F1 since I was a kid. And I cannot just give up that easily.

"As you said, basically. You specified it quite well. I think you need to wait and see what's going to happen. But at the moment I'm happy with myself, I'm happy where I am, I'm racing, I'm having fun, I'm still very into Formula 1 so I think it's a good thing."

BUT THE CLOCK IS TICKING

It's an attitude that makes him a dreamer. But it doesn't make him ignorant - just calculating.

There are F1 seats going around, but he's not first in line for any, and clearly knows that. Still, he feels he can do enough to get someone to buy in - and that those who have been paying attention should already know.

"I think it's just showing that you're good enough and mature. I don't know. Was someone [else] P2 in an FP1 session [as a practice-only driver]? I don't think so."

But, if that F1 chance doesn't come, his grand prix dream won't forever overrule his general love for racing.

"No, no-no. Especially... I think my clock also, my patience... you need to go and make a living out of it.

"You can't just hope that you're going to get something that probably can or can't be realistic."

And, as far as charting a parallel path to F1, a Cadillac drive in the world's biggest endurance race is a really big deal already. For some, it is their dream in the same way an F1 drive is for Drugovich.

If an F1 door never does open, being able to forge a career path like that is an incredible consolation prize. This is something keenly understood by those who say Drugovich should've long since focused on alternatives to F1.

What they don't understand is it would never ever feel right to do so unless he feels like he'd first given that F1 dream everything he had.

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