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Formula 1

The outsider forcing his way into 2025 F1 seat contention

by Edd Straw
10 min read

Alpine Formula 1 reserved driver Jack Doohan emerged as a serious candidate for a race seat in 2025 even before Esteban Ocon’s departure at the end of the year was announced.

Promoting an Alpine Academy prospect appeals given the sense it would ‘avenge’ the careless loss of Oscar Piastri to McLaren, but far more significant is the work Doohan is doing in the shadows to make his case.

The 21-year-old has been on Alpine’s books since early 2022, racking up five FP1 appearances and driving in the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test twice. This year, he’s benefitting from the push to utilise academy drivers more consistently in the Alpine driver-in-loop simulator programme. There’s also a test programme for this year, using a 2022 Alpine A522, that kicked off at Zandvoort last month.

By a quirk of fate, these are the means through which he is making a case for promotion to Formula 1 in 2025 rather than a racing programme in Formula 2 or elsewhere. His determined and professional approach, as well as his undisputed speed, has won him admirers inside the team and means he has a credible chance of a career-making opportunity.

“Being on the sidelines doesn’t look ideal,” tells The Race in an interview shortly before the start of the Canadian Grand Prix. “However, due to the circumstances it’s fitting quite well and it will be for the greater good. I’m in the simulator every European race and when I can between, and I also have 10-11 days in the A522, which is more than I could have imagined.

“That’s a great opportunity, not being a full-time driver, and there’s the FP1 sessions. I didn’t get much running here, so I’m looking forward to more, but I am as prepared as I possibly could be for F1.”

Doohan isn’t backward in coming forward to make his case. That’s no surprise given he was quick to advocate for himself when it became clear the loss of Fernando Alonso and Piastri left Alpine light of a driver. That led to unexpected FP1 outings in 2022 that were originally slated for Piastri, and he was a legitimate contender for the race seat eventually taken by Pierre Gasly.

With another ill-starred F2 season under his belt, one in which a cracked chassis that went undetected for too long hurt his title chances, his candidacy is even stronger for 2025. He faces tough competition given the vastly experienced and extremely fast Valtteri Bottas is in discussions with Alpine, but Doohan really is a credible option - and is doing everything he can to further his cause.

“You have to make it what you want,” says Doohan. “You could sit here, be in a shirt and just cross your fingers and hope that someone’s going to say, ‘Here’s an F1 contract’ but it just doesn’t happen like that. I’ve made sure that I’m doing my utmost from morning to evening to maximise myself and give myself the best chance possible.

“Nothing happens for nothing and nobody is here to hand out anything for no reason, so I’m trying to make the most of when I am in the car if that be in testing, on a sim or even making the most of my marketing and comms duties and maximising them well. F1 is a big picture and yes being fast in the car is very important, but where we get our funding from is sponsors and marketing and that’s massively important. We’re also representing Renault Group and Alpine Cars so there’s a big picture.”

The desire to put himself in the right place manifested itself back in 2022 amid the Piastri farrago, sending Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi a direct message on social media to make his case, and lobbying team principal Otmar Szafnauer. That’s symptomatic of a character who is sure-footed enough to push without drifting dangerously into entitlement.

It’s the same approach Doohan is taking now, backing the quality of his work to stand for itself while ensuring he’s taking every single opportunity he can. Doohan will be well aware that this is likely the best chance he will ever have of an F1 race seat.

“Like everything, there’s the right ratio, the right time and place and the right people to be pushy with,” he says. “My aspiration is to be on the F1 grid and every day is a new property to make myself the best possible candidate for that role. We’re presented with so much opportunity and it would be a waste for everything that I’ve done just to sit down and hope it’s going to fall into my hands.”

So that means simulator contributions. He talks of his satisfaction at the work done during the Monaco weekend where he spent 10 hours working the simulator after the team endured a dismal Friday.

The team talked up his contribution in an article published on its website describing him as an “unsung hero” of Monaco thanks to his “Herculean” efforts that helped Gasly - who it should be said is attracting attention from elsewhere, notably Sauber/Audi, but is likely to stay put at Alpine for 2025 - to score a rare point.

Simulator driving is not really about proving your speed, but instead about showing aptitude for reliable and accurate feedback, the willingness to put in the hard hours and speak the right language with the engineering team. If you are a young driver pushing for a race seat, the engineers can be a valuable ally or torpedo your chances and Doohan has support on that score given he’s focused on the doing the job for the team, rather than purely for himself.

“It’s quite easy to hop in a simulator and be fast,” says Doohan. “There’s not that fear element, that consequence [of a crash], so you can get there quite easily. You hop on, you don’t have a greasy track, you don’t have typical wind conditions or a different tyre compound - it’s literally the perfect scenario. So it’s quite easy to get up and running.

“What can make a difference is working with the team to make sure the feedback is as accurate as possible. When you don’t know, you don’t know and when you do you are assertive.

“But there’s a different aspect from feedback in the car. In FP1 you have to be decisive, short, precise and there’s a time and place for that in the simulator too. But you also have to be very elaborative, you have the time to go through corner by corner and be precise. It’s about having the correct switch to cater your feedback to who you are working with.”

The quality of feedback is essential, because it’s easy for drivers to overreach in their desire to contribute and showcase their quality. As Doohan says, he understands “this is not me trying to be a hotshot”. That’s not a mindset that all aspirants achieve easily.

The simulator work allows him to showcase elements of his game, but the real-world driving is also significant. His Canada FP1 outing was limited to just two slow laps and while that cost him an opportunity to advance his candidacy, he “knew this wasn’t my be all and end all”. Perhaps more important are the opportunities he has to focus fully on his own driving with the days in the A522. These allow Alpine to put him through his paces in a wide range of conditions to evaluate his speed over a lap and race distance, as well as testing his adaptability.

“It’s evaluation, but also prep,” says Doohan. “We go from doing two quali sims to two full 73-lap race sims, double pitstop, soft-hard-hard. We have the aero and tyre team there and they can see if I’m not driving to the management they want, if I’m not maximising aero. There’s a number of factors to why either I’m a lot quicker than expected or a lot slower and if the track conditions are not good or very good. There’s no hiding from performance, so it’s a great chance to show what I can do and also get myself prepared - and for them to say, ‘Is this guy doing the right things?’.”

Doohan’s speed has been clear throughout his career. While he’s never won a championship in car racing, he’s won at F4, F3 and F2 level and always been regarded as a fast driver. Being seriously quick is a prerequisite for earning an F1 drive and Alpine has had the chance to build a comprehensive picture of his performance level.

His final F2 season in 2023 was perhaps the chance to elevate the name Doohan from the group of fast drivers into those hotly tipped for F1, but he managed only third after the early-season car problems. Alpine was well aware of the problems, and its own statistical analysis made a case that, once the problems holding him back were taken into account, he was the strongest driver that season.

“At the end of the day, we look at stats, there’s no little info box that says Jack Doohan had a cracked chassis for five rounds,” he says. “That’s the reality you have to accept, and I did.

“When I have the opportunity to hop in an F1 car, I make sure I’m as quick as possible. And I have been. I’ve been put up against Esteban and Pierre and they can see that, which is important. Even when I was qualifying P17 in Baku last year, a week before that I was at Silverstone test with Pierre in the A521 and conditions or whatever it would be was faster.

“So they can see that I can perform and they can understand that I’m not 1.7 seconds off in an F2 car because Pierre Gasly is not 1.7 seconds off. It wasn’t straightforward to know the issue, but from then onwards I scored the most points and won three of the last five [feature] races.”

Those are the tangible means by which Doohan is making his case, but he also argues his youth has value given his lack of preconceptions. In most ways, the lack of experience is a disadvantage but there is a value to a certain freshness of perspective, in particular when driving for a team that is struggling and likely to continue to do so for some time. After all, while it's a seat many experienced drivers would only take if they have to given Alpine's struggles, Doohan's desire for it is beyond question.

He points to the fact he does have some foundational F1 experience despite never having started a grand prix so wouldn’t come to a race seat completely cold. He argues that, combined with an open mind, makes a potent combination - citing an example from MotoGP to make his point.

“There are other experienced candidates out there, but I'm experienced, too,” says Doohan. “I'm fast, I'm young. And I feel that we need youth because I’m felt to be the future of the team. We have a different way of thinking, we haven't been exposed to any prior generations of Formula 1 cars, we're coming in to drive the car and make the most of it, not complaining about balancing, ride, traction, just hopping in and appreciating the opportunity and making the most of what we have.

“It’s a similar circumstance with Pedro Acosta in MotoGP. The [works] KTM riders have got prior vision of the old MotoGP bikes with less aero where they can feel a lot more and the strength that Pedro Acosta has coming in as a rookie and doing so well is he doesn't know anything else. He just knows that he's got that bike that he's riding and he's making the most of it. He’s not knowing what's going to happen in the mid-corner, he's not thinking about the past - ‘I used to have this’, ‘I used to have that’ - so it’s ‘This is my bike, I'm going to ride now, I'm going to make the most of it’.

“That’s where I feel that youth myself that I can make that difference to come in and having a clear head, a new direction to come in and say, ‘Hey, we have something to build, let's go forward’.”

Doohan has also been tackling the mental side of his game. That’s crucial because regardless of the pressure of expectation young drivers encounter as they climb the ladder to F1, that’s nothing compared to the reality of being a grand prix driver. There’s plenty who can be fast, but it demands a strong mentality to ensure that speed manifests itself regularly.

“As a driver, a weakness was my mental side of things, especially as a younger driver,” he says. “I was very emotional and passionate about what I was doing and I needed to contain that. I worked a lot with mental coaches, getting my head in the right place.

“I certainly do have strengths, but I'm looking to improve on them every day. And I'd say in every aspect of my life, but also my racing, I can still improve because I would not say that any of us are complete. There’s constantly places that I can continue learning, continue maximising.”

Doohan is certainly maximising the chance he has with Alpine. Whether it will be enough to guarantee him promotion to a race seat is still up in the air.

But he’s got a chance. And it’s one he’s all in on.

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