Felipe Drugovich: Brazil’s F1 future is F2’s present

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Felipe Drugovich in the 2021 UNI-Virtuosi
Felpie Drugovich in F2 2021 pre-season testing / Image: UNI-Virtuosi Twitter

Felipe Drugovich is Brazil’s hottest prospect to join its legendary drivers into F1. Right now, though, it’s eve of the 2021 F2 season.  Winter training is done.  The Bahrain test has concluded and the cars are back at their factories.  For two weeks, the F2 drivers, teams and fans exist in an ever-building tension of excitement for the first race on the 27th of March.  It is at this crucial time that we at GP Grandstand decided to ask Felipe Drugovich whether he is a title contender for the season.

I don’t want to say anything but I do need to put it in my head that I can be a title contender. We just need to wait for the first race and then I can give you a right answer.

A humble and cautious answer from the young Brazilian.  But don’t let that fool you.  Drugovich will be driving for UNI-Virtuosi this season, one of the grandmaster teams of F2.  Felipe enjoyed a stellar rookie season last year with MP Motorsport where he bagged three wins including that masterclass of the Bahrain Feature race.  He’s definitely got to be considered then as one of the eight title favourites this season.  We’ve not even included any of the super rookies in that number either.

You can watch the highlights of our talk below, or the full 42-minute conversation by clicking here.

2021 really is shaping up to be one of those vintage F2 seasons.  Before we get more into that though, we asked Drugovich to tell us how he got to this point.

Felipe Drugovich from the beginning

Drugovich was introduced to motorsport by his two uncles.  Both of them former racers, they fanned a passion and at 8 years old gave him the opportunity to try a go-kart.  The young Felipe quickly decided that that was what he wanted to do with his life and his kart career continued until the end of 2015 when he graduated to single-seaters.

Displaying an admirable sense of determination and prioritising what he wanted to achieve, Drugovich relocated from Brazil to Italy as a young teenager.  This enabled him to be close to his Kosmic Racing team for training and testing.  You’ll be relieved to hear his mother came with him and he also completed his schooling in Italy as well.  Think back to what you were like at 13 or 14.  Could you have moved continents to achieve your career goals?

Drugovich has based himself in Italy ever since then.  As well as being a proud Brazilian, he also holds an Italian passport as well as having Italian citizenship.  He’s hoping that more Italian fans will get on board and support him in the years ahead:

I’d like to have some support from here as well, I like the people and I’m very used to them.  Of course, I’m here for most of the year.  But for now, not as much support as I’d like to because I represent myself as Brazilian for obvious reasons.

Felipe Drugovich’s early career

In 2016, Drugovich made his debut in ADAC F4, arguably one of the most competitive of the F4 championships.  A decent season was followed by a very competitive 2017 with Van Amersfoort with whom he took 7 wins on his way to 3rd in the championship.  It was a busy year as he also contested rounds of the Italian F4 championship bagging 1 win and also FIA F3 Europe and EuroFormula.

Felipe Drugovich leads EuroFormula
Drugovich leading a race in Euroformula – Image: felipedrugovich.com.br

For 2018, RP Motorsport retained Drugovich’s services following a winning tryout at the end of the previous season.  Team and driver combined perfectly to produce one of those dominant seasons that you sit up and take notice of.  14 wins from 16 races is an amazing feat. Naturally, we wanted to hear from the man himself just how it happened. Was it the car, the team or him?

I think it’s a little bit of everything.  I really like the car, not just the performance of the car but also the way it drives.  The F3-12, the old F3 especially with the Michelin tyres, I really liked the package that we had every time we got on track.   And the team we had were of course the championship winners the year before my championship win.  So every time I got in the car, I could just push and push and push.

EuroFormula Win
Image: felipedrugovich.com.br

One thing Drugovich will have to conquer in the future if he should make it to F1 is his dislike of airports.  Preferring to take a long drive to get to a race meeting, Drugovich is a man who just loves to drive anything and everything.  Sadly that won’t always be possible when your races are spread across the globe.

2019 heralded the debut of the all-new FIA F3 championship replacing the old GP3.  Over 40 drivers would compete to get a seat in the fledgeling category.  Understandable when they would be racing with the F1 teams they hoped to graduate to eventually.  Drugovich contested the season with the legendary Carlin Buzz team of Trevor Carlin.  Joining him would be teammates Logan Sergeant and Teppei Natori.  The season was a disaster, though, as the team struggled to get on top of the car.  Drugovich managed a season-best finish of 6th but still managed to outscore the combined points tally of his teammates.

The team wasn’t really competitive and that doesn’t really help the drivers.  We actually didn’t really know what to do because anything we tried wasn’t really good so we didn’t have any evolution during the season.  So it was quite tough to try again and again.  I don’t blame the team because they were trying but sometimes it just doesn’t work.

It was a curious season for both drivers and the team.  Carlin are one of the most respected and consistently high performing teams in the junior series world.  Sargeant would go on to battle for the F3 title the following season while Natori would finish 4th in the Japanese Super Lights series.

Felipe Drugovich in F3
Image: felipedrugovich.com

At the end of 2019, a deflated Drugovich was facing some difficult decisions.  In a characteristically bold move, he approached MP Motorsport about driving for them in F2 for 2020.  End of season testing confirmed that he was certainly quick enough for the seat. He was soon confirmed as a 2020 driver for the Dutch team in January of that year.

Luckily most of the teams in the paddock don’t just judge you on the one year.  They knew what I was capable of.

Then the global pandemic struck.  Like just about every professional driver on the planet, Felipe Drugovich was forced to turn to the virtual world for his racing fix in early 2020.  However, unlike many of them, Drugovich built his own rig using a SimLab cockpit, Heusinkveld pedals and his own DIY direct drive wheel.  If you fancy pitching yourself against a multiple F2 race-winning driver, you can find him on iRacing.com.  Naturally, he will race anything and everything, the man loves driving!  But when pushed, he did say his preferred car on the service was the Dallara F3.

Finally, the F2 season got going at the Red Bull Ring.  Felipe Drugovich qualified on the front row alongside future teammate Guanyu Zhou.  He would finish 8th in the race and then win the Sprint Race the next day.   This would be the first time that F2’s audience would see just how quick Drugovich is when he has a clear track ahead of him.

Differences between F3 and F2

Have you ever wondered how different an F3 and an F2 car feel to drive?  We certainly have, and Drugovich was able to give us some fascinating insights into his experiences with the two cars.  Listen to the full interview to hear it all.  He talks about the weight of the cars, straight-line performance and cornering speeds.  As well as just how much of an impact those revolutionary 18″ rims have on the F2 car’s performance.  Drugovich is quick to acknowledge how much respect the mechanics deserve in lifting those wheels on and off the cars so fast in a pitstop.  Each rim now weighs an extra 5kg due to the increase in the wheel size from 13″.

You’ve probably heard the term dirty air bandied around a lot from watching F1.  Drugovich offered us a superb explanation of what it feels like to drive in the dirty air of another car, how it affects the car you are driving and how to mitigate against it.  Again, make sure you listen to the full interview to hear what he has to say.

It was a fantastic season for MP Motorsport with Felipe Drugovich scoring two Sprint and one Feature race wins. Felipe’s teammate Nobuharu Matsushita picking up a Sprint win didn’t hurt either.  The team hired new engineers which really helped give the drivers a good car to work with.  Drugovich would go on to finish the year in 9th position overall.

Felipe Drugovich wins Bahrain
SAKHIR (BH), 26-29 November 2020: F2 Gulf Air GP 2020 at Bahrain International Circuit. Podium of race 1: Felipe Drugovich #15 MP Motorsport, Callum Ilott #04 Uni Virtuosi and Jehan Daruvala #08 Carlin. Image: © 2020 Sebastiaan Rozendaal / Dutch Photo Agency

Felipe Drugovich talks 2021

In a strange quirk of working his way up the ladder, Drugovich has never raced two seasons in a row for the same team and this year is no exception.  UNI-Virtuosi are one of the best-prepared teams on the F2 grid.  Callum Ilott came 2nd last year with the team.  Hence the question to Drugovich regarding his title aspirations.  When asked what his goal is for the season apart from winning the championship, his answer reveals where his aspirations lie:

Apart from winning the championship getting the Superlicense points is the main goal.

A winter full of karting, simulator work and training means Drugovich is as prepared as he can be for the 24 races ahead.  A fascinating insight he gave us from the winter testing was that the driving style for the UNI-Virtuosi car was so different to the MP that even though the overall performance was similar, it felt like a different category!

In a change from previous seasons, the F2 season will take place over 8 Grand Prix weekends instead of 12.  Saturdays will have 2 Sprint races while Sunday will have the Feature race prior to the Grand Prix.

Formula 2 2021 Weekend Format

The move has left some fans feeling that the F2 calendar has fewer marquee tracks than the F3 calendar.  Drugovich can see the positives and negatives of the move but would he prefer to retain the old format of the last few seasons?

Yeah, 100%.  It’s a little bit strange the new one.  But at the same time, there are positives.  We have the Feature race on the Sunday with the F1 which is nice.  And with the Sprint races on the Sunday we get that out of the way and with that you can prepare for the main race so that’s nice.  Problem for me is that we run a lot less with four less free practices and qualifying sessions.  Four less Feature races as well.  But overall it’s going to be exciting for the people watching.  A lot of overtaking in the two Sprint Races.

Of course, reducing the championship to taking place on only eight circuits does mean the F2 drivers missing out on some race venues.  Mugello was Drugovich’s favourite track from last year to drive on and of course, the legendary Spa-Francorchamps will not be on the F2 calendar this season.  Fortunately, his other big favourite track is Silverstone which F2 will be racing at this season.

Soon we will get answers to all of the questions.  Which team will be on top in Bahrain, which driver will be champion, and who will get those all-important Superlicense points.  Best of luck Felipe!

If you’d like to hear the full interview with Felipe Drugovich, you can find it below:

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