Formula 2 leaves the Caspian Sea following a typically unpredictable and incident-filled weekend in Azerbaijan, where the streets of Baku had crashes galore. Yet, one familiar name kept away from the chaos to take to the podium in the Feature Race. Felipe Drugovich’s P3 finish represents his sixth trip to the rostrum in 2022. Now, the Brazilian heads to Silverstone for the championship’s halfway weekend with a hefty 49-point advantage over his nearest rival.
The consistency that Drugovich has had this year is frankly outstanding, and it’s hard to imagine anyone catching the MP Motorsport driver by the time the chequered flag falls in Abu Dhabi. Yet pundits seldom brought his name up in pre-season discussions about this year’s title favourites. He’s surprised everyone, and the sport was ill-prepared for the Drugo dominance.
Should the 22-year-old racer take the title, he could inadvertently put Formula 2, and thus Formula 1’s junior ladder, in an awkward position. It’d be the second successive season and the third time in four years that the F2 champion doesn’t make the step up. If that comes to pass, the Formula 2 show-runners need to have serious conversations with Formula 1 about their purpose.
I’m making a couple of assumptions here, with the most obvious being the suggestion that Felipe has already won the F2 championship crown. Let’s be clear – he hasn’t – and there are eight rounds where anything can happen.
The second assumption is that should he win, he won’t graduate to F1, but I’m pretty confident on this point. Drugovich is throwing out the rulebook for junior drivers this year by comfortably leading the championship but not being affiliated with an F1 team. As such, there are other F2 drivers closer than he is to an F1 seat, irrespective of their F2 performances. Simply put, if he wins, Drugovich has nowhere to go.
The route to F1 is like a wide funnel with several filtration systems that create a tiered inverse pyramid. To drop down to the next level, you must have financial backing, be talented, or be part of an F1 Driver Academy. The filter will claim victims yearly as youngsters don’t make the cut until a few hopefuls hit the final F1 bottom layer to find it’s already full – unless you can pay to play, that is.
Last year, Oscar Piastri demonstrated he possessed talent and had the Alpine Academy affiliation, and he still didn’t get to F1. However, the driver that finished third in the championship joined Alfa Romeo, and now Guanyu Zhou is living his F1 dream thanks to some sizeable sponsorship opportunities he brings to his new employer.
There was a similar story in 2019 as Nyck de Vries bested Nicholas Latifi to the title, yet the latter signed for Williams, bringing his father’s company as a sponsor to the cash-strapped constructor. In the subsequent years, de Vries has become a World Champion in Formula E, while Nicholas Latifi has two top ten F1 finishes in almost 50 race starts.
I’m sure the Brazilian spare parts business Drugovich’s family runs is financially sound, but I can’t see them finding the funding to buy Felipe an F1 seat. I have it on good authority that an F1 Academy discussed the possibility of Drugovich joining them but passed on the collaboration. And we won’t see one jump on the Drugo bandwagon halfway through the year – it would show they’ve given up hope on their existing junior crop.
The F2 title hopeful who left his home continent aged 16 to pursue his F1 dream will prove he’s fast enough and still has no way to reach his target. He’s failed the finance test (i.e., be rich), and F1 Academy programs didn’t scout him out early enough. So you have to wonder what the point of the F1 feeder series ladder is if winning the championship that directly feeds into Formula One isn’t enough to earn a seat in the sport.
I imagine we’ll see Drugovich racing in IndyCar or WEC for 2023. Although they’re credible championships, with the Indy 500 and the 24hrs of Le Mans showing in recent weeks how iconic those events are, they’re not on the level of F1. As an F1 fan, it saddens me to think my sport will lose a talent like Drugovich to another series without him even having the chance to test an F1 car.
It’s another reason why the ever-decreasing cost cap benefits the sport on a broader level than just leveling out the playing field for the teams. As the financial requirements to compete in F1 drop, perhaps the overall skill level can increase with drivers like Drugovich finding a home without needing bags of cash. Also, having more teams join without fear of the high cost of running an F1 operation will open more opportunities for rookie drivers.
While Felipe Drugovich’s future doesn’t lie in Formula One, I’m hopeful that an equivalent driver won’t hit the same roadblocks as the Brazilian in five or ten years. That may not be much consolation for Felipe in the short term, but as the F1 flops Brendan Hartley, Sebastian Buemi, and Marcus Ericcson showed in recent weeks, there are other motorsport futures out there for talented drivers. Perhaps the real loser is Formula One.