Van Amersfoort Racing left Bahrain after three-days of pre-season testing feeling very positive about their work. This is a fine start to a year in which they hope to make further progress up the Formula 2 ladder.

The Dutch outfit joined the Championship in 2022 and after finishing 10th in their debut campaign, they returned in 2023 to place seventh. With new drivers Enzo Fittipaldi and Rafael Villagómez, they hope to continue that trend in 2024 and a strong test is exactly what they needed.

There is an all-new car to learn for all the teams ahead of the 2024 season, which means the pressure was on to get to grips with the new machinery before lights out at the same venue later this month.

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That adaptation process would have been hampered by the pouring rain on the opening day that limited running. But aside from that, in VAR’s case, things could not have gone much better as while there were some teething issues, everyone left pleased.

“In general, we are happy with where we are,” said Team Manager Maarten De Busser. “Of course, the road to here was a bit bumpy with a rough start on the first day. It was difficult with the weather but in the end, we had two good days of running, and very little problems with the new car.

Rain played a major part in the opening day of running at pre-season in Sakhir
Rain played a major part in the opening day of running at pre-season in Sakhir

“In general, the car is behaving quite well. I also think performance wise we also can't complain, with the little development we did with both drivers I think we are where we expected to be at the moment. Still a lot to learn in the car, and still for both drivers we know we can still make progress, but we are not unhappy with where we are now.”

VAR are not only adapting to a new car, but they are also adjusting to their two new drivers. However, there is an element of familiarity in that aspect, as Villagómez has already been a part of the team for three years.

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The Mexican driver competed for the VAR in FIA Formula 3 in 2022 and 2023, having also under their banner at the Euroformula Open Championship in 2021.

As for Fittipaldi, he comes with two and a half seasons of Formula 2 experience, and while this will be his first campaign in VAR colours, De Busser revealed that he is no stranger to plenty of people within the team’s setup.

Reflecting on how both drivers performed at the test, De Busser said: “They are new to the team and also not new to the team. Enzo of course is a new addition to the Van Amersfoort family. We did the Abu Dhabi test with him, so he was a bit familiar.

“We did some work in the sim over the winter, so he is new but doesn't feel new, and there are a few people in the team that he worked with before so somehow, he is already more part of the family than we expected.

Villagomez has spent three seasons already as a part of Van Amersfoort Racing
Villagomez has spent three seasons already as a part of Van Amersfoort Racing

“Of course, he is the more experienced one so of course he also has more of a duty towards Rafa to lead. But already with Rafa, who has been part of the family already for a long time progressing from F3 to F2, knows basically everybody in the team, he just fits in straight away and he is picking up the pace quite good.

“There is still improvement to make but he is definitely on track with where we want him to go. There are places now where at some moments in the test where even Enzo can learn bits from him at specific corners. The two guys they both have their pros and their cons so they can help each other.”

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Teams will often have a fair idea of how well they are performing after pre-season. But as for where they are compared to their rivals, they find it a lot harder to tell despite what the timesheets may say, as there are so many unknowns regarding what others are doing to their cars.

That is exactly how VAR feel leaving Bahrain, as while Fittipaldi was in the top 10 in each session on day two and three, and the team are happy with their performance, it might not be representative.

Fittipaldi impressed finishing in the top 10 in each session on the final two days
Fittipaldi impressed finishing in the top 10 in each session on the final two days

But that does not bother people within the squad, as they are less concerned about what the timing sheets may say and instead more interested in how their car is performing.

“In testing it is always difficult to say where you are,” said De Busser. “At the same time one guy is doing a race distance on a lot of fuel with hard tyres, other people are doing low fuel runs on soft tyres, so it is difficult to say where you are.

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“We watch which people are more or less on the same strategy as us at that moment and if we look at the people that we want to match-up with I think both drivers were doing well.

“For me it doesn't mean much where you end up in the timesheets, it's great to be P1 in some sessions but it's more what you learn and know for yourself where the benefit still is.”