Relentless in his quest to maximise his potential, there was only one buzzword in the forefront of Ayumu Iwasa’s mind throughout the 2022 season – improvement. After what he described to be a “too safe” Formula 3 campaign in 2021, the Japanese driver refused to repeat that story in his rookie Formula 2 showing.
Throwing caution to the wind, Iwasa immediately stood out as a diamond in the rough. While not every moment was positive, the 21-year-old's raw speed and natural talent was undoubtable and with the experienced DAMS on hand to help craft him into an all-around racer, he soon began to shine.
Reflecting on a pivotal season for him, Iwasa gave his honest take on how ‘22 unfolded and how by turning any mistakes and frustrations into areas for growth, he and his French team have set themselves up to go the distance in 2023.
“It was not so bad and not so great,” Iwasa summarised. “If I look at the second part of the season, it was okay because I had quite consistent performances and quite a good average result. Overall, we could improve a lot, but we will be even better this season.
“For me, everything was a really big highlight. Even the bad situations like the Baku crash, the mistake in Monaco Qualifying or the pit stop mistake at Silverstone. Those were bad situations, but after that we could improve on it.”
Instantly capturing the attention of many in the opening Sprint Race of the year, Iwasa stormed from last to points on debut in eighth. Adapting quickly to the performance jump from the F3 to F2 machinery, the Red Bull junior says he felt the car was better suited to his driving style, giving him the mettle to go for daring overtakes.
“When I was in Bahrain, I was expecting a bit more of a difficult situation in terms of my speed, but I was already quite quick, and the car was good. However, I had a problem with my performance because I made quite a lot of mistakes throughout the season, and I was missing the results. Then I improved my performance, especially in the second part of the season, which I’m quite happy about.”
He added: “I think the F2 car is more comfortable for me to be in than the F3 car. The F2 car feels a bit heavier, and I need to be more sensitive controlling it, which is better for me. I also feel that I could learn and improve with DAMS because we’ve been working together on my performance a lot.
“Back in F3, most of the time I didn’t have enough pace to win the race or even to get pole positions. So, I think the speed was quite a big point for me – once I had a good speed, I had confidence in myself. In Bahrain, I was already quite good in the race, but at that point I was thinking I have a lot of improvements to make to show my potential.
“Then I won the race in Paul Ricard, but even then, I was thinking about how I could improve even more. So that’s why I could get pole position the next week. I’m still getting better and better, which is helping my confidence and for the team’s as well.”
Absorbing knowledge like a sponge from those around him, Iwasa continued to have a laser focus on self-improvement. Yet after recording five points-scoring finishes in the first seven races, including a Sprint Race podium in Barcelona, he and DAMS experienced a mid-season slump.
Crashes in Monte-Carlo and Baku were followed by a pit stop issue in the Silverstone Feature Race which eliminated him from podium contention, whilst the Spielberg Feature Race saw him lose out as one of several drivers to start on wet tyres as the track quickly began to dry.
Putting in the hours in back at the DAMS factory in Ruaudin, the collaborative approach between driver and team swiftly began to pay dividends as Iwasa rocketed his way to a maiden victory in the Le Castellet Feature Race.
“Silverstone was a big point, but before that event I already had the speed and performance from my side, and we just couldn’t put it all together and were missing the results. We were already focusing on the performance, but I think we changed the approach a bit and then we were doing better.
“Before, I didn’t really like the Le Castellet track because I was driving on it too much in French F4 (laughs), but I already had confidence with my speed there. I needed to put it together in Qualifying, but unfortunately, I missed the last push lap. In the race, I just needed to do my job like with tyre management and that’s why I won the race, because before then I couldn’t do my job properly.”
As the pieces fell into place, Iwasa came into his own as a fierce frontrunning contender. Adding two podiums in Budapest and Zandvoort and two pole positions to his tally, he closed out his first season in style – denying 2022 Champion Felipe Drugovich a final victory after overcoming the Brazilian in a last lap battle at Yas Marina.
Finishing fifth in the Standings wasn’t something to be sniffed at for the Honda Formula Dream Project driver, but he’s got his expectation set even higher towards a shot at the title in 2023. Unsurprisingly, in true Iwasa fashion, he’s set himself a long pre-season to do list in order to get there.
“Everything! For sure, I can improve on the driving side, and I still learn more about the car and the engineering stuff as well. Mainly, I will be able to go into a little bit more detail about things like tyre management. If I can improve all of that, I will be more consistent.”
He concluded: “This is my target because so far, even though I had good speed, my results were not enough. The results weren’t linking to my speed, so my target is to improve everything in order to show my potential in my results.”