Nobody ever said making the move up to Formula 2 was going to be easy, and for Frederik Vesti it proved to be a formidable hurdle to overcome. His arrival on the grid after a solid second Formula 3 campaign didn’t match his or others’ expectations early on, as the 20-year-old found himself wondering where his front-running pace had gone.
Learning many lessons in the school of hard knocks, the Dane has transformed into one of the fastest drivers in the field, going from failing to score in the first five races to a maiden podium in the Barcelona Feature Race and then holding his nerve in a chaotic last lap shootout to claim victory in the Baku Feature Race.
As the field recharges their batteries, we look at his overall performance, and Vesti gives us his view on how his maiden campaign has gone and where he’ll be doing his homework before the crucial triple-header commences in Spa-Francorchamps.
With 10 rounds and 20 races under his belt, the Dane currently lies sixth in the Drivers’ Championship standings, locked in a tight mid-pack battle. While he may be a way off the leading duo, his tally of 91 points puts him right on Jehan Daruvala’s tail for fifth, and after his slow start to the year, only 28 points off of third, with one win and three podiums.
VESTI’S SEASON SO FAR
“I would rate my season a seven out of 10. It really surprised me how difficult it was in the beginning of the year,” Vesti summarised. “I was struggling to be in the top 15 and I had very big expectations. I knew what I was capable of doing so it was a big surprise to me how bad I was actually doing at that time, but also the surprise and how quickly I developed into a much better driver and more consistent at the front in F2. I think that has been a huge surprise – both positive and negative, but I’ll take it because I’ve really learned a lot from this year so far.
“It’s really been a surprising and good season in the last two months, I would say. The beginning was very tough. If I look back to Sakhir, Jeddah, Imola and Monaco, it was very difficult, and I was struggling to find the right speed in the car, mainly in Qualifying.
“Afterwards, it’s really been a great success – having my first good Qualifying in Barcelona with P3. Then having the win in Baku, pole position in Spielberg, P2 in Silverstone Qualifying, P3 in the Feature race in Le Castellet and finishing just off the podium in Budapest, which was an amazing race. Honestly, it was my best Feature Race so far and that’s a good way to go into the summer break!
It’s been an amazing year. I've really learned a lot, and during F3 last year, I was struggling with Qualifying and struggling with my consistency in putting the lap together.
“I really feel that I’ve managed to do that this year in F2, having been in the top three in Qualifying for three weekends in a row and just having the pace almost every weekend. That’s a great step forward and it’s something I can take a lot of confidence with into the last four rounds of the Championship.”
Rating his efforts a seven out of 10 may not illustrate the full story of Vesti journey this season and he’d probably deserve to give himself two separate ratings if he could. A tale of two halves, the driver that reached the chequered flag in fourth in Hungary was miles away from the driver that started the season back in Bahrain.
Struggling to get to grips behind the wheel of the ART Grand Prix car, Vesti’s debut weekend got off to a lacklustre start with a P19 result in Qualifying, which could only be improved to P13 in the Sprint Race. The following two rounds continued much in the same vein, with sixth in the Imola Feature Race providing a spark of what was to come.
Vesti began to turn his fortunes around with a late claim on third in Qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Keeping himself out of trouble, he converted it into a spot on the third step of the rostrum in the Feature Race.
While Monte Carlo’s double non-points scoring finished could have nipped his progress in the bud, he bounced back in style in Baku. Taking advantage of his reverse grid front row and a late Safety Car appearance, the Mercedes junior flexed his muscles to add his name to the list of Formula 2 race winners.
From there, Vesti has gone from strength to strength and put his Qualifying worries to bed as he stormed to his first F2 pole position at the Red Bull Ring. Another podium at the Circuit Paul Ricard was followed by one of his most impressive performances yet at the Hungaroring – nailing the alternative strategy and overcoming a five-second time penalty to go from ninth to just narrowly missing out on back-to-back P3s by 0.8 seconds.
STRENGTHS AND THINGS TO IMPROVE
“My strongest aspect so far this year has definitely been my starting positions in the Feature Race. My Qualifying has been strong since Barcelona and I think I’ve been in the top three of the best qualifiers since then, which means I’ve certainly made a great step forward.
“The weakest aspect of the season so far has also been Qualifying. Free Practice and Qualifying at the beginning of each weekend, I was just not pushing the car enough and I was under the limit. So, it’s both my best and weakest part of my season so far, as I’ve made a huge step forward in the last two months.
I’ve learned that in F2, being fast in Free Practice and setting a good benchmark for the rest of the weekend is absolutely key.
"In the beginning of the year, I was under the limit or struggling to put a good lap time on the board, which meant that when we came to Qualifying, I was too far off the limit, and I was never able to put in a good result. Now where I’m pushing really hard in Free Practice, Qualifying is a lot easier, and it also shows on the results.”
Gone from being a thorn in his side to a weapon in his arsenal, Vesti’s take on his Qualifying performances couldn’t be truer and the evolution of his performances on Friday have laid the foundation for several impressive points hauls.
Although the switch in compound from Practice to Qualifying inevitably leaves some unanswered questions in terms of real pace, finishing the opening session in Jeddah down in P19 provides some explanation as to why he could only manage to claim P16 on the grid. While no points are awarded in Practice, the ability to get up to speed with each circuit quickly is a vital attribute Vesti was lacking early on.
Yet from Round 5 onwards, even when circumstances didn’t go his way, the ART star made it work. Despite being forced to watch the rest of the 45-minute Practice session from the side-lines in Le Castellet due to an issue early in the running, remarkably he seized third in Qualifying – only 0.029s down on the leading time. The Dane also holds the advantage over his more experienced teammate, having outqualified Théo Pourchaire six times this season.
NEXT STAGE – THE FINAL FOUR ROUNDS
“My expectations are to continue developing in the direction I am. The results are coming each weekend and are getting better and better. I still have a lot of things to improve in my driving. I want to continue in the direction I have on Fridays and then I want to improve on my racing – mainly on Sunday, where I want to score more consistently in the Feature Races.
“I've been starting well in the Feature Races, but haven’t been the best finisher so far, as I’ve had some problems with starting, my starts haven’t been amazing. Also, I’ve made some mistakes and I want to make better starts in the last four rounds.”
After ten rounds, some teething issues still remain. With four rounds left of what has already proven to be an action-packed campaign, there’s plenty of time left for Vesti to master his weaknesses and mould himself into a firm all-rounder as the upcoming rounds all present their own unique challenges.
Avoiding mistakes will be key, such as his unfortunate lock-up straight out of the pits on fresh tyres in Hungary. Do that and Vesti will prove to be an even more formidable adversary and could put himself right in contention to be the highest-placed rookie this time around.