Fuelled by a passion for all things racing-related, Ayumu Iwasa has carved out a place for himself as one of the fastest and fiercest drivers of both the 2022 and 2023 Formula 2 grids. Always believing that there is improvement to be found even in highs of victory, our third and final title contender was quick out of the gates this season and has remained a steadfast fixture in the leading trio.
Sitting third in the Standings, 39 points behind Championship leader Théo Pourchaire, the DAMS driver will be demanding nothing short of perfection from himself and that his rivals can’t add to their points tallies if he hopes to reign triumphant in Yas Marina.
Learning the joys of driving from his amateur racing parents, Iwasa first began karting aged four. Joining the world of competitive racing in 2014, he swiftly began to bring home silverware, wining the Suzuka Karting Championship Yamaha-SS Class title that same year.
2017 saw him crowned the Champion in the Suzuka Karting Championship X-30 Class before making the step-up to single-seaters. However, budgetary issues limited him to only a part-time graduation. Cameo appearances in the F4 Japanese Championship and Asian Formula Renault Series, the latter in which he secured pole for both races and claimed back-to-back P2 finishes.
Iwasa’s journey to eventual F2 star went up a gear in 2019 when he won the Suzuka Racing School’s Single Seater Series – an achievement he sees as a pivotal moment in his career. Alongside honing his racecraft, he became a Honda Junior Driver and earned a crucial scholarship.
With that, Iwasa embarked on a move to Europe, competing in the 2020 French F4 season. Scoring nine wins, 15 podiums and five pole positions, the Japanese driver claimed a podium in every round and finished each of the 21 races no lower than sixth.
Those impressive performances caught Red Bull’s attention and they welcomed Iwasa in 2021 as part of their junior programme. A move up the pyramid was imminent, with Iwasa participating in the F3 Asian Championship. Partnering future F2 teammate Roy Nissany and Roman Stanek, he finished eighth overall before embarking on a new journey in the third tier.
PLAYING IT SAFE
By his own admission, Iwasa’s approach to Formula 3 was ‘too safe’ in hindsight. Joining up with Hitech Grand Prix to race alongside Stanek and fellow Red Bull Junior Jak Crawford, there were many positives to take from the season, as well as lessons for the future.
Five top 10 finishes across the opening three rounds were topped by a maiden victory in Race 1 in Budapest and a podium in Zandvoort. However, a further six point-less races saw him lose ground and slip back to 12th in the Standings. Impressive in the Formula 2 post-season test with DAMS, it was time for Iwasa to climb another rung on the single-seater ladder.
IT’S ALL ABOUT IMPROVEMENT
Iwasa instantly made his mark in F2. After a problem in Qualifying at Sakhir relegated him to the back of the field, he stormed through in the Sprint Race to claim eighth on his debut. Points steadily tallied up in Jeddah and Imola, whilst a lightning getaway from sixth in the Barcelona Sprint was rewarded with his first podium in second.
An unlucky mid-season run followed, with the Japanese driver getting caught up in contact, a pit stop issue and a starting on wet tyres as the Red Bull Ring rapidly began to dry. A handful of points in Baku and Spielberg and podium in the Silverstone Sprint proved to be the only positives.
Yet the dedication from him and DAMS back at the factory eventually paid off and things were on the up. Qualifying second around a familiar Paul Ricard, he surged to a maiden victory in the Feature Race, taking the chequered flag by almost nine second.
The momentum was clearly with Iwasa as he snatched pole and a podium in Budapest, following it up with another third place in Zandvoort. He ended the season in style with a second pole position and victory at Yas Marina, holding off Champion Felipe Drugovich’s late charge to secure fifth in Standings and the Anthoine Hubert Award.
PUTTING EVERYTHING TOGETHER IN 2023
After a learning year, Iwasa and DAMS were hungry for more this season. No longer the rapid rookie, the 22-year-old was targeting wins and knew he couldn’t get complacent with his progression.
He wouldn’t have long to wait. After taking P4 and P8 finishes in Sakhir, he took advantage of starting fourth on the reverse grid for the Jeddah Sprint Race. Dashing into the lead on the opening lap, he held firm to take the win. Iwasa’s debut in Melbourne brought more success with his first pole of the season, whilst he commanded the Feature Race masterfully to take home the victory and assumed the Championship lead for the first time.
Returning to the podium twice, with a win in Monaco and second in Spielberg, Iwasa sat 28 points off the lead in third at the halfway mark. Whilst further silverware followed in Budapest and Monza, he struggled to match the big points hauls of the leading duo.
Consistency has ultimately kept him in the hunt until the end, earning 15 points-scoring finishes to Pourchaire’s 17 and Vesti’s 14, with a handful of incidents and some misfortune on occasion hampering his ability to take advantage of their off days.
If 2022 was characterised by raw speed and building the foundations, then 2023 has been all about becoming an all-around talent. Now, an all-or-nothing season finale awaits, but can Iwasa put together the untouchable weekend he needs and will luck be on his side for his rivals to fumble at the final hurdle?