Entering the new season after their triumphant 2022 campaign, reigning Champions MP Motorsport are all too aware of the target on their backs. Becoming only the second team in Formula 2 history to achieve the double by being crowned both Drivers’ and Teams’ Champions in the same year, the spotlight will be on the Dutch outfit when the 2023 season kicks off in Sakhir at the start of March.
Whilst they were fully engrossed in the on-track action at the time, the magnitude of what they achieved has begun to sink in for their Team Principal Sander Dorsman. Reflecting on a title challenge years in the making, Dorsman assesses their path to the top and why, in spite of their success, they’re refusing to rest on their laurels with their motivation remaining sky high to repeat the feat once again.
“Obviously it was our best F2 season ever. In pre-season you hope to do well, but of course in a competitive Championship like this, you never know where you’ll end up at the end. You always need to work hard and before the season your expectations are everywhere and nowhere,” Dorsman summarised.
After ending both the ‘20 and ‘21 campaign sixth in the Teams’ Standings, MP skyrocketed up the order in 2022. Yet their upturn in performance wasn’t a swift overnight change. Instead, their path to improvement began two years before and it was those pieces of work that finally began to fall into place last year.
Alongside a team restructuring and new personnel, the team recruited Felipe Drugovich, who had gelled well with them during his first F2 campaign back in 2020 and had point to prove after a challenging sophomore season. Joining him was Formula 3 graduate Clément Novalak and Dorsman credits the pair’s dynamic for boosting positivity and helping to drive the team forward.
“At the beginning of 2020 we had a bit of a restructure within the team. Then you have some new people and some people in different places, so you always need to reset a bit. Immediately in 2020 we already looked stronger, but sometimes it just needs to settle down a bit after that.
“I don’t think we had a magic touch last winter, but I think it’s more about stability, having Felipe back at the team and the team having more experience in the current structure. The team did a great job, the mechanics put together two very reliable cars and the engineers did a mega job with having a car that performed everywhere.”
He added: “We had such a nice season with Felipe, and I think with those kinds of things it’s only after a season like that, that you look back and think ‘wow! That was amazing one’. During the season you’re in such a flow and there’s so much work to do and the whole thing was amazing – the five wins and the relationship between Felipe and Clem was great. Within the whole team you get a good vibe which was also helping to achieve good results.
“A lot of people always tend to compare teammates one-on-one, but obviously if one is a rookie and the other one is in his third season, then it’s not always fair to make that one-on-one comparison. I think you could see that with a lot of the rookies in F2 during the season. The start was a bit more difficult, understanding the tyres, the format of the Championship, the car and a lot of new tracks. It’ll be the same next season; we have a lot of flyaways at the start – Jeddah, Melbourne, Baku, and then there’s Monaco. For sure, that will be a big challenge for the rookie drivers.”
After Drugovich’s Feature Race win at the second round in Jeddah, MP had clearly thrown their hat into the ring as one of the front running teams. Their upward trajectory continued as the Brazilian racked up more victories, podiums and consecutive points-scoring finishes, but they refused to get ahead of themselves – particularly that early in a lengthy 14-round campaign.
As the summer break approached, the Dutch squad appeared to be on the backfoot as ART Grand Prix’s Théo Pourchaire clawed back their advantage. With their momentum falling, Dorsman says the team’s disappointments fuelled their determination to fight back and turn the tables around once more.
“After Felipe’s double win in Barcelona, we were like ‘wow! This was a very good result’. But then just before the summer break we lost a bit of momentum as Budapest and Paul Ricard were not great for us. So, we went into the summer and thought we need to push now to get the momentum back and to fight for the Championship,” said Dorsman.
“Then we came out after the summer break with Spa and Zandvoort where he had two very good weekends. Suddenly within two weeks we had a massive advantage and could win the Drivers’ Championship in Monza. On the other side with the Teams’ Championship, that went to the wire. Of course, we were very keen to win that one as well, but everything was so close between Carlin, ART and ourselves. We knew Abu Dhabi would literally be a hot weekend and luckily, we won that Championship as well.”
Once the chequered flag waved for the final time in Yas Marina, Dorsman’s thoughts had already turned towards their 2023 title defence. With both Drugovich and Novalak moving on to new pastures at Aston Martin and Trident respectively, the team drafted in the services of 2021 F3 Champion Dennis Hauger, who will be eager to impress in his second season.
Unsurprisingly, MP remain as hungry as ever to bring home the Championship trophies to their factory back in Westmaas. Opting to go on the offensive from the start rather than play it cautious, Dorsman’s experience has shown him not to be complacent, as the upcoming season presents a fresh challenge for everyone.
“Like everybody in racing, winning works as an addiction. Of course, we are very motivated to try to repeat this, but on the other hand, F2 is such a competitive Championship. I think for everybody it’s a big push on the reset button and then we start all over again.
“We’ll just go into the new season with an open visor, do the best we can and then let’s see where we end up. I think that’s the better approach than to go out there and be nervous to defend something, I think it’s better to go into the attack mode than the defence mode.
Dorsman concluded: “For sure, there will be so many surprises – in this race that team is strong and then in another race, another team is strong. There’s always so many elements at such a high level, so it’s always difficult to predict which makes the Championship nice.”