At one point, Frederik Vesti was the driver to beat at the top of the Standings, but the PREMA Racing driver now enters the season finale in Yas Marina as the hunter rather than the hunted.

With a 25-point deficit to leader Théo Pourchaire to make up and with only 39 points left on the table, Vesti’s under no illusions about the uphill battle ahead as he dreams of being crowned the 2023 Formula 2 Champion.

Nevertheless, despite all the noise surrounding him, the Mercedes junior refuses to dwell on situations beyond his control. His title dreams suffered a major setback after three point-less Feature Races in a row, but his resilience remains strong, with the fire for victory burning fiercer than ever.

“I’m extremely excited to go to Abu Dhabi,” said Vesti. “It’s been such a long wait now, but equally a build-up time. After Monza, I was a little bit down and had to take some time off to recover and find a way back to myself because of those very tough moments. Coming out of that, I think I’ve definitely come back even stronger with more determination and hunger than before - I’m there to win!

“My focus is definitely on maximising my weekend. In the end, it’s the points that need to happen and to do that I need a good Qualifying and two strong races, so that is purely my focus.”

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Vesti’s 2023 campaign has demonstrated to him how rapidly fortunes can shift in and out of a driver’s favour. After a disappointing opening weekend in Sakhir, he immediately made up for lost ground by securing the Feature Race victory in Jeddah.

Another podium followed in the Baku Sprint Race, but it was mid-point that saw him carve out a place as title contender. Victory around the streets of Monaco saw him seize the lead of the Standings and he left Round 10 in Budapest with a 11-point lead over Pourchaire.

Yet things quickly unravelled. A spin on the way to the Spa-Francorchamps Feature Race grid, a pit stop error in Zandvoort and an opening lap crash in Monza left him staring at the Frenchman’s 25-point advantage.

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Admitting to feeling the brutal sting of three ‘what could have been’ weekends, Vesti remains optimistic that his and PREMA’s pace had been strong enough wherever they’ve gone to be good sign for the final weekend.

“I don’t think you can ever see a Championship like this as all or nothing because it’s a long year. You can be dominant for the first five rounds and then completely lose it, or the opposite. It’s really about trying to stay humble and very honest with yourself on where you need to improve because there are 22 hungry drivers ready to do their best possible. We’re all fighting for our dream of a Formula 1 seat, so if you hold back one second you will lose and that’s what makes F2 very special and so enjoyable as well.

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“To be honest, there are many things that could have gone differently which would have put me in a completely different situation. In a way it’s so many small things. If I look at the last three rounds, I didn’t score points in the Feature Races, but I’ve qualified well and been strong all of those weekends.”

He added: “It’s not a lack of speed or lap time that has been holding us back, it’s purely a lack of consistency and maybe playing it a bit safer, looking back. It’s frustrating because the pace has never been lacking this year, we’ve been right there every single weekend. Also, having the most wins of any driver this year, it hurts a little bit because I knew we had the potential to win, so to have those rounds go like that was really painful.”

Five wins this year is a stark contrast to the one he earned in his rookie campaign, a turnaround Vesti partially credits to reuniting with PREMA and his engineer Pedro Matos – who worked with him during his Formula Regional title winning season.

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Reflecting on the importance of the relationship, the Dane says putting a title fight together is ultimately a test of the driver’s ability to consistently push themselves and progress, something that Matos has been an invaluable support with.

“I knew we were going to be strong, and I knew that we could fight for wins, but actually being able to transfer that and fight for the Championship can be very difficult. Obviously, I expected it of myself, but being able to fight for the Championship the whole year has been a truly great experience and something that has taught me a lot about myself and my racing.

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“This year has been a continuation of my own development from last year where I saw quick progress in myself. I think this year I knew I would have the pace to win and to do great results, but the thing I had to improve was actually doing it every single weekend, which is what you need if you want to fight for the Formula 2 Championship.

“It’s an extremely long Championship and everyone is developing throughout the year. So, it’s almost like a development race where whoever stays on top has to continue to improve themselves and go quicker, which I feel like we’ve been able to do this year.

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“I think having the trust and bond with your engineer is extremely important, but also having an engineer that understands you and knows what to do to find the best in you. I think there are a lot of engineers that focus on the car, which is very important, but the greatest engineers are the ones who can focus on the car whilst also focusing on the driver and helping him out in any area that he needs. I think that’s where Pedro is making the difference.”

However, it’s not just the Drivers’ title on the line, as PREMA are playing catch-up to rivals ART Grand Prix in the Teams’ Standings with parallel battles between Vesti and Pourchaire and their teammates Oliver Bearman and Victor Martins for the top rookie honours.

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With so much at stake, Vesti is remaining single-minded in his pursuit. Knowing that his title dreams don’t solely rest on his own performance, he’s determined to give it his all to bring home the final victory of 2023 campaign – and hope it’s enough for the ultimate glory.

“The easy answer is there is only one way and that’s to be the Champion and that’s what I’m going into the weekend with. Nothing else would mean more to me than winning the Championship.

“On the other hand, my focus is to win the Feature Race in Abu Dhabi and if I do that, I put myself in the best possible position to win the Championship. That’s all I can do and that’s all that my focus will be on. In my mind, I will try to isolate it and if I can win that weekend, then whatever happens I’ll be proud of what we have achieved.”