Jack Doohan, a 2023 Formula 2 title contender? That’s certainly what the Australian racer had his heart set on after finishing sixth in an impressive rookie campaign last year, yet he looked to be all but written off by many at just over the halfway point of the season.

Rewinding back to Round 6 in Monte Carlo, he languished down in P13 and the deficit to the leading pack only continued to grow, sitting 71 points adrift of then Championship leader Frederik Vesti by the end of Round 8 in Spielberg.

Since then, the Invicta Virtuosi Racing driver has reinvigorated his season. Back-to-back Feature Race victories in Budapest and Spa-Francorchamps alongside a Sprint Race podium in Silverstone have seen him slash his gap to the title leader to just 38 points. Scoring 76 points over those three rounds, compared to Théo Pourchaire’s 63, Vesti’s 31 and Ayumu Iwasa’s 33, has rocketed Doohan up to fourth in the Standings and well within touching distance as the final three rounds approach.

Understandably after last season’s successes, Doohan frankly admits he wanted more for his sophomore campaign. Yet those dreams failed to materialise early on, as he and the team struggled to get the car into its sweet spot. Failing to score points in the Sakhir season opener and Baku, a Sprint Race podium in Jeddah and a handful of points at his home event in Melbourne remained the only glimmers of optimism.

“I wanted to be at the front. I think last year taking things that happened outside of my control, we would have been in the position to win the Championship, and if not, a very easily Vice Champion,” said Doohan. “Normally you come into the second season after something like that and you want to be fighting for the title and if not, at the very pointy end. That was where my aim was at and that's where I was looking forward to being, but it’s not been the easiest one.”

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His visit to Monaco seemed herald a return to the form we’d come to expect from Doohan, yet a heavy crash whilst running fourth in the Feature Race proved to be another setback. Undeterred by a run of disheartening weekends, he bounced back into the top three in Qualifying and although he fell back during the races, his fifth and sixth place finishes had many debating whether the Barcelona weekend could be the turning point for the season.

Doohan however credits his turn in fortune much sooner than the points showed. Rather than his return to form in Barcelona or his blistering weekends in Budapest and Spa, he believes that it was the progress made during the May in-season test that put him on the path to success. Having the time to stop and reflect, he and the team worked in harmony to find a solution as he struggled to find his groove with the car.

“Trial and error – luckily, we had a big trial in the Barcelona in-season test. We could see straight away that something was sitting much better than it had been and a little bit more how it should be. Instantly on the first flying lap of the test, I could tell they made the difference.

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“In Monaco I hit the wall and that was disappointing and on me. I hadn’t had an incident or a crash really for quite a long time, so I was quite disappointed with myself now that I had a decent car. It was all connected to everything that had happened in the past. Unfortunately, it happened but I was able to clear my head and really get out of it, so you live and you learn.

“From Barcelona onwards, we’ve had very good, strong results and if I had these results for the first seven rounds, we would probably be leading the Championship. Hindsight, it's a wonderful thing, so I’m living in the moment currently and happy just to be back on pace.”

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Taking that approach to heart, Doohan recognises that the clock is ticking down quickly, with only three rounds remaining in Zandvoort, Monza and Yas Marina and 117 points to play for. Nevertheless, where once his primary concern was salvaging something out of an underwhelming beginning, now he knows the sweet taste of victory isn’t far away as long as he can put the performances together.

“Now what’s really coming back to bite me is missing that one round we lost at Imola, as my season is almost a six-round Championship. That’s what it is right now and we’re fighting back, we’re getting the confidence back and we’re getting comfortable. Unfortunately, the two rounds in Spielberg and Silverstone, we had the pace to be on pole and win.

“Red Bull Ring was a key one, I think we were on for the win. Obviously, I was still three seconds back from Frederik, but we were about half a second a lap quicker with quite a long way to go. Unfortunately, the Safety Car timing didn’t fall our way and we ended up finishing off the podium. Then on Sunday, a bit of rough racing put us out, but the important thing is that the pace is back. It would be nice to win the Championship, but I think I haven’t been in the position with the cards that have been dealt to actually do that, so we just need to go out and try and do the best result.”

"If I had these results for the first seven rounds, we would probably be leading the Championship. Hindsight, it's a wonderful thing, so I’m living in the moment currently and happy just to be back on pace."

Another aspect to Doohan’s season has been his work off-track with Alpine. Joining their junior programme last year, he’s become right at home with the French outfit, going on to get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car for the first time before making his Free Practice debut at the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Promoted to their reserve driver this season, the 20-year-old has been more hands on than ever before, absorbing as much as he can from every opportunity to shape himself into the perfect candidate and be well-prepared should a chance arrive.

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“What I saw from them with my goal of being a Formula 1 driver, what they showed me of what was possible, to really learn and being involved with to make sure I’m as ready as possible to achieve that dream was quite awesome. Especially as a young driver, the possibility to test, to be involved with the Formula 1 team, to regularly be in contact and to get a really good understanding of everything that is needed to be an F1 driver before getting there is vital and so crucial, especially nowadays because you really need to be on top of your game in all areas.

“It’s really great going to the rounds with them this year, spending a lot of time with the team, and furthering my relationships with them. Also, to be working very closely with the drivers and being right behind them at all times, taking in all the information and everything that I can see, hear and even smell with what’s going on. It’s an awesome learning experience for me and great to really ensure that I’m ready for when that time comes.

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“I feel that even at this moment, I am very ready for Formula 1 and that’s all thanks to them. I’m very grateful for that and obviously I’m a year and a half in, so it’s not like I've been there for a super long time, but I feel like I've been there for my entire junior career.”

Returning his thoughts back to his Formula 2 campaign, Doohan’s lights-to-flag domination in Budapest and seizing his chances on the alternative strategy in Spa-Francorchamps have turned his season around and have the potential to throw a late surprise into the title fight. Whilst the trio of Pourchaire, Vesti and Iwasa ahead of him have all been contenders from the outset, Doohan recognises that he’s got nothing to lose by giving it his all.

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With his childhood dream of making his way on to the Formula 1 grid undiminished, Doohan continues to spur himself on, assured in the knowledge that when it all comes together, few can hope of matching him.

“My approach going into the last few rounds is obviously I still want to try and extract the most I can in the Championship. I think with a little bit of luck we can still do some good things, but I'm hoping just to continue this pace. Potentially it might be different for the guys further up in the Championship, but for me my approach stays the same as it has been, and I just want to try and be as fast as I can on track, at all times.

“I feel that even at this moment, I am very ready for Formula 1."

“I think everything's possible. Obviously, it'd be great to be a higher up and a few rounds ago I was P13 or P12 in the Standings, so it shows once I’ve had the car underneath me what I can do. It still hasn’t been exactly where I want it to be, but the reality is we are where we are right now. I had a great rookie season and things haven’t gone to plan for my second year in Formula 2, but when I’ve had the opportunity and the car, I’ve been able to perform.

“Luckily, I’ve had plenty of opportunities with Alpine as well to show what I can do inside a Formula 1 car and in other difficult circumstances and I’m happy to show them that. They have trust in me, and I have trust in them. I can’t really see what the future is, but at the moment I’m fully focused on the remaining rounds. They’re very, very important for me and I look forward to getting more and more comfortable inside the car, extracting the best from the remainder of the season as possible to put me in a great position for the future.”