Although he finished top of the timing sheets in Practice, Ayumu Iwasa wasn’t wholly satisfied with his 45 minutes of running in Budapest. Whilst a 1:28.882 was good enough to put him over a tenths clear of Championship leader Frederik Vesti by the chequered flag, the DAMS driver was left mystified by the lack of pace early on in the session.

On first glance, the Japanese racer seemed to be fairly on it from the get-go, trading turns in the top spot, but never seeming far from the leading pace. However, Iwasa admits it was a completely different story inside the cockpit, as he felt there was plenty of pace left on the table.

Putting it down to a mix of both driver performance and comfortability behind the wheel, he recognises that taking the time to get up to speed is something he can ill afford in the shorter 30-minute Qualifying session this afternoon.

“The session wasn’t easy because at the beginning I was struggling a lot. I wasn’t close to P1, so I was a bit worried about my performance. I was improving a lot throughout, especially the last run and then I did a good lap time. I think the car has potential, but we have to check why we were missing time at the beginning because Qualifying will be shorter and we need to do the good lap time sooner.

“Honestly, I was struggling everywhere. When I saw the sector times, I was missing time everywhere where I was not good. Sometimes I was making mistakes or not pushing enough, or there was the car balance or the tyre grip. I think anything can happen, so I need to adapt to it for Qualifying well enough. We’re quite happy about our performance in Free Practice, so we just need to adjust everything for it.”

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His previous experience at the circuit has shown he’s got what it takes to put together a blisteringly quick lap around the Hungaroring. Last year, Iwasa snatched pole in the final minutes of Qualifying, with his 1:27.930 putting him 0.381s clear of his nearest rival. Yet, he believes that attempt was by no means a perfect lap.

Aiming to repeat the feat once more and earn redemption after a poor start cost him a shot at the Feature Race victory 12 months ago, Iwasa recognises the difficult task ahead but remains undaunted by it.

“It’s a really difficult track. Even last year, my pole lap was quite a good lap, but until then I was struggling a lot. Then, I improved by six tenths on the last push. So, it’s not easy but I need to do even better than last year. I’ll just focus on my job, try to improve my driving even more as I think there are some improvements on my side to check for.

READ MORE: PRACTICE: Iwasa leads the way from Vesti in Budapest

“Pole position is the target! I missed out on the victory last year starting from P1, so I need to avenge the race this year. Now, I need to focus only on Qualifying and then change my mind to the race tomorrow. Losing out made me a little bit hungrier for the win, but I shouldn’t think about it too much. Also, the conditions look quite strange at the moment, so it will be difficult, but we will try to adapt to it well enough and quickly.”

Thick clouds and humid conditions have given way to downpours ahead of the session, with the potential for them to stretch across the remainder of Friday’s running and make Qualifying an even trickier session to navigate.

With the Championship battle closing up, Iwasa sits in third, 24 points behind leader Vesti and 18 points from second place Théo Pourchaire. The Red Bull junior has a 23-point buffer to Oliver Bearman and Victor Martins inside the top five.

He sees the tight margins as having both the potential to trip him up or capitalise depending on how results fall, but his single-minded focus remains on one main task – nailing Qualifying.

“To be consistent is really important because the gap is quite close. If I look behind me, the gap is also close as they’re not so far away. So, if I lose points, I can lose a position very easily, but if I gain a lot of points in one weekend, I can gain positions. Still, it’s not the time to focus on the Championship too much, I just need to win the race in front of me. Then hopefully, I will get to close the gap to P1, but I think Qualifying will be quite important this weekend, so I will focus on it.”